Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Hawks and Hope

When I last wrote there was no working plumbing indoors and I was coming off an intense storm and deluge of rain. Since then the plumbing has been repaired thanks to my amazing friend Chris, who came over with his partner Miriam to spend a night of hanging out and board games in celebration of running water. They brought a bottle of scotch, a roast chicken and vegetables and he showed me how to remove and repair the shark bite plumbing fixture I didn't have the right tool to budge. So I have water again! And I have amazing friends who came to spend time at the farm and teach me some new skills while we sipped hot toddies.

They arrived at my farm around 4PM, right when I was finally hiking down off the mountain. I had started hiking there at 11AM when my friend Caroline from Sandgate came over to hunt with Dash and I. Ten minutes into the hunt Dash saw a rabbit, took off, caught some of the wind and suddenly was over the ridge and out of sight and shouting distance. I spent an hour calling for him, Caroline being a real sport helping, as we hiking toward the directions we thought we heard bells. I walked up and down that mountain all day. No sign of him. Some times hawks simply fly away. It's part of falconry. They catch a swell of air and soar, they get chased off by territorial raptors that already live there, or they chase game out of earshot and it takes a while to find them. So far no luck. I notified the DEC and filed all the right paperwork about it and hope I can find him. Right now he's out there. He's healthy and a good hunter and all the equipment he is wearing to hunt is designed to be safe and come off eventually if he stays wild. But what a gut punch of a day...the bittersweet nature of his flight over the mountain and friends there to hug you and show you how the hot water is back on tap and spend an evening playing Lords of Waterdeep via candlelight.

That was Sunday. Yesterday I woke up early and returned to the mountain at dawn. I drove all over the area looking for him, too. No luck yet. My thighs and calves are so sore from the hiking it was hard to stand up this morning when I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag. Today the truck refused to start and I stood there in my driveway with my neighbor (a town sheriff) and another officer as we tried to troubleshoot what was wrong with Taylor. The consensus was possibly the manifold, but start by replacing spark plugs because it's electrical and that's cheapest and easiest to do. Work from there. SO I called my mechanic and he should be over to tow her away tomorrow. I'm without a bird and without a truck. OH! And a polar vortex is sliding into town! GREAT!

Enough of all that: here is some good news. When the truck was running, yesterday before this storm hit, I was able to get plenty of feed and supplies. I was also able to source some local dry firewood to carry me through a few days until I can figure out a larger delivery. I set out a seed bell for the songbirds. I baked some bread and defrosted a pork butt from the bottom of the freezer and even though it was in there a little longer than comfortable it roasted just fine with honey and sauce. So I had an amazing farm-raised meal beside a roaring fire and if I wanted to I could have a hot shower RIGHT NOW. I'm not sick like 90% of this area seems to be with a killer cold and when I did wake up earlier today to one hot water line frozen I was able to defrost it in time. The pigs got fresh straw bedding. The horses are comfortable. The dogs and cats are too.

I am okay. I'll figure out the truck, the wood, and this harsh cold that is coming over the next few days can't last forever.  May has to arrive eventually and as long as I continue to budget, plan, work, and figure out pork and lamb sales, soap sales, and the occasional help of freelance - I can use the skills of farm and art to keep this homestead going. I've done it for nearly a decade now, as this May marks 9 years at this home. That is no meek feat. And it's okay to be proud of doing that alone, and figuring out one problem at a time, and knowing that when May comes you may find me back in the saddle with the hawk that returned to me after a few weeks in the wild. That's what I am holding onto tonight. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

And Then, The Rain!

It has been a deluge of rain over a pile of snow and what resulted is an ice sheet and mud pools in place of what used to be a farm. It made chores a lesson in balance and humility. And without water inside the farm house until it is repaired, it made carrying buckets inside for dog and toilet bowls extremely challenging. Sometimes life here feels like a training montage for a bad nineties karate movie...

The good news, the biggest news, is that I did mail in a house payment yesterday and that is a big weight off my chest! Another one into the books, another payments towards the mortgage. The bank account will be in the single digits once that check cashes, but that's what the account is for. Making it happen, every single month. Back to gathering up the next one! If I can make that happen in 2 weeks I'll be in a far better place so that is my current hope. Spend little as possible, save as much as possible, and focus on getting in firewood soon as I can. It's not March, and days below zero are back in the forecast.

One day and one step at a time. Soon it will be spring and there will be snap peas and chicks and longer days and riding horses on trails that aren't mud and ice. But today, today I am just going to be happy I mailed in that bill and sigh a bit at being one step closer to safe. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Stormlog: Day 5

The good news is that today and tomorrow the temperatures are rising! I took the blanket off the mare and can start getting the hawk ready to hunt again. The truck is running, started up this morning and I got a lot more sleep than I did on the last few hard nights.

The bad news: the pipes that froze yesterday didn't thaw out despite the space heaters and two woodstoves. While trying to refill buckets to use to flush the toilet the cold water stopped working all together in the last faucet that worked and a pipe burst in the mudroom. I raced down to the basement to shut off water to the upstairs from the water heater and inspected the pipes.

Here's some more good news: It looks like the pvc pipe that replaced the broken pipe from last January lost a fastener/connector and that is what caused it to explode open and break free from the replacement pipe. It wasn't a bursting of metal - but a blockage that caused enough backup to force the weakest point open. (Basically instead of a dam breaking, some asshole pulled out the stopper.) I am hoping to get on the phone with my plumber and find out what that piece is and if I can do it myself on Youtube before calling in hired help.

I already planned on mailing that mortgage check if I could make the last $100 I needed for that check to clear and then start saving for the next. I can't afford to call in a plumber right now - but I really think I can fix this if I wait until tomorrow when it is 40° and all the pipes thaw out, or should. Then I can use the money I earn straight away for more firewood. I have enough to last another ten days or so.

In the larger scheme of things, this isn't horrific. I've been in much harder positions and figured those out. But today I need to work first on making sure I run into town for water for me and the dogs through the next few days and to get this pipe repaired. And possibly shower at a friend's house so I don't scare the locals when I go into town.

Homesting! YAY!

Next book contract I sign I'm getting myself a very respectable tool kit. I feel like I earned it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stormlog: Day 4

The worst has passed! Last night (or this morning, rather) the temperature dropped to -15° here at the farm. I tried to keep all the pipes moving but when I fell asleep around 1AM the 6 hours I was asleep was enough for the most vulnerable bathroom pipes to freeze. I am working on thawing them out now. The good news: so far this is the worst of it The truck has started again, all the animals are fine, the sun is shining, and I have a belly full of a cheese omelet and coffee. Things are okay.

I took this picture during the heaviest snowfall. While the wind whipped and snow accumulated to the 16" the farm gathered - this was a warm and safe sanctuary. I am proud that some pipes (not burst!) are the worst of it and that the hot water, home, pets, livestock, truck, hawk, and I all came through the other side. Tomorrow will be possibly 40° and raining - which means things like the drainage should thaw out. Besides needing new firewood soon, I am okay. I am just $100 away from mailing in my mortgage payment and another few weeks to mail in another. For that I'll keep working and trying and hoping. I feel like luck has to change soon. Things will get easier. I can feel it in every tiny bone.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Stormlog: Day 3

The storm has passed and now the real cold is setting in. Things here are okay, as are all the animals and myself. The only issues I have are a truck that won't start because it's been -7° since sunrise, and a shower I can't use because the drain pan below is frozen. BUT! That's it! I have more than enough feed, hay, food, and coffee to be comfortable here until Wednesday's thaw. I stayed up with the stoves last night and the house never got colder than 52°. The pipes are fine. The animals are fine. The only ones that seem bothered by this cold are the dogs. Since they are true house dogs and acclimated to a life between 40-70° all winter this kind of cold makes their paws stiff and hearts sink. So they basically only go out to pee and check on things with the morning and AM chores.

The other beasts are just dandy. The cats have been asleep all day by the fire. The horses are good and eating hay, extra has been provided. The pigs are mostly sleeping and their outdoor water station became an icicle so I brought a new one into the barn and they seem more than happy to sleep and eat their way through all this and honestly I am kinda jealous. The hawk has been fed way above flying weight and is checked on every few hours and eats his meals and gets weighed indoors twice a day while this passes.

As of right now, noon on Monday, things are remarkably okay compared to previous years. I am comfortable. The animals are comfortable. The house is okay. The animals are okay. And last night I stood outside in the snow beside two munching horses and watched that lunar eclipse while making a wish to the night sky. It felt special and I felt proud. The girl who started all this would have no idea how to prepare, stay warm, repair furnaces, rake roofs of snow, and slide through a storm with some ease. She'd have to learn it all the hard way. And she did. But as of right now this farm is good minus some minor inconveniences and that's good news indeed!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Stormlog: Day 2

The farm was hit with about a foot of powdery snow last night. I had a fitful stride of sleep and by 8AM was outside in the dark checking on the animals and starting the truck. I went back inside to make coffee and get dressed. I planned on heading out to take care of all the chores come daylight. This was a bad plan. By the time the sun was up the snow had turned to freezing rain and there was a heaviness to all that powder. Instead of easily shoveling and raking a pile of poof I was cracking through solid matter with shovels and rakes and straining hard. It took a long time to remove the soggy snow from the kitchen, barn, and mews roofs but I did it. Then drank a shameful amount of coffee. Here we go.

All the animals and the house are fine so far. There's been no broken pipes but tonight and tomorrow are 48 hours of truly tough cold coming on. The high tomorrow is 2. I'll be feeding the stoves, both of them, all day and all night and keeping pipes dripping. A nap here or there. In between the stove and sleep there will be the work of chores, shoveling, chopping and carrying wood, and doing my best to get through this. I'm encouraged that I am just a few hundred dollars from where I need to be to mail in a mortgage payment and keep the wolves from the door. Sales are slow, but steady. There won't be a windfall any time soon but I'll take a drip. I can work with a drip

The furnace is working. The hot water is on tap but my shower is out of order because the pan under the shower is frozen solid. It can't drain until the weather breaks. But not having a working shower is a small price to pay for a house in the 60s on a night that should drop to -8°

Regular photos and updates are happening on Twitter and Instagram. More often than here. Follow me there for all good and bad news. Let's hope it's all good! Send a kind email or tweet. Encouragement is so needed and I am very, very, tired and dreaming of June.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Stormlog: Day 1

I woke up this morning inside my backpacking mummy bag with Friday and Gibson curled up all around me. The house was chilly but not what I consider cold. While slowly starting to wake up I heard the furnace (how I heat my water) turn on and expected to hear the light snap the fire and the roar of that old basement beast. Instead it clicked right off. I turned over deeper into my sleeping bag mumbling... "Not now.... tiny angry gods, please not now..."

I did my usual routine when this happens (usually when fuel is low or weather changes dramatically) I turned off the furnace and the breaker to it and let it grow cold. I went out and got a few gallons of heating oil and dumped it in, then restarted the furnace and bled the line. To my absolute glee it restarted just fine! It's as good a feeling as mowing a lawn or changing the oil in your own truck - one tiny machine task I understand and can deal with myself. Felt really good - and the water stays hot!

The storm hits here in just a few hours. And I am proud to say that I am as prepared as possible. I even ran out this morning for more hay and feed as well. I have a chicken defrosted in the fridge to throw in the oven so that when this storm falls in earnest at least the house will have roasting beast and enough for leftovers if the power goes out. I'll keep updating you as the storm progresses long as the power stays on. Right now we're at the beginning and there's hot water coming from my tap so that's encouraging!

Friday, January 18, 2019


I'm writing you from a very comfortable living room. It's 68° in here and I have just wrapped up the day's work. There's a bunch of just-poured orange honey bars of soap in dragon molds and it has filled this comfy homestead with the most scandalous scent being deep winter right before a snow storm slams us here in the Northeast. I don't know what the future holds but right now, right here, things are heavenly.

This storm that is on the way will be rough; at least 20" of snow and nights around -10° and as bad as that is, it's the days after I am most worried about. There will be a real deep chill after the snow hits. The kind of cold that is dangerous for the house's pipes, my dwindling wood supply, and my nerves. So I am writing you with a bit of fear as I type. Maybe I shouldn't have looked into the extended forecast at the end of such a long day?

I've been preparing for it. I've been chopping and carrying in firewood, running errands, and making sure the animals are comfortable as I will be. There is a pile of tarped hay outside my front door, the pigs can practically swim in their deep bedding, the hawk will be fat and out of the wind, and the dogs will be curled up with me in a backpacking sleeping bag on the daybed by the woodstove. I mean that. Friday literally climbs inside the bag with me and together we are a furnace regardless of how much ice may end up in the toilet bowl.

And you know what. I'm okay with all of this. I'm okay with the fear. I'm okay with the uncertainty of how the hell I'll mail this mortgage check sitting by the family altar in my front room. I'm okay with the sore muscles. I'm okay with checking on the hawk at midnight and 4AM. I'm okay with sleeping in a bag instead of my bed. I'm okay with all of it.

Here's why:

Earlier today I had an adventure. It was around 1PM on a weekday and I was walking up a snow-swept mountain with a hawk on my glove and a heavy ash staff in my right hand. In a little over an hour he flew above me and dived after rabbits and grouse while I jogged my Hobbit body behind him. I bushwhacked and crawled under thorns and ran out of breath moving uphill in a few inches of snow and when it really started to squall and the wind picked up on my mountain I pulled out my rabbit fur lure and called his name and he came back to me from 70 yards away. I fed him and lashed his jesses to my glove. I slipped on his hood and sweaty and tired we walked home together.

That is worth being afraid. In fact it's the fear of losing it all that I am still here.

This storm is going to be hell for me. There's a roof above the kitchen that needs regular raking because it needs to be replaced and that isn't happening anytime soon. The barn roof needs to be raked, too. I know this Sunday I will be outside several times in the night to remove snow from this farm's tired roofs. It means feeding both wood stoves like hungry dragons and keeping pipes running at a drop all day. Basically - it means total exhaustion. Still, worth it.

Being here alone means every path shoveled, every animal safe, every water bucket and bale carried in thigh-deep snow. It will be just me without trips into town and that used to embolden me and the only thing keeping me here is the stubbornness that fuels this dream.

By Wednesday the storm will pass. There will be rain it will be so warm. But between now and then feels like a thousand miles. I am afraid but I am ready. I would rather be here trying than more comfortable somewhere I no longer have to.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Snow and High Hopes!

A significant storm is heading into Veryork! It's hitting this weekend and I'm starting to plan for it now. Making sure everything is ready on a tight budget means careful planning - both here with farm as well as work and finances. Not the same planning as super cold weather (which we've been having) but more of the snowy type of planning. Things like making sure the roof rake is repaired, pieces assembled, and ready to go. That the hay isn't in the barn for the storm but under a tarp beside the house so on the heavy snowfall mornings I don't have to dig a path to the barn before horses get breakfast. Making sure there's enough feed for pigs stacked in the kitchen if I can't run into town for a while, that the dogs are cats too are set, and that I am prepared as I can be.

I am okay with the storm coming through. I feel like this winter has been pretty mild so far. If I'm home-bound for a few days I can focus on things like sales and catch up on illustrations and designs, maybe double the usual workload even. I'll do my best. And speaking of people doing their best...

Yesterday the most amazing thing happened! A stranger on Twitter bought an entire lamb from this farm for a family in need. I will either find a family that needs it or donate the meat to my local food bank or the elder care home in town. It was such a beautiful way to help out both this farm and other people. If you're reading this from a position able to do this, send me an email. I would be THRILLED if this entire farm's remaining meat shares went to people in need here in Washington County. I just want to stay here, in this home, and keep raising food. If I can do that while helping others get lamb and pork from a local farm that tastes great - even better!

I am going to remain optimistic about this storm, about this farm, and about my own future here. I am hoping to turn things around in a really positive and prosperous way with a new book contract and  maybe more freelance writing gigs. In the meantime it's the old-fashioned pork, lamb, and art pushing and hoping to keep figuring out this life month by month, as I have since I started working from the farm in 2012.  Onward into good work and high hopes!!!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Dash's First Rabbit!

So proud of Dash and his first rabbit! He got it while hunting yesterday with me on the mountain here near the farm. Cold was the day—a high of 18°—but despite that we worked together to scare and dive after rabbits into clearings. It's a heck of a feeling seeing the little guy you met in the fall turn into your hunting partner by snowfall. Here's to many more! 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Cold Coming On

A Cold couple of days are ahead for us, with nights all in the single digits and days not much above. I am bringing in more firewood and working hard towards the goals that keep this place above the danger lines. I need to mail in a mortgage payment soon, to keep ahead of the cutoff where the house falls into danger of being mine no longer. The struggle keeps struggling but the fight is well worth it, and today I have some big news: I am starting a brand new book proposal. It's something I have been meaning to write for a long time, and was far too afraid to share it. But I'm going to outline the intro, the chapters, the pitch today and start writing the sample chapters. It's a book meant to encourage those struggling to find their purpose, self, and confidence. It's about all the ways this place changed me and helped create the woman I am today. I'm excited to get it started. I'm really excited to pitch it! But for now: firewood, and hope, and working on bills and another day of work. Best to you all!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Best Moments

There's this moment I look forward to every morning. This time after I leave the comfort of bed and before the worries of the day begin. It's not when you may think — not the morning chores in the fresh air with the animals. As much as I love the beasts out there in the swirling morning snowfall; that work is a daily mild panic ritual.

Chores are half responsibility and half inspection. Yes there's the serving hay, grain and water but also the random luck of living with so many animals in one place in a harsh season. Right now there are 20+ chickens, 4 geese, 4 pigs, 2 horses, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a hawk and I can't enjoy my coffee or sit down here to write to you until I am certain all are fed, well, and digesting before winter coffee hits my lips.

Summer and winter farm rules change. I am not ever anxious waking up on a 60 degree morning in June. But after a night of wind and cold - I need to check on a hundred little things that could snowball into problems if not addressed. Did the pigs' water tough freeze in place? Will the truck start? Does the wood stove need the ash removed? Is the mare's blanket chaffing anywhere? Are the geese nesting under that brush because something is wrong in the barn? Did the hawk cast his pellet? And so on. You get the vibe. Morning chores are making sure everything is okay and another day can begin. It's a sigh of relief and a pat on the back. It's accomplishing something big before you ever pour that first mug...

BUT! Oh, man. But when you get to that point in the morning where everyone outside is sated and chewing, when the fire is roaring, when the coffee is percolating and the dogs are done with their breakfast and the cats are already curled up for a long stretch of morning chow... That is when I find my favorite time. I have a criminally large mug of coffee. If I have any heavy cream I whip it up in a bowl and add vanilla to it and plop a real dollop of treasure on the mug. I turn on a podcast, an audio book, a YouTube documentary about people who still think the earth is flat... anything I can observe as entertainment instead of work. I give myself a whole hour to do basically nothing by the fire. I don't work on freelance articles or editor notes or book proposals. I don't send logo updates or illustration sketches. All that can wait for that one hour. I know once I start that stuff I'll go until past dark and worry like mad about bills and the mortgage and whether or not I'll be able to mail a house payment in time this month. I know all of that is coming. But before it does, I give myself permission to be happy instead of scared - just for a little while.

I know I need to make serious sales this week and I also know how hard that will be. People can't just buy artwork and soap and meat shares they won't eat till next fall after the holidays. Everyone is recovering from those expenses of travel, gifts, hosting, meals, etc. It's something I need to adjust to. I am working on it. But I still need to try. I write down my list of work and goals for the day and income is part of that. Today I hope to meet as many of them as I can without spending anything. Some days you can't avoid spending money - animals demand certain things and choices. But today I should be able to hole up and work and hope. Get a step closer towards feeling safe. And if I'm lucky tomorrow I get to repeat all of this on my own farm, again.

But right now: coffee and a long sigh. There's no cream on top today and I'm not running out to buy any either. But it's hot, and I earned it, and it's here and I'm grateful.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bird and Bodhrán!

A few days ago friend of the farm, Kathrine of Caer Luna, joined Dash and I for a hunt. Kathrine has a small farm near Albany and raises goats, rabbits, and poultry. I met her online and she and her husband have shares in lamb in pork here. When I mentioned falconry she asked if she could join us sometime and I was thrilled at the idea. Dash is coming along well this first winter together, but is more cautious and less likely to stay with me when new people hunt beside us. To fix this I asked friends to join us for short one-hour hike and hunt exercises. Every time he gets a little more comfortable.

She brought her camera and I am so grateful she did! She caught this moment of Dash flying past us towards the end of the hunt while playing tag with the lure. What a perfect moment! And when Dash did return to my my call and was awarded for his good work, we walked down the snowy mountain talking about our farms and stories. She mentioned stopping by the Brewery in town and asked about a Thursday Night Celtic jam there and how her husband played the bodhrán and wanted to try it out. I told her they should come by that very night! 

And they did! Ever since the other bar in town closed its doors the brewery is a happening place at night. The musicians were doing tunes that fit with his music and before long everyone at our table was raising our mugs to the drummer in the circle! A beautiful moment of new friends, community, music, and local beer. Who knew birds and drums could make a perfect winter day?