Saturday, December 29, 2018

Looking Ahead

The Holiday came and went in a happy flurry of food and friendship! I spent Christmas day at Livingston Brook Farm and enjoyed a ham dinner and good whisky with great friends. Now it is back to working towards the farm's goals and planning for spring, which will come sooner than I realize I'm sure! I have started taking shares for lamb and pork, which I want to double sales of from last year. Planning and taking reservations now gets me the income I need to order the stock from local farmers to raise in the spring through fall of 2019. Along with the new bees and expanded vegetables this will be a heck of a year for Cold Antler. I'm trying to farm smarter and focus on what I am best at: pork, lamb, and squash. I want to create a place I can leave for a night or two - with my dogs - to explore the mountains or a romantic night away. And I am excited for the days growing longer and the light returning into spring. As much as April creeps me out I so look forward to her.

The last lamb share is being picked up today. The pigs are still growing. Soon the farm will fall into the winter lull of ice, snow, mud and easier chores made simpler by the weather and farm's seasonal changes. I look back at June and it feels like a theme park compared to this morning's routine. I woke up to feed the pigs, the horses, carry water and check bedding. I fed the poultry and the pets, removed the mare's blanket and weighed and worked with the hawk - but without the work of a summer farm with lambs, goats, gardens, hives... it feels insanely simplified. Not a bad thing at all, but I do miss those sweaty mornings with less mud and more light.

My days now are based on earning money, winter chores, spring preparations, art, soap, meat, and writing. Goals are in focus. I hope we all have a bright and wonderful 2019!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Merry and Bright!

Last night I was woken up by the weight of Gibson slamming into me and his front paws clinging to my torso. A flash of lightning so intense the whole bedroom lit up followed by an exploding crack of thunder. Gibson is terrified of storms, gunshots, any uncertain unseen loud noise. I remembered some dog person telling me not to coddle scared dogs because it reinforces their fear, like you are rewarding it. I held my shaking dog because when I hold him he stops shaking and buries his head in my chest. That is what he runs to me for. I refuse to deny it.

It was Solstice Night and never in my memory had there been a thunderstorm at Yule. It was just a few hours earlier we (the two dogs and I) had walked up in the moonlight to the highest point on our land. The moon was full and the fast-moving clouds were swirling past it as warm air whipped our hair. It was a magical feeling up there. Then a storm roared through. What a collision of the wondrous: Winter Solstice, A Thunderstorm, a Full Moon. Magic is afoot.

This has been an overwhelming month. Scary and hard and some nights bitter cold and some warm as a tropical storm.... but I managed to pull off mailing a house payment, a root canal, an emergency vet visit, dozens of packages mailed, and a butcher bill for four lambs - all on top of regular bills! Well, for the most part at least. Some things always fall behind but for the most part I can sleep soundly tonight. 

That happened because of the community around this blog. This community keeps this farm going through purchasing meat, soap, art, and stories. I can't tell you magical that is to me. How grateful I am. The only reason I get to live in this weird life of selective time travel is because of those of you that still read along with this story. Ten years, TEN YEARS!

I still have 2 house payments to be made to be caught up, bu that is well away from foreclosure threat. Heck that's a month away and while that isn't exactly something I am proud of it is something that keeps me fueled to work even harder in 2019. Had the same funds been available minus the dental work, dog at the vet, and meat processing I wouldn't be behind right now. I'd be on track. And that is encouraging as hell. It means if things go easier in January I have the steam and will to catch up.

And, here is some more good news, I enrolled in the ACA and have the chance to get back into a healthcare plan! Yes, the deductible is huge and it doesn't cover much everyday care, but I have been covering that myself for years - this is in case something awful happens like a real sickness or broken bones or medical expenses. I have been chancing staying healthy and whole for a while now and it's time to have one less thing to worry about - like losing the farm I have fought so damn hard to keep over a broken arm. So hopefully I'll get the scratch together for that premium and be a person with health insurance! More magic!!!

So the farm keeps breathing in and out. Not perfectly, but still alive. And while winter is far from over I have firewood and good friends. I have my health and a house still in my name. I have two healthy dogs (Gibson is so much better) and a hawk that really gives it his all in the field. I have my animals, my friends online, and good work lined up making a modest offering food, art, and words to the world. I am aware there is so far to go - but I am feeling merry and bright. May all of you have a lovely Christmas or whatever you celebrate and be kind and good to your fellow man out in this cold world. Everyone is just waiting to feel okay.

Friday, December 21, 2018


It's Solstice and warm weather has rushed through the valley with intense rain. This has messed with the farm's rhythm and schedule so much more than a snowstorm or snap of true cold would. This means melting and mud and ice so slick that dogs can't cross without slipping and they have built-in crampons! Last night we all slid around the farmyard checking on the livestock before bedtime. Horse and hawk, hog and hen - all of us were tucked in and dry save for the gal and her fool dogs romping around in the rain by the glow of a headlamp. We came inside soaked and happy. A hot meal of soup and a warm fire are the things than wipe the board clean of any regret for this life. We sat and enjoyed the show - the weirdly warm night and gusts of wind. I fell asleep feeling like I was in a pirate ship instead of a farm house. The way wind and water hit the siding you would not even turn over in your covers if you felt the house start to float away...

The real pain in the weather is how it messed up lamb share pickups. My truck still doesn't perform well in the rain, even after a replaced distributor cap and new battery, so that mystery lives on. There's a chance that if it does start and get me to the butcher it won't get me home. It also needs new tires and so driving in an inch of rainfall in bald tires also seems like a bad choice... There was a good change I'd either get stranded or in an accident, neither a great predicament to be in when you have boxes of frozen meat promised to neighbors and friends. So I had to reschedule the pickup for Monday instead. Not ideal, but all any of raising meat on this scale can offer is our best. I'd hate to mess up the story of lamb to lamb chop by getting boxes of meat sprawled across the highway...

So I am home this morning instead of driving to the butcher. I am working on logo designs and starting the planning stages for spring. I want to invest in some more honey and garden operations this year - focusing less on meat birds and more on veg. I'd like to double the laying flock for egg customers and also double the lambs I raise. This is a transition year between breeding lambs and goats for milk and buying in feeder lambs and milk from other farms for soap making. It involves some more planning and hopefully by the new year I'll have that on paper. I do want to keep the pork, lamb, egg, fleece, and chicken operations ago but would like to involved more vegetables and honey/beeswax craft. It moves the farm in the direction I want to go - which is active and thriving but able for a single woman to spend a night off farm every once in a while with help from friends or neighbors. I still have this pipe dream of taking the dogs to Mystic Connecticut overnight, or walking the streets of Providence Rhode Island like some design student or backpacking in the White Mountains with Tara, my adventure buddy. I guess we'll see!

I'll be celebrating the holiday quietly here. Lighting the candles at dusk all over the homestead and instead of a bonfire there will be a fire in the stove, welcoming the return of light and hope to the cold, wet, earth. Christmas Day will be spent with friends at their farm, and a big feast of the lamb, chicken, and maybe even a turkey we raised while sharing our lives and stories. I feel very lucky to have people like Mark and Patty and Tara and Tyler in my life, especially this year with so much change in my heart and hearth. I hope however you celebrate you are surrounded by loved ones and the belief that next year will bring more love and light into your life. That's what Yule, Jul, Christmas - whatever you celebrate! - is about. Blessings of good tidings and peace to you all.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Farming On

Outside a gentle snowfall covers this farm. I know the pigs have their nest of deep hay. I know the chickens are all roosted in the barn. I know the mare has her blanket, Merlin has his coat. I have my hawk beside me on a perch, waiting for his dinner to thaw by the fire while I wait for the oven to preheat. We are both having chicken tonight. Friday's heat has passed. A new cord of firewood has been delivered. My root canal is done, mostly. What matters is the infection is gone and there is no pain. And very recently - the lambs were all harvested and sent to the butcher. I write you on this snowy night with no sheep on this farm. There are pigs, geese, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, and 2 possums under my kitchen floor but no sheep. This is the first time in a very, very, long time this farm hasn't had wool on the hoof outside the door. It's exciting and scary.

I sold my breeding flock to Leah at Moxie Ridge. My goats, Bonita and Ida and her kid to homesteaders friends of mine recommended. Deciding to cut back on breeding animals was a big deal to me. It was the choice to buy in lambs in the spring to raise for shares, like I usually do with pigs. But the real change wasn't the ages of the animals but the security and presence of a breeding flock. As a storm swirls outside right now - it feels like a bad decision. Every homesteader in the modern era - I don't care what your politics are - is aware of the security and safety of having breeding animals on her own land. I currently do not. That prepper inside me is a little scared. That girl enamored with homesteading that wrote my first memoirs is disappointed. The woman I am today is patient.

My goals now are keeping the passions I have alive and the hope of love a beacon. I don't care how sappy that sounds.

I hope you wish me luck. I hope to keep farming on.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Firewood And Lamb's Eve

Gibson is doing better and on an antibiotic for the infection found in his urine test. He's on a bland diet and taking it as easy as a border collie can. I am so glad he bounced back, because losing him is something I am not prepared for in any way. But he's okay, and the kindness sent via Instagram and Twitter was amazing and much-needed. So thank you for taking the time to share a bit of grace to a woman very worried about her dog. The best news is that for showing up at a new vet's office with no patient history, with an hour's notice, and a full hour of talking to the doctor and testing and inspecting Gibson it was only $155. Not exactly a cheap visit but a lot less than some places charge for walking in off the streets. And everyone was so nice to us, even though I looked borderline-homeless and was ranting about symptoms like a terrified parent. I'm so happy he is okay.

I stacked firewood this afternoon till my arms were ready to fall off and am just now inside from evening chores. I mailed out thirty bars of soap and three pet portraits today, sent out sketches for approval for two more, and still have soap and art to make tonight. Sadly, all the work is catching up on earlier sales and new sales are rare. Which is causing the usual fuel of anxiety to promote like mad on Twitter. While handing over the check for the firewood to my friend Othniel there was a lump in my throat. I'm grateful for the heat but worried as hell right now. My number-one priority from today on is getting out a house payment before the farm hits any possible foreclosure dates. (technically possible as of Sunday). This month hit with a root canal, truck repairs, a surprise vet bills and a butcher bill for the lambs. Every day is one step at a time. Which if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time you know and probably feel like I do: nervous but certain I'll figure it out.

Remember when I said I wanted to write about love, loneliness, etc? I did. I wrote possibly the most personal thing of my life and submitted to an editor for INTO. Here's hoping it get's picked up. I think a lot of women in my situation can relate to what I shared. It's a very optimistic piece, at least I think so.

Tomorrow is a butcher date for the lambs here. After tomorrow night there won't be a sheep here for the first time in ten years. That is a scary thought. Expect some serious writing tomorrow about the intensity of the day.

And if you are in the position to order some soap, logos, artwork, classes, etc and want to help out the farm this is a very wonderful time to do it. I am all ears but booked like mad for this holiday season if it isn't a gift card - but offering someone the opportunity to pick out a custom batch of goats milk soap as an Xmas present is a winner in my book! Email me if you're interested!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Running to a vet ASAP. Something is very wrong. He is vomiting bile and weak on his feet all of a sudden. Morning chores were fine and now this. Will keep you posted after visit with experts. Very very worried. Never seen him like this before.

Update: I'm back from the vet. Everyone was so great. The doctor thinks he had a stroke, and after some tests finding blood in his urine and bacteria - he is also on antibiotics. He is home now and resting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Great Gifts!

Morning all! If you are looking for a holiday gift that is quick and easy and also helps out this farm during a rough month, you can email me to buy a gift voucher for soap, artwork, or a logo! These are printable and sized to fit inside a card. The person who receives the gift can email me after the holidays to redeem it for custom art, a logo, or soap! The farm could really use the sales and this way you get a special one-of-a-kind gift! Email me for more details!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Back to Work!

Mornings here run on an economy that's equal parts excitement, responsibility, and anxiety. This is the Woginrich Formula. Let the fuel that runs the machine be a balance of passion, work, and panic. Maybe that isn't wisdom but it got me this far. And waking up on a morning like this with a set of goals to achieve makes falling asleep in an uncertain life possible. Here's me explaining all that:

Soon as I am out of bed there's the animals to check on and feed. Those rounds are what start the day and have yet to stop being genuinely exciting. It still makes me so happy to walk outside and see this piece of land I made my own, to step into a world of animals, effort, and stories all surrounding recipes and friends. If you farm you care about food, period. It's your life and what you prioritized as the centerpiece of it. Everything else is in service to that happy ending!

I think all homesteaders share the love of a good meal and a safe space - your own kitchen table at a big meal or bench by the wood stove with a strong cup of coffee. We get up and feed pigs, collect eggs, milk goats or herd sheep because that is the few sentences we are writing that day towards the Book of the Feast we are writing.

Like this morning; the first thing I did was carry a bucket of feed and another of water down the barn with Gibson. The pigs were fed, and I made note of getting a bale of hay to them to refresh their sleeping area and add some loft for night-time insulation. They like to move from that nest to the outside area that used to home the goats. This year it belongs to the pigs. And as I go through this morning check of the sounder I am doing it for the farm, but also the larger characters of the story: the people waiting on pork or my own future meals with friends, like a summer lunch of BLTs with garden ripe tomatoes...mmmm.

Sidenote: Oh, gardens! I think this coming year will focus a lot more on planting and honey. Two ways to grow and expand the farm's operation without worrying about the around-the-clock work of a hundred meat birds. 

When all the animals are settled in for the day, with feed and fresh water, hawk weighed and noted, and the house pets all full from breakfast and napping - that is when I get to work on drawing and soap making and designs. I promote work online, write to you guys, work on freelance contracts, and do it all in a series of work periods broken up with time outside. For example: chores are done and it's time to get 3 different illustrations drawn, photographed, and sent off to clients for notes and approval. When that is done I can go for a run, grab a shower, or play a video game for half an hour. Then it is back to work on 3 logo designs, or packing 3 soap orders. The tiny rewards break up the day and allow the flexibility to fly the hawk in the afternoon or ride the horses in better weather.

And it sets the day into a project of joy, work, and goals that balance out that underlying fear of losing everything. I'm behind on the mortgage, more than usual, because of this root canal. So that adds to the panic around the work - and not in a necessarily bad way.  It means that there can be no slacking, that goals must be met! And that worry about money and cold - the monsters of winter - that is what never lets me back down on the work of the day.

I create lists and goals that allow me to physically check things off and see, on paper, that I am moving towards a safer place. If I can get through a day managing to keep every animal happy, get good work done, and make something using the skills I learned (writing, illustration, design) and put some money in the bank to work towards a house payment - Holy Crow do I go to sleep feeling good. And that is what I crave most of all about this life - going to bed at night content in what was done in the daylight.

It's almost 9:30 and so far the farm chores are, of course, done. I had three mugs of coffee and a power bar and three illustrations done. I have made a third of the daily income goal and next up is working on a large soap order for a customer. Through the day I'll keep track of work and progress and by 3 or 4 be burned out creatively but have this piece of paper showing me what was done. Whatever part of me could enjoy doing nothing seems to have died off, and that's fine. Over the years discipline and budgeting and work had to change or staying here was off the table.

Everyone's life and farm and work is different. What matters is that you find a way to wake up excited and go to sleep content. Everything in the middle is up in the air. We all get surprise bills, get sick, worry about relationships etc - but if the foundation is something worth the esteem it builds, I find you can literally carve happiness out of effort. That's no small thing. You focus on your story, what makes you happy, and try like hell to make your life a little more positive than the day before. And even if you fail you spent the day trying.

So, yes, wake up with whatever combination of joy, anxiety, and work makes your life sing. If you are sad or tired or scared, this is even more important. Stay away from things that anger your or frighten you until at least lunchtime. The news doesn't change that much between 6AM and noon. Drink water, get outside, move your body, be grateful for the trying and allow yourself to be okay with the trying being the bulk of the story.

As for me: back to work.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Through The Storm

Through The Storm He Silently Glided Along in Front of Her While the Woods Sheltered Them, 1915. That is the name of the painting above, a piece by Norman Rockwell I had never seen before. It's now my favorite painting of his. A woman and her friend alone in a wild place, being guided through the roughest times by the light that is a black dog. Holy Crow, can I relate.

Things here are pretty okay right now, especially after yesterday. There are some setbacks and concerns: like an entire mortgage payment's worth of funds going to dental work instead of bill and quickly dwindling firewood supplies - but these are battles I know how to fight. I already contacted some suppliers and worked out payments and  I am happy to announce tooth number 14 got its root canal yesterday, or most of it...

It's a tooth with three roots, being a molar, and while two of the three were easy to drill and clean and repair, one was a disaster. Old filling material had been compacted up into the actual root and made it impossible to do all three roots in the same visit, so I need to return after January. Good news is the price doesn't change and I'm not paying for 3 root canals (technically, that's what this is) and just the one. Because of this community online I was able to get that medical care. And because of good friends here in town I was even given a ride to the office in Saratoga.

There is some pain I'm dealing with right now but it is manageable compared to what an abscess deals out. And it's the pain of repair, not decay, which is encouraging -with teeth and with life in general.

I've been meaning to write about loneliness. It's a new sensation for me, something I never dealt with before. But writing about it means talking about some LGBT themes and romance and I am not sure if that's something you guys want to read about? Perhaps that's an essay for Autostraddle. But it's a different way of being here on the mountain then ever before: not being okay with being alone. It's not sad as much as it is growing pains. It took me a long time to want to not be alone. That's the real storm - the complexity of learning who you are - and I am glad as hell there's black dogs to guide me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Powder Sugar Morning

Woke up to a farm covered with a fresh powdered-sugar shake of snow. Not much, but enough to coat the trees and make the mud from yesterday a little more pleasant. I walked outside and all the truck tire ruts had fluffy shoulders and the bit of pine swag hanging from my front door was frosted. I smiled at the happy start. It's the little things.

Chores went fast this morning. Mabel seemed happy in her blue blanket, which I put on around 9PM last night when the snow squall started and the wind felt harsh. I was out there in a headlamp with the dogs, fidgeting with the snaps that go under the equine belly. Today she seemed easy going as ever, and she and Merlin enjoyed their hay at their eating spot below the lamb pen (who were doing the same).

The pigs were all snug in their nest in the barn and seemed annoyed to be waken up for breakfast, steam coming off their bodies when they emerged from the straw. The dogs ran around me, enjoying the morning chicken bothering and goose baiting while the two cats enjoyed their extra layer of winter fat asleep by the wood stove. We are here in the folds of winter and it's not even the solstice. Feels early. Already went through a cord of firewood and need to get more.

So I talked to Common Sense Farm this morning about buying two more cords over the next few weeks. Another thing to figure out. It never ends does it? And that isn't a complaint as much as a comforting reality we all share. Just when you think things are starting to level out you end up with truck repairs, double the firewood needs, and a root canal.

My root canal is scheduled for this week with an Endodontist in Saratoga. I have about 3/4th the funds together, another $400 to go. Part of me is so grateful it is getting done because my head has been dealing with this ache for the last few days that scares me, not a headache but this bone ache of inner infection. All I can do is take the medication, work on current clients, and hope more sales come in to pick up the slack. So that's the other part, this knowledge that all that money could cover another mortgage payment and bills. I'm angry at my teeth, my genes, the bad luck of having to deal with this some mornings. Right now I am as angry as I am glad Thursday is inching closer. I want these fears and the pain behind me but the fire to catch up is both causing anxiety as it is motivation.

If you want to help out, please consider purchasing a gift certificate for artwork or soap to give as a holiday gift? I can't promise artwork or soap by this Holiday's deadline but the gift vouchers can be printed and redeemed anytime in 2019. It's certainly needed and so appreciated. Send an email.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Piece of Junk

Someone recently called my truck a piece of junk.  They said it the way you'd say any mundane fact—not a drop of cruelty in their tone. They said it as if describing "a slice of bread" or "that brown cat". It was a gut punch. 

I agree my 29-year-old truck isn't impressive. It has faded paint, rust spots, and dim headlights. It has no working AC, a wonky cassette player, and hand-stitched holes in the upholstery. It often needs work, rarely starts in the rain, and (until recently) the oil leaked as if it was being held by a colander.

But you know what? I love that truck.

I sought out that truck. It wasn't something I settled for. It was an intentional purchase. As intentional as choosing homesteading over corporate design. Yeah, she's a little rough but so am I.

I wanted that age and model of truck for good while, too. I longed for it. The XL bed, the steel exterior, the lack of anything digital inside. She works on switches, levers, dials and slung luck.

I love the style of late-eighties trucks and how much space they take up, proud and true. They are unapologetic in their utility and comforting in their simplicity. And like raising your own food in your backyard; they are inconveniently old-fashioned. When I drive her to the movies it looks like a lego parked among rows of suppositories. Which is how I feel about modern car design in general. I didn't want to drive around in spaceship. I wanted a machine.

When I emailed the musician who was selling her he told me no one had ever seemed so excited about an old truck before.  When I contacted him I had no idea how to pay the $1900 asking price. That is still a lot of money to me. But I told him I would figure it out, just give me the weekend, and I did!  I got a micro-loan through Kiva and was able to get the money within 48 hours! That man drove the truck to my farm and delivered it himself. And that was three years ago and I just got home from picking up a load of hay in her. The heater worked. The speakers were playing a podcast. I was so happy and grateful for her.

Piece of junk... Well I own that piece of junk. Her title was paid for that day I met her and I paid off the Kiva loan early. I keep her oil changed, interior spotless, windows washed, and I know my mechanic's number by heart. I have never been so educated on a vehicle I owned before. I understand her quirks and pieces. I own the tools to keep her going and maintain her like any other beast on this farm. She is part of my family here.

She only costs $48 a month to insure and even if she needs $500 worth of work every quarter it is still less than the nearly $500 I was paying A MONTH to have a newer model truck. The 2004 Dodge was bought on a $14,000 loan and needed all sorts of inspections and insurance. I couldn't afford to live like that anymore so when the Dodge started failing and was too hard to make payments on I knew my next vehicle had to be drastically different. Paid in full, simpler to repair, easier to pass inspection, ready for snow and farm. That truck was a prayer.

Scaling back on things was the only way I could afford to stay on the farm. I did it with many aspects of my life. I dropped my insurance and went to Planned Parenthood instead of my old doctors. I stopped using a cell phone and only kept a land line. Money went to bills, loans, and the cost of running this farm instead and that was fine since it was my work, my playground, my grocery store... my entire world. I got my cost of living down to what matched what I could scrap together. And so far, even though I am usually right up against it, it has worked. This May will be nine years on this farm. Almost a third of the way towards ownership as a single woman. No in-laws, no parents, no spouse made any of this happen. This blog, my books, this community made that happen. Which is magic and as amazing as my truck.

My truck got picked on and I felt the need to stand up for her and for me. Be mindful of the words you are saying. Something worthless to you might be the keystone to someone else's lifestyle. Or it could be something they wish they didn't have and being called garbage doesn't help their esteem or heart. Kindness can be the choice to say nothing at all.

When I look at her I do not see a symbol of poverty or failure: I see a decision to stay. I see something I can afford that works as hard as I do. She is my girl and one of the puzzle pieces that allow me to live this feral life that I am so honored to keep scrapping together.