Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Missing Storm Hen

Yesterday was special here, the first real snowfall of the season was coming to Cold Antler and I was ready. I had spent the morning stacking and covering the last of the firewood delivery. (Happy to say I am wealthy in firewood right now!) I had doubled-down on the pigs' bedding, the goats' grain and comforts, and made sure all the sheep and chickens were fat and ready to sleep the snow away in their respected barns. Mabel had her winter blanket fastened and Merlin had his prehistoric coat donned. Before I had left the farm to go hunting I filled the indoor firewood stack to the brim, did the dishes, and prepped the coffee maker. Baby, I was ready.

What I didn't anticipate was a trio of white hens who had never seen snow before losing their minds.

When I returned home from my hunt the roads were bad. The seven miles took half an hour, the roads became sheets of ice and sleet so fast I had to count my breaths to stay calm. I was so relieved to pull into the dark driveway I went straight into the house and hugged my dogs. I re-stoked the fires that had faded to coals while I was not-shooting deer. I let out the dogs, did a quick head count of the sheep and horses, and then headed inside for a quick dinner of chicken and angel-hair pasta from my winter food stores and started a movie to watch while I ate. Maybe watching a movie while eating is low class but I live alone. I like the company of a story.

After my meal was done I set the dishes on the counter in the kitchen and did what I do every night around this time - Night Rounds on the farm. It's just a walk to make sure everything with hoofs, tails, claws, paws, and talons are safe and settled in for the night. I bring a flashlight and the dogs and we make sure Aya is on her perch, the chickens in their coops/barn, and the sheep settled in from the now raging snowstorm! two inches had covered the ground in the hour I was home and eating. And it was during this nightly routine that I realized there was only one Silkie Bantam chicken in the Space Coop (the Eglu) - Falkor the Rooster. His three hens were all gone.

Sidenote: there were Five Silkies but I had the second rooster without a name butchered with the meat birds a few weeks back. Too much testosterone in a small coop.

Where had his hens gone?

I realized then that this was the first time these spring chickens had ever been around a true snowfall. It had started in the daylight and covered the farm before the sun set. That meant what was a familiar world turned into a foreign moonscape to the three hens. So it was time to find them, as I was certain a night out in the snow for birds used to the comfortable, wind-proof, Eglu was a death sentence. the dogs and I began our search.

I found two of the hens quickly, and by listening more than looking. Chickens aren't always easy to see but most chirp or coo if a person comes close. The pair of hens I found were covered in half an inch of fresh snow, in the snow, next to a truck of an old tree. They were nowhere near their coop. I picked them up and felt the ice on their feathers and instantly brought them inside to the brooder. The living room brooder has a trio of just-hatched chicks on one side and a spare room, so to speak, on the other. It doesn't have a heat lamp but it is dry hay ten feet from a woodstove.

One to go.

The dogs and I searched two more times for her. There was no sign. We checked the pasture and every white lump on the ground. We checked the barn and around the coop. We checked the woods, the trees, every dry spot from the nook below a wheelbarrow to the back of the woodshed. No bird. I figured she was picked up by a lucky owl, or had been unlucky enough to stray from the other hens and laid down to die in this hellscape. With a heavy heart I accepted the loss.

I took the hens back to Falkor before bed. They had a meal inside, water, and were dry. While out I checked again, all the spaces and places a bird might be. No luck. This was not a year for venison or white hens. I tucked into bed with the dogs accepting I was now down to three silkies.

Then came the morning light!

Alas, no hen. I didn't see her. All I saw was a farm glowing with the radiance of sunrise and fresh snow. I went about the usual chores, looking for her. No sign, none at all. The goats, pigs, sheep, horses—everyone else—seemed fine with the new snowfall. This last hen was still gone.

So I gave up on her. It's sad when this happens. Sometimes you fail your animals. Sometimes you just can't be everything to everyone on a farm - regardless of the size. The health of the entire farm comes first, always. It mattered more to me that all that prep of bedding, feeding, stacking, fires, food and water came before the mad hunt for the snow hen. I could have spent the night looking for her and then came inside to a cold farmhouse late and slept until 9AM missing the morning appointment to feed the animals on time - but why? The care and import of the majority always rules. So I went to bed normal time the night before. I gave up.

 ... But luck was on my side. The hen made it! She had found a roost deep inside a honeysuckle. The snow covered it, creating an igloo of sorts, and she was okay. It wasn't until later in the day I found her. I was happy and glad she was okay but didn't regret the choice I made to give up the hunt the night before. The farm is a big, moving, hungry animal. You stop to stare at a toenail too long and you miss the beautiful gait as it trots by.

Here's to snowfall, lucky birds, luckier deer, and a warm night ahead!

Hunting Season For Deer is Over

So, I'm back to posting more. Thanks for checking in!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Still Offering This Sale!

Running a flash sale on illustration gift certificates for the holidays! You buy now and get a pdf emailed you can print or forward as a gift! Redeem for a full color, 9x12" hand drawn and painted pet portrait for $50. Discount if you buy multiples.  Free shipping anywhere in the world! Get a great gift and help keep this farm going! Email dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Supper Club

Sir Benjamin Thompson is not a name many people know, but all winter long when I walked into keep of Livingston Brook Farm I mouth "thank you Sir Ben" and raise a glass to the fireplace if I have one in hand. Also known as Count Rumford, in the late 1700's Sir Ben did "investigations into heat" and created the large, wide, shallow fireplaces designed to actually heat a home and not just look pretty in the corner. Rumford Fireplaces are rarely built these days, but if you ever get the chance to build a home or purchase a very old one, remember that name. The farmhouse at Livingston Brook Farm has a 1700's original Rumford Fireplace and it is so large it has a build in iron cooking station, a bread oven, and is large enough to roast a shoat in. I am very jealous of this fireplace. Count Rumford, Thank you.

And that was part of the warmth that slammed into me soon as I walked into the kitchen door last night. The other part was Mark, who instantly handed me a tray of just-seared venison loin off the skillet. "You've GOT TO TRY THIS!" He said. I did. Dear lord, it was perfect. The meat was creamy, melting into my mouth and bursting with flavor. Think of the best cut of filet mignon you ever had and give it the Academy Award for trying to be fresh venison. The hunter who had taken the deer was a few feet away and I tipped my hat to him. He had also provided smoked salmon. An entire neck roast was whistling in the pressure cooker with onions and gravy. Garden potatoes were mashed, salad greens tossed, and I brought the loaf of braided bread I had baked. This would be a meal to remember.

Everyone at the Game Dinner was friends and most of us hunters or married to them. It was myself, Patty and Mark (hosts), their neighbor Ken (Venison Lord!), and Tyler and Tara (hunter and baker). This Supper Club was the entire reason I hunt and the hope of everyone worth their license who tries - to share a meal you knew as a wild prayer, a primal action, and amazing story.

We sat around the table passing plates and bowls and enjoying the food hunted, grown, baked, and (in the case of the boiled cider pie) alchemized and whipped! We shared stories of hunts - and laughed at the many more stories of going home empty. Everyone had a heavy wine glass, a full crop, and when we retired to the fireplace I sat on the stones with Harley the bird dog right by the Rumford. It was so warm and I was so full Thanksgiving felt like a juice cleanse. Not because we were gluttons but because everyone was just so wrapped up in the warmth. Outside a wicked fog, wind, and pouring winter rain made the fireside even more inviting. Within ten minutes Harley and I were both on low bake. Sir Benjamin knows his stuff.

This is what I was thinking of, fondly, as I sat in the high reeds this afternoon hidden in a hand-me-down duck hunter's camo jacket. I laughed because the wetland patter of tall, tan, grass was perfect for my position near this stream. This was the kismet that leads to future meals like last night's. Rifle Season is almost over, just a few days left, and despite trying so hard this season I haven't had the perfect combination of luck and circumstance to take a deer. I even won a doe tag in the state's hunter lottery and could take any adult deer legally, but even so the chances were few and shots fired, missed. I was no Ken. He has been hunting for 60 years. This was my 6th. I still have yet to shoot a deer.

I sighed and sat, looking down so my brown beret hid the moon-white face among the reeds.  I was hoping after some meditation time I would look up and see him. A young buck that shoots out of the forest's edge into this area, dances around, chases ladies, and then disappears right away again. I named him Mr. AllofaSudden because of how you can look one way, then turn your head back and he's there - trotting in the soon-to-be-dusk fog. He is the Armie Hammer of white tails.

He was who I wanted a shot at today but instead a trio of deer came out of a higher piece of ground. I watched with that excitement you see at the end of a cat's tail when her eyes are on a bird at the feeder. It didn't take long to realize that it was a mother with two younger fawns, weaned but small. I raised my gun with the safety on to use the scope to view them. Everyone looked healthy and all had made it this far into the fray of the season. I wasn't going to shoot at her, at any of them. I didn't want my neck roast dinners to come with a side of guilt. I had lamb, pork, and chicken in my freezer and I didn't have to commit cervine matricide to add some ego venison on top of it. I sighed, lowered my father's gun, and started to head back to the truck.

I hope all three are tucked in together and warm tonight. May they make a windless, dry, hidden place among the thickest cover a Rumford of their own.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Soap!

So proud of these new soaps! Made from my own pair of hand-milked goats and infused with essential oil and wild mint gathered and dried on this farm! These heavy bars are perfect for Yuletide Giving! I have a few more sets available to order! Guaranteed Holiday Delivery! (Dec 21 or sooner) Email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com if interested!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Paradise Set on Low

The sun went down and I headed off my mountain perch and back towards the little white farmhouse. It does look small from the farthest edge of my property. Six acres isn't a vast expanse but with elevation and tall trees it's enough to turn a house into a diorama in dimming light. I watched the smoke coming from both chimneys. The mud room stove had been lit to help dry laundry on a line. I am so glad to announce that for the first time in years I have a working washing machine again! My friend Patty helped me install a used one we found online. Eventually I'll get the dryer but the washer is the real treat. I didn't have a deer but I did have just-washed sheets drying and working hot water - two things I have gone without for long stretches in this home. Some days you just gotta let yourself feel rich.

Merlin and Mabel walked out to feet me as I made my way towards the house. Mabel runs this pasture now, as she should. The half Belgian is the largest animal I have ever owned, standing 16.5 hands tall with a neck thick as a maple's truck. I haven't ridden her or Merlin since hunting season began before Thanksgiving. They don't seem to mind. Mabel walked up with her ears watching as much as her eyes. I set the (unloaded) gun against a fence and gave her a scratch behind the ears (which I can only do when she bends her trunk neck to me). This horse would have terrified the girl who learned to ride Merlin five years ago. Together we race through the mountain and she is a dream. I think of the luck that brought her to this farm, and the owner who wasn't right for her. Horses are like dating - timing is everything.

I walked inside to a home lit only by some lamps and firelight from the stove. The dogs were happy to see me and still work-proud from their adventure bringing back lost sheep from down the road. I lifted the lid off the crock pot and the chicken stew inside was ready for some egg noodles to be added. Before I did I plopped a big ladle full over the roommate's kibble. The house went from smelling like stove and damp dog and exploded into savory herbs and broth. It didn't take long to empty my large mug of stew after a hot shower. Paradise is a low setting on a slow cooker and good soak.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Year of the Deer

Hunting has taken over this small life. I am drunk on the hope of finally getting a deer and this felt like it could be the season. Every day I am spending 2 to 4 hours outside. I have not seen any deer on my land, but have on other properties I have permission to hunt on. It's been the usual roller coaster of emotions, excitement, stories and song. Hunting is primal and glorious, but also heartbreaking and (usually for me) more calories spent than gained. The season is well past the halfway mark. I am coming to terms with how low my chances are to make 2017 the year of the deer.

I have been hunting (with varying levels of tenacity) for over five seasons and have so far not taken down a single cervine. The reasons run the gamut from buck fever, to questioning shots, to missing - but the common conclusion is I am very glad I farm meat because if I had to solely hunt for it I'd be eating a lot more potatoes.

These days I wake up, do the chores for the animals, stoves, and caffeine - then I head outside to the ridge on the far piece of my own land or get in the truck to hunt at a neighbors' farm. So far I have taken two shots at does on two different afternoons and neither were true. It's frustrating. It's exciting. Most of all it's that ancient prayer that has driven omnivore primates since the stars were young - to hunt. To come home with the gift of a hundred meals. To provide, to continue, to have a story worth telling.

Take some heart that I am not always coming back empty handed. I come home with small game nearly every time I head out. When deer hopes have passed I'll take a squirrel or rabbit, which is both food for me and my hawk. There's a gray squirrel hanging by the front door now. There are more in the freezer. I am trying to get some of the rabbits in the thickest brush by the stream, but they are so fast and clever. There is a warren under this mountain so extensive I am certain it looks like that underground city in Turkey.

So I am not coming back forever empty - but I want that deer.

I want to have 50lbs or more of clean meat in the freezer for winter. I want to have a story to share around the fire. I want to be able to feed a roomful of friends venison stew or sausage while we snuggle indoors from the snowfall on a Game Night. I want these long years of trying to accumulate in something. So far all I have collected is lessons from mistakes and a less nerves when the beasts do eventually lumber on by. You think deer are silent things, but when you are alone in the woods waiting with all your senses on overdrive they come through the forest like Godzilla. I've never tried cocaine but if it does to your senses what waiting for game does it sounds like a dangerous flirtation with a heart rate that could kill.

I am writing this while taking a break from hunting - a cold, frozen, hailish rain just pummeled the farm and left a weird little coating of tiny white baubles everywhere. It isn't snow, not really, but it might make visibility better so I am heading back out to the far, cold, rocks to perch and listen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Slugs & Scythe

It's deer season and every moment I have to spare afternof farm chores, freelance, and 1860's-era-farmhouse care and maintenance has been sitting in the forest hoping a deer presents itself. I am out there with my shotgun, because I don't feel comfortable with longer-distance rifles on land so hilly. I won't shoot at something unless I know exactly where the bullet ends up if I miss. So it's a thermos of coffee, slugs in my pocket, and a land-me-down duck hunting camo jacket my friend Mark game me. So far no luck. But even without venison in the freezer (yet!) it is entirely lovely being in the forest without anything but my gear and a worn copy of The Hobbit. I go to my perch nestled beside an old maple and read and wait. Squirrels and rabbits scamper by but none of the cervine traffic that usually trots pass the stream has made it. I think all the local deer are bedding down and waiting for the first week of intense human activity in the woods to slow down. I am hoping my luck changes. I have a doe tag this year I can use in Washington County. If I can get any sex of deer I'll be glad to have it in my winter food storage.

So I haven't been lucky with the hunting, but I have been lucky in the form of new and old friends coming by the farm this week. Leah from Moxie Ridge joined Game Night regulars, Tara and Tyler, last night for potluck and a game of Scythe. It's based on an alternative history of 1920's eastern Europe. In the game an industrial mechanized capital city runs the lives of pastoral people. It's a trip! I did not do too well at conquering a land mass and taking over a semi-feudal people but I did have fun! We had slow roasted bbq pork burritos and Leah's farm cheese. Tara brought some amazing gingerbread and hand-whipped cream topping. We worked on taking over the world through spoonfuls of candied ginger and soft cookie crumble.

I will never forget reading in You Can Farm! by Joel Salatin the importance of staying on the farm if you want to afford to keep it. That making your own fun on your land is just as key to keeping it as paying bills on time. If you dreamed of the farm and country life, don't leave it every weekend. And it's something all four of us have in common as non-traditional people in our thirties trying to make it as entrepreneurs - all around food and computers. It was a good night of camaraderie, hard cider, and much laughter - right here at home.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Storybook!

Just wrapped up a delightful little project this morning, or rather the bulk of it. A reader contacted me a months ago to possibly illustrate and design a children's book for her family. After some chatting she hired me for the job and it was the much-needed scratch to take care of a mortgage payment at the time. She paid up front and left me with the task of breathing life into an old story told for generations. It was nine illustrations (1 full color and 8 inked), layout, and a printable pdf she could create at home or send to a digital printer online for published books.

It was such fun to do, and I had such pride sending off the pdf for her notes and approval. I'm sharing this because it is a happy, small, moment. I went to college for design and illustration. I just used those skills to help support this farm while giving a reader a very special gift for her family. A good morning of work. And now I am off to fly my bird before Washington County prepares for it's biggest holiday: Opening Day of Rifle Season!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hot Lunch

I woke up at dawn to the sound of gentle rain. I knew it would be a warm start - probably in the 40s - but this afternoon the temperature was supposed to drop fast and possibly growl into snowfall. So I organized the day accordingly. Morning chores went by a good clip. The barn has hay in it and the water hauls were the normal amount. It didn’t really start raining until it was time to feed the pigs. Pigs are the most comfort-loving animals on the farm and demand a warm, wind-proof, and dry place on days like this, but all those rules go out the door when it’s meal time. They came sloshing and slogging through the wet earth to meet me for their morning squash, grain, and well water. By the time I was done I came indoors to a mug of hot coffee and a pair of muddy and tired farm dogs.

I was three clients into my to-do list and preparing for the post office when I got a message via email from my friend Patty. She was in town and wanted to know if she could drop in? I said of course and was extra grateful I had just slid a braided loaf of bread into the oven and had a beef stew simmering in the crock pot. It's rare this house is cleaned up and ready to serve guests at a moment's notice. (Well, the kind of guests who don't mind an ailing hen walking loose around their feet indoors and muddy prints on the floor.) But generally, the place was civilized. It smelled heavenly with the butter-brushed bread in the oven and savory stew in the pot.

A few weeks back my friends Wendy and Clipper came to visit and as a housewarming gift they brought three pounds of their Dexter beef. I had defrosted a pound, browned it in an oiled skillet, and added it to the local squash, potatoes, and onions in a light beef broth. It was the perfect offering for a friend coming in from the rain on a cold morning. I pulled the bread out as the dogs barked to announce her arrival. This was Hobbit-level hospitality and I was beaming.

I offered her lunch and she gladly accepted. She was working a horse farm for a bit to help a friend and was cold from the work there. So we ate and caught up. Nothing special or odd about it, just friends breaking pieces of warm bread and talking about our days. We laughed and encouraged each other, dipping crust in hot stew by the fire.

It was a humble lunch but meant the world to me. My goal with this farm was to create a place that made the people who walked inside feel special, safe, warm, and welcome. Outside was all the world was wind, rain, and gray chill but inside was friendship, steaming bread, and a meat with a first name and three farms attached to it. This is how I want to eat. In this holy way that connects people, animals, and one place. I knew the beef farmer. I knew the land the potatoes had been grown in and the haflinger team that dug them up. The squash was from the tumble by the Hob. The bread was kneaded and baked this moring between farm chores, a load of laundry, and a children's book cover design.

As we talked Muffins the chicken (who isn’t feeling well and is quite old) walked around the living room clucking softly and being ignored by the collies (who assume she’s a very slow piece of furniture). It's a messy and scrappy life, but it is mine the way a dragon's gold is hers. I swirl over it with the happiest of tired slither and smoke.

All of this is the same weight of sand I mentioned last night. The happy weight that leads to lunches on a Thursday morning warm from the rain with a hen at your feet and dogs begging for bread. And good friends that stop in and leave better than when they arrived will me up with a primal sort of home pride. A weary traveler came to my door and hospitality met them.

This was a good day for a hot lunch.


Monday & Gibson

Rare and Sharp

It hasn’t snowed yet, not really. There have been some powdered-sugar dustings. There have been some flurries between footsteps during morning chores. Every few days the wind picks up and the dial turns down low enough that it smells like snow; but it hasn’t happened yet. I so look forward to it.

When it does snow a couple thousand decisions gather together in my heart and collapse like sand in a funnel. Some of the grains are beautiful memories, accomplishments, sunsets, and soft kisses. Some of them are terrible monsters, failures, dead things, panic attacks. They add up one at a time inside me with their tiny weights. Seven years here at this farm (soon to be eight) and the grains add up to a handful. I’m still farming because most of that weight is from good decisions. It’s from good memories. There’s a black stone’s worth of bad weight in the bag and I value it just as much.

So when it snows here I will have that sand-sunk heart. And the weight of it will be just enough to slide into an old armchair with some hot coffee and watch the snow fall. As the world turns mean outside I will have the firewood burning and candles lit. I’ll have a kitchen stocked with hundreds of pounds of stocked food. I’ll have hay in my barn. I’ll have bred does and ewes. I’ll have kind dogs at my feet. I’ll have a hawk ready to hunt when the snow lays like a promise, perfect and still. I’ll have the stories in books that fill me up with adventure and joy.

And I’ll sit with that sand. All the good and bad parts swirling together into that exact moment in stolen time where new snow falls on tired land. I’ll sit with it and know I am okay with all of it. And feeling that way about your life and what brought you to the place you are at right now — that’s a lucky thing. Rare and sharp.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Downright Primal

This week on the farm has been intense and rewarding. Earlier in the week was rain, fog, and that sickly out of season weather that roars in and hits a wall hard before changing. The wet came and left and in the wake frost replaced rain drops. An arctic stream is coming through and this morning while I was outside it was twenty degrees and the grass was covered in sharp frost that crackled as I walked. If I closed my eyes it could have been an extremely crisp autumn day.

Tuesday morning I woke up early, a repeat performance of last Thursday when I needed to get to the chickens to the butcher and the truck wouldn't start. That morning it did, and the whole county could hear my celebratory whooping as the engine turned over. I loaded the birds into the travel crate I had loaned from Common Sense Farm and carried out the ducks I had penned the night before. The butchers were great and I learned that as long as your farm sells under 200,000 birds a year in New York you do not need to go through USDA butchers to sell them in the state. That's great. These birds were mostly for my freezer but when I got home I did some rounds delivering birds neighbors had bartered for. My favorite trade was a duck for some always-needed hay.

I have published six books. And while there is always a sense of accomplishment when you hold that book in your hands, till this day nothing feels as good as handing someone food I grew. It doesn't matter if it's a duck, chicken, leg of lamb or head of lettuce. When you hand it to someone there is this intense shock of reality that what I am giving them will keep them alive. That it is worth so so much to our entire body. A book may matter to them or may not. Food is religion of the body.

I also picked up the dried sheepskins that have been salted and hanging in my friend's barn. They are ready to be rolled up and mailed to the tannery. Between a freezer of birds and a pile of skins hanging to be shipped the farm is downright primal right now.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Soggy Dogs

It's a cold, rainy, evening here at the farm. All the chores are done and I am just warming up from being soaked out there while doing the evening rounds. I'm happy to say it was nice circle. The pigs have fresh, warm, bedding for the temperature drop tonight and so do the meat birds out in their tractors. The horses and sheep are eating hay in the rain and the goats are eating inside the barn doing the same. The dogs are disgustingly muddy and thrilled about it. I had to towel them down by the front door to save the semblance of cleanliness in the living room. Aya is inside on her perch after a large meal. The fire is roaring, been at it all day.

I finished packaging up three soap orders and two illustrations I will mail out this week. I got a load of laundry done. I worked on logos. I cooked a healthy meal. I scrubbed down the shower. I worked with my hands and I drank enough water. These seem like silly things to list but these days all accomplishments are tallied up at day's end. It's easy to feel anxiety about "not doing enough" when life gets stressful. When I write down all the things I actually did do, it feels a lot better.

This week will bring some true winter weather. Nights in the twenties and crispy ice mornings. I need to get in firewood still, and more hay, and earn up enough to mail out a mortgage payment soon. It's the fire in the belly to keep up the tasks, keep up on emails, keep up in general!

I sent off a revised, 11,000 word chapter to my agent yesterday. That's around 35 pages written and edited this weekend and it felt like a marathon completed. Here's to the luck of the words and publisher's whims.

Stay dry.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Feeling Good

I wanted to share this picture Leah snapped of me the other day with her phone. She sent it to me and for the first time in, well, ever - I smiled. I liked the woman in the picture. I liked her sturdy frame. I liked her full face. I liked her round nose, 5'2" height, and 183lbs of muscle and muffin top. For years I wanted to be another, better, version of myself. So many body issues and weight obsessions. But the woman I see in the picture is really smiling and has a rugged feminine spark to her. It took 35 years to get there.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Holiday Gift Vouchers!!!

I am offering my seasonal gift sale of Logos and Illustrations for Holiday Gifts! This is a way to support the farm by purchasing an emailed gift certificate (It's a printable PDF you can set inside a card for actual giving) that allows the receiver to get a custom logo or pet illustration from me. They are on sale through the weekend for half price the regular cost of a commissioned logo or illustration ($100 for a logo and $75 for a full color 9x12" pet illustration) but the catch is the receiver can't start the work until Jan 2018.

So if you want to buy one for yourself at a cut rate and use it in a few months, or you want to stock up on some unique gifts for Yuletide ahead while supporting this scrappy joint - I urge you to email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

All purchases for gifts go towards the mortgage here. I really want to mail in a payment soon and this seems like a fine way to give that a try! 

Plans Change, Trucks Sigh.

Set the alarm so I would wake early today. I had an appointment for the meat birds I had been raising with a local processor. I know how to butcher a chicken and have done plenty, but when you have over a dozen animals to do (including some downy waterfowl) the small-scale farmstead stops being artisinal and just ill prepared. Butchering birds in any number is so much easier with heated water tanks for scalding off feathers and plucking drums that do what takes half an hour by hand. So for a few dollars a bird I can have it done fast and well and presented in nice packaging for my customers. It's a better deal for my time and money all around. And this morning I had a truckload of birds to deliver for their fate and the packaged birds to deliver via horse later on. Not a bad day of work for a small farm doing its level best to offer good food to her neighbors.

I had borrowed a large chicken cage from Common Sense Farm. They butcher on a larger scale and have the kind of low rectangular poultry crates used for just this reason - to transfer birds safely without being able to pile on top of each other or hurt each other. I called and made arrangements to pick it up last night. I had it ready and all the birds caught, loaded, and set up for transport by 8AM. I used a farm wagon to move them, the ducks, and rando roosters set for the stew pot as well all in the back of my trusty pickup truck to roar down route 22 to their final destination. I loaded up the dogs, grabbed my checkbook, and had my iPod ready to rock and then...

The truck wouldn't start.

It wasn't a surprise. The truck doesn't start when it gets wet outside. So on rainy days you need to run it every few hours so the starting wiring doesn't get moisture inside to cause a disconnection. Or that is what my mechanic told me. We have done 2 or 3 different repairs to try and stop this so far and I thought the last time we nailed it. I guess not. So I tried for an hour to get it to turn over—chickens behind me squawking and ducks quacking and dogs barking—and no luck. I called and cancelled the appointment and made another. I emailed and talked to customers. Everyone took it better than I did. I wanted to cry. I didn't, but I wanted to.

This is a small problem. Later in the morning the rain held off enough that around noon it started right up. I have wheels, all my animals are healthy, and a dry roof over my head but damn if that wasn't an emotional kick in the teeth. I had to unload all those birds and set up their tractors again. While back there I saw how the last windstorm took down some trees. I made a note of them and next time a friend with a chainsaw comes by we'll cut them for some of next year's firewood. A little silver lining in a cloudy morning, for sure.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rocco!

This is Rocco, the new Alpine buck for the does! He arrived yesterday in the back of a Jeep and has been delightful every since. He's a little firecracker and very excited to attend to the ladies, which he has demonstrated several time already. Problem is he's a bit short for my tall gals so there will be some assistance needed. To be delicate, we're going to need a goat ramp of sorts. Rocco is up to the challenge.

 He comes from Moxie Ridge here in Washington County. I got to spend a lot of time yesterday with the farmer of MR, Leah. She is trading the buck for some illustration work and we got to talking about our farms and worlds we are trying to create for ourselves. Her Creamery and cheese is impressive as hell. And we shared our stories as we took Aya out hunting and then saddled up the horses for a trail ride. I am so glad to have a pair of mounts like Mabel and Merlin. We walked through the woods telling stories and sharing some plans for a possible Youtube show. So things are cooking. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Thank You

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j

Want to make a one-time contribution?
https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

For a monthly contribution to the blog and to be a regular patron:


My Other Workhorse

My other workhorse is this beat up, unimpressive, fiddle. I have had it for years, a Silver Creek Acoustic/Electric. I just wiped it down with a piece of lanolin-heavy wool to dust off the cobwebs from a week without playing. I sawed out some scales and a few tunes. I am not an amazing musician, but to be able to stop the cold, rainy, work outside and play a light Irish jig inside by the fire before writing/design is a treat. It lightens my heart. The songs change the color of the day. Add a splash of coffee, even better.

Wet Morning Onward!

By the time 9AM rolled around I was already done loading the truck with feed and on my way to Common Sense Farm to pick up hay. I was praying I would miss the next downpour and manage to keep the bales dry between their barn and my own. It wasn't looking too promising. The day was wet and warm, but a moving warmth. As if the weather was a wet, lumbering, ghost of a beast moving through my town and pulling a burdern of frost behind him. Tomorrow the temperatures will drop to freezing. I still need more firewood and I start to worry as I turn into Common Sense Farm's driveway. This has been a tough go of early fall. I'm worried and falling behind again. The beastly weather only amplified that.

I was still dragging from chores, which were done in a cold rain back at home. A storm had roared through in the night and tore some of the siding off the house in the wind. My concern wasn't the white vinyl in the grass but the animals. I checked on every piglet to pullet and all seemed well and accounted for. I carried feed and water, and the crowing and cackling, bleats and baas all stopped as the entire farm went to the fine work of breakfast. That earned silence is still an encouragement to me. That feeling of a cold, miserable, morning made better with a provided meal to all those I care for fills up my heart a bit. It makes the coffee by the wood stove taste better. It is also why the coffee is so strong in the first place.

I am not at Common Sense Farm long. I pull into my familiar spot behind the barn and load the truck with bales beside the feed bags. A few hoggets are outside their fence on the lawn, eating forbidden lawn grass calmly. I walk up and snap their picture and feel another injection of encouragement. The sheep I am greeting were from blackfaces born of my own stock. Two farms are sowing the rewards of my clumsy beginner shepherding. It was another good cup of coffee, that.

If I sound glum I'm just distracted with concern, but feeling positive about the week ahead. When you can get out of a warm bed on a Monday, tend to a farm, run errands, use your body, and enjoy coffee you are starting the week with a jumping point that has to lead to a decent mark in the sand. I have my to-do list written up and work to look forward to. I may make some sale, I may not, but there is still soap orders to fill and illustrations to color from recent ones. I'm focusing on not spending any money and earning the other half of a mortgage payment I need to sleep a little easier this week. I have a chapter to revise for my agent for this book we are hoping to sell (You have no idea how hard I am hoping for this) and still half a pot of coffee left.

Onward!

P.S. If you would like to get a paperback copy of Birchthorn you can order one now from Amazon. For those of you who backed the Kickstarter, your hardcovers and paperbacks will be mailed once I get the paperbacks in. So you can order now if you only backed at the ebook level or want extra copies. Some folks have already received their hardcovers and more are on the way out soon!

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Three of Us

Falconry is becoming a team sport these days. I have started to introduce Aya to Merlin, getting all three of us used to the idea of working as a three-species hunting team. People have been hunting with birds on horseback since time out of mind. I am going to join their ranks.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hygge

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tempting

This has been such a strange October. Beautiful, bright, but oddly warm and wonderfully tempting. Tempting in the way that makes you feel real cold is a bad memory and not something just around the corner. I have only lit a fire a handful of times. I am still jogging in shorts. Autumn feels like a tired extension of summer.

This week is also going to be mild, with a lot of much-needed rain. It's not so wonderful for the windy and chilly October I dream of in my fall fantasies, but damn good for my work ethic. I get double the tasks done for clients when I can't be pulled outside by saddles and wood piles. I'll take that over a perfect fall.

Winter Prep Update: I have almost all of my firewood in, one cord to go. I have hay on lock down in neighboring friends barns and a stash in my own. Winter provisions are stacked all over the kitchen in containers and sacks, larders and cabinets. My focus now is getting the mortgage caught up to this month and then repairing the hole inside the wood stove. Once those things are done I will tuck into that first snowfall like my spirit animal; a dog turning around three times before laying down. Mind you, that act of turning around is my spirit animal, not the dog. Hygge is my familiar of choice.

This particular morning has been pretty productive. Got the chores done early, and baked a small loaf of bread for later. Then, fueled by some pumpkin-flavored coffee (I can be basic) I drove into town to pick up some more slightly-soft squash from Common Sense Farm for the pigs. After that I stopped at the post office and mailed off three illustrations and a package to a friend. I still have soap making, graphic design, and evening chores on my list but if I get the comps done early enough I will tack up Merlin for a ride. Smoke em if you got em, right?

Wish me luck getting this week square away, bills paid, and the farm solvent. I do have some good news to share: Soon as this next payment goes out the my bank I will have paid off a 1/4 of my mortgage since buying the farm in 2010! That's something to be proud of, and I will take a moment among all the nerves, paintbrushes, and logos to raise a glass to small bridges crossed. I bought this farm, made this farm, kept this farm, and 1/4 of it will soon be mine on the books. That's not a bad accomplishment for a Monday morning. I can not wait to mail off that check!

And every fall I welcome Samhain/Halloween cards to the farm and try my best to mail some back. If you want to drop one in the mail send it to:

Jenna Woginrich
Cold Antler Farm
Cambridge, NY 12816

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Painted Stranger

Mabel is still new to me, even after spending most of the summer here. I've gotten to know her pretty well and have spent time beside in the field and the saddle; but memorizing her splotch pattern and smell isn't the same as knowing how she thinks. In that way she's still a stranger.

At least compared to Merlin she is. I know Merlin like I know my dogs, friends, and favorite books. I know his every ear twitch and tail swish. I can tell 30 seconds before he has to pee - regardless if he's out in the field or on his back. but Mabel's personality, quirks, triggers, and trials are all coming out one trail ride at a time. I have no idea when she wants to pee. A surprise every time!

She is far more confident when riding with other horses. I have had three different friends ride her, Sara, Patty, and Tyler and all felt comfortable with her. I've also ridden her while others rode Merlin. She's bold and trail smart. She is PURE JOY to be on the back of at full gallop. You need to barely use the reins, just your weight and legs are all she needs to go, turn, or slow down. I have never been on a horse so well trained, actually. The Ohio Amish did something right.

She is responsive in every way AS LONG as there is another horse with her. But when I take her out alone she is much more cautious. Every rustling of the wind or scurry of a squirrel has her jerking to look. Sometimes she jumps sideways at a deer loping 30 yards away - shocked to know she wasn't the only four-legged beast in the forest. What she over Merlin in size, youth, and speed she doesn't have in confidence. Merlin will go into the woods while coyotes dance past him (happened this spring actually!). I hope she gets there, too.

Right now I can say every time I am out with her she has been getting more comfortable and willing. It's all very encouraging, the little victories. I'm so glad she is here. And the more she gets to know me matters, too. This is a relationship and if we both keep working at it, we'll work it all out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Wych Elm Mornings

First hard frost of the season hit last night. It's thirty degrees this morning and a fire is in the wood stove. Morning chores were a bit slippery on the ice-tipped grass, but everyone at the farm has been fed and seems to mind the chill a lot less than us humans. Breakfast rounds this morning were a reminder why I fell in love with homesteading. The work of cold mornings, hot coffee, and the sweaty work of leaving a path of content animals behind you is a cure all for my heart. It's been a stressful October and cold morning light was lovely.

The piglets were stoked, and ran out leaping for their breakfast from their shelter on the hill. The horses came running from the far field for their hay. Sheep have this hilarious leaping run they take, kinda like an ovine spring with bouncing up into the air. Everyone seemed optimistic and bright. Maybe they were energized by the brisk air? I hope I get a chance to share it and head out for a run later. Gotta enjoy this sunlight while it lasts, especially when the mornings whisper-threat snow.

This weather also stirs in me is the need to get out the crock pot, light the jack o lantern, and nest in for some spooky stories. I have been listening to the LORE podcast and enjoying the odd folktales and stories it has to offer. I am not sure I recommend it for first light, however? Walking out to into a hungry farm and AM chores to slow piano music and a half-hour episode on Bella in the Wych Elm is not exactly a chipper start. But true stories, and those past down through the ages, are always more interesting than the slasher films I can't stand this time of year. October is for memories, for old stories, for those lost. It's special.

Thank you to those who sent me emails about the last post. It was needed, kind, and so encouraging.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Any Donkey...

This person sends me comments like this all the time. She's the only one going out of her way to do so these days. That's a nice change from when this blog was more popular and I might get 2 or 3 of these a week. Not having a book deal in a while does have some perks...

I stopped taking random comments here, so for her to send this to me at 8:30 on a Saturday night meant she had to scan back through the blog and then choose to write this anonymous (of course) comment. I rarely get her love letters in my inbox thanks to spam filters, but this one slid through. It's a little too personal and scary not to address.

Far as comment's go it's pretty damn inspirational. Once you get past the whole pretending-to-be-gay part she's accusing me of my dream job and calling it a scam. A job I don't actually have but do want. How wonderful to write well and honestly enough that hundreds would want to support it financially?! And when not writing I am out doing the things and living the life that brings me joy?! I'm pretty sure that is the goal of every writer in all history of the written word for entertainment, ever.

I think any of us working in self-employed or creative fields are used to this accusation. That we are playing instead of working. A real job isn't fun. It sucks. And if anyone has managed to make an income "playing" they must be living some nefarious lie or doing something scandalous on the side. Especially if they are a single woman.

Or! She is lucky, which is so much worse. It means I have it and you don't.

Cosmic injustice. Undeserved Karma. Witch.

But that isn't my reality. I am not that lucky or interesting. I am here living like this because it has been my only goal for a decade.

Few people are monthly patrons (16, I just checked). Yes, sometimes I get an email or random paypal gift or check in the mail. This is because another adult—of their own free will—wanted to send it and I am insanely grateful if they do. It doesn't happen often but when it does it encourages the hell out of me to keep going.

A few years ago I made a humble chunk of my income from writing books. These days I mostly make a living as a farmer and freelance designer and writer. I sell shares of poultry, lamb, and pork. I make a lot of goatsmilk soap. I sell services in the arts like design, illustration, music lessons, and public speaking - mostly centered around agriculture, folklore, and animals. My entire living wage centers around my lifestyle. It is fueled by the humble audience I have built by blogging about my life for over a decade, publishing 6 books, speaking at national and local events, and being active on social media as a public figure.

That is the thing critics never seem to acknowledge when accusing personalities of accepting handouts instead of punching time cards; the work behind building an audience. The effort that goes into a writer's consistent work to reach more people and be heard. To find a community. To create the kind of words and daily life that makes people want to sign up for Patreon - that is the job.

Here's my real financial life: Every day I make an income goal on my daily to do list. Usually it is around $200. Between sales from farming, classes, soap, illustrations, logos, and yes, blog subscribers I aspire to reach that goal. I usually don't.

So far today I made $10 from one reader subscription and found a five dollar bill crumbled in an old pair of pants while sorting laundry. That puts me at $185 to go to make goal. I hope to make that in sales but I probably wont. Which means not spending any money unless I have to. It means tacking that amount on tomorrow's goal. This is my mastermind system: trying and throwing dice.

I have a couple thousand people paying attention to me. My gamble is that one or two a day will email me about something I have to offer an actually purchase it. There are no guarantees. There's just asking to be hired. Most people don't even reply back once I send rates.

But making it the goal every day is something I can strive towards! I may go 5 days without a single sale and then make four logo sales and sell a fiddle workshop in a weekend! I have had to learn to tango with this uncertainty and it changed how I live to accommodate it. More on that later.

Some other things:

I'm not gay, but feel free to call me gay if you like. I am queer. A blanket term used by the LGBTQ+ community for the non-straight. I'm bisexual and always have been (that's the B in LGBT), but it took a long time to come out because of my own personal fears and self acceptance issues. I wrote about this in detail on National Coming Out Day over on Twitter. I don't talk about it here because I don't think my sexuality has anything to do with farming, wanting a farm, keeping a farm, or the life I built here. I also have never talked about my dating or sex life on this blog. It's not that kind of blog.

I have problems sleeping some nights because of anxiety. I am not on any medication for anxiety because I have found being active and having this farm is best remedy. Caring about something bigger than myself and a farm to fight for turns fear into motivation.  Guys, I'm rarely lonely but that doesn't mean I am not alone. On this site you see a woman on draft horses, tossing bales, or flying hawks. But at the end of the day that same woman goes to bed alone and in the dark is scared of being hurt, broke, or homeless.

What you see on Twitter or Instagram is the most interesting things I am doing. If you base my lifestyle off social media, well, that's bananas. Just because that is what I post doesn't mean it is all I am doing. If I filmed my entire day it would be 75% of me sitting in front of this desktop in my living room. Pictures of me unshowered at a desk do not get posted. This isn't the Truman Show. I share the more exciting and pretty things.

And if I get to 11AM after tending and feeding an entire farmload of animals, three client's emailed with updated work, daily writing done, and want to take a break with an hour of horseback riding, hunting, fishing, swimming, archery or running then GUESS WHAT! That is what you see posted. And it's done mid day because that is when I have and need the break. Evening schedule is molded around evening chores. My time to live the life I work for is the middle of the day/afternoon when I used to be sitting in a corporate office.

Reasons I am able to live like this:
  • I am single and childless. (This is the main reason.) Any income I do earn is responsible for just one human being.
  • Every piece of furniture I own is second hand. Nothing is new, modern, or fancy.
  • I do not use a microwave, AC, dishwasher, washing machine/dryer.
  • I paid off all my credit cards, save one with an embarrassingly low limit.
  • My electricity costs are low and mostly used for hot water, the fridge, stove, light bulbs, the computer/internet, and electric fences outside.
  • My heat is firewood. I tend a stove, not a thermostat.
  • My truck is paid for, all $1900 of it. My insurance is only $48 a month.
  •  I do not travel. I have not left this farm for one night in over six years.
  • I have no cell phone/smart phone.
  • I have no television or cable. (I use streaming services on a 7 year old computer).
  • My other bills (outside the farm costs/kiva) are down to mortgage, utilities, insurance and student loans.
  • All those things I do for fun happen right outside my door: the horses, the falconry, the shooting archery - all done in my backyard or on this mountain done without starting up the truck or spending money. I already have the horse and tack, bow and arrows, hawk and glove - etc. If I want to swim or fish it is a 4 mile drive to Shushan. I can do these in the time I used to take off for lunch at a corporate job.
This is how I manage to live like this. It's ten years of choices at a time in my life when they were possible to make without influence of a spouse, family, or children. My real luck was falling in love with farming when I was young enough, single enough, and stubborn enough to pursue it with blinders on. And to do so when there was a backyard farming craze sweeping publishing.

I didn't care if I went half a year without a flushing toilet, hot water, or constant nightmares. And since it's just me no one was getting exhausted and tired and wanted me to quit. Being single made me a seed.

I knew if I kept going eventually I would either collect the readership, or that magic book deal, or something like a TV or movie option, or something that would pay off. And if it isn't some magical windfall it will be the skills, choices, and life I molded myself and circumstances into. That I would just get better at being a professional Jenna Woginrich. I still believe I can do this.

I have shared a very intimate story online for over ten years. It's been one-sided though, for 99% of you. You know more about me and my life than you may know about your own neighbors, cousins or siblings. This gives people a mostly positive feeling of agency in my story. I get messages about first farms purchased because they saw I could do it. I get pictures of first horses, chickens, and even new marriages that happened because of a love of homesteading. That's the reason I do this. I chose to tell my story publicly because giving you the chance to read it meant I wasn't so alone.

The truth about my everyday life is that I am alone, anxious, and stubborn. And the amazing thing is I like that about myself. I like being single. I like being nervous. And I like being too stubborn to know when to quit. I don't have the talent to be an amazing writer. I don't have the kind of heart that gets to fall in love. But I do have the tenacity of a steel bear trap and that is where I put all my chips in.

I can't help people sending me messages like this. But over the years I have learned it has a lot more to do with the person sending them than it does with me. My skin grew thicker. My friendships and family I found over the years grew and aided in that growing strength.

Because of the internet I am able to live this Fantasy life, yes. But the Fantasy is a small part of the overall, messy, picture. I wish I had hundreds of people cheering me on and mailing payments for this blog. I wish my books were flying off the shelves and people in California talked about scripts and rights. But wishing doesn't pay the bills. What does is the hard work and ethics I have created over a decade of being shit on for following a dream publicly. And those moments are not a blink of deterrent in a life I built, created, and fight for every day.

Any donkey can kick down a barn.
It takes a special one to build one, you jackass.


Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Logos & Pet Portraits on Sale

Logos and pet portraits are on sale, $50 off each! Sales of these services and art go towards the mortgage of this farm.  If you have already purchased a logo, illustration, books, soap, or workshop feel free to contact me again for an even deeper discount to show my appreciation for your returning business.

I also have gift cerficiates you can buy and have emailed to you as PDFs. These are ready to print and tuck into a card for anyone you would like to buy the gift of a pet illustration, logo, or fiddle/archery class!

If you are interested, please email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Hunters



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Take a deep breath. Get to work.

This morning I woke up fretful. I had nightmares again. The same kind I have had all month. I am me, but I'm back in college; this limbo of being a child and an adult. It's time for a new fall semester and in all the fervor of academia, extended daylight, and schedules I had somehow forgotten to enroll in housing. This idea of an exciting life ahead—full of learning and art and friends— yet thwarted by bad planning is my version of being in the classroom naked. Somehow I have managed everything but the roof over my head. And here I am, days away from class, and I have no where to live on campus. It feels like knowing you had picked winning lottery numbers, your birthday, and lost the ticket. Haunting and selfish and cold.

I wake up and realize college was 15 years ago and I've been a homeowner for 7 of them. That the roof over my head is (at least today) legally mine. That the rules of campus, HOA, landlords and even zoning (Jackson NY has no zoning) is gone. I can have horses or build a used car lot now. I'm a taxpaying member of my community in good standing but it still takes a while to come down from that panic. I wake up covered in sweat and terrified.

I am terrified but not alone. Friday and Gibson close in on me in comfort. Border collies understand that front legs can be used like our primate arms and hold onto me. Their paw pads grasp like individual fingers on ribs and shoulders. This is what I do to them when it thunders. This is how we show care, we hold on. And with them holding me I start coming back to reality. I know they are here and part of this farm. That while I am broke and worried I am still insanely wealthy for any woman in the history of civilization. I am okay. I close my eyes and smell sweat and fur and say my everyday prayer:

Take a deep breath. Get to work.

I own 6.5 acres as an unmarried, openly queer, woman. That would be impossible a hundred years ago. It would be insanely tough fifty years ago. It makes me an outsider now. But I am here.

I went outside with a mug of coffee and fed my stock. I keep horses for cart and saddle. I have a flock of sheep, dairy goats, a small sounder of pigs, poultry, gardens and hive. I have land. I have a pond, a stream, and a well of water 398 feet into the good earth. My bank account might only have $27 in it, but that is because every goddamned penny I earn goes towards the live I fight to have. And I do so as a woman alone. I do it without government assistance, family help, or husband. I do it with words, and design, and meat, and art.

Take a deep breath. Get to work.

We're told we're supposed to be humble. It's a fine Christian trait in our shame-based culture. But I am not a Christian. I think women should boast. I think we should raise our glasses high to hard work and accomplishment and accept praise and criticism with the same raised eyebrow. People have watched this life for a decade. They have seen me go from girl to woman, new to practiced, farm-curious to experienced farmer. I used t shudder at comments here. Now I just ended them. You want to tell me how you feel about me, go ahead* But you better be willing to put your name, your worth, and your reputation on the line to do so.

Breakfast was a dozen eggs in a cast iron skillet Jon Katz gave me when he was moving Bedlam Farm. I miss talking to Jon. I use that skillet every day. Once fried up the whole lot was split three ways between myself, Gibson, and Friday. The eggs came from hens I raised as chicks. They were outside pecking at grain and bugs, ranging free on our land. It tasted as good as you think - eating your own farm-raised eggs on a week day morning. Hens drinking the same well water as me. Hens feeling the same sunlight on our shoulders as me.

Lunch was defrosted sweet Italian sausage fried in a pan with pasta sauce and caramelized onion. I raised those pigs. They came from the daily care of beasts. It tastes like sunlight and sweat and fur exhaling from a bad dream.

Dinner was a butternut squash, cut in half, seeds scooped, and roasted in olive oil and chicken seasoning for an hour. It tasted amazing. Those small plants were set into the earth here in May. I have 50lbs of them resting all over this farmhouse, and that is a modest harvest. It was perfect.

 My body was sated. I spent the day doing work of hands, heart, and strings. Sometime after supper I picked up my fiddle and played a droning version of Blackest Crow. How many people even know that song anymore? And may I dare not discount the work of learning to play it. May I raise the glass of whiskey I am sipping high to old songs, old work, old fears.

I never know if I am safe. I never know what will come of agents, book deals, classes, or contracts. I just know that I am madly in love with the life I built out of twigs and tears on this mountain. That as scared as I am of not having a dorm room at 35, I feel insanely wealthy. That I am so lonely, but too busy to tend to it so it trots past me as bliss.

To be a woman, alone, and eat like this.
To be a woman, alone, and live like this.
To be a woman, alone, and hope like this.

Take a deep breath. Get to work.

*
dogsinourparks@gmail.com
twitter: @coldantlerfarm


Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Frost Warning

I just finished unloading the hay from the truck into my barn. Along with the hay came a bucket of garlic and a 50lb sack of spuds, as planned. I will buy another 50lbs soon as I can, and then 75% of my winter food is stored up for a frugal season. I want to be positive but I'm getting nervous again. I was so on top of things this summer, but now I am falling behind again. Not scary behind. Nothing like how the spring was, but that steadiness is waning and it has been giving me nightmares every night. And while it does concern me that this is all I am writing about this October, it's because it is all I am thinking about. I'm glad, too. Because being nervous keeps my cylinders firing and that is what fuels the machine forward. It's not a healthy relationship with anxiety but I'd rather use it for a reason to work, promote, and sell harder than curl up into a ball and give up.

A frost warning is set for tonight. I have almost all of my firewood in and one of the nice things about this mild fall weather is I am not usually burning wood. This time last year there was a fire every night and most mornings. I can count on my hand the fires I've stoked so far.  This is good. In fact, even among all these nerves I need to understand that things are in pretty good shape for October here. Food, firewood, hay and such are stocked. Bills are behind but no one is driving past the house to take photos for the bank and probably won't for another 2 weeks. With the holidays coming people will need gifts and that means better luck offering workshops, soap, logos, and illustrations. I made it this far - that is what I tell myself every evening. I'm still here.


Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Sunshine and Little Hoofrot

A load of hay is being delivered to the farm shortly along with 50lbs of potatoes and a lot of garlic! The hay is for the livestock, but the rest is for this farm's winter supplies. Well, mostly. Some of the garlic is being fed to the pigs as a natural wormer. My butcher told me about this trick and says it works a charm. I have nothing against more conventional worming methods and use them as well, but I like the idea of as little chemicals as possible in my stock. And at the rate these piglets are growing (save for the runt of the litter, whom I call hoofrot)everyone else is pigtasticly chubby. This morning while the goats and chickens explored the Autumn farm they dined on apples and squash for breakfast. Second breakfast will be later with a chow that has all their nutritional needs but there's nothing wrong with adding some fruit and veg to your morning diet!

It's been a gorgeously warm fall, as I have been sharing. But this morning there was a slight bite in the air. It felt good to work outdoors in red flannel again. And watching Ida and Bonita tear around the farm like kids was better than the sugar in my coffee! 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autumn Flights

Odd weather here, very much so. But these warm days make for lunch breaks like yesterday, where I took this photo of the trails I ride and hunt with Aya on. We flew for an hour in the sunlight, chasing rabbits and darting through the trees. Aya is doing well this season and staying close. Whenever I think I lost her I whistle and say her name and she is above me, rushing past so close I can feel the air from her wings. I so look forward to chillier mornings on the mountain when game is easier to see and coming down the mountain means fireside coffee and a good book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Soap & Signed Books!

Want to support this farm and take care of some holiday shopping at the same time? Well, do I have some good news for you! I am still offering Batch/Book Combos! This includes 8 custom-made large bars of soap (3-4oz) and a signed hardcover of One Woman Farm! You pick the scent/mold/combination of exfoliants and I make it to order. Takes 2-3 weeks to cure and mail. Email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com if you are interested.

Friday, October 6, 2017

87 Reasons to Be Okay

Rain is finally falling here. It feels like it has been weeks of dust and dry creek beds, an unsettling atmosphere in a place usually so lush. Don't get me wrong, the lawns are still green and the moss hasn't sloughed off the river stones, but it feels like a dust storm running the lawn mower or driving on a dirt road. Things be dry, friends.

The dryness is why many leaves on the trees are still green. That, and the added string of unseasonably warm weather (pheasant hunting in a long-sleeved tee shirt?!) makes it feel like a confused, dry, August. But today there is rain and I’m checking in after a morning of working on design and illustration clients. I have a story to encourage some of you out there.

This morning after farm chores (the regular AM rounds plus cleaning up the mews for Aya Cash) I worked on a logo for a Norwegian homestead, illustrations for a family story picture book, and packed up some soap orders. Sales have been thin but I assume everyone is doing what I am: looking towards winter. People are considering gift-giving season, heating costs, and other winter preps that affect your household budgets. I wish you all the luck to meet them and meet snowfall with a heavy purse, large woodpile, and full larder! That said, here's the story:

I had some bittersweet luck yesterday. I had a dentist appointment to repair a filling, nothing major. All the old metal fillings from my teenage years are decaying and being replaced one at a time, as I can afford it. Teeth are a big deal to me. I see too many rural people let them go out here and it is something I refuse to give up on. Someday I want to get them realigned, straight, and white but right now I am thrilled to just have a full working set without dental insurance.

After topping off Taylor with some coolant I drove to my beloved Vermont dentist. Soon as I was set into the chair and seen I was told we'd need to take an X-ray. Odd, but nothing too concerning. I tallied up the X-ray cost on top of filling replacement and moved some sales around in my head. If I sold 3 logos or 4 illustrations I would still be on track by end of the weekend. Bad news, said the Doc. I had an abscess. We'd need to deal with it right now, right here.

To their credit they drilled, treated, plugged and repaired the tooth over the next hour. I am so grateful for their good care. But when we were done I was informed all that Novocaine and nitrous was keeping me comfortable during an emergency root canal.

The doc talked to the receptionist at billing and explained this was unplanned. Thank goodness this small town doctor let me make a down payment and work out a plan during the next month to cover it. I reorganized the tally in my head and let out a sigh. The bill is always the worst part of a root canal. This is my third in a few years.

All this is something I feel is important to share. When I was working a 9 to 5 it was health insurance that kept me in a job I disliked above all else. Here in America it's what keeps a lot of people from pursing other careers or making choices for happiness. Anytime I even flirted with my friends or family about (what I knew was coming) leaving that job it was health insurance that they warned me about. They shared horror stories of people who lost home and marriage over medical bills. You can't leave a job with god insurance. You just can't.

You know, if I had children or a spouse I had vowed to love and protect I wouldn't have quit. I couldn't. Or if I had any sort of known medical issue it also would have a very different story. I would still find a way to farm but the quitting, the 6 years of working as a writer/farmer/designer, the time spent here hiking, hunting, running and riding - that would all be a distant dream. I was lucky to be single, healthy, and flexible with time and sacrifice of comfort to make the leap. 

What gave me courage to finally quit and pursue this farm was hearing from other local writers who made it work. Some were part of the local Chamber of Commerce and on those healthcare plans. Others had government assistance through medicaid/CHIP/Social Security. (I have never been on any sort of government assistance save for one unemployment check I cashed in Idaho.) Most full time writers I knew were on a working spouses’ healthcare plan. Others had private insurance (these were all very successful writers). This was before the ACA made insurance pools more affordable in NY. I tried to afford private care and couldn't make the payments. Not strange from many creatives out in the world of freelance, nor from many farmers. You want an independent life? No one is going to make it easy on you.

So I just went without. I used services through Planned Parenthood or Urgent Care here in my town when I needed medical help/check ups. But I figured it out, mostly thanks to small town doctors like my dentist. People who are willing to work with clients. I can say that over and over again, people in the medical field here in rural Veryork saw what I was doing and worked with me. This wasn't the case in small cities like Saratoga or Glens Falls, but in the sticks doctors work with uninsured farmers and workers to make things happen.

And that was the case for me. I now have a whole new set of bills but what is the point in focusing on the setbacks? Here’s the great news and what I am raising my mug of coffee to this morning: my skull is no longer packed with what could lead to a brain failing infection. That’s worth falling behind. That’s easier to sleep with than the haunting pain behind your eyes and jaw creeping towards your brain stem. So I am damn grateful I got care I needed and made it work without dental insurance. It's this farm's story and the story of countless others in rural communities caring for each other.

I’m encouraged by yesterday. I’m encouraged by the soap I am mailing to a librarian in Missouri and the artwork I am preparing to ship to Wales. These small sales add up. They make it possible to stay here. I’ve got almost 8 years into this farm and that’s 8 years of proof that I can make it work. And if my single, scrappy, uninsured self can do it I hope some of you realize you can too. If you have youth and health on your side - good for you. If you have the stubbornness to pursue a dream regardless of any hindrance - you are my hero. 

Winter will come and snow will once again cover this farm. When that first snowfall happens I will not be looking out an office window worrying about my commute home, already in the dark of the time change. I will be here. I will be designing, drawing, tending animals, eating from my frugal larder, and figuring out another month as I have for the last 87 on this piece of land. I’m still behind on the September mortgage but I’ll catch up. I have 87 times before. That’s a hell of a track record for an art major in the woods.

Now, back to work.


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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

Come to this farm this summer (or fall) for a special trip to see this place and leave with a new skill and the tools to practice it at home. I offer half and full day workshops in either fiddle or archery for beginners. The requirements are easy - come willing to learn with the ability to hold a fiddle or draw a bow, and we take it from there. You don't need to have any athletic or musical experience. These two passions of mine can be taught to anyone with the will to learn, a sense of humor, and the stubbornness to practice at home. I provide the instruments (class comes with your own longbow or student fiddle!) and you leave learning how to play your first song or safely shoot your first bow.

These classes also make great gifts! Want to give your spouse the ability to play a song or shoot a bulls eye? You can buy them from me and get a printable pdf emailed you can set into a card or wrap as a gift. The card lets the gift receiver set up their own date and time for the class at their choice. Classes here include:

Fiddle Indie Day: A student fiddle, spare strings, bow, and case. Class covers care and feeding, tuning, your first scale, your first song, and practicing at home. Play among sheep, goats, chickens and horses on the side of a mountain. Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time, a second song and scale as well.

Archery Indie Day: A palm wood long bow and string. Class covers care and feeding, safety, equipment and range rules, instinctive archery shooting and aim, target practice, and beginner tips and lessons in bow and arrow fitting.  Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time and a woodland field course shooting through cover, down cliffs, and at animal targets on trail.

You can also sign up for both in the same day, which means a morning of music followed by an hour lunch break and then an afternoon of archery. Prices vary by amount of students and times. Base price for a half day with fiddle/bow is $250. Email me to sign up at dogsinourparks(at)gmail.com

P.S. I also have done custom classes in Chicken 101, Goats & Soapmaking, Mountain Dulcimer, Beginner Horsemanship & Driving, Rabbits, etc. Ask for a custom class if interested!