Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cold Nights A Coming

Winter is on the way. A fact punctuated with every passing day. Tonight lows are going into the thirties for the first time this season. Part of me is excited, as October and fall is my favorite time of the year. Another part of me has a gut punch of worry. I am a little concerned about my preparation timing for it. It's almost October and I only have been able to buy one cord of firewood. I have 3 more to get and stack, and soon as possible. I also need to get the chimneys swept. So I am offering this literal FIRE(wood) SALE. This is what I have to offer you readers if you are interested in supporting the farm. Come learn the fiddle, or buy a lesson and instrument for someone else. Get a customized pet portrait, a logo, or a voucher to gift one to a friend. And if you have a small business - consider the logo/ad combination.

I appreciate your consideration. Come learn an instrument. Come scratch Gibson on the head and tell him he's handsome. Come feed Merlin a carrot and play your first scale on the fiddle. And if you are too far away for a class - consider giving the gift of custom design or artwork. 100% of sales go towards preparing this homestead for winter. 

For prices and details, please email me at

I am running a sale on logos prepurchased for 2017 - meaning you buy a logo now at half price and start the design after January 1 2017. The sale is literally a fire sale - to get firewood and the chimney cleaned before October. You can also buy this as a GIFT and get a printable PDF voucher emailed

If you want to learn the fiddle here at the farm, this fall is the time to do it! I provide half and full day classes and it COMES WITH YOUR OWN FIDDLE. And you can come, bring your spouse/kid/dog - enjoy Autumn in NY! Special rates now for coming as a duo. You can each get a fiddle or share one for the lesson. This is a great way to learn a new instrument in a casual and fun way and leave with your own violin and the ability to play it. I have never had a single person not leave playing their first song! You can also give the 1/2 day class, violin, and lessons here as a package as a gift!

Do you have a small business you would like to promote on Cold Antler Farm (the blog?) The blog reaches a large audience in the niche world of homesteading and creativity. Ads for readers are a fraction of the cost of larger businesses. And I am willing to offer a LOGO DESIGN and design the ad if you purchase space before the weekend!  

Want a picture of your dog turned into an illustration? I offer sketches of pets (with free shipping) on 9x12" bristol art cardstock. Also offer inking and coloring with watercolor! Message me for details!

Falconry Isn't What You Think

People who are against falconry are usually against it under the banner of animal rights. They assume the falconer is kidnapping a wild animal and taking it home as a pet or performer. A play thing for the eccentric, and the poor wild bird is the victim. Something akin to circus elephants or magicians’ white tigers. If that was the case I’d be against falconry, too. But it’s not.

Unlike captured animals kept as exotic novelties, falconers don’t ask their birds to do anything other than what they would do in the wild. We let them be hawks.

The best example I can share would be the circus one. If elephants were the subject It would be like like this: A baby elephant is harmlessly trapped and taken to a human village. Instead of her handler teaching her to balance on pedestals or carry people on her back, she would be taught how to find the best snacks. Her handler setting up situations where the little gal had to learn to navigate tall grasses, swim to cattails, and walk around dead trees to discover the best palm fronds. That’s what falconry is. It’s raising an animal to be successful at eating, perhaps even more successful than they would be on their own. Human handlers (falconers) raise the confidence and skill set of a bird, getting it to pursue game it might not even hope to try for in the wild.

The bird isn’t hunting for us. The bird isn’t fetching us game. The bird is just doing what it would do every single day in the wild and letting us tag along because of the mutual benefits. This is not common among all wild animals. I wouldn't want to sit down beside a fresh kill of one of those white tigers. But my hawk doesn't mind the dinner company.

Hunting in the wild is hard, exhausting, and never a sure bet. But knowing this person who took you home will always have dinner on the table is comforting to that avian brain, in a sense. Which is why they come back to their falconers when called even though they are flying free. It’s not returning to a friend, it’s responding to the waiter who called your name for the table you’ve been waiting for. Of course you’ll follow the person with menus against their chest and a smile on their face. You want to eat.

So, You Want To Be a Falconer?

I was driving on the back roads of Salem, a town just north of Jackson where I live. I had been trolling those lanes for days. Watching telephone poles and tree limbs like a real creep. More than one neighbor, pulled up beside me to asked what I was doing and why. I couldn’t blame them. I mean, an 89’ Ford Pickup is slowly rolling past their farm several times a day with a thought-full driver stopping every so often to raise a pair of binoculars… Talk about shady. But whenever anyone asking I was looking for a young hawk to train for falconry, they were excited as I was. The most common response I got was, “Wait? You can do that? Like anyone can get into falconry?!”


I trapped Aya on a hot day in the early afternoon. I had spent the morning frustrated, having failed to catch another bird (as I had been failing for 21 days since trapping season started). I had staked out a large female Tail at the Polo Club. I arrived before dawn and watched her sit on a branch for three hours above the white fences where people play (what I am guessing is horse hockey?) on the weekends. All that time and then she just casually flew over the trap without landing on it. No dice. I thought that was my trapping for the day, as I had plenty of work to do at home.

But after lunch I had the urge to go on a local loop. I spotted her hunting on a low power line at the edge of a field.  She was watching the ground furiously, head bobbing, clearly focused on grabbing lunch. I drove by and threw down the trap gently and she was flying to it before I even turned my truck around. After 3 weeks of hope, there she was.

“...anyone can get into falconry?!”


Even as the numbers of participants slowly grow, falconry will always be a niche sport. Mostly because you need to go out of your way to practice it; more so than any other sport in America. Just applying to learn took me a year. And before anyone dares let you drive around with a hawk trap to freak out the locals, you got hoops to jump through: You need to take a written exam (and score 80% or higher), build a hawk house (called a mews), get that house inspected by a game warden and signed off on, take a 2-day long hunter’s safety course, obtain a hunting license, gather falconry supplies suitable to the bird you will trap (Redtail or Kestrel), and have an experienced falconer sign on to teach you. So, no one who isn’t serious about hunting with hawks goes through all that trouble and evaluation. The application process is also a screening process that way. So, to answer that common question, yes, anyone who can get a hunting license in their state can go through the process of becoming a falconer. It's just that so few do. It's a pain in the ass and for good reason.

That’s the hard part. That’s the work - the being allowed into the club. The actual trapping, training, and eventual releasing of a wild animal to hunt beside you is the adventure.

And as you build your mews and save up for your first hood and gauntlet - you are expected to read up and study falconry and raptors. Books are suggested and loaned from private libraries. Videos are watched, stories swapped, and events like field meets and small hunting trips are encouraged. This is a subculture that requires immersion. Even the most aloof person can’t be a solitary falconer. We’re a community by default. And if you want to join us it starts by researching your state's hawking club and asking for more information. They can direct you to the application process, local falconers, educational outlets, books, websites and more. In most states you can start at 14.

Right now Aya and I are just days into our story. She is spending a lot of time with me. We watch Netflix and go for long walks. She eats out of my hand, and last night she took a small mouse from my glove and swallowed it down in one gulp. She’s still skittish, but learning that when she sees me there’s going to be some take out. I am her Postmates guy. No one is bummed to see the person delivering Ben and Jerry’s.

Over the next few days we’ll go from learning to eat together to learning to fly to me from a distance. It starts with hopping to the glove for a tidbit of food. Of the following weeks it then changes to a 100 yard flights to the glove. It happens on her schedule, not mine. Right now I am thrilled she’s tolerating me.

More updates on her as training progresses. But my next post is going to be about finally thwarting the landscaping attempts of my piglets - who have destroyed the yard in their rooting and when my mom comes to visit in three weeks she is NOT going to be into it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Meet Aya Cash!

Meet Aya Cash, the newest addition to the farm. She was trapped a few days ago and is now learning what it is like to be yoked with a primate. We are getting along splendidly. More soon!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Harper & The Fiddle

This is Harper. She's a young Bernese Mountain Dog and possibly the sweetest canine lady I have ever met. I mean that. Because, all the females I have lived with of the canis variety were kind of snarky and hard-edged. Annie was a firecracker. Friday is her own one-woman show. But Harper was just interested in making people feel like the world was pleasant. We need more people like Harper in this world.

That look of adoration towards her owner's face is real. And when she wasn't watching her people learn the fiddle this past Sunday, she was trotting around the house with my border collies showing them how any sorority girl in a brand-new Patagonia jacket moves: confidently. This breed has got some moves, people.

Good dogs are welcome here. So are good people. Lauren and Chris came by for a half day fiddle crash course. They drove in their van from Michigan, just to come to Cold Antler and see the big show. I used to worry that people coming here would see a scrappy place and be disappointed (I don't worry about it anymore). But they didn't mind me sweeping up dog hair mid lesson while they practiced their first scale.  They didn't mind the sagging fences or the piglet that escaped and I had to send Gibson out to deal with either. They seemed to have a fine time and came to learn as a couple and left with a fiddle of their own. It's an honor to show people how to get started with that instrument. If you want to come and learn, just email me. Bring your dog too if she's kind.

Besides fiddle lessons - I have been very distracted by hawk trapping all of September. Trapping season for falconers opens Sept 1st. As of that morning any licensed falconer (of any level of experience) can begin trolling the back roads and lonely farmlands of their home state at dawn. They are looking up. Hungry people watching the power lines as they sip their coffee without ever looking down at it. Trapping sounds violent but it's not. I explain it in more detail here in this Guardian Article I wrote last fall, if you are interested in the details. To summarize - it's obsessive and wonderful.

I have spent hours a day outside watching for the bird that will become my roommate. That's a strange sentence to write in a non-fiction situation. (Writing sentences about my real life that seem like fiction is kind of my life goal.) 

Soon I hope to have more fiddle students and a hawk. I hope to meet more dogs like Harper that make me want to turn into a crazy dog lady and get more puppies. (I won't, don't worry) But I still look forward to the future fiddlers and pups that may travel from far and wide to meet the lady with a jones for a raptor and the intense desire to teach you the D scale on the violin.

Friday, September 16, 2016

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 12, 2016

Look What Was Hiding in the Squash Patch!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Get Your Gifting On!

If you are looking for a gift with the coming holidays - you can get a gift voucher (printable pdf for a card or folder) and give the gift of art! The receiver of the gift gets to choose the image or logo they want! Buy it now for the Holidays (to be designed after Jan 1 2017) and it is a THIRD of the price (You can use this sale rate too! Buy yourself a logo for next year now, help a farm gal get ready for winter!)

Run, Farmer. Run.

Everything hurts. This morning when I woke up my entirety ached. I am sore in places I didn't know could be sore - like the arches in both feet and the insides of my elbows. It's friggin' great!

I'm still on my first cup of coffee, having slept in a considerable amount. Yesterday I was done with morning chores while the stars were still in the sky, but this AM I woke up to a gentle rain and gray daylight - thrilled to pull Friday closer and tuck into another round of sleep. I deserved it, dammit. Yesterday I ran a half marathon like a mad woman.

I have been running long distance all summer. Last spring a 3 mile run felt like Everest. Now a three mile run is a warm up. My usual summer outing has been between 7-12 miles! I slowly worked up to it. My body changed alongside it. I am not much thinner, but everything is harder and tighter. I can work outside longer, balance better,  pick up heavy things easier. Clothing is a lot looser even if the scale doesn't budge. Flab got toned and skin got tanned. I am 34 and I have never felt younger and better.

Yesterday morning was the test. I arrived at the race site in Vermont at 7AM. Everyone around me looked like a lululemon model. I looked like me, which is not a put down, but can we all picture a direwolf in tights? That's it.

So I was out of place. There were people with running shoes that cost half of what my pickup truck cost (which was, by far, the oldest vehicle in the parking area). Manchester is a swanky town and I parked my '89 Ford F150 with pig feed and wet hay in the bed next to an Audi and a Lexus.

My ankle that was sprained seemed 80% better. The other foot that stepped on a rusty nail last week wasn't infected. And I had managed to do the hardest part of this whole thing weeks ago - which was registering online and telling people I was going to do it. I can put in the work, running alone whenever you want is easy. What's hard is being certain your body is ready for an appointment. You don't expect to get the wind knocked out of you and turn your ankle and step on tetanus spores a week before your first race. On top of all that, everything had to be okay at the farm and the weather had to work out. They were calling for severe rain and thunder storms the day of the race. Great.

I showed up anyway. Hearing that gunshot that started the timer felt the same way it did when I got on Merlin for my first trail ride outside a school barn arena. Too late now, you are in this. Just go.

And go I did.

What I didn't anticipate was my competitive side making me her bitch. I am used to running alone, with no one tailing me and no one keeping score. But this race had hundreds of people of all sorts of abilities and in my little pod of runners I wanted to be ahead of certain people. So instead of governing my time and adjusting my pace I ran harder and longer than I did all summer on a course I didn't know. It was a drug at the time, and now the muscular hangover makes vodka look like kool aid.

I finished the half marathon at a very humble time of 2:55 - but for a 5'2" woman built like a Tolkien Dwarf with the stride of most adults in a sack race - that isn't bad.  I beat my casual back-road time for 13 miles by 30 minutes!

I feel like this accomplishment lets me relax a bit. I spent the last few weeks anxious about the race, mostly because it was a goal I set and not sure I could manage to complete. I had run 13.1 miles on my own, but the demanded actions of my body being ready at a date and time was a thousand times more nerve racking that farming has ever been. I thought of all the athletes (real athletes whose livelihood depends on their skills) who can't just twist an ankle or step on a nail willy nilly without putting their career in jeopardy.  Or about singers who can't slug a beer or eat cheese before a concert (or an entire run of show) without disappointing ticket buyers. I am toying with command performance as novelty and self-esteem boost. I can't imagine living there. Yikes.

With this race done I am back to focusing on hawks, hunting season, firewood, bills, and life as usual here at the farm. But this was a big accomplishment and the end to a summer season of running like a mad badger. I'll keep running, but I am glad there isn't a race next weekend.

Direwolf in tights. That's me, baby.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hope Is Exhausting

I am exhausted from driving and hoping. Trapping season is just a bunch of making your way along lonely roads and looking for a very specific treasure - an immature redtail hawk. I have seen dozens but none of them are interested in my trap. The world is so warm and green and while the calendar says September, they still think it's summer. I think I need to cut back on my miles and make less days about hawk sightings and more about catching up on winter prep here. A load of firewood was delivered today, 2 more loads coming this week. It's my first of four cords to budget and stack. So while I may not have my new hunting buddy - I do have plenty of work ahead there to distract me.

The piglets ruined my lawn. It wasn't much to look at in the first place but it is amazing what those snouts can accomplish in one night. More on that later.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Happy to Trot

This weekend was book-ended by hay. Friday I helped Livingston Brook Farm put up their last wagon load (192 bales) in their threshing barn. She wasn't able to borrow the neighbor's hay elevator so it took four adults a lot of body power to stack those bales, many on the loft. We chucked and handed bales over our heads to people standing on mountains of summer grass, turned into happy cubes. Square bales make me so happy. They are bricks of summer hidden away all winter long in these ancient barns. We pack August in the cupboard and pull it out in snow storms. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

After they hay was away and the farm chores were done I met with friends at a house in Arlington Vermont. It's been a three-year tradition to watch the band Cantrip play at the bagpipe player's parents house. They have this tiny little concert and it is always gorgeous. Everyone brings a covered dish to a campfire/potluck before and then the house turns into a venue with the upstairs loft being a mezzanine. The stage is a corner of the living room and the house is alive with music. There are parlor pipes, guitars, fiddles, mandolins and flutes. I know many of the songs by heart and have loved this gem since I stumbled upon them a few years back. This year's concert didn't disappoint.

Saturday was all about hawk hunting. No luck so far, not one bird on the trap, but I have seen so many birds! There are hundreds of redtails out there, as well as migrating peregrine falcons, kestrels, eagles, nighthawks, ravens, coopers, broadwing hawks, and more. I have my eye on a few big females and hope to catch one soon and start the training process. I'll probably stay up with the bird that first whole night binge watching something on Netflix with a pot of coffee on the stove.  Any suggestions for some great shows I could absorb quick are appreciated. I just finished Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Take My Wife, and Harmonquest. It's easy to soak up this stuff when working on illustrations or design work. Bring on the recs.

After Hawk hunting I ended up back at Livingston Brook to take in the crescent moon rise and stars with good friends. We toasted the end of summer. Sitting out there in the brisk air, sharing stories and drinks around the candlelight was the kind of present nostalgia you appreciate as it is happening.  There are a lot of people out there healthier, richer, and prettier than this broad but I wouldn't want to trade my life for anyone elses. Not ever. I just want to get better at this one. I feel there's a way cooler chick a few levels up.

Today was a fiddle day with a mother and daughter from Vermont. They did so well! The pair came around 10AM and in that time they went from opening their fiddle cases and rosining their bows to learning to tune, bow, their finger potions, and their first scale all before lunch. Then after lunch their learned their first song (Ida Red!) and we had time to cover shuffling, droning, slides and vibrato. Some folks just have the touch and these two had it down. And during their lunch break a lovely family from Massachusetts stopped by to pick up their share of pork and an illustration they bought of a wolf from me. They met Merlin, the pigs, the goats and dogs. Friday romped around with their 12-year old border collie mix and they were adorable.

The weekend ended with hay again. Another neighbor was loading their barn and I threw in some muscle where I could. I like that September is about the First Church of Grass. And the next few weeks I hope it becomes Our lady of the Perpetual Flame (firewood stacking).

Love this life and be happy while you got it, kids. These summers are learning to canter. When I was a kid they seemed happy to trot.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

One Gross Chair

I own one upholstered chair and it is horrific. I mean, HORRIFIC. It is the worst shade(s) of brown. The springs are all shot. It doesn't even have the decency to be a solid color. It is adorned with faux "Native American" accents. It came with the house when I bought it and since I couldn't afford replacement furniture, it has remained. it's been here for four different dogs, a handful of barn cats, and one woman who works hard and plays harder. It's been slumped in after hot, sweaty disgusting days in August and shivered in come January mornings before the stove is lit. When Friday was a pup she ate a corner of it. Right now it has a hand-crocheted throw my grandmother made on it. I love and hate this chair. It stays.

I was thinking about this chair while winding down from a day of trying to trap a new hawk. I set up today to do one thing: go driving around and looking for a roommate in the sky. A few years ago that would be an insane dream. Insane to think I would become a falconer. Even more insane to think a week day would mean driving around on back roads and not sitting in an office chair. But that is what I did. I had done the work in advance to clear the day. I had chores done early. I had alarms set to be on the road with a friend by 7AM. I had nothing to do but drive, look up, and hope. It was exhausting as hell.

Which is why I was thinking about this gross ass chair. It isn't nice. There is no argument to be made for it. But it's here because my life has been driven be a set of choices that prioritized Thursdays with hawks above whatever is new at CB2. That is not a knock at the CB2 crowd, either. There is a lot to be said for gorgeous home and an interior that Dwell Magazine subscribers would covet. That home is worth more than mine. That life has value. Those living rooms have choices just as interesting and myriad as any crappy chair with hawk shit on it.

But I can say that nicer things don't always mean a nicer life. My life would make many people miserable. But tonight I sat happy in that ugly chair, re-watching the Season 4 finale of Orange is the New Black and crying at how touching it was. I was petting the sheepdog sitting beside me who was still panting from racing up a dark road to bring back lambs on the lam. I don't ever wish I had a husband here but I shake at the idea of living without a working dog. The things he does for this farm should be on a bronze plaque so big passers by stop to read it.

I'm sure at some point I'll chuck that chair and I won't feel bad about it. Tonight I am fine with it. No part of me ever looks at it and says "Chair, it's time to go" because choices like that lead to spending money on furniture and not feed. My home is scrappy and may never be more - but it is mine. And every fray on that old chair is a reminder of a million little choices that lead to long days like today where you get to feel September happen to you, not around you.

I wish bad furniture on all of you. It comes with interesting Thursdays.

Trapping Season!

Today starts the first day of trapping season, and I spent the morning driving on the back roads of Washington County, looking for a redtail hawk to take home and train as this year's hunting partner. I was with my friend Miriam, who had her camera, and together we rode around in my pickup truck (back from the mechanic! passed inspection!) for a few hours. We saw so many kestrels, a young bald eagle, and one giant female red tail we tried to catch but it wasn't having it. So no luck in the first few hours of the trapping season but hopefully soon.

If you're wondering about falconry and what goes into it and trapping, I wrote this piece last fall for The Guardian about the sport and process. It should cover a lot of questions. This will be my 4th year as an apprentice and my third bird. I am very excited to go through the joy of manning, training, flying, and hunting beside a bird of prey all over again.

Wish us both luck, the bird and I, to find the partner we need!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Goat Days of Summer

It's almost September and the farm is getting ready for fall. It's a mixed bag for me, since I adore this season above all else but don't feel prepared. So much to do before the real cold sets in. I need to get cords of firewood purchased and stacked. I need to get my truck back from the mechanic, (who is repairing it from last Thursday when it wouldn't start in the hardware store parking lot.) And it means getting in hay, the chimneys swept, appointments with the Butchering Crew, and a couple dozen other things that weave into the work of preparing a multi-species homestead for cold months. So while I am just as excited as the next gal for cooler nights, pumpkins, scary stories and cider pressing - there is the balance of preparation, expenses, plans, and phone calls to make. One day at a time.

As for today, part of fall prep means drying off the goats, which I only milk seasonally. I know some people milk their dairy animals for years, but I don't want to do that to me or the goats. I like that kids come in the late spring when the grass is up and green and the lambing is behind me. I like that there is a summer of soapmaking, cheese, fresh milk, and daily milking. But I also like that there is an end to that and the girls go from twice daily milking to once daily, to every other day, to every few days. This eases them off of lactating and by true Fall they will no longer be producing. They will be thinking about breeding with a buck and come the -13 degree mornings in February - I won't be heading out to milk in a snowstorm. Dairy farmers are tough folk, no doubt about that. But I am a dairy tourist. A snowbird. I'm okay with that.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Pull

The following is an excerpt from the manuscript I am writing now. The working title is Dark Horse. It is about how the last five years changed me. The horse was the witness. 

I like riding on an empty stomach for the same reason I like listening to good music on an empty stomach; it pulls your center better. There is something to be said for how hunger sharpens you. Not starvation, not suffering, just enough to feel strong in the hollowness. The pleasure delay. The balance shift.

When I ride Merlin on nothing but a day of farm work, running, and caffeine fumes I get that pull. The best way I can explain it is this crude exercise: imagine that your torso is empty. No bones. No entrails. Your chest is a locker space and it is a third full of blood. Stick with me. Really try to feel this. Imagine that emptiness partially occupied with the fuel that runs the whole show. You are emptiness and energy.

Now imagine sitting on the back of an animal you know better than any human being you have ever met. An animal you can tell is going to take a shit by the way he flicks his ears and rolls his hindquarter muscles after a few slow steps. You are comfortable and calm. You are not expecting to fall off any more than you would expect to be thrown from the seat of your car on a trip to the grocery store. You know it could happen. Accidents happen every day. You are still comfortable, despite the statistics. You don't think about turning ignition or flipping dials and switches - everything is habitual and automatic. You trained for years to earn that ease.

So picture that same state of comfort and that fishbowl center. And as a half ton of draft animal moves at a walk your blood swirls and swishes calmly inside your alveolated core. His steps make ripples in the blood. It knows what is happening. You feel them and their echoes.

When he picks up pace to a canter you lean forward with the motion’s hope. That blood moves entirely forward too. It isn’t splashing and chaos in there, blood is thicker than water after all. It moves with decision. It isn't being pushed. It is pulled by your eyes.

A turn is just ahead. As your left heel and right hand whisper the blood screams need. It is alive in you. GO LEFT! GO LEFT! Your insides know what to do, and all it takes is looking and leaning. There is no choice, just that same habitual ease. You balance feet in the stirrups, distributing weight. You feel that blood all shift left, again calmly, as if there is meter and rhyme against the impulse to move left with him. He collects his muscles and since it is an incline, picks up speed. He is turning at a gallop and you can not stop yourself from laughing at the absurd joy. You understanding this better than anything else in the world. Centaurs have nothing on you, and you would pass a polygraph if you were asked if you could fly.

This is how never ending feels. Do no confuse it sex, chemical reactions, or other thieves. Those are great things, but slight of hand dealing you experiences of the present. The pull is the real work of Forever.

When the speed of a straightaway come you feel your lower back circled by warm air. The heat and pulling your blood bank and pressing your ribs a second ahead of your own understanding. It is anatomy and repetition, but it never, not for one second, does it stop feeling like magic. That is why you skip a few meals and ride hungry.

You are not a flailing backpack on the back of a skipping simpleton. You are the fucking back. A back with a brain that communicates its needs and desires to one thousand pounds of freewill that is for some unknowable reason tolerating you. The forest floor moves below you so fast. When you finally do glance down it feels like you are still and the earth is moves backwards. His hooves and legs are reaching impossibly forward like grappling hooks pulling time back into you. You are allowed to feel that, smell that, be that.

The pull is all you are now.

Your hollowness and blood took over because it has always been the part of you in control. We do everything we can to make it shut up, drunk, lazy, or stupid but the center knows. If you somehow manage to listen to it - even if it is just seconds a lifetime - you take it.

Eat when the world slows down.

Eat long after the lullabies of those first ripples are memory. Right now cherish the pull and the hollow. Life is only about that pull and the hollow. Remember it. The nostalgia is potent and will coat your regret like cough syrup over a rotten apple. Find that pull however you can manage to get it without taking from another person's chance to feel it. That's what we are all doing here. Now you know.

A dark horse taught me this. I did not deserve the lesson.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Home Fires Burning

This blog is a free to read and will remain a free, as it has for the past decade of the adventure. But if you are interested in contributing to the work you read here, you certainly can. Some of you have hired me to create illustrations or logos. Others who are more local, support this farm through shares of meat. But for those of you who do not wish to buy a picture, commission a logo, or are too far away to pick up a share of pork - I will occasionally post encouraging you to contribute if you feel the writing deserves to be compensated. If you don't feel it does, do not contribute.

As the farm heads into Autumn, it can make a huge difference, which is why I am asking now as the days grow shorter. You can either make a one-time donation of a few dollars or sign up for small monthly contributions through the subscription option on the right side of the blog.

I'd like you to see this website the same way you see your local NPR station or a long-time running novel series you pick up from time to time to check in with the cast of characters and hijinks. You can always listen for free by tuning into the station or grab the book from the library - but at the end of the day it takes support from the people who consume what artists, authors, musicians, storytellers, photographers, and other creative fields to keep the home fires burning. In this case, literally.

Thank you so much for reading and considering.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Take a Bow

Sketch in watercolor,pencil and ink of a rooster taking a bow. If you'd like to take it home, email me. If not, enjoy some whimsical poultry art created on the side of a mountain with my morning coffee today!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

An August Day

Yesterday, around 6PM, I found myself sitting on my lawn playing the ukulele for piglets. They weren’t a great audience. Occasionally they would come up and sniff my boots or eat a tuft of grass, but besides that they didn’t have any notes. That was fine by me, because I was too tired for constructive criticism and just wanted to strum. And if I’m honest the “performance” was just the two chords I have memorize and a few more I discovered by bastardizing some previous guitar knowledge. It was a diorama of a Languid Summer Evening.  Cardboard cutouts flapping in the breeze. I loved it. The nylon strings sounded pretty and the percussive snuffling was nice backup. It was a good day and I'm going to tell you all about it.

I woke up around 7AM with a headache and the voices of Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson. I fall asleep listening to podcasts and theirs was last night’s. I also had a headache, which had nothing to do with them but did have something to do with drinking a Moscow Mule (heavy on the Moscow) the night before. I have drank so little over the past few weeks that one decent serving of vodka was enough to wake up feeling it. What can I say? It was Friday night and I own a copper mug. 

Coffee. Coffee is the thing.

When Friday realizes that I have remembered that coffee exists in the world she crawls, army-style, from her spot at the foot of the bed to directly between Gibson and I and licks my face. Gibson is out cold. I don’t know if this is common for Border Collies but Gibson’s sleep schedule is mine, and unless I stop and take a nap during the day he is up and moving when I am up and moving. So after a long day of being a sheep dog and helping run this joint he sleeps like a corpse. He sleeps so hard sometimes I don't even see his breathing and worry he's died in his sleep. Friday is happy to nap any time any place -  so she is fresh as a daisy. (She's also just one year old so this morning thing is still new and exciting to her.) She's eager to run outside to bark at geese and jump in the creek. Gibson is still a log. His back is to us with his head on a pillow. Friday rootched right up between us and puts her head on my chest and looks at me with her coyote yellow eyes to finally get up. I do. Gibson rolls over in a disturbingly human way so he’s on his back laying in the exact same position as a person sprawled on a bed would, yawns, stretches his front paws up in the air and looks at me for decision.

"Coffee. Let’s go."

“Let’s go” is the trigger and before I am dressed they are downstairs waiting at the front door. I let them out and the cats run in from their night of red-painting or whatever it is farm cats do. (Cats and I have a very strict don't ask don't tell policy.) I load up the percolator and feed the kitties their chow and then head out with the dogs. They are right by the front door. Gibson is watching the last place the light’s reflection landed from the glass pane on the dirt. Friday is watching Gibson. If it wasn’t so obsessive compulsive it would be cute. They have paws, so okay, it’s still cute.

Chores are done in our usual fashion. I grab a bucket from the well overflow and carry it to the barn. I rinse and refresh the pig’s water and feed the five piglets in their pen. Wait, there are only three in the enclosure? I turn around to the sound of oinking and two black gilts are parading into the barn, dogs trotting behind them. I watch them sneak back into the pen with their tails wagging, watching me for their breakfast like nothing wrong just happened. They found a way to jump and squeeze in and out of the pen at will, but were close enough not to miss their morning Postmates chick. I make a note to let all the piglets out later to see what they do. If all they want to do is graze and snuffle like chickens I can let them out when I am there to mind the sounder.

Piglets accounted for and eating, I go about the rest of the morning chores. I do the same for the goats (who share the barn) and make sure they have plenty of water. It’s supposed to be a hot one today. Before I get my coffee, everyone else gets theirs. And so I run about tending to the farm. I feed the poultry and collect eggs (6 this morning). I check the goats to see if I should milk them this AM or evening (the are in the process of being dried off from daily milking going into fall). Then I carry some fresh second-cut to the sheep and horse. They are splitting a supplemental bale each morning along with their pasture grazing and minerals. I make sure they all have water as well, and then head inside. I call the dogs and they come running. Somehow Friday’s face is solid brown with mud and Gibson has a tail full of burrs. I laugh as we march inside, thinking of how the realtor was so apologetic that the house had linoleum floors. Darling, Farm life demands a home that can be hosed down.

Coffee is heaven. I drink it and sit in front of the computer in the living room while the dogs chew on their breakfast bowls with a fresh egg cracked into each. That floor spot is my station ever since my laptop died. I check email, update logo sales & deals on fiddle lessons on Facebook. Most mornings are about marketing. My eyebrows raise at a note send via Facebook message and I get excited when a woman and her daughter show interest in a day at the farm for Fiddle 101. We chat and set up an appointment. I see some interest in the sheep I am selling, too. There is a promise of income and I feel victorious for the possible sales and my Russian headache is now gone. Caffeine and hope is an amazing cure-all.

I turn on Chelsea Handler’s talk show on Netflix and enjoy a second cup. I grab a Fiber One bar because I don’t feel like cooking up eggs and don’t want to eat anything substantial. I find the more active I am and the hotter the day is going to be - the less I want to be weighed down with food. The energy bar is more than enough. I feel the sun coming through the big glass doors and look down at my tanned arms flecked with hay chaff and a chicken feathers and I hear my horse blow out a sigh outside. That alchemizes into a gut desire. I want to go riding.

It has been over 2 weeks since Merlin and I tacked up and I miss it. All the marathon training has really taken away from my horse, and I could put off my run and shorten it today for some saddle time. I make a list of clients to work on before I head out and watch the rest of Chelsea while drawing an Akita, updating a sheep for a logo, and tending to a Grizzly bear kissing a dragonfly. I love that I can create designs and images while watching things. Movies and Netflix help make the work fly. Then I post a quick update to this blog because I am excited, damnit. I really want to be out there and I wanted to share that news with whomever online was listening. You're never alone when you have the internet.

I head outside again, this time in proper riding boots instead of farm muckers. No wait, my riding boots are my farm muckers. I really need to buy new boots but have been putting it off. There are cracks and holes in the much-loved Dublins I am wearing, but these boots are true fighters. I have splashed through creeks following my hawks, ridden hundreds of miles, mucked pens, delivered hay, butchered pigs, and a thousand miscellany farm chores in them. They did more than I should dare ask a piece of clothing. So I forgive my choice of shod and head outside in a tank top and favorite jeans. I head to the pasture to get my horse.

I ride Merlin for an hour. We take our usual route through the trails on the mountain over on my neighbor's property. When I bought my land I had no idea I had moved next door to a large animal vet and a retired chief of police. I also didn’t know that I’d be allowed to ride my horse and hunt with my birds on nearly everyone's property. Sometimes this whole mountain feels like my own. I feel amazing as he runs up the mountain. It's just starting to get hot out and his black neck feels warmer than the sunlight. His face and mane have gone a little whiter this year but he’s still fit and lovely. The bugs aren’t so bad either this early in the day. I ride to the outcrop of field that looks over the whole valley, the highest point we can reach. We take in the view, all clear blue sky and summer’s promise. Then I look behind me and see that my neighbor’s parents are at the cabin up high on the hill and I wave to them and they wave back at me. I ride off back to the trail to give them their untarnished view. The tiny imposter in me feels like I shouldn't be on their hillside and I feel a little guilt as we trot away.

We ride and I think about the next bit of the book I am writing. Merlin picks up speed and I get the idea to write about the perfect hollowness I have learned from riding and/or listening to music when hungry. How it pulls my center better. I know that makes no sense right now, but I’ll come back and hash it out on my computer. I make a mental note and keep riding.

We cross through field and wooded paths. We duck under trees and jump fallen logs. Merlin stops to drink from the creek and splash in the water. We hear the cries of a red tail hawk and both of us look up to see a juvenile bald eagle fly above us. There is drama in the skies, but here on land there’s just a horse, a girl, and some cottontails in the brush. No signs of young bears but the plott hound hunters are out and about. I see the trucks with the dogs in box crates in the beds and know they are out baiting bears and training their dogs to tree them. I don’t know enough about bear hunting to have an opinion on it, but I know I don’t want those dogs near my farm again. Last year they tore apart the chicken tractors and tried to eat $600 worth of meat birds for sport. Bear dogs my ass.

I ride home and feel good. So good I throw on running gear and head out for 6.5 miles. I'm fine with admitting right here, right now, that this was a stupid idea.

I love running but the temperature and humidity had risen hard and fast. It's easy to not notice in the shade of mountain trails on a horse. But by the time I was pounding the pavement I had spent a morning doing farm chores, freelance work, and trail riding all on one energy bar and two cups of coffee. I should have at least drank some water before I headed out with my old iPod nano. I didn't. I was on a pony high and feeling summer in my bloodstream. I just wanted more heat.

About an hour into the run I realized my headache was back and I was ready to throw up. This isn't normal. Monday I ran 13 miles without so much as a side stitch, but this morning I was low on energy, sweating bullets, and very dehydrated. I ran home feeling dizzy. When I got there I sat in the shade of the large maple and felt my heart rate slow down as I counted slow breathing. My skin cascaded in goosebumps as I shivered through the cooling down process of body temperature regulation. It's a weird thing, to feel yourself get chills on an 88-degree afternoon with 78% humidity. Too hot, not enough fuel, alcohol the night before and coffee in the morning and zero water. I told you it as a stupid idea.

I recovered fast enough though and drank enough water to smite a small god. I stretched and let the dogs out of the house to run around the yard. I checked all the critter's water supplies and that no more piglets were rampaging. When all was five by five I threw on a swimsuit and headed to the river. Take that, heat stroke.

When I got to the river I saw a lot of cars at the Georgi's Parking lot. Maybe 10? For a public park that is practically empty but being a weekday swimmer I am used to being in the river by myself. What can you expect though on a hot Saturday afternoon? I walk out in my flip flops, swim suit, and running shorts. No towel. I walk past a retired gentleman on a bench overlooking the river. He is sporting a pony tail and playing Champagne Supernova on acoustic guitar, singing his heart out. I love it.

I jump in and my body nearly convulses from the cold. Holy crow! The recent rain and the cooler nigh (it was 56 degrees when I woke up) gave the river a chill and more speed. I am swept down and glide into a breaststroke, dodging rocks and enjoying the ride. Some people just find pools to lollygag in but I love jumping in upstream and swimming with the current. It's the opposite of running - which is all fighting to stay forward. Here I am being carried by ice and power. I enjoy each extreme and can see brown trout five feet below me, swimming in the clear river water as I hover past like some fresh-water sea lion.

Now I am tired. Something about the baptism and restoration of the cold water (which now is just pleasant, not cold at all) makes my body want to curl up on a blanket in a sunny spot and pull off a cat nap. I walk back to my truck and sit, sopping wet on the towel - which is only there to protect my seat cushion from getting river wet. I roll down the windows and blare the Hamilton Soundtrack as I air dry on the 4 mile ride home.

At home I flirt with the idea of a nap but realize only my body is tired, not my brain. I change into a kilt and clean tank top and let my hair air-dry in the sun. I slide on a bracer and archery glove and grab my bow and arrow. I shoot a few dozen arrows into my target near  the barn and am happy with the accuracy after a few days off practice. If the target was a deer it would be dead. I relate most of my successes with whether or not I'd be fed.

Now it's heading towards late afternoon and there is another round of evening chores to head into. I let out the dogs and notice the two cats lounging in the sun like a pair of lions on a hot rock. They have zero interest in doing anything at all. I nap vicariously through them and head back into chores, but this time before I feed the piglets I open their pen. They run out like hooligans and do wonderful piglet things. The dogs, who are not used to herding swine, just watch them like fellow canines they don't want to associate with. This is how my collies feel about Labradors and Terriers - they cut them a wide berth. So the dogs are doing dog things. The pigs are doing pig things. The sun is out. The chores are mostly done. And I decide to go and fetch my ukulele. I sit and strum for them.

My evening winds down. I don't dare drink a Moscow Mule or any sort of booze at all. I do enjoy an easy quick dinner of steamed broccoli and seasoned beef tips. One meal a day, usually in the evening, always plants and animals - is my new normal. I decompress with a movie.  I a working my way through Edgar Wright's list of 1000 favorite films (not in order, but as inspo) and feel the way I did in college being introduced to new experiences and titles. I consider myself a movie buff, but not 1000-favorites-of-a-favorite-director list. I resent Up in the Air not being on it. I get over it, quick. So far this week I've seen Walkabout and Phantoms of Paradise for the first time and fell in love all over again with Love and Death. God, I love movies. And I love them even more tired from a long day with food. I watch the glowing screen like a child, all wonder.

I head to bed when I see Gibson head up first. If a border collie is ready to pack it in, take the hint. We turn on the fan in the window and fall asleep in clean sheets. Tommorrow looks like rain but there is still a hay delivery to get into the barn before the storms, and a couple coming to see sheep they might buy. I'm taking the day off running but not off caffeine. I fall asleep already excited for coffee and another start. When your adventure is your backyard and your neighborhood is your sound stage for the movie of your dreams - you sleep well.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Feel the Wind

It is a beautiful Saturday morning here in Veryork. Absolutely beautiful. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and all the animals have been fed and tended to. I am wrapping up work on two illustrations for clients before I head outside to slip a halter over the handsome head of my horse and start preparing for a trail ride. I have an urge to get lost in the woods. I want to bring along the ukulele and thermos of hot coffee and a book.

Fall isn’t far away. Here that means a pile of heavy responsibilities getting a farm ready for snowfly. It's a list I have faced before, but still can feel daunting as the Dog Days crawl to closure. It’s hot and lovely out there right now. The trees are green and the river is warm. I want to ride, swim, play music, and read stories but I also know that the clock is ticking and daylight is waning. In a few weeks tanktops will turn to hoodies and jeans and the corn stalks will turn brown in the fields.

I emailed a friend about the first cord of winter wood (my heating fuel) being delivered next week. I have a few days to gather the money for it, which I will hopefully do through some more logo and art sales. This morning—before I adjusted a single saddle strap—I worked on the lines and contours of the face of a beloved, late, Akita named Kitara (posted a photo of the sketch on twitter). The reader sent beautiful notes and stunning photos of the dog and while I know she was a dog, I drew her with the spirit of a lion. So I started my day with coffee and sketches. Now it’s time to feel wind.

I hope you all have a lovely, lucky, and well-spent Saturday!

Photo by Miriam Romais

Friday, August 19, 2016

This Little Book

One Woman Farm is a small book. It's small in every way. It doesn't take up much space, take much time to read, nor did it shock the world in sales records - but I love this little book so much. It's got images of my home, animals, life and love drawn throughout. It combines stories, music, art and agriculture to showcase a weird little world. It's all these things but it is also fall captured. It starts in October and ends in October - the holy month on this Homestead. Pick it up if you haven't, or if you order from my local bookstore, Connie will call me and I'll literally drive down there with Gibson and we can both sign it for you and send it to your front door.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Young, Scrappy, and Hungry

True & Lovely

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Team Love & Selling Sheep

I was driving in town and pulled up to our one stoplight. Stopped across me was another classic Ford truck. It was a few years earlier than my own, maybe an 84? And it was a glorious brown that to most people looks like the worst parts of a seventies roller rink, but to those of us who love these trucks reminisces more along the lines of a favorite, well-oiled, baseball mitt. Point being: It was great. It had 100% better typography, an outline of FORD in white on the back bumper and I wanted to trace it with my finger. I loved this man’s truck the way I love my own. The way a dog lover of a certain breed can’t help but admire a healthy animal of the same type when it crosses their path, and nod to the owner in appreciation and fellowship. Which is exactly what happened next.

When we pulled past each other (he was in his twenties, I’m guessing?) we did what everyone does with a beloved, older, truck does around here. We nod, wave, or smile. There’s an unofficial club here in Washington County, and while we don’t have a name or regular meetings - we know our own when we meet. It was another rural person who opted out of the payments, GPS navigation screens, buttons, possibly working AC and heat, and enforced emission laws. We choose to ride in an older truck and keep it going. We have our titles. We have our mechanics numbers memorized and send them thank you cards. We have learned the sounds and sways of our rigs the way cowboys know their horses gaits. We love our trucks. We know our own. I beamed at that man.

Also! I am selling a starter flock! Looking to cut back on the flock going into winter. I have 2 four-year-old wool ewes a Merino/Romney cross and a full blood Romney) and they come with an older wool sheep (Cotswold/Border Leicester cross) whether. A great starter flock, and if you want to wait for them (the ewes) to be bred before you pick them up that is okay too (ram is a Scottish Blackface). Please let me know if you are interested. They can keep your lawn mowed, lamb in the spring, baa at you, give your sheepdog a workout, grow sweaters, etc. Looking for $150 a ewe and $100 for the whether. or $350 for all three. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

First Strums - Picking Up the Uke!

I have been sitting down with my uke a few minutes a day all week, and I do mean minutes. Time isn’t exactly a disposable asset right now and I honestly don't have an hour set aside to take up a new instrument. Good news is that doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest  because in a few days of giving this a go (literally minutes a day) I have learned four actual chords, a finger-plucked melody, and my first song!

When I do sit down with it all I do is check the tuning is correct using my trusty little Snark tuner, and read a few pages of the book/cd combo I am using to learn it. Like all my other experiences with Native Ground (the same people who taught me the fiddle and whose methods I have used to teach hundreds of others here at CAF over the past five years) I am once again treated to a casual and fun way of learning. The book expects the reader to not know the first thing about tuning, reading notes, or even playing a kazoo (Ergo the title, Ignoramus) - so the stakes couldn't be lower folks. If you want to learn an instrument and feel you just can't - I dare you fail at this. You won't.

Wayne Erbsen’s books are made to be digested in small doses, and they down easy. You can read all you need to know to get strumming in fifteen minutes. And not just how to play it, but the history and culture around it. I learned is a Hawaiian creation based on the stringed instruments of Portuguese immigrants, shortly after the American Civil War. So as far as acoustic music, it’s a new kid. I like that.

I’m impressed by this little instrument. It’s a soprano uke, so the smallest of the four sizes available to play (and probably the size you think of when you picture it). Just four nylon strings over a tiny guitar-shaped frame. When I strum them I find myself momentarily transported. I am not the Jimmy Buffet type. I’m much more drawn to rocky coasts and colder climate than the home of this instrument, but it’s 86 degrees outside with 70% humidity and there is something really whimsical playing this tropical instrument with a cold drink in a hammock on a hot day. 

I'll update with videos of my first songs and more details on how I am learning a few minutes a day. If you want to learn along with me,  you can, and help support a company that supports Cold Antler! I got an email from Native Ground letting me know they are selling the exact same package they sent to the farm - Uke, Book, and CD as a set for $59 plus S&H.  (It's the same set you see in this post's picture.) You can call them and have music delivered to your door at (800)752-2656. 

More every week on my summertime adventures with this new little friend. And good luck to those of you willing to strum along with me across the internet!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Another Use for a Pitchfork

My friend Patty taught me this and it is brilliant. She has several stuck in a large beam in her kitchen in her 1700's farmhouse holding wine glasses. I use mine for coffee mugs, tankards and Moscow Mule coppers (more valuable commodities than wine around here). A hole drilled into a beam, supported wall, etc can be a great place for antique or broken pitchfork heads to now be used to hold your dinnerware. Just drill it into a place higher than the foreheads of most people, which around here is anything over 5'2"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Challenge Accepted

For the past four days I have been posting photos for the "Love Your Spouse Challenge" on social media. I've been posing with Gibson, my 6-year-old Border Collie and co-farmer. At first, it was a joke. All these couples were posting photos of their committed relationships and I wasn't paying much attention to them. I saw them in my feed and thought they were kinda sweet. Then I realized one of the couples on my Facebook feed had been dating, married, and had a baby in less time then I have know my dog. At that point, I decided to commit to the bit and get out the camera. We might not be romantically involved, but me and this dog are 100% a couple.

I picked up Gibson at the Albany Airport in May of 2010. He was flown here from RedTop Kennels in Idaho, a breeder and trainer of sheepdogs I highly respected. His father was an amazing trial dog named Riggs who was tearing up the circuit. His mother, Vangie, was also a hell of a working dog. It took months to make the payments to Patrick at Redtop, which I will forever be grateful for his patience and understanding with. I paid what I could when I could. That winter of 2009/2010 I would find myself in need of a new home, find and buy a farm, and realize a long-time dream and freedom as a farmer - a place of my own. The serendipity of Gibson arriving just a few days later was frosting and fireworks.

Over the years he has been the heartbeat of this farm. He has seen it and me change; through some very dark times and now far better ones. He's never left my side, never ignored my voice, and never left me alone in laughter or tears. He has been there, always. And one of the things that keeps me going is that every single night before bed I promise him that he will never go a day without food in his belly, a roof over his head, or love from my heart. Yes, cheesy. Still 100% of the reason I make myself promote logos, illustrations, subscriptions, and freelance some days. Even if I feel like throwing in the towel I got a dog I love with a sheep problem and I'm not methadoning him off it with agility or flyball.

As a puppy he came with me to work every single day when I still had an office gig. He's been with me on every road trip, sleeping in hotel beds at speaking gigs or author events. He's raced alongside Merlin as I rode him through mountain trails.  He's watched me train hawks in our living room.  He's tolerated torn paws, emergency vet visits, men in our bed, and yowling cats... And he's even learned to mentor that scrappy little pup named after Rosalind Russell.

Lassie, step aside.

It has been six years now. I have never been away from him for more than a handful of hours. He has never slept in another kennel, home, vet's office, or away from me. I would not travel without him, unless circumstances were dire and even then I'd feed 99% of people to the zombies first. If anyone hurt him, I would go to jail for what happened to them next.

I'm not sure that is ideal dog ownership, and maybe all I have truly taught him is severe co-dependence? I don't care. I am just as dependent as he is. That is the truth of our situation. We're a team and I love the hell out of him.

So yes, for the next three days I will continue my love letter in self-portraits of me and this dog. Not because I'm mocking couples out there in committed relationships. And not because I think my dog is a person. He's not. But he is my best friend and I love him unconditionally. He's the single longest relationship I have ever maintained in my adult life. As a single woman perfectly happy with being single who NEVER wants to have kids, a wedding, or more than 2 cats - I'm in this for the long haul, baby. He's all mine.

Challenge, accepted.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Top Ten Life Hacks For Busy Farm Women

1. Jeans aren't dirty but not at all fresh? Put them in the freezer for 15 minutes. It does wonders - stops smells.

2. Dry Shampoo. Oh my god, Dry Shampoo. Removes grease, adds volume, takes moments. Baby Powder is a "homemade" (read: cheaper) version.

3. Lip balm comes in shades now. You can add some color and still not technically be wearing makeup.

4. Dog or horse hair all over your clothes? Keep a roll of duct tape in the car if you need to travel into civilization to peel it off. Or just do what I do and accept animal hair as a food group. Save money on Fiber One Bars!

5. Dry your hair with a tee shirt instead of a towel and it won't get insanely frizzy in humidity. Really.

6. If you actually have time to do laundry, lemon juice on pit stains or any sweat stains eliminates them if rubbed on them before you throw it in the wash.

7. Conditioner makes a killer shaving cream for your legs and armpits in a pinch.

8. If you get a lot of crap on something, gum, placenta, anything gross and chunky on your clothes put it in the freezer and peel it off once frozen. Freezers are great, guys.

9. Your colored lip balm, chap stick, lipstick is frozen in your truck or jacket pocket? Stick it in your bra to defrost in moments. Also, those heated hand warmers you see for pockets, those can go all over your bra in hunting season.

10. 90% of to-go coffee lids also fit wide mouth mason jars. You're welcome.

Al Fresco

While out this morning doing chores, I noticed this little guy out and about. He was standing in the barn door, watching the Freedom Rangers and Bresse chicks scratch about for grain. I ran back inside for my camera and was able to catch this moment of my bacon and eggs truly al fresco. Out in the open air, indeed.

That little white-nosed barrow is one of five piglets here, a barter with Joshua at West Wind Acres in exchange for archery lessons for his wife and child. I love to trade whenever I can, as sharing skills for goods is always a better option when it comes to community. The piglets are doing great, but still on the little side. So they are growing, they are in a pen in the barn until they upgrade to the woodland pen.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tweet Away with Me

Many of you follow or friend me on Facebook, but I am moving more and more away from that platform and spending most of my passing thoughts over on Twitter. Feel free to follow me there @coldantlerfarm. I post lots of photos, blog posts, sales, random thoughts, and retweets from the people I adore.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Fearful Beekeeper

I’m going to say this right up top: it’s okay to be a beekeeper and be scared of bees. You’d be a fool not to be a little nervous out there. You are literally stealing the food stores from a couple thousand kamikaze career women survivalists. They are willing to die to keep their little compound intact and even if they are only the size of a nickel, they friggin' hurt when they give you the 'ol right there Fred.

So yeah, being a fearful beekeeper is okay. I think that is something rarely talked about, and the reason some people don't have a hive. I want to point out that being fearful of bees isn't a reason to not keep them. Unless you are allergic or have a severe phobia - your hesitation about keeping bees might be exactly what means you'll be a mindful and respectful beekeeper. I am always scared suiting up for the hive. But you know what? Honey is worth it. Real, sun-warmed, raw honey collected from your own hive is worth the occasional sting and trepidation-filled morning pre-extraction. It really, really, is.

This spring I got over 16 stings installing my wintered-over nucleus colony from Betterbee. It was my own fault. 100% foolishness. I treated that nuc installation like it was a package of bees and not a fully-formed community with brood and honey to protect. So I just threw on my bee jacket and gloves and without a smoker opened the box of five frames. I set them into the hive with the same ease and gusto like they were books on a shelf. You know, like an idiot would. The first stings happened around my thighs and kept happening - but I had to complete the installation, there was no turning back on a new community in a strange place. And let me tell you guys, 16 stings hurts. My body inflamed and heated around those bumps and once they calmed down they itched like the dickens. It sucked. Yet I still keep bees and always will.

I have been keeping bees for almost a decade. I started in Idaho and have had hives in Vermont and New York. This year has been the most successful colony by far and their production is insane compared to the previous years of three-pound packages of bees. The nucleus colony cost double, but a few friends pitched in so we could all share in the harvest together. Buying the established colony of New York State bees that survived the winter was the smartest choice we made. They have filled two deeps and a shallow since May, and the reason I harvested five frames was to encourage them to refill their replacements instead of swarming off. I'll collect five more next week. The honey will be used to brew mead and go into winter storage for the owners of the hive. Our winter teas, breads, and meals will have summer in a jar. That's worth at few stings.

Over this summer I got to watch my friend Trevor (a Betterbee employee) work with my hive and I took note of how he acted, moved, even breathed around the hive. I watched him use the smoker, remove frames, and keep calm amongst the buzzing all around him. Part of me felt envious of his demeanor, but I had to remember - that yes, that’s Trevor keeping bees. But that is also Trevor drinking with friends, fly fishing in the Battenkill, or watching a movie - he is a calm and considering person no matter what he is doing. I, however, am a fever dream of a person compared to him. Thinking too fast, talking too fast, constant motion, and sidetracked with questions. I keep bees like Jenna. He keeps bees like Trevor. If I wanted to be better beekeeper I needed to be a little more Trevor.

So when I went to the hive a few days ago I did just that. I dressed right. I had on the white loose pants, high boots, goatskin gloves tight enough to use my hands, jacket and veil. I had the smoker ready to go with cool smoke that would last more than five minutes. I had taken time to make slow long exhalations, slowing my heart rate. I will always be nervous around bees. Always. But I can hide it for ten minutes. I tried to channel Trevor. It worked.

I approached the hive with the five replacement frames in a plastic food-grade five-gallon bucket. I smoked gently and set the smoker on the ground, like he did. Then I used the hive tool to loosen the lid and slowly set it on the ground beside the deeps.  I used some more smoke and then went into the calm and even-paced work of removing and replacing frames. Not once did I get stung. Every minute I worked the hive I reminded myself that I was not yet bothered, was not being threatening, and even if I did get a hundred stings I was not allergic to bees. Like anything in homesteading, you need to always understand that doing the uncomfortable in the present has rich rewards in the future. It isn't fun for me to work the hive, weed gardens, trim hooves, muck stalls... but doing so means a future of  mead, vegetables, healthy goats, and happy piglets. You do the work, period. It means cultivating pride and luck along the way.

I am proud to say I got the honey out and removed the bees from the frames with one of Lucas’s big primary feathers gently brushing them back into the hive. Almost fifteen pounds so far, and with more ahead before I start prepping the colony for winter. Now I am enjoying the little thrill of looking up small batch mead recipes and swapping tips with other brewers and bee keepers. I provided some beautiful food to the people who trusted me to be a little more Trevor and a little less Jenna. And I get to look forward to amazing drinks and stories come snowfly, when hot summer days around the hive are something we are all shifting in our seats a little, missing around the woodstoves and wool sweaters.

Keeping bees is worth it. It's okay to be afraid. Just be a little brave and enjoy the well earned and sweet reward for your hard work.