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 honest enough that hundreds would want to support it financially. And when I am 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.


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.

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!

Upland

Yesterday morning I walked along the goldenrod laced paths near Carter Pond, shotgun in hand and the sun on my face. I was on a hillside, overlooking a rolling herd of fields stocked with game and alive with stories of past hunts.

My friend was ahead of me and her dog, Harley (a Large Munsterlander) romped past us. He swerved and dove like a porpoise all around, his bell ringing to let us know where he was and when he was stopped to point. Since forced ambush is the name of the game we weren't too worried about being quiet and shared conversation as we rambled. All of this, lovely.

As a farmer who hunts, I have that padded mental insurance of a stocked larder at home. I know the day's calories aren't depending on the luck of the day. This makes most hunts the same as most trips to the river to fly fish; a beautiful excuse to be out in nature as a participant and not just an observer. It wakes up something in my bones that rattles me in the best way possible. To stalk, to seek prey, to feed myself a bit with luck and effort instead of a garden, livestock, or debit card. To know something older and before - that is grand participation.

Harley was on the scent of pheasants and it was a glorious morning for upland hunting. Small game has been on my mind - between falconry season and rabbit hunts with Aya and now heading into the field after the birds — recipes were swirling around my head like the fallen leaves we kicked up along the trail. I knew within the hour I'd be home from this early-morning hunt and working at the computer instead of absorbing vitamin D. I did my best to savor it. If I had all my to-do list checked off I would make time to fly Aya after dinner.

Which is what I did. I worked inside all day and headed back out to hunt again, this time with talons instead of bullets. I prefer it. The warm October sun on her feathers and my neck, the hope of a sunset rabbit leaping from the brush I hit with my walking stick. It was a beautiful day. A day of animals and their work beside me. A day of farm and wilderness. A day of outside and indoors. A day to explain why I try so damn hard to stay in this life.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October Farm


The everyday work of getting ready for winter is most of my mind these days, as you have read. The larder is in okay shape, coming along. I call the folks down at the Stannard Farm stand to see when their potatoes are ready. They take 50lbs worth from the field, the dirt still on them, and sell them for under $20. I grew some potatoes but not that many and I want a hundred pounds or so napping in the kitchen all winter. It’s a mighty food that makes a heart soap, a simple meal, a good snack, or a pie filler. Homesteaders have been counting on potatoes for centuries and I am no different. I look forward to having them here like I look forward to hearing good news from my agent. Both are possible promises, both bring good news.

I have almost three cords of wood stacked. I just heard from friends from Common Sense farm another was cut for me of well-seasoned wood. Once I earn the money for that and the last of the September bills I will buy it, stack it, and be grateful for it. But I find it really important to find moments to set down the keyboard and farm work and enjoy October.

I am lucky, healthy, and present on an October Farm. What a beautiful thing to behold. And on Sunday afternoon I was able to join Patty and Steele for an afternoon ride in their horse cart. My friend Toby was visiting from Idaho and he came along, literally. In the back of the horse cart he took in the view of a slowly passing world from the past. We talked and joked. We came home to a warm farmhouse and cold drinks. We talked and took in the view of turning leaves and nip in the air. We made plans for hunting, harvest, and festivities ahead. This is the joy of an October Farm. It's every farm this time of year. I hope you enjoy it too.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hunting Season!

Spent a very foggy morning walking through the haze with my hawk, Aya Cash. Today marked the first day of rabbit season, her preferred quarry. She's at flying weight, a red tail all in and her molt done, and I admit I was excited to possibly come home with the first bagged game of her season. Of course, it was still summer foliage on most of the mountain. So many leaves, brush, briars, yellow jacket ground nests, and mud that actually seeing a rabbit would be tough enough - much less being able to reach it in the thick undergrowth. But that is never the point of early hunts with your hawk. The most game comes when the ground is open or snow-covered. But these warm mornings of mist and whistling for your bird to follow build up that relationship we haven't had all summer. We're partners out there in the field. And it's more magical to me every single year.

Today a friend is visiting from Idaho. Someone I know online but never met in person and that's exciting stuff. We're heading over to Livingston Brook Farm to help with some harnessing and draft horse work. Talk about getting right to the lifestyle? I'm looking forward to the day and excited for all ahead!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Three Hen Quiche!

Few meals are as satisfying to a flock keeper than a savory quiche! I have shared this recipe in books in the past, but I wanted to share it again as the (hopefully) colder nights are coming in and fall will make us want good meals to warm our bones. October is on our doorstep, so have a proper meal ready for him!

Three Hen Quiche - Taken from my recipe on The Splendid Table's Website.

Over my first ever girls’ coop, a sign reads: team quiche. That’s because each of my three original hens would lay an egg a day, and three eggs are exactly what my favorite recipe calls for. Quiche is easy to make, great to share, and keeps well in the fridge. It tastes just as good heated up in the oven the next day. You can customize it, adding whatever you prefer. If your add-ins include breakfast meats such as bacon or sausage, make sure they’re precooked before mixing them with the other ingredients.

Ingredients
  • Olive oil
  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 broccoli crown, chopped into inch-long pieces
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup grated cheddar and Jack cheeses
  • 1 piecrust (frozen or homemade)
Instructions
 
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until browned and fragrant; set aside in a small bowl. Pour the water into the skillet, and steam the broccoli over medium-high heat. Sprinkle a little salt over them while they steam. When the broccoli is tender, set it aside in a small bowl.
 
2. Beat the eggs together with the milk. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Toss the onion and broccoli together and spread over the piecrust (in pie pan). Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle the cheeses over the top.
 
3. Bake uncovered for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife tip poked into the center comes out clean. You’ve now got yourself a quiche.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Dog Days of September?

This is the face of a horse that doesn't understand why it is 85 degrees in late September. And you know what? I can't say I blame his incredulity. There are leaves falling off the trees in all the prettiest Autumnal colors. The local pharmacy is stocked with Halloween candy and costumes. I have an orange pumpkin on my doorstep - yet it feels like late July. It's humid and dry at the same time. Moisture is thick in the air, but not a drop of rain has fallen in a long span of days. Which makes going outside feel like being in a sloppy tundra with imposter syndrome. I look forward to chillier nights.

But the heat has also been encouraging. As someone who is tied to a woodstove all winter it is kinda freeing to know all my fire work has been stacking and sorting wood on piles and not bringing it inside to burn. I'll be trying to hold out on regular use of the stove for a while.

Around the farm things are moving at the usual happy panicked pace. Morning chores are a flash of black dogs and chicken feathers. I haul water and hay, feed and grain, and tend to the indoor kids' breakfasts of kibble and cat food. The rest of the morning is for design and illustration work and writing. Afternoons are for running, riding, and errands of all sorts. With the last cuttings of hay coming into barns and fall slaughter dates of livestock it seems every few days I am in a barn or butcher's office of some sort. At the end of each day I am tired and focused, like a draft horse with blinders on taking a nap in her stall.

I have been slowly but surely adding to the winter larder. Every few days a few new items are added, sometimes just a can of beans or a bag of rice - but always something. Every winter making a living here gets harder so I am trying to cut out as many extra costs as necessary with the plan being to eat 95% of my calories from the farm to save cash for the mortgage and utilities. If I get lucky and sell a book contract or get some lucrative freelance work I can set some aside for savings. My goal here is always to just be solvent. To stay put.

I'm heading back outside to soak in the sun while it lasts. It is hard for me to be too grumpy about it. There will be February mornings here so cold I could cut glass with the sharpness of my prayers for sunshine. And on that note, I am heading outside to carry water again.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Aiming Towards Winter!

The good news is that Cold Antler Farm is in the best shape it has ever been going into winter! Firewood (1.5 cords) is already stacked. Winter food stores have begun. Hay is set aside and in banks (larger barns close buy) to gather and load to the farm all winter long. I am not in any danger of losing the farm and bills are up to date. It feels good.  This is how I want things to remain.

But every day is another day closer to the next bill, the next month's mortgage. I am still working (with one week left) to pay this month's mortgage so I am not behind come September 1. So I am offering a 2 for 1 sale on logos and illustrations. You can pay one price and get a flat-rate logo and illustration - or any combination there of. You can buy it and receive 2 gift certificates - a way to support this farm and get your holiday shopping done early! The gift certificates are PDF emails vouchers you can print and put into cards. Give the gift of a portrait or logo to a friend or yourself!

I am also still taking soap orders! I have loose bars and custom made batches that come with a signed copy of One Woman Farm!

If you want to support the endeavors of Cold Antler Farm, email me! dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Friday, September 22, 2017

Co-pilots.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Have Smial. Will Travel.

I spent a lot of time this week in quiet awe of my college roommate’s Instagram updates from Paris. Dear lord, the pictures and the city were beautiful. She’s beautiful. Her life is beautiful. And I looked at those videos and pictures thinking about the life I had when I used to travel more. How clean and new a hotel can feel, even a humble one. How carefree it is to know not a single dirty towel is your responsibility. Add to that amazing food, sights, interesting people - her life is amazing. And I am thinking all this the same day I am trying to wash diarrhea off a lamb’s butt on the same farm I haven’t spent a night away from in six years.

Those images from France felt exotic because they are. To be fair, pictures from the Target in Saratoga would feel exotic these days. Travel is something I can’t do and do not do. I recently joined some dating sites and let me tell you, travel is the one thing every single man and woman out there says they are looking for in a partner. Not one person said, "I'm looking for a Smial." Which is frustrating, as I give great Smial.

Forget Target, some days even driving to visit a friend seven miles away is out of the question if weather is bad, gas money is tight, or the farm’s needs are more pressing than my social needs. You can’t tell a pregnant goat to hold it in while you meet friends at the train depot for drinks.You can't leave for a movie marathon and hot tub when it's -6 degrees and your house is heated by a domesticated fire in the corner of the living room.

My choices have given me a freedom my college self's wildest dreams couldn't believe. I wake up with the kind of agency of time that seems criminal its so my own. Without a spouse or kids, my day is 100% dedicated to my farm, my income, and my passions. It's a dream and one I work damn hard to live as my daily reality but it's also my nightmare. Having all this is only possible because it's selfish as hell. If I ever want to incorporate any other human being's life into it; it means big changes. I'm okay with changes in the name of love. I'm not okay with them in the name of boredom or everyday companionship.

There was a time I felt the need to write in defense of farming and my choices when I saw peers experiencing their own. There was a time I’d wax poetic on the simple joys of staying in one place and the wealth that surrounds a life of gardens, saddles, and Sunday roasts. I wrote those things because I did believe them, but also because of guilt. The guilt that I was more interested in feeling safe and nesting than traveling. I will forever be the dog circling three times before lying down. That act itself is my spirit animal. And as a young(ish), worldly,woman the guilt of staying put feels like a chosen ignorance at times. Young people are supposed to want coffee in Paris. They are supposed to envy passport stamps and towel delivery services. Yet here I am, alone on a mountain, content washing lamb butts. So to those out there considering a Woginrich in their futures, know this:

Have Smial. Will Travel.*
*Eventually, and for love and hunger.


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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

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.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Happy Friday! (on a Monday)

Yesterday I planned on mowing the leaves but the mower would not start, so I went about raking for a few hours. When the lawn was cleared I let out a sigh of accomplishment and took in the view. It should last about thirty minutes before it was covered in brown, yellow, and orange maple leaves again?

I made a big pile and before I moved it to the compost area by the pine trees, I let Friday play in it. She loves nothing more than to jump, dig, scratch, shake up leaves, and then chase around whatever she jumped in/dug up. She can actually dig a hole, flick a rock out between her hind legs, then spin on a dime and jump to catch it before it lands. This is her joy. Gibson watches, in eye-rolling frustration. I laugh. If Friday prefers some rock tossing, that's her bliss. Have at it girl!

I'm recovering/trying to figure out what I am down with right now. I rarely get sick, so when I get dyspeptic in my transmission I assume it's time to cut back on all the fun stuff (coffee, sugar, booze, etc) and eat a plan diet, rest, and hope it washes out fast. I focus less on adventures involving saddles and arrows and more on indoor work like illustration. I stick to my daily to-do list. I keep it manageable. Be it training horses, dogs, or Jennas - make success easy and end on a good note. I plan on tackling three clients and ending on yogurt. Life's not always riveting.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Months of Coffee

Part of my plan for a frugal winter is buying in as much of my winter food as possible. I want my income to 90% go towards the mortgage, bills, and emergency needs and not need to worry about many extra expenses. That also includes winter drinks, like coffee. I figure a half pound a week covers my addiction and company, or at least I hope so. Right now there are around ten pounds stored up, along with a lot of powder creamer (in case things get tight and running for half and half is a luxury down the road). The whole point of this prep isn't to just live out of my cupboards, or to prepare for doomsday - but to know going into the hardest, darkest, and most anxious time of the year for me and this farm I have the peace of mind knowing months of meals are safely set aside. A loaf of bread can be baked every other day (100lbs of flour already set aside with yeasts/sat). Stored meats, spices, grains, beans, eggs, cheeses, canned goods and more are filling up my larder and it feels good.The farm house feels more like a farmer's house than ever before.

Winter on My Mind.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art and a Bar!

Today on Twitter I posted this 9x12" image of Bonita, the old' goat of Cold Antler Farm. She's still going strong and drawing her munching on fall leaves was a fun project this morning and a break from commissions and design work. I'm offering it for $50 and it comes with a bar of her soap! And if it sells out, or if you want a custom image of another goat (like your own), another animal from CAF, a pet, or any custom illustration and soap - do send an email to dogsinourparks@gmail.com

This is a pre-made piece of work and not custom, so the price would be higher for a full color ink and watercolor piece like this of your pet or animal of choice - but I can offer a sketch and bar for the price of $50 in the US. Thanks for your support and interest!

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:


Friday, September 15, 2017

If You Bake It...

It was around 4PM when I was just about ready to set the first Jackapple Cake of the season into the stove. I was so proud of it—not only because it’s a family tradition—but because the apples I had diced for the pie came from a tree I planted the year I bought this farm, 2010. It took that many years for the small tree to grow and beat fruit. That apple tree made it despite the winters, the sheep eating at her bark, and the thousand mistakes a new farmer makes... Still, the apples were strong and crisp and green. They made it to the family cake. I was about to slide it into the oven when the phone rang.

My phone is old and loud. It’s a big yellow, rotary, wall-mounted device that the prop department for Stranger Things used, exactly. Only mine has the bell tensions permanently set to the loudest setting and actual clanging bells roar when it alerts. It is right by the stove. I jumped. It was Mark.

Mark and his son Wyatt were having dinner and wanted to invite me over. Mark and Patty Wesner are family. Patty met me at a book reading years ago, around the same time I planted that apple tree - and it’s the only place in Washington County I feel as home at as my own. She taught me to ride and drive horses. Mark taught me to hunt turkeys and all the names and music of the songbirds that were background noise before I knew the musicians. They mean the world to me and right now while Patty is in California with her new granddaughter (Congrats!!!!) Mark is running the farm mostly by himself. Looked like he wanted some friends in the farm house.

I explained I was JUST setting a cake into the oven and could I bring it as dessert around 6? He said that was fine but they were pouring drinks at 5 so I better hurry. With the cake baking and the house starting to smell like seven years of delicious passive planning - I called the dogs and we headed outside.

Evening chores are a delight in the fall. There is none of the stress of evening dairy work - since the does are being dried off. The weather was too warm still to worry about bedding a fire down or stoking a new one if I wanted to leave... 

Side note: I know some people are perfectly okay with having a roaring fire in their homes left unattended - but I am not that person. If I want to leave for any extended period longer than an hour in the cold months I won’t do so unless the fire is down to coals. I share my house with two un-crated border collies, 2 cats, and depending on the season - chicks, lambs, kids, or Lord Knows What else and adding a raging fire to the unchaperoned mix seemed like a bad decision.

...So there was no fire chores, no dairy chores, no extra house work as the dishes were done while the oven pre-heated. So the dogs and I went about feeding evening hay and grain, checking animals and their water and bedding, and then half an hour later the cake was out to cool and the animals sated. The cake felt like a prize because it was.

Over at Livingston Brook Farm mark was skillet-frying up some Highlander burgers, from a shaggy steer our friend Brett raised near Lake Placid. Tomatoes, lettuce, and onions from his garden were set out on a beautiful plate. Bourbon was poured and we talked and caught up. I’m 35 and this is an ideal evening, hell and ideal day. I spent the morning doing the work of helping turn lambs into meat - humbling and tough work but the traveling butchers were kind and the animals a respectable weight.

After that I worked on design, on making soap, and the other errands and chores a life piles up. Point is the day included hard work of farm, mind, and craft. I ended it with the celebration cake and planned on just having a slice in front of a movie to wind down the night. Instead I got a full meal with close friends. If you bake it, dinner invites will come.

There is still a lot of winter prep ahead. I need to get in firewood, stove repairs, more animals butchered and delivered to customers, hay packed, and the regular bills and responsibilities paid. As of today the farm is solvent - my loftiest goal for years. But until a landfall of luck falls it’s scrappy work making it every month. What I can celebrate is that I am getting better at this - at the time management, budgeting, self promotion, and quality of work and words. More importantly, I have not given up. I don’t plan to. I hope seven years later that tree is still bearing fruit and the home and my life is healthier, happier, and makes me feel ever safer and more proud.

And there’s still cake.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jackapple Cake Season is Here!

I’ve been baking my father’s famous apple cake recipe for years and have published it in past books. It is as much a sign of fall as any other in my home. and adding my own little experiments with it. I think this one takes the prize, try it this weekend, you won’t regret it!

Jackapple Cake

3 large farm eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples (go with braeburn or gala, if you get fuji use 4)
No red delicious apples, bake like garbage
¼ cup fresh press cider
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter (half melted)
Cinnamon
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
Tablespoon vanilla extract
Tablespoon baking powder

Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar (set aside other half cup for topping), sprinkle over them a light coating of cinnamon, and mix into a cobbler, then dribble warm honey over and mix that in as well. Set in fridge for 2 hours to let cure. Do not skip this step. 

When apples are cured, add all wet ingredients (half melted stick off butter, eggs, oil, extract) and mix with large wooden spoon. Add in tablespoon baking powder. Add flour half a cup at a time and stir in batter more than you think you need too. Batter will seem wet and yellow. Good. Pour into greased cake pan.

Now melt other half stick of butter, add to it the sugar and some cinnamon and mix them into a wet paste. Use a pastry brush to lather it over the batter, making a sugar crust to bake into the cake. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Check after 27, when knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with stove-top cider.

Pig Tails and Apples!

So many apples this year! Every tree that has fruit to offer is spilling over, half toppled by the weight. Every day the pigs get a bucket full of green or red apples. They snarf and chomp and chew and the piglets race each other around to snag the best pieces. A farm without pigs is a quieter farm, and it might be a prettier one, but it isn't a wealthier one. They offer so much I can't imagine not having some sort of sounder on this land.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Buck on the Brain

The goats are nearly dry. Milking is now sporadically done every few days. Soon the work of morning dairy chores will be replaces with morning fire chores. There's still a long road between here and there, though. The wood stove needs a serious repair and professional chimney sweeping. The goats need a few more weeks of random milkings to be dried off comfortably. But once firebox and doe are content - I need to start looking for a buck again. It's time for some fall romance, ladies.

Some goat folk keep milking all year. I do not. I like having the winter off from dairy chores and making the cheese seasonal. This year I have stored gallons of the milk (for soap making in the winter) and about ten pounds of the chevre I love! The white ziplock bags in storage are hard frozen bricks now. They are stacked white and serious and look like some sort of illicit material at first glance. When a guest goes to the freezer for ice and sees the stacked, white, bricks I say "IT'S CHEESE!!" I don't want them to think I suddenly became a lot more interesting.

So if you're around Veryork and have an Alpine or Nubian buck for rent or sale, let me know. I'd like to have him in pen with my girls by November at the latest. Email me here!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Breagha

Tiny Murder Dragons

I have chosen a life that means getting emails on a Saturday afternoon of recent Merlin captures. (Merlin meaning the small bird of prey, not my large draft pony.) I saw the email and smiled. A falconer friend a town over had just trapped the small jack, a male Merlin. It's trapping season for falconers new and seasoned and we are all on the lookout for our new tiny murder dragons.

The first four days of the month I was helping a new falconer from Half Moon, New York. We trapped her a nice juvenile female red tail hawk and since then she's been manning (training) the bird for hunting and getting along well. I'm proud of her. Yesterday I shared about helping friends get into horses, well, I feel the same way about hawking. It's the new, bright, eyes of the beginner that encourage me to become better at the passions I have. Riding along in a mini van for hours at a time, looking up, hoping for a hawk and the random circumstances of luck and chance that mean you actually capture it - it's intoxicating. There is so much horror in the world right now - from floods and fires to hurricanes and injustice - the escape to just think about one wild animal is needed. Not because I want to forget the troubles of the world and pretend they do not exist, but to find a place to exhale and feel safe in a life that is never certain.

Here's to hawks, hope, and calmer winds soon.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Home Again!

This morning was cold enough to see my breathe and need a sweater for morning chores. I had already lit a small fire in the stove and started the coffee, and while my infusion and firebox warmed up I headed outside for the first section of chores. While making the hay rounds on the farm my feet crunched over newly-fallen leaves. I could smell and see the smoke from the chimney. Autumn is here. It feels good to be home again.

I have been joyfully distracted by a few things, and that’s why the posts have been sparse. My new age and I have completed a new book proposal (worked on it all summer together) and it has been sent out to a list of publishers. Now we wait and I hope. When not editing and rewriting that I’ve been about the usual work of tending this farm, preparing for winter (food, hay, firewood), and making soap. I mean, a lot of soap. I have been making out between 4-8 pounds a WEEK of this stuff. I am proud of these soaps and their travels around North America. For a simple recipe they soaps lather well, last long (post-curing), and are made with the goats, milk, and hands of this farm. My days are mostly a rectangle of farming, design, writing and soap. It’s a good place to be.

Yesterday afternoon some friends from Troy (a city just south of me near Albany) came up. David and Allison wanted to spend some time at the farm and start learning to ride. I’m no instructor but I was happy to show my friends how to groom, tack, and understand a horse a bit. David has ridden before and feels at home on the back of a horse. Yesterday was the first time he cantered comfortably and I was so happy to see it. Allison (who hasn’t ridden ever, really) learned to sit, hold her body, use her legs, and ask the horse to walk forward, stop, turn, and back up. I was beaming. I love sharing what I learned with others. What is the point of learning a skill just to hoard it? Skills are for sharing, celebrating, and passing on.

Writing is also important to share! So I am using Sundays to pre-load some posts so your weekday gets plenty of Cold Antler goodness. Thank you for checking back in and do follow me on Twitter and Instagram for a lot of daily photos, updates, and stories.  Especially, Twitter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trapping & Work

I realized this morning that with all my time online, over on twitter and Instagram - I have been talking about trapping season and new falconers, the farm fall prep, and working on design - but have not updated here recently. I have a lot of thoughts about being in my thirties and the life I chose. I want to talk about wealthy vs rich. I want to share stories of potatoes, lambs, and today's ram delivery later on. But right now I am waiting for my ride from some new apprentice falconers in Clifton Park. Every morning we have been going out looking for hawks for them to trap for their first falconry hunting seasons. That's been the stretch of things recently: wake, farm, trap, work, farm, sleep. With hints of social events like game nights or movies with friends in the evenings. I'll be updating more later today and I appreciate you reading this and checking in. Fall is here!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Earning Her Honesty

A few days ago Mabel bit me. Not a full attack by a charging ginger, hoofs a blazing— but a bite. I was tightening her girth (something I have done two dozen times this summer) and she turned her head back and nipped her teeth at my arm. If I had a shirt on I would have felt nothing. But I was in a tank top and the edges of her teeth clicked and pinched my upper arm. She didn’t break the skin, but a solid bruise rests there now from a beast with a skull the size of my coffee table. Not good.

I knew what that bite was. It was a mare saying “Hey, you, stop it. You’re annoying me and you are in my way.” She snapped at me the same way a mare snaps at a colt who has been nursing too long, or a pesky fly at her flank. It was a quick slap. Still, that kind of behavior is unacceptable. It hurt and it made me nervous. Once you are nervous around the horse the color of the world changes for them. Things get a little sharper, darker. They can tell something is wrong the same way a boss walking into your office with a sour look her face would make you raise your eyebrows. Also, not good.

I took a deep breath and got out the training flag. We did half an hour of ground work. The kind of natural horsemanship I have learned from Dave, my farrier and horsemanship trainer. The point was to keep her moving and responding to my gentle suggestions. If she doesn’t respond, a wave of the flag at the end of a 5 foot whip gets her attention. The flag is never used to hit her, just direct her like an air traffic controller. After a while just lifting the flag gets her moving. After that, asking with one hand on the lead rope. When she seemed calm I finished tacking her up and went for a ride. But I was still nervous.

The bugs were bad. The kind of high summer flies and gnats that all the ear salve and sprays can’t deter. She was stubborn and stopped moving all together a few times. The ride wasn’t dangerous but it wasn’t fun. It was petulant and fussy, the equine equivalent of “I donnnnntttwannnnnnnaaaa” But we rode and we got home, untacked, and I set her back with Merlin in the pasture. On paper the ride was a success. I rode my horse and no one got hurt on the trail: check. My goal was to ride my horse and I didn’t waiver. But it wasn’t fun.

That was a few days ago. In the interim I rode Merlin. Merlin isn’t as young, flashy, or fast but he is solid and dependable. Riding him is like sitting back and pouring a few fingers of whiskey with an old friend. I know his every twitch and ear signal. He knows the trails so well I am certain I could do it blindfolded and he would make the big loop around the trails and back home himself. Tuesday I took him and a book and a snack up the mountain. I rode and then got off to let him graze while I read. We took in the view from the mountain before a thunderstorm. This is something we have done hundreds of times. It’s a pure joy owning and living with that stubborn pony that taught me how to ride. I want that with Mabel. And you don’t get that unless you put in the work…

This morning I was nervous again. Mostly, of having another rough tacking up and then that stuttering struggle type of trail ride. I didn’t want to get bit. I didn’t want to feel nervous. But I owe it Mabel and to myself to train and train smart. To give that horse a job and not let her turn into some pasture-bound stranger I pet once a day and throw hay to. I don’t envy horses (or people, for that matter) that do nothing all day but eat.

I was also extra edgy because I was recently reminded how dangerous horses can be. Yesterday morning a friend was sent to the hospital because of their horse. It spooked beside a road and knocked them unconscious. Horses are huge animals, and even Merlin the fell pony is a thousand pounds. I’m 5’2” and while I am built as thick as a jaguar with a jiggle - that’s not a fair fight.

So today I did what my old riding instructor Holly says: Always have a plan. Don’t get on a horse you are training without a plan. And so this was my plan. Do groundwork first. Then, once calm and following my leads, groom and saddle. Do so with her head free so she can bite if she wants to, but discourage any attempts by making the horse move her back feet away from me in a tight circle. If she wants me out of her way then I will show her she is in mine. Remain calm, consistent, and in charge. Then, saddle up and do a short loop on the mountain. The same ride as before in reverse. That was the plan.

And that is what I did and it was lovely. Mabel didn’t bite or buck or act up. She was calm and happy to oblige. The ride was smooth and FUN! We cantered and trotted and took in the mountain as if we had done it a million times. She rode alone for the first time as if she was with Merlin. On rides with friends, she is perfect. Patty and Tyler have ridden her with zero issues but she is so different with another horse on the trail than when she is alone. I want both of my horses to be comfortable riding solo and today I got that. We have come a long way in a short time and Mabel is becoming a true blessing of a mare. It feels good to earn her honesty.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Decimation

I lost a couple chickens and a lamb over the past few days. The chickens were lost in a night of raccoon feasting, which thwarted the electric fences and tractor I had built to protect them. The lamb was (I thought) recovering from being weakened by worms. When I found him laying down a week ago I carried him inside, wormed him, medicated him against tetanus, and kept an eye on him closely since. He seemed to be doing far and on the way to a full recovery. He was always thinner than the other two lambs he was brought here with, but well. This morning while doing chores I found him dead. The same lamb that was out grazing the night before. I was crushed. I buried him near Sal, a sheep who was with me nearly ten years. This lamb wasn’t even with me ten weeks. It’s frustrating and it’s sad when this happens. I felt like a failure.

And make no mistake it was a failure. The lamb was in my care and it died. It died because what I did wasn’t enough. And it is important to know that, and feel that, and understand it.

But it is also important to look up at the rest of the farm around you. It’s important that I see two healthy horses with well-trimmed hooves and shining coats pass me by below swelling apples trees at a full canter. It’s important to know the goats bleating in the background are full of grain and relieved from their daily milking. It’s important to see the majority of the chickens, geese, and ducks all well and safe from a night without threats. It’s important to know the piglets and sows are thriving, the dogs and cats are happy, and that I was able to run an easy four miles this morning and still have a few days in the month to earn the money for the bills owed.

It’s important to see the other 90% if the sheep up and healthy as to not confuse decimation (one in ten dead) with annihilation (all dead). One sheep in my care passed away. The other nine are strong. That's still an A- and I'll take an A- in farming any day.

So feel bad about failure. But never let failure stop you from farming or any pursuit of your heart and head. Especially when the evidence of other success is all around you. There are eggs in my fridge, ten pounds of goat cheese in my freezer, and sales made of lamb and pork for future customers. There is soap made from those goats all over North America and more being made and shipped out every week. This is a small, one-woman farm yet it manages to stay afloat through words and art while so many farms and businesses are failing and that is a small miracle. One I am grateful for every single day.

Death is inevitable when your work is the raising and rearing of living things. It comes from disease, harvest for food, or old age. The hope is to pick when it happens and to feed and care for the people in your lives as you do so. It’s always a balance between a curse and a dance, farming. You only keep doing it because you learned thrive between those two outcomes and walk the line.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Summer is almost over...

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bittersweet

This morning was the first morning that felt like Autumn. Leaves have begun to shed off the King Black Maple in the front yard. The light was more saturated and tired. The entire feeling of morning chores was much more red flannel than tank top. I let out a lot of sighs.

It's bittersweet. I love the fall but the weight of winter preparation is always heavy, even when I am more prepared for it than in previous years. I have hay in barns, a house full of provisions, and half of my firewood stacked in waiting.  But all the work of getting out of that fearful place this past June and July is not done. The work of winter is just beginning.

So what is in store? There is the hope of a new book deal, but those sorts of things take time and my agent and I are still working out the last kinks of the proposal. There are piglets to sell, sheep and sows to slaughter, fleeces to tan, and books to mail. There is the constant flow of logo and illustration work (both on sale now, see post below!) and the regular every day sort of work of maintaining farm, house, and home. There was a long stretch without reliable indoor plumbing and that is finally repaired. The truck needed serious transmission work and that is repaired (Thank you to all who were part of that Kiva loan). The farm got some serious improvements to fencing, chargers, and supplies needed for livestock. A new dollar horse prances in the pasture and has made having horses feel new and magical again. Last night Tyler rode Mabel for the first time and they flew, and I mean FLEW through the mountain trails. She doesn't limp anymore like she did the first weekend she arrived. Her supplements, the rolling topography of the horse pasture, and regular work have healed her up, far as I can tell. The farrier agrees, and Dave's word is horse Gospel to me (though he does warn me of the swirl pattern on her forehead).

So I will say things are good. Better than they have been in years. I'm no longer farming from a  place of fear, and feel a slight buoy of spirit at the place finding solvency among all the uncertainties of self-e employment. But catching up to the rest of the runners in a race isn't winning and the race is far from over. But I am thrilled that bills, mortgage, and student loans are caught up (mostly). I am still working on some August bills but it isn't September yet!

I sigh outside because this is just one month and to keep that safe feeling I have fought so hard for I need to keep running. This is all I think about right now. So if these posts seem to be just about making it, and hocking logos and drawings - that's because this is my job. I am as dependable at it as I was shpwing up in my office when I worked a 9-5, only there is no certainty of direct deposit. There is your support, your reading, and the growing of my audience and the earning of patrons. Which is what all creative people do and have done since traveling bards and playwrights. We hope our words, our artwork, our stories compel strangers to buy a book instead of borrow it from the library. We hope you see value in things we make. If my readership is anything - it is proof positive writers are appreciated. After all, I am still here. 7 years, soon to be 8, on my own farm as a single woman. Not a common thing in history, and not special enough to stop working hard either.

If you follow me on social media you'll see the same. My Twitter and Instagram both share pictures and farm updates, as well as some self promotion. So if you need any of those things listed above, or know someone who does - let them know about the design, soaps, illustrations, and classes at CAF! I thank you. Keep on farming, friends. And dear lord, please keep on reading.

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.