Friday, January 20, 2017

Got to Have a System

In the chaos of self-employment you need to have a system. There isn't a boss waiting for me to show up at my desk at 8AM anymore. There's just me. Now my boss is the list of obligations, farm animals, bills, clients, and work ahead. I have said it before - I gave up one steady job I hated for 37 unsteady ones I adore. It's a mixed bag.

Working for yourself means having the ability to blow off a day and just go horseback riding or running - but that rarely happens, almost never in winter when stress and expenses are so much higher on this farm. I think the reason I love summer so much is the heat is free. I am not attached to a wood stove's maw or worried about not being home for 4 hours. The truck runs better in warm weather, too. I hay to bring in hay and firewood, extra calories in the form of feed, and figure out how to deal with ice, rain, bad roofs, etc. I am at war with winter. Summer really is paradise and fall is the fireworks before the darker months. Anyway - ponies and running shoes are not as common a blow off as 67 degree mornings. Mostly because I don't have the ability to enjoy those things when my time is needed elsewhere. So there is a system of literal lists I write every morning Monday - Friday. They are split up into Farm/House/Work/Me and as silly as that sounds - that list it is my real boss.

The Farm portion is a list of all the animals and their needs. Every animal is on it; from feeding loud cats to bringing in Aya for weighing and notes. Between cat chow and hawks there are sheep to deliver second cut hay to, a horse to feed and observe, and geese honking as I do both. There are *hopefully* pregnant dairy goats to fork hay over to and check their water's level and freezing. There are five growing hogs to break fasts, chickens to get corn to, and dogs that demand calories for their work as my all-around farmhands. Most mornings they get fried eggs and a peanut butter biscuit. Friday is starting heat right now so that adds a list of diaper duty for her and keeping Gibson away from her swimsuit area. Fun! Anyway, the animals come first. Once these chores are done I get to check off about 8-10 items off my list. It makes me feel like I am already accomplishing something and being productive.

Inside the farmhouse is another set of To-Dos. There is coffee to start, a fire to light, and weird chores suited to just this house in her current state of scrappy. There are plumbing issues I can't afford to fix right now so I need to bail out gray water from a drainage tub I set up in the mudroom. There is also the everyday tasks of basic cleanliness. I live alone, but make my bed every single morning. This is less about proper living and more of a habit/morale boost. Like brushing your teeth or putting on eyeliner before going out in public - it's just the right thing to do. Surface cleanliness is my religion. One time a writer friend came by and looked around at my house - asking if I straightened up just for him. He meant the odd knickknacks arranged on bookshelves, just-mopped floors, and perceived order of the place. (I was grateful he didn't the place basically needs to be hosed down with bleach.) But it is all just polishing a first impression. Open a drawer or closet and see the real mess. This is also true about my brain. Outside you see some decent eye makeup and a 3-inch heel on my riding boots but inside it is just a clutter of anxiety, excitement, and ruthless optimism bordering on crazy.

I consider the farm part of my job, but when I say "work" I mean writing/design/illustration gigs. The stuff people have paid me money to do. My bare-bones level of clients to work on every day is 3. So far today I've already hit that and it isn't even lunch (which is why I am blogging now and yes I will add blog post to my work list and then check it off, thank you). It took watching four episodes of The Good Place while coloring in an Alberta client's mare and inking her mane strand by strand - but I got it done while thoroughly enjoying Kristen Bell. Not a bad morning.

Now the part of the day I really have to work at: me. This is when I get up from the computer and go for a run, do yoga, meditate, read a book. It's basically break time from animals, changing sheets, and computers. I won't be watching the news today, but I will be checking in with Twitter - which has been a life saver this past year. If you want to see daily photos of the farm - follow me there. I don't do much farm updates on Facebook anymore. I have learned that Twitter is more of a coffee house of like minds and shared ideas and Facebook is more of a Thanksgiving dinner in which everyone is disappointed in me at different levels. @coldantlerfarm

If I get all these lists checked off by early afternoon I go hunting with Aya Cash. Just being out in the woods for an hour or two - hiking and seeing her follow me high in the trees above is meditation in itself. I can't listen to audiobooks or podcasts. There isn't a computer screen playing Pitch Perfect or Braveheart for the 3000th time.  There is just the sounds of her wings whistling though cloven air as she comes back to me. There is just the self doubt and fear in my head. There is just the hope that seems louder, and therefore more real that keeps me going.

A gal has got to have a system.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thank You


Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts here, 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. Or if you stopped subscribing for whatever reason, you sign back up. This is a time that the farm needs support from those who wish to see it remain the home of Cold Antler.  Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,

Or make a one time contribution if you don't wish to subscribe.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


photo by c. oliver
This past weekend was the Martin Luther King Jr Falconry Meet here in Washington County. Falconers from around the state traveled to share in the hunt on a larger scale. I love this event. I love all Falconry Meets and picnics. I wish I could go to more, but the farm keeps me close to her. It's a small sacrifice to hold onto a dream I work on every day.

So what did we do? We do a lot of drinking and eating, but when it comes down to it - it's all about the birds. Hunters meet at a specific location and those of us with birds bring our animals in travel boxes called Giant Hoods. Giant Hoods are light-restricting crates with perches in them (the hawk version of a dog crate). The hawks wait in these hoods while we take turns releasing them one at a time to hunt. The people assembled serve the bird. We walk around the forest and fields flushing game for them. The whole while we are talking, telling stories, laughing. It is a happy scene. I got this photo from the last day of the meet. My friend Jeremy and his bird Tesla returning from a hillside hunt with all the brush beaters alongside him. A beautiful moment.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perks

One of the perks of sharing my life online and in books is the amazing little treasures mailed here from time to time. Out of all the gifts ever sent (all are appreciated!) it is the hand-knit socks that actually make me squeaky with joy! Thank you, Webster NY! I will wear these to feed a farm, haul hay, hunt with hawks and read books!

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Every night before I turn out the lights the same thing happens. The dogs and I find our favorite positions in the bed and cuddle close. I hold those two collies, and listen to the sounds of them letting go of the day. My dogs rarely nap. They are up and active and with me all day. Their sleep schedule is mine, so when I finally say “to bed” their bodies exhale with this grand permission to not Border Collie for a few hours.

Gibson sleeps so deep that sometimes I worry his heart stopped. Friday - who never ever seems to stop running circles and picking fights with Gibson’s ears - curls into a ball. We are a happy trio. Before I sleep, I look them in the eyes and tell them the same promise.

You’ll never go to sleep without food in your belly, a roof over your head, and all the love you could ever need.

I love my dogs. I really do. But I realized today that I never make that promise to myself. So far I’ve been fed and housed, but I don’t ever give myself the love I need. I’m not talking about friends, family, or lovers. I mean just loving myself enough to let myself stop being a Border Collie. To let go. To sleep knowing that not being hungry and dry is enough for tonight.

You’ll never go to sleep without food in your belly, a roof over your head, and all the love you could ever need. 

Come Learn the Fiddle or Archery!

Have you always wanted to play the fiddle or shoot a bow?  I am offering one-on-one classes here at the farm. These are half or full-day events meant for complete beginners in archery or fiddling. You can come not knowing how to read music or nock an arrow, (in fact I prefer it) and leave with a your new instrument or bow in hand. The point is to come with an open mind and a sense of humor. I have yet to have a fiddle or archery student not leave this farm being schooled enough to play a tune or hit a target. This is a chance to learn a skill, support the farm like me, and come see the beautiful mess that is CAF.

Both day's cost includes the tools needed -  fiddle (plus case, bow, supplies) or longbow (for your right or left hand, string, 3 arrows). If you buy a workshop as a gift in the next few days I'll overnight you a hand-painted postcard to give to the receiver. Classes are set up by you so a day in the spring, summer, or fall you wish to learn and travel here is up to you. Can be set up after the holidays!

If interested email me!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Part Wolf

When I was in Jr. High (that is what we called middle school in small-town America in the 1900's) I had a huge crush on a boy who seemed unattainable celebrity, even then. He was tan, fit, and had the kind of dreamy hair boys illustrated on the cover of Babysitters' Club books would envy. Friends of mine dated him and for that they were my heroes.

His older brother was in the same class as my cheer-leading sister, three years our senior. In a high school of 400 kids, everyone knows everyone. We were friends the way chubby girls who read too much are friends with boys- which is to say more like golden retrievers then actual human women. I was the non-threatening, unsexualized, funny girl who was supposed to leave the room at parties so my more attractive friends could fool around. I wasn't a monster - but I was me.

At 13 I was built thick, with dark hair and a max height of 5'2". I was into the outdoors and dressed mostly out of the LL Bean catalog-school of inspo and it looked about as flattering as you imagine. I never ever thought of myself as sexy or pretty. I wanted to be - but in the high school play I was cast as the family dog (literally). Point is - I was not the girl on the cover of the Babysitters' Club. I did not run my hands through wavy boy hair.

One time this crush of mine fixed a necklace I was wearing in a computer lab. He stood behind me, gentle hands on my nape as he repaired the latch while I sat frozen. My whole 13-year-old-idiot body shook internally. I didn't know people could do that to each other. Having felt the hormonal shock; I fell hard for this boy who was so nice to a golden retriever. (Little did I know at the time, a pretty breed of dog was too high a bar to set for myself.)

I never dared tell him, or anyone. It was mine to hold close. So later that year at a party when he was waiting for his brother to pick him up I felt lucky to be sitting next to him while we waited for our separate rides. We chatted. I pined. Then my ride came. My sister walked in with a smile and a very fashionable pea coat. He shook his head and laughed to himself behind her. (Know my older sister was perfect in my eyes. She was thin, blonde, and smart as hell. So I got his awe, but didn't get what was so funny?) She headed out back to the car and before I grabbed my coat I made the mistake of asking him why he was laughing?

"Oh, you know. I just was looking at Katie and you, well, you know, the nickname.... Your nickname?"

"What?" (I didn't know I had a nickname.)

At this the boy balked a little. He was self aware enough to realize he walked into something uncomfortable. I put on my coolest we're-just-buddies! voice and told him it was okay to tell me.

"We call you the Friendly Beast. You are so nice and funny and everyone likes you, but your sister is, well, your sister - and you're you."

I didn't cry or say anything back. I just laughed. I was well trained in my role. This is what the boy I liked thought of me. This was what his whole pack of boys called me. I swallowed air and smiled. But that was the first night I ever cried myself to sleep over how I looked.

"Friendly Beast" has always been in the background, the label that explained why every unrequited romance didn't work out. Of course boys didn't want me - I wasn't even human. I was something else. All through my teens this was a part of me. (Later on I did find a boyfriend who was very sweet and put up with a lot of eagerness, but that was a long way from the 13-year-old in computer lab.)

That nickname became my identity. I wish I could say it was some amazing Fuck You to teenage boys who called their girlfriend's bestie a beast - but it was more of an escape. I embraced it as armor and fell in love with werewolves. I had nearly fifty werewolf movies in my collection. When I drew myself, I was a werewolf. If people saw me as a friendly monster then that was exactly what they would get. It was easier to give into the role then fight it.

Genes from a Slovak mother and pan-Germanic father made me short - but strong. This was my only vanity. When other girls in high school had trouble picking up bags of dog food I felt like a superhero not breaking a sweat carrying a fifty-pound bags over each shoulder. In my mind I was a beast. I was the cinematic daughter of Simba from the Lion King and William Wallace from Braveheart. Those were my weirdo-teen idols. They were strong, leaders, animals. I drew that picture of "me" up top in college. I was 21 then and still saw myself as the Friendly Beast.

photo by M. Romais
Now I'm in my thirties. I'm still a beast, but I don't cry about it anymore. What once made me feel manly and monstrous in the worst ways is now a sense of pride. This werewolf ran a 5K yesterday in 16° weather for the hell of it. I felt the pain in my thighs while doing chores this morning, and welcomed it like an old friend. Instead of taking a day to heal I ran some more (14° today!) and did A LOT of pushups after -just to feel that howl inside. What used to bring me shame now brings me so much pride. I love being strong. I love that a hundred pushups is cake. I love that I don't flinch working with a ton of draft horse or worry about throwing hay bales all day. The teenager who used to wish so so hard she would look like Rachael on FRIENDS some day.... well, now that bitch owns a pair of yellow wolf contact lenses. I wear them and mean it.

I am still only 5'2" and weigh around 186 pounds. Even when I was training for the half marathon last summer and running 40-50 miles a week - I never weighed less than 178. At that weight and height, an 8/10 capri is my go-to jean size, but some bitchier critics online think that is a lie. (Listen, my body is a mystery to me, too, but I really am mostly muscle). My waist is 33" and my arms are 15" flexed. I remembered hearing trivia that Ben Affleck's arms as Batman were 17" and was unimpressed. Grrrrrrr, baby.

My body is thick, but that no longer makes me feel less then more conventionally attractive women. I don't want to be a tall, blonde, model who has trouble holding her groceries. I want to be the most kick ass version of me. Which is why I run long races, earned my black belt, ride draft horses, shoot archery, hunt, train hawks and run a farm alone on the side of the mountain. It takes a part-wolf to do all that.

I still deal with the same body issues so many women deal with— and some far more serious than most— but as an adult I am proud of what the Friendly Beast has accomplished. I have no idea what happened to that boy and I honestly don't care. But I hope if he has daughters he raises them to value their own gifts, whatever they might be.  Not everyone gets to be an LL Bean model or even look good in a fleece vest - but we all have something to offer, something to be proud of.

Some of us are a little too feral to make most people comfortable. Some of us are born gorgeous. Some of us get to grow up touching wavy hair. Some of us are friendly beasts who would've killed for Golden Retriever status at their lowest points. Life has a lot of possibilities. What I do know is I no longer doubt there's a person out there who will find me beautiful, as is. I know because one already does.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Manicures - Upstate Style

Dave the farrier is the man. He is intelligent, gentle, and complicated. He understands horses in a way I someday hope to grasp the edges of. He combines personal observation of the animals, popular training methods, hoof care, herd dynamics, natural horsemanship, and folklore. In one hoof-trimming session he will explain both his thoughts on trimming feet, training for road riding, and what the swirl of hair on your horse's forehead means. I can not thank Patty Wesner enough for bringing this man into my life.

Now, that photo looks pretty simple. You see Dave and Merlin, working in the front lawn on some basic manicure work. What you don't see is how Merlin got to the front yard from the fence he usually is behind. Weeks of ice, rain, and snow froze all the gates shut. Some are fixated in inches of solid ice. Dave could have worked with Merlin inside the fence. He has no issue going into a pasture to treat hooves. But on this farm Merlin the Fell is loving alongside Monday the ram. He is protective of them and I didn't want to chance the possibility that he would see Dave bent over trimming feet as a sign of ovine aggression.  So I spent most of my morning chipping away inches of ice at a gate and freeing it. Watch the first song in Frozen. I did that.

Happy to report Dave had nothing but nice things to say about Merlin's temperament, feet, condition, and head swirls. My Moo (Merlin's pet name) is doing well. I miss riding him but right now that just means roads. All the trails are ice-coated and steep and when you don't have health insurance you don't exactly want to risk sliding off a thousand pound animal on a cliff side. But I am getting a lot of time outside thanks to Aya and the slowly-declining rabbit population. So there is that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Today I woke up to rain; this odd little break in the cold weather. It was in the forties and soggy and the whole farm looked like someone poured a fish tank of coffee grounds over a white canvas and then let their dog poop on it before throwing it in the river. A slush of grossness. In one afternoon it could turn to a snow globe scene again, but this morning it was unpleasant as can be. To top it all off there was a sheet of ice under this treasure trove so walking around became a full contact sport.

Outside the sheep looked a lot like I felt. Dry sheep look beautiful on green grass. They look warm on fresh snow. But on icy mud they look shipwrecked at best.  Merlin had the dour look of someone stood up on prom night. The chickens however walked around as if it was any other day of the year. I felt a pang of envy for a brain the size of Penny Lincoln's. I fed out some second-cut and suddenly the supposedly-gloomy livestock sprung to life and the Lady Hoggets raced down the hillside and Merlin's ears perked. Amazing how far a little August grass goes with farmyard morale.

Anyway, morning chores really messed with my head for a little while. I don’t mind insane cold in winter or intense humidity in summer, but when the seasons cheat on me like this I get personally offended. This is idiotic. It took some serious caffeine infusions and decent music to get out of the funk.

And snapping out of the funk was 100% necessary. I wasn’t going to spend my day feeling victimized by things outside my control. The older I get the less interesting I find people who allow their emotions and reactions to do all the driving. I said the phrase I often say when I am in a bad mood, "Daddy's Driving" which means exactly that. I heard Pete Holmes say that about his mood and love it.  It means The Adult is in control, not the petulant, childlike feelings.

My earbuds were playing his podcast. An episode I highly recommend listening to because it always makes my mood improve - It’s an episode of You Made it Weird with Kyle Cease. They talk about changing their owns lives, self transformation, anxiety, peer-pressure, motivation -  but all of it from a grounded place. While listening I had already forgotten the mush outside. I was inside now. Back to a warm farmhouse with a fire I already started, one cup of coffee down (another waiting!), and I realized I had won the battle of my bad mood. I did need to crank a record for a little morning dance party (Thank you, Taylor), watch this Disney clip, etc, but you do what you need to when you're picking out how your day will go. All that blended with the little accomplishment of knowing every animal out there on my land had a full belly, a roof, a windbreak, a warm bed, and cold well water - that made me feel better. Sometimes I even start my daily to-do list with every outdoor chore listed and checked off just to feel like I'm already on a roll. I mean, if I am going to act like a child let it be the one that needs this blog - the kid dancing on stage for attention, asking for validation, yelling MARCO! into the void so that a friend I haven't met yet can answer from their own laptop and coffee spot. I'm going to keep being me. I like her.

Farm news is pretty stagnant. It is winter and I am selling pork and lamb shares, lamb fleeces, and fiddle lessons for next year. I booked a couple coming for a private all day Chicken 101 workshop I am pretty excited about. The logos and illustrations are slow but I sure am trying my best to sell them. I have no reason to complain - as I said before - all my problems can be fixed with hard work and some self control. It's a more enviable place to be than a chicken. Chickens can't dance to How You Get the Girl cranked to 11. Keep your little brains ladies, Daddy's Driving.

Come in, sit down.

Welcome new readers and old friends, I often post this: Come in,  Sit Down, which means introduce yourself here on the blog by your name and location, and maybe share a little more about yourself as far as homesteading dreams or goals are? If you don't feel comfortable giving your name online, you could always just leave your location and perhaps a suggestion for the blog. It's a way for me to see who I am writing to and say hello. It makes the place a little more friendly on this side, as you know so much about me, but I know so little about you. A simple introduction makes it feel like I'm talking with a group rather than writing to the sky. If you never comment this post is an exception worth making. You might even make a friend or two...

It's also a way for you guys out there to connect with other folks with like interests. If you're sitting in your Sausalito apartment dreaming of mini angus bloodlines and rototillers you might just see another name from Sausalito a few comments down dreaming about coop plans and explaining his container gardens.... and before you know if you've made a farming friend. The internet is great—you'll never hear me say otherwise—but it keeps us inside a little too much. It should be a tool to network and learn from, not a replacement for three dimensional conversations and relationships. (I am talking for myself right now as much as anyone) and by saying hello here you might just spark book clubs and dinner potlucks, meetups and work parties, farm visits and advice, or just someone to grab coffee with in the Philadelphia Barnes & Noble and pour over the new issue of Hobby Farms together while chatting about why your husbands think chickens are ridiculous.

So come on inside, pull up a chair, and say hello.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hat Trick

A few months back I was on my mountain, hunting with Aya Cash. This was early in our career together and she was in rare form, which was my fault. I had been training her like birds in my past, feeding her mostly out of my hands. For some hawks that can work but Aya's little too hardcore. She learned in a few weeks that the food on my fist was coming out of my bags, pockets - my general person. So instead of waiting like a well-trained dog for her treat she decided she would just take it. She started flying for my hunting pack, pockets, etc - placs where food came from. (This wouldn't be a big deal if hawks didn't come with talons the size of shark teeth that held on with 30lbs of pressure.) It was frustrating as it was encouraging. I had a smart bird who didn't see the point to playing games and wasn't going to ask for permission or wait for an invitation. I respected that. Like with humans, some of the actions that make you the worst students make you the best hustlers. I adapted. I stopped feeding her from my hands and her pick-pocketing stopped out of lack of results, but before it did she managed to steal my hat.

That picture of Aya is at high zoom. She was high in a tree with my favorite wool hat. We were out hunting together, but she wasn't being a teammate. She wasn't flying close to me watching for game. She was doing her own thing, 30 yards away. On our early hunts she would take anything she saw to eat - mice, voles, etc. She connected the thought of a full crop with me, but not like I wished. I wanted her to work with me to take bigger game we could share. Game like rabbits.

Side note: I love rabbit. It was a food I never had growing up, but learned to adore as an adult. Prepared well, rabbit tastes like Super Chicken. Think of the best piece of juicy, white, meat you ever had and now imagine one bite of it makes you feel as full as an entire chicken breast. Rabbit has the highest protein density of any meat so you use it the way you use sausage in a lot of recipes. It's part of ragu, or stew, or pie filling. Anyway - I love rabbit and I love the romance of bringing home game with a hawk on my fist. (So enough with the mice already, Cash...)

Back to that day: I had called her to my fist but instead of taking the command she swooped low and and flew off with my wool hat. She took it high into the trees and at this time there was no snow, just lots of thick roses and thorns. The kind of deep brush that stops hunters in the North East. That — topped with the fact the ground was the same color as my brown hat — it was a goner. I didn't even see where she took it, soon she was out of sight. I sighed. I liked that hat.

So yesterday we were somewhere on the mountain, nowhere near that hat zone, but hunting like a team. It was the kind of human-hawk work the Discovery Channel should have been there to document. She was WITH me. She followed me from brush pile to thorn nest. She might fly up to do some reconnaissance, but mostly she was right there. Together we flushed three rabbits and she saw me spook them for her in ways she couldn't. I was the muscle and she was the bullet. I'd be low on the ground hitting the thorns and poking with them with my big ash stick, she darted her head above, ready to pounce on whatever rushed out. And a while later (after our fifth flush and second hour of exhaustive hiking following a bird in the forest of icy snow) - I saw her dive to the northwest and heard the rabbit death rattle/screech. We had one!

I crawled on my belly under thorns in the snow and jumped over falling logs to get to her. (Anyone who thinks falconry isn't a sport should come work out with us.) When I got to her she had a lovely doe in her talons, already dead. I pulled out the large knife in my pack. A Gerber that was a gift from my friend Tyler who had it on his Bike trip around the world. (I love that it had teeth marks on the grip from when he needed both hands cooking or adventuring). I cut off the rabbit's head in one motion and let Aya eat while I stashed the rest of the game in my pack for my freezer. She ate like the little dinosaur she was. That tiny beak having no problem going through bones. She looked up at me with a rabbit ear poking out of her beak like some horrific cartoon.

I sat in the snow beside her. At this point I was just a body guard. She felt safe eating next to me, knowing no stray owl or fox would mess with a gal who had a giant primate beside her. I hugged my knees and looked up at the blue sky, felt the odd, warm winter air. It was balmy. I was exhausted. Two hours of scrambling after an animal that can fly in three seconds to a place that takes me fifteen minutes and 50 calories to achieve gets you light-headed. So I savored the break. I thanked Frey for the luck and looked around this weird bit of slanted mountain forest.

And there peaking out of the snow, five feet from the bloody hunt, was my hat.

I laughed out loud, which confused Aya but she went back to eating bunny brains soon enough. I picked it up and it was soaked, frozen, and covered with leaves but otherwise looked good! My little pewter hawk was right on the band. No racoon pilfered it and it wasn't even tarnished.

That day I walked down my mountain with a hawk with a rabbit head in her belly, meat in my sling pack, and a long lost hat on my hunting stick like a trophy. It was a fine day.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


There are match boxes all over this house. Pick one up and shake it. You might hear the percussion of hundreds of tiny staves or you might hear the odd rattle of just one. That weird fact about my life still happily surprises me when I come across a one-match box.

There are dozens around this farm. Some of the boxes are fifteen years old, and have traveled with me cross-country in several homes. They are not trash, and no, you may not use them to light a cigarette or start a fire. They are luck pieces, borderline sacred, and I depend on them so very much. 

It always felt wrong to use the last match. Over time I developed a pacing superstition that turned into ritual. When I get down to the last match I set the box aside and only use it in dire circumstance.  My original line of thinking was that last match managed to not be sacrificed. That makes it lucky. Who knows what makes your fingers select one safety match over another? Be it random chance or subconscious mathematics - it made it so it gets a pass. I keep those one-match boxes as little prayers, pocket reliquaries situated around the house as haphazardly as my reckless optimism. They are symbols of hope and therefore they are magic.

There may come a day when I need a last match. It happens. When I am stressed to the point of tears I find one. I grab a candle and find a quiet place to sit down and meditate. Instead of lighting the candle and focusing on the flame I hold the candle in my sweaty hand and close my eyes. I count breaths, trying to think of the air slowly coming in and out of my body. Sometimes that isn't enough and I have to imagine I am surrounded by glass. Like as if I am in a perfect human terrarium. In my mind I am under this dome outside on a green hillside. It is a summer night and I am sitting on soft grass. I can see the stars and even feel the warm wind inside. If it rains I am dry. If monsters try to get in they can only claw and try - I can't even hear their growls behind the barriers. It is a safe place and no one can hurt me while I am in it. I imagine this until my heart rate slows and the work of the next hour seems manageable. (I don't even try to make the day seem manageable, just the next steps.) By this point the candle is usually warm and warped from the hand that held onto it like a flare gun on a sinking ship. I take the imperfect thing and set it down to be lit. I use one of the hope matches, the signal lights. If the candle takes the flame I let out a sigh of relief. I'll be okay. I made it this far. I just need to see the road a little farther up ahead...

I had to light one of these recently. It happened the way it always does. I don't plan for these rituals (I don't plan for anything)  I happen upon one of the single-match boxes and am reminded of my ritual. They always seem to know when they are needed and fall off a bookshelf or are discovered behind dishcloths in a drawer. There isn't any actual hocus pocus involved. The "magic" is understanding that being still, positive, and hopeful when things seem darkest is my real power. It's my responsibility to keep the light on.

When I strike the last match in a box I smile. I am reminded that this is part of who I am. This silly, self-important, prayer. My road to this farm was never lit with torch beams but millions of tiny sparks. As long as I know a few of those flames are hoarded around the house I'm emotionally insured. They are tangible reminders I will be okay. They get me to a place of grounded action.

They are a choice set on fire.

Storm Pony


Woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. When I let the dogs out Gibson trotted out with his usual steady determination and Friday used the door itself as a launch pad to propel herself past him despite her smaller size. As she blurred past the confused shepherd, I saw a flash of white as her teeth snapped at the air in front of his face. CLICK! I couldn't not laugh at her moxie. This girl is on fire.

Merlin was a few yards from the front door. He was woolly, chubby, and hungry. Sometimes I forget he's an equine and wonder what prehistoric beast wandered into the sheep fields? He let out his deep voice, which is basically a demand for hay. I don't encourage rude behavior by validating it (unless you're a 40-lb border collie. She gets a pass) so I walked to the barn top get hay and fed the quiet trio of goats instead.

To walk towards the goats means walking towards a freshly-snowed upon barn in morning light. Th wood was once a loud red, but is now faded, quieter. It means crossing over virgin powder as the wind gently knocks loose squalls of snow from trees. Snow globe flakes dance across the scene. Take one step and think "I am still here." Take another step "Please let me stay a little longer." Friday and Gibson race past me, too fast to be dogs. They are silent snowmobiles, kicking ice behind their paws to make themselves shoot faster. "Ann Jumbar, if you are watching keep me brave and optimisic." I pray and I walk. The farm is all blue rays of light and cold yellow shadows. I will start off 2017 with hope.

This is a fresh start for all of us. I hope you woke up warm and grateful. I hope you are surrounded by loved ones. I hope you attain better health, wealth, and hope for what the year will bring. I hope the same for me. As I write this the fire is lit and the house is slowly warming up. The animals are enjoying their breakfast and I am planning out my work schedule. I hope to visit friends later, maybe even raise a glass with them. But right now the coffee is hot, the farm is lovely, and I have much work ahead of me.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell 2016

It was a few days before Christmas when I was sitting in my Dentist’s waiting room. I need to paint the picture here, because it isn’t what you are thinking. My dentist in Arlington, Vermont is an old New England farmhouse turned into a Dentist’s office. It is small, carpeted, and painted in shades of stone-ground mustard. There are no flat screen TVs and the appointments are made in a book. I adored all of this. The rooms are small and cozy since it was someone's home at a point. There are low country windows and wainscoting accompany dental chairs. I love it.

I was sitting in this office when the receptionist walked through with a wrapped present about the size of a toddler. She set it on the carpet.  Soon a woman came in through the front door, all bundled up (it was very cold out there) and hefted it with viking-woman efficiency. I looked at the receptionist quizzically. She explained the woman who just left worked at the Inn across the street and she had the gift mailed and hidden here until the holidays as a surprise. So, the Dentist was in cahoots with the Inn to hide a present. I heard my dr's voice then, saying hello in full winter gear like he was ready to clean off cars or go for a walk. “Don’t worry I’ll be right back, helping this gentlemen to his car on the ice.” Seconds later an elderly couple came out and he assisted them down the sidewalk.

I love living among small towns.

Yesterday, while in Cambridge I was getting into my truck after running some errands in town and I heard my name. I turned around and June, who runs Black Dog Wines, explained that she could get my favorite brand of Mead in stock. We had talked about it briefly last time I was in the shop and I assumed the closest place that carried it was New Jersey. She said to stop in and pick out what I wanted.

I love living rural in 2016. I know this is the last day of this wretched year, but here in small-town New York it wasn’t so awful. Places without booming economies know how to be resourceful, depend on each other, be kind. No one ever treated me different or poorly for my religion or politics. No one made a scary comment about my truck’s stickers and I wouldn’t dare do the same to someone with Trump stickers. We may pray and vote different but like the wise Garrison Keillor says (I paraphrase) “You don’t care much about politics of the person helping you install storm windows.” Agreed.

I was invited to go out on a horse-drawn sleigh ride yesterday (I was working and had to decline, but only around here is that a common invitation) and to two friends' homes for dinner. Tonight is New Year’s Eve and I am certain I will sleep through the ball dropping, hopefully full of rabbit pasties courtesy of my hawk and winter’s bounty. I have been getting this new kind of exercise which those of you who hike or trail run already know, but me (a road distance runner) am not used to. I can run without stopping for miles at a constant pace - but the combination of sprinting in snow uphill after a hawk, bushwhacking into thorns, moving for hours over terrain - it uses so many calories. It makes me want a hearty meal at the end of the day and no snacking before. I feel like some character out of Game of Thrones at night; beside my fire with my perched hawk watching me bite into a thick stew or chicken leg, a horn of mead in hand. You really can be whatever you want when you grow up, ladies.

So I end this year in gratitude, with the resolution to blog more about small, everyday, things. To be kinder to myself and listen better to those I love. And to most of all, know the joy of living in this ten-mile radius of magic that is Dentists hiding presents and invitations in one horse open sleighs.

Good luck in 2017, for us all.

*now edited. Sorry guys I am a writer, not an editor. Do you want more posts edited poorly, or less edited well?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rabbits Lucky Day

The Holidays were a blur of friends, excessive calories, and hunting. The past few days have been getting out of that routine and back into the normal schedule of farming, hunting, and work. I don't consider farming (chores, feed pickups, hay hauling, water buckets, etc) work. Work is what is has been most of my life - sitting in front of a screen. That is where I write, design, or watch something while I illustrate. But that time outside - the checking on pigs and goat hoof status - the hay deliveries, farrier visits, and praying the chickens get back to laying eggs - that isn't work. That's my love affair.

I have discovered falconry might be who I am cheating with farming on. I have never had a bird this good. She comes when called, every time (so far) and seems to trust me. This week she was chased off by a mature red tail and I was certain she would never been seen again. Then she came back to me, first just a small dot in the distance and then landed gracefully above me in a tree branch. She knows where her bread is buttered. The second time another bird harassed her she simply came right to me. Who needs to be scared of 4lb hawks when you have your very own primate bodyguard ?I try to take Aya Cash out to fly several times a week. Today we went out twice - over three hours of exhaustive hiking, thorn scars, talon marks, and chasing rabbits. She dove after seven cottontails total. Today the luck belonged to the rabbits. Everyone got under cover or thorns before Aya could snag them.

A serious snowstorm is coming mid-morning tomorrow. I am mostly ready for it. I could have more firewood inside. It will be morning work to get everyone extra hay and feed, but I have what I need to get through the storm. I might even take Aya out to try again before it hits. That really depends more on weather than anything else, but even here on the mountain a few flights before coffee might be the energizer I need to face the storm.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mending Shirts

I was in the pig’s pen digging the snout-height electric wires out of the fresh snow. The sun was out for few blessed minutes and it made the farm sparkle. As the pigs snuffled at their feed (and spilled their water for the 20th time that hour) I took a moment to in the view. God the place was gorgeous. Not perfect, and certainly not magazine-cover material, but gorgeous. Feeling invigorated by the Vitamin D and optimism, I got up too fast and heard RRRrrriiiiiiipppp. It was my shirt. The sleeve of my (new this year) red flannel had a gash in it the size of a toddler’s fist. Oh well. I had needle and thread inside and it wasn’t a chink in the armor bad enough to bother changing out of.

It’s been a mix of highs and lows at this farm all week. The holidays are tough. I still haven’t managed to get the plumbing fixed and won’t until I make a mortgage payment. As much as I want flushing toilets and drainage I need to cover that first. I am gaining ground a little each day but things like dental bills and emergency visits to the Urgent Care really were a sieve in this month’s income. Not the most uplifting of news but the truth.

As rough as things are here, I have enjoyed the nesting that is candles and a wood stove and Christmas lights. In the evening this place turns into a Hobbit Yuletide Special. I have been knitting (or mending shirts) and watching childhood favorites like Beauty and the Beast and Muppet Family Christmas. I don’t have the tolerance right now for hard-hitting drama or injustice in Documentaries. It’ll be December before I check out Black Mirror, for sure. Maybe it is how much darkness there is in the cold months, but to know that home is this warm and glowing place of comfort has been a balm.

Hunting with the hawk has been exceptionally good! She is unstoppable. The last time we went out rabbit hunting she caught 2 and dove five times! We were granted permission to hunt on the back fields of Common Sense Farm that has generations of established warrens of cottontails. It is a North East Falconer’s Dream! I have been letting her eat her fill of whatever she kills but am going to start teaching her to trade off. This means when she kills something I cover it with a tarp or cloth and hold out something tasty in my hand - like a piece of dark meat already boned and unfunny. Shell hop off her game and take the easy meal and quick as a whippet I take the game and slide it into my bag. That is how we can take another head of game in one hunt. She has the drive for it!

The animals here seem okay in the cold. I haven’t ridden Merlin in ages. I miss it. The dogs have become my tireless friends and follow me all over the house looking for biscuits or scratches, wanting to go outside and run in the snow. They put up with many hours of me sitting in front of the computer designing or illustrating. The irony that I left a desk job to farm and can’t farm because of desk work - it isn’t lost on me. But that’s okay. I am honored to work on the projects I am given, and grateful to be close to my own fire. There is far more to be grateful for than not.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Fight The Cold Winds

The cold came and the cold left. The past few days were mostly about that here at Cold Antler. Thursday into Friday was the worst of it, with intense winds and temperatures below zero. (That’s Fahrenheit zero, mind you.) The entire day Friday was spent defrosting stock tanks, feeding extra calories, checking on animals, making sure livestock was comfortable and kept. I am happy to report not so much as a pullet was lost to the cold snap. No frostbite on the pigs' ears or black combs on the roosters. I brought the hawk inside to sleep on a perch (old lamp) near the daybed by the fire in the living room. Did I lready share that info here? Maybe the cold stole some brain cells.

So yes, the cold! It means such presence on a farm like this. This is a farm heated by firewood, worked on my human lungs and horse collars. No tractor carries bales to the fields - just forearms. No thermostat turns up the heat at 2AM when the world goes numb - alarms are set to restock my stove.  But the house and the animals are my job when real cold comes.

I rarely worry about the poultry, sheep, or the horse - if they have the calories and wind protection they need and their body condition is good - they are golden. It is the comfort lovers I worry about - pigs and goats. But the trio of goats tucked into their corner of the barn with grain-fed tummies - well out of harsh winds. The pigs had burrowed in their forest home several feet deep with hay and three walls of wind block. When I came out to check on them at first light Friday they popped their heads out of their deep bedding with steam rolling off the, little scorched fields on their black bristled backs. All was well. It felt good.

Well, mostly. The pipes did freeze in one faucet and are in the process of unfreezing. The plumbing is still an issue here (calling for some creative resourcefulness I’m certain you don’t want to hear about). Also, the antibiotics stopped my toothache. If I can afford the trip to the dentist I will go Tuesday. Things are touch and go right now. 

I am happy and tired as I write this. It’s dark outside and I spent the morning frantically working on artwork and commissions for Christmas gifts folks ordered. I drove in the snow to the Post Office and waited in a very long line to mail the stack out to 5 states and 2 different countries. After that, I got Aya Cash ready for some hunting and we hiked for miles in the snow together. She flying above me, and I hiking below in the drifts. I was grateful I made that 2-egg omelet before we left. I needed the energy. Without snow shoes hiking in the snow is exhausting, but a great workout. We stopped to make tea in the woods. It was lovely. I took out my Kindle Fire and listened to My Favorite Murder while sipping some Lyons with a dram of whiskey in it. I looked over my snowy land and said a little thank you to the local wights, swirling about seen and unseen. I poured half the tea out for them, a thank you for keeping an eye on this feral place.

Speaking of stories - I have the winners of the audio book! Email me please Delayne and Fungus Queen - and I will email you your download from Audible soon! Thanks to all who entered.

At the end of this long day I feel like celebrating. I am tired, but it doesn’t take much fuss to play some music. Usually it’s the fiddle I grab but lately it’s my little uke, A beloved sponsor sent to me that instrument and the book that taught me how to play it in DAY. I must talk about these chaps at Native Ground more, because they are the same books that taught me and hundreds of CAF students to play the fiddle over the past six years or so. That little ukulele has been tuned up and in my lap a lot on these cold days. I think because the somewhat tropical and bright sound is emotional warfare against the cold. I have found all sorts of Yuletide music to play online, too. Some songs learned in minutes with simple tablature and strumming. I sat down mentally, physically and creatively exhausted today from farming, illustrating, and hunting - but it doesn’t take a lot of brain power to strum some chords on that little buddy. It took me minutes to learn Away in the Manger - and I added some Jenna Flair to it with faster strumming on try 3. In the comments of this post I will put details of the combo package they sent me of Uke, book, and CD. It was under sixty bucks. Not bad for fighting the cold winds and low spirits.

I hope you guys are looking forward to the holidays and keeping your farms, families, kids (human or caprine), flocks, horses, sounders and more safe as the days grow darker. Light comes back soon, or has every December for quite some time. Let's hope for the best together.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thank You!

Thank you to all who are sending along cards, little gifts, and kind words! I have mailed at least a half dozen back. They are cards of the local artist, Will Moses. Well, some of them are. What I have in my card box is what is being mailed out. But it is fun going to the mailbox! I hope you are enjoying your winter holidays and time with friends and family. Stay warm!

Jenna Woginrich
Cold Antler Farm
Jackson, NY 12816

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Yesterday I got home from late from hunting. I got swept up in the chase and the drama of it all. What was supposed to be an hour turned into two and as I crawled over fallen logs and ran to catch up with a flying beast - I was grateful I wolfed down some leftover bacon and chunk of cheese. I was using calories, all right. It was in the thirties and I was covered in sweat. The energy from those was four pieces of thin bacon and slab of sharp cheddar (the chunk about the third the size of my palm) - was perfect fuel for cold-weather slush scrambling after rabbits. Aya swooped after three different rabbits (caught none, these guys have an established warren with escape  hatches every 3 feet it seems), she finally found the ass-end of another hawk's rabbit in the crook of a tree. I called her and she was gulbing down a rabbit foot. "Where did you get that?!" I hollered. I watched her eat a leg - lucky furry foot and all - in a gulp before calling her back. After her take-out it was time to go home.

We stopped at the mansion on the property that belongs to the Common Sense Commune here in Cambridge. I visited with friends in their apartment inside the mansion, had tea, talked farming and realized how late in the day it was getting!

When I did get home it was nearly dark. Maybe an hour of light was left in the day? I took off my leather boots. They are not anything special, but they are the best shoes I own so I try to take care of them. I don’t wear them for chores anymore - just riding, hawking, hunting and the like. I set them by the fire to dry. Before bed they would be brushed down with a stiff-bristled horse brush and coated with mink oil. They need that level of care after what I put them through. In the last 2 days they have been crossing freezing streams, leaping fallen logs, ankle deep in snow, mud, and ice. I have owned a pair of these boots before and after one winter of Jenna-level=wear they had cracked oven at all th stressed areas. The boots are designed for being on a horse - not hiking - so they protect the inner calves with reinforced leather and allow ultimate flexibility of the foot for the saddle. This is great for walking through the woods like a cat with a hawk on your fist - lets you walk on the balls of your feet and silently creep up on squirrels. The downside is zero ankle support. Ankles need to be shock absorbers on a horse and to be held tight while hiking. So if I demand my horse shoes do triple the work as hunting boots - they need some TLC.

So when chores were finished and the farm was content I sat down with my brush and oil and treated my boots and hawking leathers by the fire. Gauntlets and jesses, also rubbed down with oil. When it was done I set into my first knitting project in year. My hands have been hunting, butchering, baking, and farming - but the delicate finger tango of knitting had been neglected. Last night I started a simple casting on of a hat. I was using the black wool sent from Ireland. It came back as easily as humming and old song. It will be a few nights before the hat is done but I am excited for it. I mean, it doesn’t take much to excite me these days. I did just write two paragraphs on boot care?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


I woke up thinking about sex. Not for me, but for the girls in the barn.

Chucky the Boer/Nubian cross buck has been here for a few weeks. The entire reason for his occupancy is to knock up my Alpine does so come spring there are kids to sell and udders to milk. Some people breed their does once and keep milking every day for years. I don’t. Me and the goats have the coldest months off and I think we both prefer it. I don’t want to be out in a snowstorm in -10 weather to milk a goat in an unheated barn in the dark. I also love kidding season and having those tykes around a few weeks before they are sold. So I stop milking in the fall, the dry girls spent the winter eating and enjoying their gentlemen caller, and if I have an intense chèvre craving I remind myself that goat milk and their soft cheeses freeze great.

So right not the girls aren’t milking and the buck is with them, but I haven’t actually seen him breeding Bonita and Ida. I assume he has, but I’d feel better witnessing the congress. It lets me write down an estimated kidding time five months down the road. It also means I can start deciding Chucky’s fate. Im not interested in putting him in the freezer - being a buck of several years - but he is so sweet he’d do great as the live-in-lover at another small farm. For me it is a lot cheaper and easier to rent, borrow, barter or buy a buck a few weeks a year then create separate facilities and feed indefinitely. As sweet as Chuck is, this isn’t a petting zoo. Animals are eaten, sold, traded, and moved when needed if they are herbivores that don’t wear saddles. This is definitely a show ran my carnivores (who occasionally eat potato soup).

When I started this farm I avoided dairy animals. It was a fear of commitment, not work. The idea of getting up every morning with a milking pail and making cheese, soap, and the like was wonderful - dream life material really - but the presence needed seemed impossible. Things change. I stopped traveling to PA for the holidays. I quit my day job at an office. When you grab your life by the horns with such decisions you have a lot more time to do things like milking goats.

Back to sex. I hope Chucky is performing for the ladies. I may have just brought him when their cycle wasn’t in sync with his desires and a few head butts to his belly made him cautious? Right now I am cautiously optimistic about May kids. The idea of going a summer with the twice-daily spring milkings and spreading soft cheese over toast sounds barbaric at this point. Gods willing, he's packing heat out there.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Win The Wind, Enter Now!

I love waking up in a house not yet warm. I know that sounds contrary to what I wrote a few days ago, but note the subtle phrasing there - “not yet warm” is different than cold. Waking up to a cold house is a bummer. It’s all panic and hollow. But waking up to a house with still-hot coals under the ash in the stove? To a home in which Yesterday Jenna did all the dishes in the sink and pre-loaded the coffee maker? Those tiny choices make a morning shine. My house was 55 degrees and humming with potential for comfort. Hard-earned comfort is my favorite thing in this whole messy world.

Well, one of my favorites. Good stories are another drug of choice. When I am home by the fire on this farm I want to fall into stories. Who doesn't want to feel effort behind them, a warm bed ahead of them, and the present of firelight, good food, and an amazing book? In celebration of this amazing Snow Day at home. One of coffee, farming, good work and a new skein of yarn to knit after sunset (Thank you Zwartbles Ireland!) - I want to give away something for all of you out there prepping your homes and farms for the holidays.

 The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. (Click that link to see a review.) People will be chosen and emailed an online gift vouched from to download the ENTIRE 27 HOURS of story. Listen to it on your smartphones with the free audible app. Listen while you feed the horses, stack wood, drive to work, ride the subway, whatever you do. I want more people to experience this world. If discovering this series through my blog is all you get out of it, it  honestly makes ten years of blogging worth it.

Leave a comment in this post to be entered to randomly win an unabridged audio book download of

Please enter, tell your friends to enter, enter twice, thrice, I don't care. No strings attached this is just a lady sharing a favorite story on a beautiful day. 

*If you already own this audio book, enter anyway for the sequel or pre-order of Day 3.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Potato Soup Day

It was around three in the afternoon when I added some yeast and honey to a bowl of hot water. I whisked it quickly and set it on the counter before heading back outside to stack firewood. I did it without thinking. Baking bread isn’t something I consider any more than using turn signals, it's automatic now. The actions of water, yeast, honey and stirring were done because I had four minutes and because I knew I would want warm bread in four hours. It seemed like a smart investment.

By the time my next cartload was stacked the yeast would be activated, frothy are ready for action. (By action I mean flour and salt.) I’d mix and knead it after the one more stacked load. I did this between chores. The dough would rise in my warm house while I prepared for the coming snowstorm.

There was a lot to do to prepare, but all of it familiar which meant it was more effort than thought. I appreciated that. Loading firewood onto a cart and pulling the 150lb cargo to the stacking area took about fifteen minutes a load from ground to stacked. Between these loads (I did this roughly twenty times today) I made sure to get the animals ready. Bales of straw-like first cut hay were carried up the hill to the pole barns. There are two little shelters on the hill and each got lined with fresh bedding. People say sheep don’t care about this but I disagree. It is a soft barrier between cold ground they can snack on if the wind howls too rough to walk down the mountain to their feeding station. No matter what blew in tonight - these sheep had feed if the snow came heavy.

The same was done for the goats and pigs. All got extra fluff to nest in for the snowy night ahead. Every beast, be they equine, ovine, porcine or caprine - all got fresh linens and new buckets of well water. The same water I would soon be boiling three potatoes in. I had soup on the mind all day.

A few more loads to go of firewood and then back inside to do kitchen work. I made dough and skinned and cut up the taters. They were boiling and dough was rising in no time. By this point my body was weary from the combined workout of farm, firewood, and bread. Kneading dough is one kind of muscle group - Carrying buckets and hay another. I was thinking about my dinner with a wolfish mind. The dogs chased sticks in the yard and removed their favorite pieces of kindling from baskets while I separated and stacked. So helpful, them.

Another load of wood stacked and I ran inside to check on the boiling chunks of potatoes and felt them with a fork. They were soft. I drained most of the water, leaving a bit in the base of the saucepan. I mashed them up and added enough milk to turn my mashed potatoes into more of a porridge. I set it aside. More wood to haul. I tried to remember where I left the fence tester? Before the storm I had to double check the pigs were well-kept behind live wires. It wasn't a priority though, in this weather all I would need to do to catch them would be to open the barn door. Pigs are comfort loving fools and would all be asleep in the dry hay for certain come morning. Thinking of this I remembered I had bacon in the fridge, an onion in the cupboard, and some sharp cheddar in the crisper... Oh man, this would be a soup to tell stories about.

Around 4PM I had finished all the animals' care and feeding for the day but I still had piles of wood to go. I listened to the audiobook of Name of the Wind as I did this. Every listen gets better.

Earlier in the day, sometime around noon, I had headed into town to visit my friends at the Commune. Othniel and Yeshiva are part of a Messianic Jewish Commune in Cambridge. I know people there well and even though we aren’t the same faith we are the same religion - farming. I struck a deal for some of the second cut hay in their barn and loaded it into the back of my truck. (I wasn’t out at home, but getting close. I would feel a lot better knowing there was plenty of good grass inside when the fields turned white.) They offered me lunch but I politely declined, as I wasn't hungry yet. I drink a pot of coffee every morning with cream. It holds me over well into the afternoon (longer if I skip sugar). But really, I wanted to savour something delicious. I wanted to make a meal from scratch and adore every bite. To eat it in that holy lightness of being tired, hungry, and grateful.

Making the soup was pretty basic. I had my milky potato base set aside. In another small pot I melted some butter and once it was liquid, added some flour to it to make a roux of sorts. This would thicken the mash up into more of meal that porridge. In a second skillet I fried up three slices of thin bacon and once they were done, chopped them and added them to the potato pot. That’s pretty much soup, guys. Oh, because I love onions I chopped some up and fried them in the bacon fat left over. The fat-fried onions, bacon, butter, salt, pepper and mash made a perfect cold-weather soup when all mixed together. I tasted as I went - never being stingy with the butter or salt (secret to cooking anything, really) and then preheated the oven to 400 for the bread.

I baked a small loaf and let that smell fill my home. I don't eat grains like I used to, but when I do eat them it is like this - a holiday meal. Once done and cooled, I cut a hole in it and filled it with the wonderful soup. I ate by candle and lantern light. Every bite special. Every bit of it worth squeezing into the spaces of the day. Because of the tooth issues it wasn't easy to eat fast or eat much, but what I did manage made up for it. And I am pretty sure even a small serving was a bajillion calories so no worries there! 

The snow is just starting to fall now and I am very tired. Looking forward to calling this good day, done. May your beds be warm, your dogs be kind, and your morning be bright.

Better Winters

Snow is coming and today is all about being prepared for it. I am going to stack the rest of my huge pile of wood (a cord+) today, pick up hay from Common Sense Farm, grab extra feed, and figure out a simple pot of something warm for dinner. Potato soup sounds grand and I have all the ingredients on hand to make enough to pick from whenever I need a boost.

I am happy to report this morning I woke up warm and comfortable by the fire. I slept downstairs with my dogs, cats, and the hawk roosting for the night indoors. I was ready for it, and it was a happy preview of a better winter. The medication from Urgent Care let me sleep through the night and I feel rested and excited for this morning. My work is set before me - both for farm and freelance - and I have creamy soup to look forward to at dusk when the snow starts falling. I will tuck into that and truly enjoy the tiny accomplishments of a farm content, a body tired, work done, and another cold day met with a toothy grin. I have some yarn from a friend in Ireland to start knitting with, too. And that is what I hope for from this day - work, luck, rest, and potato soup.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Cold weather has blown into Veryork. Very, very, cold weather. Here is today in detail. How one woman and a pair of dogs prepped a farm (and a red-tailed hawk) for harsh cold with some interesting roadblocks along the day.

I woke up in my bedroom and that was my first mistake. I should have spent the 15-degree night in the living room on the daybed. I would have been feet away from the wood stove and kept it roaring into the grey dawn. However, I wanted my bed and fluffy dogs and thought it would be fifteen degrees warmer outside. The cold surprised me. For someone addicted to the weather report I either read the wrong day on the NOAA screen or had a mild stroke. Folks, it was COLD.

I made my way downstairs from the 35-degree upstairs. While going I made silent notes of gratitude for my knock-off Ugg slippers and the door Patty had installed. Opening it to the living area downstairs welcomed ten degrees of preserved heat from the night before. I let the dogs out to pee and went into the bathroom. There was ice in my toilet. I wondered then just exactly how many readers still think I am living their dream?

I shut the bathroom door and plugged in the little heater to help coddle the pipes in case they were considering freezing. Then I got a fire started and filled up the stove-top percolator with fresh coffee. Deathwish or Stumptown is my coffee of choice when bills are getting paid. This morning it was generic from a plastic can, but hey, hot coffee in a 45-degree house is still a blessing.

Slowly the house was coming to life. Th dogs came back inside with frosty noses. The cats were fed. Candles were lit and music was put on. I don’t know how anyone with a pulse starts their day without music and coffee? I was listening to Countdown (what? 2011 was good year) and singing along while doing a little dance in the kitchen. I was feeling good until the “microphone” (spoon) touched my right cheek and I winced.

Sleep was a fitfull bitch. A tooth infection hit hard around 3AM and I found myself up battling it through the night, trying to find a position to lay my head in that kept me both warm and out of pain. I ended up watching Pete Holmes and John Mulaney specials on my Amazon Fire under the covers to help me laugh until the pain died down. Those two men never fail to make me laugh. Sometime around 5AM i was able to sleep again. I made it till 6:45 when the dogs demanded we start the day and the cold made me realize the heavy responsibility outside.

Cold means more work, and urgent work. It can mean frozen water and thirsty beasts. It meant a hawk that dropped weight. It meant more fire. It meant I wasn’t sleeping in till 8AM. It meant get to work.

So downstairs I was, holding my cheek and realizing that this was beyond numbing toothache pens and Advil. This was some antibiotic-needing pain. It wasn’t as bad as an infection I had a few winters back, one that made me actually howl. But it was not good. I knew I had to get it treated soon and I knew that meant going to Urgent Care in Cambridge. My dentist wouldn’t be open till Monday. I do not wait to treat infections inches from my brain.

I armored up. I had on a thick red flannel shirt, lined pants, a thick vest, hat, gloves. My rubber muck boots were used instead of my Dublin boots, which were just rubbed down with mink oil the night before and still soaking up the treatment near the fire. Gibson raced beside Friday, and I am happy to report his foot healed fine. It must have just been a sprain and not a broken toe as I had thought.

The farm seemed okay. All the sheep were accounted for and so was fuzzy Merlin. They got hay and water hauled, the few inches in their trough left from the night before was frozen solid. The pigs were comfy in their nest and happy to see the extra cracked corn with their feed. Their water was also frozen and replaced with a more fitting liquid form. The goats were hearty as always. The chickens had all the calories they could scoop near their feeding station. All that was left to check on was Aya Cash - who I would have fed more to had I known how cold it was. She was fine though, her head tucked behind her shoulder blades and asleep. I grabbed a hood and glove and brought her inside anyway. Her tail was frozen from her bath pan. Sometimes she perches on the edge of it and the water gets on her tail tip and it can break important feathers there. So I brought her in to defrost on her perch in the living room. She tucked right back into sleep once settled there.

With the farm okay and the hawk defrosting I fed the dogs and started with emails. My tooth hurt but the warm coffee I was now drinking actually helped. I sipped it and made a list of my first three clients of the day. I had a blacksmith’s family from Canada to draw, a Maryland Crab logo to make changes on, and some other odds and ends. I needed to at least get through three clients before I took a break. My work station was a flurry of paper, music, twitter, Facebook, the usual chaos I work best in. The dogs were napping. Aya’s tail was dripping now so I squeezed out the water like it was a towel. She didn’t even budge from her sleep. This bird is used to me.

I got the work done. Then I put Aya back into her Mews, Friday in her crate, put out the candles and loaded the stove with wood. I needed to get this tooth checked out.

I was happy to be one of the only people in Urgent Care. It was just moments of checking in with the spunky receptionist and a few pages of Backpacker Magazine before my name was called. This was my second day in a row in a medical office. I was at Planned Parenthood the day before for blood work and a checkup. Now here I was hoping to convince the nurse the pain was bad enough for antibiotics and not just some pain meds. I spent a total of six minutes with the nurse and she sent an Rx to my pharmacy. The pain bills and antibiotics were $31. The cost to drop in at a walk-in clinic to get said drugs? $250. Great.

The money was a blow but I was far more grateful to have the care and drugs a few miles from my home. Cambridge might be small. Okay, it is tiny. But this town of 1800 people has a Rite Aid, Urgent Care, and a book store so I am one happy woman. I got my pills and the guy behind the counter explained how using them might effect birth control if I was on it. I was just thrilled anyone assumed I might be having sex of any sort - looking about as put-together as farmer with a toothache on a 15-degree morning does.

I got home and back to work. The drugs helped and after emails were done and some more clients lined up for the afternoon check list I headed back outside. Water already had to be replaced or ice-broken. I brought extra straw to the pigs and goats for bedding. I stacked a couple cart-loads of firewood from the front yard. Sunday night real snow is coming and the cord and a half I have been slowly stacking needs to be undercover SOON. I did all this listening to The Name of the Wind on audiobook for the millionth time. That book and its sequel are my favorite novels. I fall into them like old friends, or medicine. I listened to Kvothe at the University Admissions and smiled. My tooth already felt better.

Nearly dark now. I spent the day like most days - a mix of farm work and computer work. I didn’t get everything I wanted done but I managed to get the min requirements for productivity checked away. I am my own tyrannical boss and proud of it. I got Aya again and brought her inside to her perch. We wouldn’t have time to hunt today, thanks to the doc appointment, but she could be more comfy indoors napping than outside. I got some mice out of the freezer for her and set them in the little glass-domed cheese platter so the cats couldn’t steal them. This is a real classy gin joint, guys.

Actually the house does look nice this time of year. The tree is lit and decorated. There are white lights around the rooms, candles, and stockings and decorations out and about. Pandora has a great Celtic Christmas station and I listen to that and it makes this place feel like a tavern from days of old with the fire crackling and guitars in the background. I boiled some water to make a quick pasta because it was nearly dark and I hadn’t consumed anything but coffee. I made half a box of thin septette and split it with the dogs.

Now it is dark and I am ready to tuck into bed early. Today was all about getting things comfortable and prepared. The trip to Urgent Care was a financial slam but I am grateful for the access to care and since I will fall asleep without pain, it wasn’t a loss at all. My dogs are asleep on the daybed and in a few moments I will go upstairs to get some sheets and blankets and prep this place for our bed. I think Aya will spend the night inside, too. Ten degrees is the low being guessed by the experts and as the day warms up tomorrow there will be snow. I’ll be doing chores and stacking firewood, working on freelance and spoon-singing to Beyonce over too many cups of coffee.

Just a Saturday in Paradise, guys. Thanks for being there.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Look Up

There is snow and scrappy pride in the air at Cold Antler Farm. The forecast is only calling for a dusting today, but earlier this morning - sometime between farm chores and preparing Aya Cash for a morning hunt - the wind picked up and a small burst of flurries circled the mountain. It felt like I was inside a snow globe. I took in a deep breath and looked around this little farm.

The sheep were eating hay and I had more to pick up later today from good farmers. I would load it in the pickup truck I adore, still running and who I have learned its quirks and rubs the way you learn old friends. Merlin was covered in his mastodon coat and not at all bothered by the chicken on his back enjoying her horse-hair slippers. The dogs ran around me. The goats bleated to the buck. I had firewood, hay, and had fixed the oil boiler by myself this week. (I use firewood for heat but depend on the boiler to heat my water for showers/kitchen). There was  plumbing snafu as well, and while it isn't fixed I diagnosed and diverted the drainage problem. Now water drains into a metal basin in my mud room instead of the floor. Things aren't perfect but trotting into my fifth year of self employment I am a much more capable woman. More disciplined and less deterred. The girl who bought this place would not recognize me today, but she'd still look up to her.

Who were you five years ago? How about ten? Do you miss the past or like yourself better now? I hope that you are happier in the present. Yes, it means aging (something women are told is worse than death on a daily basis) but when I look back at how terrified and emotionally-driven I was I don't envy my twenties. I'm not scared anymore and that feels amazing. And while I am still plenty emotional - they don't take the wheel anymore. My emotions aren't the ones making choices these days and I think that is the main reason I still have this land in my name. Cold Antler Farm went from being a place of growing fantasy to a maintained daydream. This is not a bad thing, by any means. I'm not distracted by new hobbies or additions to the farm. I like my life with the animals, horse, hawk and hounds. I like my work of design, illustrations, farming, and pop culture. And I really like that when things literally fall apart I don't break down and cry - I suck in some air and fix them.

Lessons come to us in all sorts of different ways. Mine mostly come from out-stubborning myself and keeping on. So this post is mostly acceptance and celebration. I'm still here. I'm happy here. And when the snow falls and winter truly hits with the full brunt of his force - I will stand up to him with axe, wrench, and sump pump.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

We're Not From Around Here

This originally was posted years ago, but I am updating it for Jenna 2016. I'm not the same girl who wrote it. But I am the woman who loves that version of me. And much of it remains the same.

We're Not From Around Here

We're not from around here. I know you see us all the time, but trust me, we're from another place. We lived our whole lives right next door to you, but we left some time ago.

We found another place and it suits us just fine.

It's not far or hard to get to. Chances are you pass it all the time when you're driving too fast to work or throwing another frozen dinner in the shopping cart. You can't get to us that way. We aren't there.

We're the ones in the next aisle buying yeast, flour, sugar, and coffee. We buy provisions, not groceries. We learned that food tastes better when you grow it yourself. We started with just a few recipes then learned to chew at a trot and now the idea of Lunchables and drive-thru hamburgers makes us tilt our heads a little. We're not above them, not by a long shot, we just don't have those where we're from. Or maybe we did and forgot about them? I can't remember. It's easy to forget about such things when you hop the fence to go where we went. There isn't a lot of shrink-wrapped circular ham there.

We're from this other place. It's just like yours but the naps are better. We came for a bunch of different reasons but we all set up shop in the same community. It's not a physical location, of course. (It's much better than that.) It's a place in our actions, our decisions, our conversations, our hope. It's a place in our hobbies, our skills, and our secret desire to know what a warm egg feels like in lanolin-wet palms. It doesn't matter where we came from or who we were before. This new place kinda took us all in and showed us how to calm the hell down.

What? You're confused? Oh, well, you probably saw us there and just didn't realize it. Remember when we didn't answer your texts because we were in the garden? Or that time we gave up a weekend in Nashville to make a chicken coop? Or last Saturday when we spent the whole day at that indoor farmer's market talking to the people at the wool booth we'd never met before, but felt like we knew while you kept telling us the movie was starting in thirty minutes... That's where we left to go. Sorry we missed the previews we were talking to our neighbors.

You can spot us pretty easy. Our men aren't afraid of facial hair and our women have been known to grab goats by the horns. Our children go barefoot and so do we. We're the quieter ones, in the corner, feet propped up on a second-hand coffee table in a fourth-hand wool sweater. That's one of us, right over there. See him? The one with the guitar slung over his back, and the black dog following his bike? See him now? He's the one with the saddle bags on the back wheel overflowing with a half bushel of tomatoes. No, he's not a tomatoes fetishist - he's canning today. He'll be eating fresh organic marinara in January pulled off the larder shelf. He'll let the black dog lick his plate when he's done. Yes, I'm sure. He's from where I'm from. We know our own.

See, where we come from people aren't scared of dirt—not even mildly abashed by it. My people will spend an entire August morning with a potato patch. We'll also spend an entire October night in front of a bonfire with home brew and fiddles. My people know how to darn a sock and bake a loaf of bread. They know how to cast on and be cast away. Sure, we'll join you for dinner in a restaurant, but we'll probably opt for pasta. Where we come from food animals know what sunlight feels like and have felt grass under their hooves. We don't eat the animals from your place. We saw what they saw before they died.

We're not from around here, but you'll see us everywhere. We're walking down the streets of Montreal, Chicago, Seattle, and L.A. We're waiting for a Taxi on the Lower East Side. We're mucking out goat pens, chatting at farm stands, jumping on the back of our horses and riding the L Train. We're everywhere and right next to you all the time, but we left that place and now we're gone. None of us are going back.

We thought about it. It passed.

HOOOO! You should see this place. Man, it's so beautiful. I mean a Wednesday afternoon at 3:47 is fall-down-the-stairs stunning. We learned to see this. We watched the fireflies come out on the porch and missed Trivia Night at the bar. Truthfully, we barely go out anymore. It's a side effect of the new place—there's just so much to do and we're scared if we let ourselves get distracted we'll miss the fireflies. We can only take so much tragedy, you see.

And hey, this place we went to—it's yours too. To be perfectly honest we're getting a little tired waiting for you to show up. Yeah, what you heard is true. The work is hard and the hours long, but I promise it's the best quiche you'll ever taste and the coffee is amazing. When you're ready we'll show you how to hop the fence like we did. It starts with a mason jar or a day-old chick in your palm and the road map kinda unfolds from there. Somewhere past the cloth diapers and the raw milk we're hanging out, yes there, over past the used trucks and beat tractors. See the bikes and carts along the barn? Keep going and you'll find us.

We know when you start coming to our place you'll get it. You won't want to leave either. And we'll wait. We've got another saddle in the barn. We planted an extra row of beans. We put aside a few spare jars of tomato sauce and let the hens know there's more breakfasts on the way. We'll make room. There's always a place for you at the table. (And just between you and me, If you want to get on the black dog's good side, let him lick your plate...)

Photo by Miriam Romais