Friday, June 29, 2018


Things are okay. That is a hell of a thing to announce here. I am still trying to mail in the June mortgage but the fact that it isn't the April mortgage is a big deal. The lights on are. The internet works. Toilets flush. Water is hot. I feel like a queen. I had to figure out an extra $500 in truck repairs for the Ford but it is repaired. Now I have to figure out the house payment to stay on top. It's so close though. It's THIS month. To me I feel so damn lucky to be trying for the now instead of catching up on then. It is a small progression but compared to a few years ago, last summer, this winter even! Things are slowly getting better. If my luck stays with me. If I keep promoting the skills and classes I have. If I keep focused and work hard I think this place can be mine a little longer. It's all a gamble and a prayer. It's all trying and hope and sweat and memory. But it's my dice to throw and tonight I just feel glad to inhale the air around it.

Wish me luck.

Heat Wave

A heat wave is settling in for a weekend stay. This means getting up extra early to do the bulk of the chores with sunrise, when everything is dewy and cooler. It means three or four times a day checking water stations and refilling everyone to the brim, over and over. It also means including some electrolytes to everyone's water sources. Mostly, in weather like this animals need ample shade and water and a place to remain still; Cold Antler has plenty of both.

That's for the livestock of course. For us humans it means time in the river! I have two writer friends visiting on their road trip for the weekend. Box fans in all the windows and cold beer and cider in the fridge. There's no air conditioning at the farm but there is the Battenkill River and after an evening swim and a cold drink in the shade the entire temperature of the world drops to a much more reasonable degree.

We have plans to visit Patty and Mark at Livingston Brook Farm for learning about draft horses and going out for a ride in a cart across the farmland near here. Between that, the river, good conversation and lazy nights of fireflies and movies I am so looking forward to a little vacation of my own. I usually work all through the weekend on promoting art, logos, soap and classes. I draw and ink, design, mix and cure soap - but this weekend I am joining my guests in their vacation. Every once in a while even a farmer needs a day off.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Make Your Bed

Before the rain started, before I could feel every muscle in my back and arm hum, before I helped move 300 bales of hay off wagons and into the safety of their barn - before all of that - I started my day on this farm. The same good story every morning. The work of feeding, watering, checking, petting, talking and raising the animals that make up part of my livelihood and my neighborhood. Caring for these animals, especially that morning set of rounds, a ritual I cherish and a drug I need. To be needed is everything. 

The chores are always done in the same order. Always set to music. I can't imagine beginning a day without coffee and music. It's a choice as plain as making your bed first thing, a little order in a chaotic world. With a strong cup of coffee in a sturdy mug and a playlist of music that is guaranteed to lift my spirits away from the news or politics - I have my day started. And from that point comes the to do list of chores, clients, artwork, errands, and the everyday things that make up life on a small diverse farm. I go through them and celebrate the tiny goals made; a bill paid, a fence repaired, a box of soap mailed, another chapter written.

We need to make our days what they will be. Choose music and comfort and routine. Make your bed.

Friday, June 22, 2018

In It Now

We are in it now: Summer. Hot and humid days and blessedly cool nights. Mornings start around 6AM and right now chores are the most intense of the year. Not just the usual care and feeding of a farm: there are meat birds in tractors that need to be moved daily. There's two (hopefully!) pregnant does from late-season breeding to monitor and check. There's sheep being grained and then let out to graze from their pens. There's a hawk to feed and set outside in her weathering yard (and morning training for us both). There's dogs and cats to feed, horses and their fly and foot care routines, pigs and their pet Max, and at the bottom (or top, depending on your outlook): there's me. I say bottom because the farmer is the base of the operation, what it stands on. I also say bottom because I haven't even had a damn cup of coffee yet.

It's been a bit of a month. Things are a combination of good and the usual scrappy, which I will happily take! The mortgage is a few days late, but not a few months late. Been working like crazy to pay it up to a safer zone and am trying like nuts to keep that momentum going. Things always come up. I finally paid off some dental debt from this winter, but now I need to get $525 in repairs to the truck and am hoping to earn that by Monday through art sales or future pork shares. Social media is where I promote that end of the farm business. Twitter and Instagram have been amazing. The only way forward is trying, asking, finding new ways to bring income to the farm that keep me on it. As long as I have the energy and will to stay here I will find a way to do it.

And speaking of reasons to fight the good fight: I have a week coming up that includes three fiddle lessons and two archery guests. After their workshops I have out-of-town writer friends coming to stay to round out the month as well. I'm so excited for all of that. And every day I have been doing some special extra homework, like washing curtains or deep-cleaning the shower to make the place a little more hospitable.

This farm has become my normal everyday. It's my home, my work, my entertainment. It's a small world, too - my 6.5 acres and animals and the small circumference around it of neighbors and friends. But when people travel here for classes or as friends staying to hang out - it gives this place such a boost of new energy. It gives me their perspective as well which if you also live on a farm can understand how important that is. To see others view your choices and home as good, holy crow is that validating and encouraging! A shot of hope in the arm.

Okay, time for that coffee. Send an email or note on twitter or insta if there's anything in particular you want me to write about? I'll d my best to post a few more times before the end of the weekend!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dream Life

One of the things I hear all the time from readers and folks on social media is "You're living my dream life." It's lovely to hear and in its own way affirming. Knowing other people are drawn to the same choices or aspire to them is validating as hell, but it's also not the whole truth.

Be aware you're comparing the reality of your actual life to the curated presentation I am sharing online. My Instagram account does not show the slaughter day I was covered in blood and scratches from chasing an escaped 200lb sow in the forest during the most humid day of the year. Nor did I photograph my night two evenings ago when I left my bed to the sound of Hannah the ewe screaming because she got her head stuck in the fence. I was out there in the chaos with a flashlight between my teeth removing her horns from woven wire while coyotes howled in the distance and Friday kept barking.

If I posted pictures of those days my account would look more like Apocalypse Now than a dreamy farm. I'd rather share that part of my life in words (like the last post about Shearing Day Breakout) than in pictures. I keep reality to Twitter and this blog. I like the photographs I share to be a scrapbook of good memories. 

But here's the problem with that: We get comparison hangovers all the time from that exact choice. It gives people the illusion that someone's life is better than our own. I feel it all the time. I follow a couple hundred people on Instagram and recently deleted some of the more popular/weirdly commercial accounts I followed. Accounts like the perfect femme couple selling skin cream with promotion codes or backpacking dogs selling canine energy bars. Mostly because they are total strangers but more so because I want to know about the real mess behind the photo shoot. Sure, hand me your beautiful album but please tell me the story behind pictures. I need to know you're just as real. That you also are figuring it out every day and are terrified most of the time.

Do you see that picture of Friday and Mabel on the mountain in this post? Yes, it is so pretty. But here's the story behind it: Friday is currently in heat and has to wear a diaper inside so blood doesn't get all over the floor and bed. It's also why Gibson isn't in this picture.  He's not allowed to be around her unsupervised and I can't play chaperone and horse trainer at the same time. I'm not on Mabel because I got off her at the bottom of this little valley, near those bushes below in the picture. Why? Because she is so nervous being ridden without another horse on the trail it doesn't feel safe. She's jumpy so we take the ride in little steps, me getting on and off and her learning the safety and ease of a solo trail ride. I'm not confident to take her out all around the mountain alone like I do with Merlin because SHE isn't there yet. So what you see is a bitch in heat, a 1200lb scaredy cat, and a girl with enough bug bites to receive a benefit concert. 

I don't want anyone who reads this blog to think of my life as a perfect dream come true. I want people to be inspired to create their own imperfect dreams. Why? Because life is short and regret is forever. Because it's better to fail trying than drown comfortable and untested. Because you want it so bad it takes up space in your lungs and nags you at 3:32 on a Wednesday afternoon when you should be thinking about Steve's stupid PowerPoint presentation on email click-through rates but instead you are scrolling through breeds of draft horses under the table on Pinterest. Because you can't fucking help it.

Nothing feels better than a reader who found one of my books or blog telling me about closing a sale on their first farm, buying their first horse, getting their first egg from a backyard hen. That gives me such a rush!  It makes me feel less alone in the world. It matters so much you tell me those stories, but mostly because I want to matter to something besides these 6.5 acres.

And please know if you're reading this you're probably living a version of my dream life.

You know how you're paying the next month's bills? You're living my dream life.
You have a partner that loves you and cares about you? You're living my dream life.
You have health insurance? Savings? You're living my dream life.
You have more than 2 digits in your bank account right now? You're living my dream life.

None of this is a complaint. I chose this life and I truly adore it. Not having financial security in exchange for working from home and having this farm was a gamble I endeavored to roll. Being single is preferred to being in a relationship I would feel is settling or, more importantly, restrictive. Health insurance and savings are something I am working towards, but not there yet, again: my choice. And right now the reason I am so low in my account is because I just managed to catch up on old dental bills and some current work that was sorely needed and caught up on old electric bills. I'm broke because I'm staying afloat and able to chew.

So that's where I'm at. The best type of real love and real fear, free for you to witness online. And when you tell me it helps your own story, oh man, it's the drive I need to keep learning to be more resourceful, frugal, hardworking and true to my own dream.

My own imperfect, messy, horrific, perfect, beautiful dream.

Just keep going, all of us.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Best-Laid Plans

It was 7:45Am on Shearing Day and everything was going as planned. The sheep were penned and their location had extension cords at the ready. The chores were done early so Liz had my full attention and assistance grabbing and moving sheep. The check was laid out on the coffee table. The weather was gorgeous. Everything was perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

Liz pulled into the driveway right on schedule and I helped her carry the shearing board, her tool box, and the cords and gear needed for the work. I do what I can to help with professional when they come to the farm to help with skills I don't possess. I am right there with the butchers on kill dates, helping carry animals or unload meat hooks. I am with the farrier when he is trimming and shaping the horses feet, asking questions about their care and condition. And I am always with the shearer to ask her about the animals' overall health, body condition, and wool. Which was the exact plan when I opened the pen gate and Liz walked in with her board and me with the other gear.


Hannah the black sheep ran and leapt over the 4ft fence like a gazelle on poppers. Seeing this amazing feet, Joseph the 225lb wether tried to do the same and ended up just crashing onto the fence and crushing the woven wire, making a dip that any respectable sheep could traverse in a hop. It took about 5 seconds for the rest of the flock to be out like a hole in a bucket. The shearer gasped. I let out a four letter word of choice. We both watched them run far away from us towards the forest and back pasture.

My first thoughts were racing and angry. It has taken so long to actually book a traveling sheep shearer for a farm this small and I couldn't lose the appointment. It was already late in the season for shearing, something that is usually done in March or April. I had promoted sales and soap like mad on Twitter to raise up the money for the job. I set the appointment. I did all the things, and yet...

I have learned in moments like this not to panic or waste any energy on the problem, just start the first step of the solution. I told Liz I was sorry but I could get this all sorted, I just needed an hour or so. I told her to head down the road to Jon Katz's farm first and take care of his flock. (He was less than two miles away and also had her scheduled to shear.) While she did that I would herd the sheep back, get them into their pole barn, get the pen repaired and when she returned it would be smooth sailing towards Naked Sheep Island.

It took me, the dogs, a bucket of grain, some fence tools, a t-post pounder, baling twine, and a hammer and nails to get the job done but we got it done!

I will admit the trick I use when things go wrong, when problems need to be dealt with fast. I imagine myself swaying in the hammock at the end of the day, sipping a cold drink, reading my Kindle as the fireflies start to come out. I imagine the feeling of accomplishment of a big task like shearing day done, the box checked, the ewes shorn and ripping grass while Gibson, Friday, and I watch on. That is what I thought about as I gathered supplies and got to the messy work of battening down hatches.

I let the sheep graze and wander the farm as I repaired the broken area of fence first. Once that was sound again I cut a section of woven wire a little larger than the pole barn's door. I nailed it on one side and set the hammer and nails to the other for what I called "Action Time!" Then I got a large piece of chain link fence that was being used to plug another fence hole in the pasture and set that near the barn's door. Okay. I was ready for the dogs.

Friday and Gibson worked as a scrappy team getting Monday off the lawn and back into the pasture. Then they got Jessa and her little lamb to run into the pen, followed my Marnie and Hannah. Last to go into the pen by dog escort was Monday, Brick, and Joseph. Soon all six adults and one little lamb were in the pen. I told the dogs to lie down by the main gate and poured some grain into the barn. Soon all the sheep were inside ACTION TIME and I nailed the woven wire gate shut. Then I set the chain link section over that. HA HA! They were in.

Liz arrived with her daily schedule in tact. Swapping farm times was a lucky break, and I am grateful to Jon that he welcomed her earlier than planned. That's the kind of communication and neighborly goodwill we need around here to keep everyone sane.

It didn't take long to pull the sheep from the fortress one at a time. I warned Liz that Brick, being the oldest ewe of around 13 or 14, might be nothing but skin and bones under that wool. Feeling her back it felt boney. But she was plump and well and her eyes were pink under the lids. It is a really good feeling when the oldest sheep you have looks that chunky and bonnie. What a grand sight she was shorn! I'll post a pic of the old girl when I can grab one!

When shearing was done I invited Liz inside to discuss a possible logo for her business and to work out a barter for a possible new ram for next season. I wrote her the check for the day's work plus tip (always tip your hairdresser) and thanked her again for being flexible and so great with the sheep.  She headed back out on the road to shear at two farms back in Vermont.

So the day didn't go as planned but the work got done. When sunset fell and the evening chores were finished I did end up in that hammock. I did have a cold drink. I did read as the fireflies circled around me. This isn't always the case, but when it happens I sway with it.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

It's Shearing Day!!!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Town Love

I love this town. I really do. I landed here by chance and a thousand odd choices starting over a decade ago in nearby Vermont for a job. I bought this farm because it was in my price range, a short distance from work, and no one else seemed to want it. A single family home with one small bathroom, narrow stairs, crooked floors, and in need of a lot of love since its old owners had to leave. And here I landed.

I spent yesterday doing my usual errands around town: picking up feed at that hardware store, dropping off soap and art to mail at the post office, and stopping by neighboring farms for swapping equipment and stories. I spoke with bakers and cooks, brewers and shopkeepers, farmers and friends. And the day ended with a beer with friends at the brewery. (Side Note: Someone at the brewery asked if it was me rescuing a turtle on rt 372. It was not, but I would certainly stop to save a road turtle). This is my community and it is how the farm churns on. The people who share in my farm are all around. It's a fine way to start the day with gratitude and love.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Claw Marks

It's been an interesting couple of days at the farm, to put it lightly. The kind of thing happened Friday morning that would make an amazing short story but I can't write about it here. Nothing sordid, just more a story for late nights around campfires and full glasses of wine among friends. Let's just say that when everything goes wrong in a day's plan (and I mean EVERYTHING) and then friends, luck, and hard work turn it all around for the better - it refills my tank of farm love. I don't know of another lifestyle that let's you fall so often and then lifts you up higher each time.

New farmers shouldn't be warned about this, they should be teased. It should be a selling point. Yes, you are going to have horrible, scary, and miserable days. Days where you spend hours with sore bodies, bleeding cuts, sunburn, nettle stings, and dogs panting so hard their tongues nearly touch the ground... But when you figure it out and recover with a hot shower and stiff drink the entire world becomes a sweeter and more understandable place. You feel strong in ways you could not imagine before pullets and pulled pork were part of your emotional inventory.

I felt so amazing after Friday's endeavors that I went for a ten-mile run Saturday morning. It was the most enjoyable thing I have done in weeks. The first hour was a little rough, but then my body turns into this animal that only wants to cover distance and breathe. This place makes me feel so strong. When you find that in the world you hold on so tight the air around you has claw marks.

In more mundane news: the coolant lines on the truck burst and it needs repairs. I'm hustling on social media, as always, to earn up the repairs.  It's always something, as you all know. We are all doing our best every day with the circumstances we're lotted. But besides truck repairs I am happy to report most things here are the good kind of problems: like working to earn and keep the thing I love. The type of stuff that requires grit and resourcefulness and honesty. I have a healthy body and a low rate rate. I have friends I adore and hold closer than moss on river stone. I have dogs that make every morning paradise.  I have enough coffee and time.

It's going to be an amazing summer.