Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reverb 10: Gift

Gift: This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year? (Author: Holly Root)

Early in the year one of our CSA members contacted us about some English shepherd puppies they had. They knew we were researching herding dogs and planning at some point to get one. Initially, we said no. We were swamped and felt that any dog we brought into the house at that time would likely become just another pet for lack of proper attention to training.

The conversations continued, though, and through their persistence and after further research we decided an English shepherd might very well be a good match for us and the opportunity was one we could hardly pass up. They brought a couple of the puppies by the market for us to meet and a decision was made that the best of the bunch would be Lachsmi, a female that was bossy with the rest of the dogs. We thought she'd make an excellent herding dog. Sometime in early May, we met them in Tulsa and picked her up.

What happened after we returned to the farm is hard for me to write about. While walking with the dog, I tripped and fell and dropped the leash. Lachsmi ran. The leash caught hold of the leg of our barbecue grill and sent it flying, landing on the ground in a big crash. Lachsmi bolted and ran for the garden. I went after her, trying not to let my panic lead me to do things that made her think I was chasing her. I found her in the garden, against the fence on the far side. I was slowly approaching her when a truck with a cattle trailer came down our road, banging and clanging and making a lot of noise. Lachsmi bolted under the fence and out to the road. I ran back to get my truck so that I could try to catch her. By the time I got out to the road, our neighbors pointed across the highway, saying she'd gone that way. I slowly crossed the road and parked. I saw her in the field. She stood and looked at me for a minute. I called her name and took one step toward her. She bolted again, disappearing into the tall grass. I never saw her again.

I searched for her all afternoon, talking to everyone in the area where she disappeared that I could find at home. We made fliers to post. I put them up at intersections in the area and in a couple of stores in the small town close to us. I searched again the next day, walking all over the field where I last saw her, driving up and down roads, walking through more fields. I saw no sign of her. The friends from whom we'd gotten her came out with Lachsmi's mom and the three of us plus the dog searched again. Nothing.

I felt horrible. I still get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I think about it. The thoughts of what happened to her as a result of my clumsiness and failure to keep things under control were hard to bear. It didn't help that the situation reminded me of another painful experience with a dog that had happened a little over a year earlier. I wondered if I was destined to keep repeating the same mistake over and over. I was sure I should never be trusted with a dog again, maybe no animals at all. It was hard to sit with the awareness of how many people and animals had been hurt by my clumsiness and lack of control in those two situations.

Days went by and my heart ached. I found myself looking for her every time I drove by the area where she disappeared. I even stopped a few times and walked along the roads calling her name. As time went by, I began to accept that she was gone and so I prayed that she was safe in someone else's home, someone who simply never saw the signs we posted or didn't get a visit from one of us when we went door to door.

I went out of town on business and the time away helped. The pain began to ease up some and I found myself starting to let go a bit. A few weeks later we received an e-mail from the friends who gave us Lachsmi. They had another pup and after a lot of conversation in their family, had decided that it would help them with their healing if we would receive the other pup as a gift, no charge, and train her to be a sheep dog.

Tears streamed down my face as I read the e-mail. I did not feel at all like I deserved such a gift. I was scared to death that I would blow it again. But I could see in Lisa's face that she really wanted her and knew that it was the right thing to do. I knew that I had to get past the experience if I was ever going to survive living on a farm with so many animals under my care. We agreed to take her and responded to them with appreciation for the amazing grace they demonstrated in making the offer to us.

The next Saturday, they brought Gaia (now called Maya) with them when they came to the market. When market was over, they handed her off to Lisa who brought her home. I was nervous at first. I found myself keeping my distance. We kept her inside for a week, taking her out on a leash to go to the bathroom. We walked her around on a leash outside, slowly introducing her to the animals. Her response was completely different than the other dog's. She was calm and curious, very attentive to us, clinging to Lisa's side whether in the house or outside.

With fear and great concern a week later, we let her out for the first time without the leash. She sniffed around, did her business, ran around the yard a bit, but came back to the door, showing no signs at all that she was going to run away. Gradually, we began to relax more and trust that she was going to stay.

In the months since, Maya has found her place on this farm. Though initially intimidated by the animals, she is becoming less and less afraid to be around them. She's right at our side now whenever we work with the sheep. She goes out for hikes with us, always running up ahead of us several then stopping until we catch up to her. She is our miniature dachshund Jai's best companion, playing with him in all his craziness.

And with time, I let my guard down and let her in. Every morning, she jumps up on the bed and lays next to me while I journal and write. She lays at my feet at the dinner table and when I come home from work, she runs to greet me.

Sometimes I look into her dark eyes, the serious gaze that comes from her sober face, and I see the greatest gift of all this year, the trust of a dog who found her way into my heart and the grace of friends who decided to give us another chance.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reverb 10: Ordinary Joy

Ordinary Joy: Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year? (Author: Brené Brown)

There was a time not long ago when I wasn't exactly sure what joy is. It had been so long since I had any that I just didn't know what it felt like anymore. Those days are gone, thankfully, and joy, both ordinary and extraordinary, have returned to my life.

For me, joy is more a state of being than an experience. Certainly my experiences can bring joy, but if I am not open to feeling it, the most common joyful time will not break through the darkness and fill me up. I've learned there are things I can do to cultivate my heart so that joy can be experienced. Writing, journaling, exercising, spending time outside, listening, laughing...all of these are ways I make room for joy to take hold.

It's hard for me to choose one most joyful ordinary moment. There are many everyday, from the moment I wake up lying next to the person I love to the first deep breath of fresh air when I step outside or the time spent around the lunchroom table with colleagues and students and again at the kitchen table having dinner with Lisa. I feel joy when a goat nudges up against me, nibbling at my coat sleeve or when I watch lambs and kids hop around the barnyard. Jai, whose very name is an expression of joy, exudes it running around the farm at top speed. It's present when I introduce prospective students to the seminary and the great things offered there and when I sit with my small group for the ITE class and watch as the group members discover new ideas for the first time. Joy fills my chest when I hear the laughter and chatter from the porch at the cabin on the night of a farm table dinner, the gasps of delight when guests take first bites of each course brought out to them.

I agree that our most profound joy is often experienced in the most ordinary moments. I think this is true because it isn't the experience itself that causes joy. Joy comes when we are awake to it, when our hearts have been opened by grace, and we know that it's the ordinary things in our lives that save us everyday. It's an expression of our deepest delight in being alive.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reverb 10: Soul Food

Soul Food: What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul? (Author: Elise Marie Collins)

I could write about this for days. It probably isn't fair how well I eat every single day. The food grown on this farm and Lisa's preparations of it are one of my greatest pleasures. But there is one meal from this year that stands out.

On the 4th of July, we went for a hike on the farm. While walking through the woods, we noticed some beautiful orange mushrooms in several spots. We harvested a few, pretty well convinced they were chanterelles, but not certain enough to harvest a lot. We brought them back to the house, did some research online to make sure we had the right thing and then cleaned them. During the hike, we also gathered blackberries and sand plums. Lisa's mind went immediately to work on the perfect way to cook the mushrooms.

That night I sat down to a dinner of seared pork chop with a chanterelle-sand plum-lavender sauce. The first bite sent me soaring. Lavender and chanterelles are the perfect marriage of flavors and the fruitiness of the sand plums added another dimension, tart and sweet at the same time. It was the best meal I had all year. Later, we went out with the interns and harvest enough chanterelles for Lisa to use in one of the Farm Table Dinners. Not completely satisfied with how tart the sand plums were, she switched to peaches in the sauce. Also heavenly, but by then I was no longer surprised by how perfect the combination of flavors is. Still, it was absolutely amazing.

I'm not a big fan of mushrooms, but the chanterelles have a fruity flavor and nice texture that make them exceptional. I can hardly wait for the 4th of July to come again so we can harvest some more.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reverb 10: Travel

Travel: How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? (Author: Tara Hunt)

I travel quite a bit for work and 2010 was no exception. I go to exotic places like Wichita, KS, or Jefferson City, MO, or Oklahoma City, OK. These are destinations I can easily reach by car and generally rent one to make the trip. Depending on the time of year, the drive isn't bad and sometimes the scenery is pretty decent, but these are not necessarily the locations that rank high on my list of places to visit for anything other than work.

Work travel did afford the opportunity to travel to the west coast this year and ordinarily that is occasion for great rejoicing. It was to be a quick trip to Eugene, OR, with a couple of quick meetings in and around Portland, and of course, a detour along the coast long enough to fill my salty-air-starved lungs with some ocean breeze. I made it as short a trip as possible so that I could get back in time to see the first of our baby goats born.

Alas, that was not to be. The Oregon trip was, shall we say, a bit longer than I'd planned. In fact, what was to be a 2.5-day trip turned into a week. I learned a lot on this trip. For starters, I learned that it is worth every penny of the $20 charge with Southwest to have them automatically check you in early. I learned Southwest Airlines is very well aware of the limits of our rights as travelers and will exploit them, no matter how well known they are for customer service. I learned that Enterprise Rent-A-Car remains true to their customer service reputation.

Being stranded for 4.5 extra days was infuriating to say the least and it took me about 3 of those just to calm down. I hiked and walked along the beach and then returned to my hotel room to write, only to feel the anger rise again. The irony is that under completely different circumstances, I would have been thrilled to spend a long weekend at the coast.

So, how will I travel in 2011? Hmm....not on Southwest Airlines, if I can avoid it. That said, I do hope 2011 brings some opportunity to travel for fun. Lisa and I are planning a long weekend trip to Seattle in late January or early February. It will be our first overnight trip together in some time and we're pretty excited about that. I look forward to seeing where she grew up and to sampling some of the restaurants she loves from that area. And, of course, it will be good once again to drink in that salty Pacific air.

For work, travel will take me to New Orleans, Minneapolis, and Nashville, in addition to the usual local exotic locations. Fortunately, these three offer some great eating opportunities, which is always a priority in travel for me. Sadly, Cafe Brenda in Minneapolis is now closed, so the opportunity to revisit one of the best meals I've ever had will not happen, but I'm sure I'll find some other good places, perhaps Spoonriver, for example. In Nashville, there are already plans for several of us to eat at Tin Angel. And New Orleans, where do I start? Maybe another visit to Dooky Chase's?

Traveling is all about eating and nature for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reverb 10: Future Self

Future Self: Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?) (Author: Jenny Blake)

Advice for my current self from my 50-year-old self: The joy you feel is real. Enjoy it. But...that back of yours isn't going to last forever. Take good care of it.

Dear Linda in the 36th year of your life,

It's nearly Christmas and this year for your gift I'm giving you a top-10 list of things you should know to save you a lot of heartache and anxiety in the coming 10 years:

1. The llama will get out and head for the road, but the crazy black dog that just showed up on the farm is actually a rare breed herding dog. No one's trained her, but she knows exactly what to do. Trust her.
2. Llama? Farm? That...well...that part might be best left to discovery.
3. It is not failure to stop doing something that isn't working for you.
4. Jesus was wrong about the sheep versus the goats. Goats are superior animals. And it's okay to occasionally act like one yourself.
5. 35 is not too old to find love. In fact, 43 isn't either. It isn't necessary to settle for the first woman who comes along after you are honest with yourself about who you are. Therefore, don't waste another day stuck in a bad relationship. See #3 above.
6. Start writing. Now. Don't stop.
7. Get outside as much as you can everyday. The clean, fresh air filling your lungs, the sun warming your face, the freedom felt in the expanse of the sky will save you, over and over again.
8. Go with the spikey hair. You know you want to.
9. Hold on to the leash. Whatever happens, don't let go.
10. Love may not be constant from any one person, but it is always present in your life. Keep your heart open to it.

With love,
Your much wiser 45-year-old self

P.S. A bonus #11: There is life in Oklahoma. Really. I wouldn't lie to you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reverb10: Beyond Avoidance

Beyond Avoidance: What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Author: Jake Nickell)

Looking back at blog posts from this year, the intentions I had around writing are obvious. That's about the only thing I did actually write about. A glance at my journal and writing notebook reveal pretty much the same thing, although I did do pretty well with journaling early in the year. And as for the Bonus prompt, the answer appears to be yes, thanks to this Reverb 10 project. It's been good to flex the writing muscles with these prompts and while I'd say I'm not particularly happy with the writing I've done, the daily exercise is helping me make writing a habit again. Hopefully in time, perhaps when I'm back to writing without the prompts, I'll write something a bit more inspiring.

The answer to the question of why is multi-layered. Writing for me has been a way of figuring things out. That I actually wrote pretty well came as a surprise. That people actually wanted to read what I wrote was practically unbelievable. Writing helped me make some important changes in my life. I felt a sense of urgency about writing. It was saving my life, so of course I'd make time for it. Now that things in my life have settled and I'm pleased with where I am and what I'm doing, it seems like a luxury. And in the economy of my busy life, I admit it feels like a luxury I can't afford.

I want 2011 to be a year in which I claim writing as a creative process for myself, time when I get to work on creating something. It's purpose will be different, perhaps only slightly, but it will require a different motivation and a different commitment than I've ever had. I want to learn writing as a craft, where I'm learning technique and ways of critiquing it and editing it to improve. And, while it scares me a bit to put this out there in such a public way, I want to submit something for publication before 2011 ends. I'm not sure what the next step is after writing everyday, so I'll have to do some research to figure that out.

There you have it blogosphere. Feel free to hold me accountable.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reverb 10: Lesson Learned

Lesson Learned: What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? (Author: Tara Weaver)

I have been busier this year than I have in a long, long time. My job at the seminary has evolved a lot, and the attention it has taken to learn how to do what I do in a new educational environment (given our new online program) has required a lot of thought and creativity. Then there's the farm.

January is the only relatively quiet month on the farm. By quiet, I mean, I don't have to be outside in the milk barn at 6:00 a.m. The goats are dried up. The sheep and chickens are on their winter pastures. There are relatively few (if any) parties at the cabin. The greenhouse is in maintenance mode. There's a lot of cleaning and dreaming and planning that goes on, but there are also nice long evenings to watch a movie or to play dominoes.

In February, we start back up with dinners and parties, planting and kidding. There's more kidding, lambing, and planting in March. And in April, market season starts, and then things really heat up.

On Saturdays during market season, it is not uncommon for us to get up at 3:30 a.m. and work until we collapse in to bed at midnight, exhausted and barely able to move. These are the days when we have dinners at the cabin on top of selling at farmers market. On such days, I don't dare sit down for more than five minutes or I won't be able to keep going.

So what does all of this have to do with lessons learned? In spite of the busyness and while we do know there are aspects of it that are outrageous and unmanageable long term, the pace of the farm suits me very well. I need to make some adjustments to allow for time to write, but the level of activity and the time outside has conspired to leave me happier than I've been in a long time in my life, perhaps ever.

Now, of course, a great deal of this happiness is due to the love I've found with Lisa and to finding a life that I love, full of animals and physical activity and an opportunity to provide something for people that leaves them healthier and truly satisfied, on top of a full time job where I work with people I truly enjoy and that enables me to do something that is meaningful. But, I've come to realize that my past struggles with depression may be largely due to lack of physical activity and, brace yourselves, boredom.

There is no time to be bored here. None. And I'm a better person for sending boredom packing. In these slower days of winter it's tempting to entertain it from time to time and in very brief moments it feels like there is actually nothing to do, but the reality is that there is nothing urgent to do. When I make friends with the slower pace and realize it means I get to be more thoughtful and intentional about my work, that I get to use the extra space to be creative, the boredom that is lurking in the shadows quickly fades. I'm able to use down time to rest and relax, but it's purposeful and helpful; it is not boring.

For me, boredom is that passionless sense of just biding time until the next important thing starts and occupies our time. I'll stay off my high horse today, but I want to state emphatically that I believe boredom is behind a lot the diagnosed depression in this country. I do not say that to minimize honest struggles and pain, but I am deeply aware, and I include myself in this, that many people can't name why they are depressed, and for many of them it may be simply because it never occurs to them that boredom and depression could ever be linked.

Now here's the startling revelation of the year. Brace yourselves. I've been looking for a good excuse to confess this in public and I can't think of anything better than a post on lessons learned as a springboard for coming out with this.

I like manual labor.

Did you catch that? Let me try again. I like manual labor!

There. I said it. Send me to the loony bin. I don't care. It's true. Sometimes there just isn't a more satisfying way to end the day than to have worked with my hands, mending fences, moving shelters, putting up new walls on the barn, harvesting vegetables, cleaning up the farm yard, mucking barns, moving hay, whatever. I like the feeling of muscles that have worked, tasks that occupy my attention such that my mind can't wander, sweat pouring down my back, mud and dust caking my hands, and the sense of deep satisfaction that comes from seeing the fruits of my labor, of being able to sit back with a cold beer and look at what I've accomplished and consider the ways in which it will make life better for someone on the farm.

This does not mean I will be giving up my desk job anytime soon. I do still like it, after all. But, I'm just grateful that I have something that fills my life up in a way that leaves me satisfied and happy, to know that in those free hours, when I'm off the clock, I have purposeful work to do that requires my body as well as my brain to accomplish it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reverb 10: Friendship

Friendship: How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

One way in which Lisa and I are very different is that when there is a decision to be made, I like to think about it, consider the options, wait for awhile and then, usually with an external nudge from somewhere, finally go for it. Lisa, however, is more decisive. She thinks about things and considers options, asks for input from others, but in a relatively short period of time knows what her decision is and acts on it.

I think this difference can actually be summed up more in terms of tolerance for risk. Lisa is more of a risk-taker. No, that's not really it. I think it's more that I see risk where she doesn't. And this is where I believe she has really changed my perspective over the last year. Being part of a multitude of decision-making moments with her related to the business of the farm, I found myself watching how she considers options and quickly goes with what she thinks is best. Nothing has collapsed around here. No one is in mortal danger. There's been a good measure of success, in fact, and much of it due to some quick thinking on her part and her willingness to jump in and try things.

I'm finding myself becoming more decisive as a result, less concerned about risks or potential risks and willing to just see what trying something different will do. It seems there's also been a corresponding change to more quickly acknowledge when something isn't working and stop doing it, instead of feeling like, having gone through the painstaking process of deciding to do it, I have to make it work no matter what. This, my friends, is a very freeing shift.

The change has been gradual and is by no means complete. She might even chime in here with a chuckle and say it's barely noticeable, if at all. And perhaps she's right. I do, however, know that there has been in a shift in my thinking about these things and given a few more good decision-making opportunities to try it out, I'm pretty sure it will be obvious.

Just don't ask me what I want for dinner.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reverb 10: Action

Action: When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)

Keep writing. Everyday. Plain and simple. No need for any more explanation than that. And on that note, I'm switching to a more interesting prompt from Lisa.

What do you think about when you're milking the goats? What is your experience while milking? What do you see and hear?

Milking is one of those tasks that allows for some good thinking time, but it's tricky, because if I let my mind go too much, I end up not noticing when the goat is getting antsy and is ready to kick the pail. It's happened more than once. Believe me.

I milk in the mornings before the sun is up. I walk out to the barn with the pails in hand and open the gate. Sally always goes in with me and waits for me to move the stool off the stanchion. Lately she makes a beeline for the mineral bag in the corner of the barn and helps herself for a few minutes while I settle in. After she hops up on the stanchion, she dances around a little while I get the feed bucket out of the barrel. Once everything's in place, I sit down and go about cleaning her teats and checking the milk.

Once I've checked her out and I'm in my milking rhythm, I start listening to the sounds of the farm. Sometimes it's the surprisingly quiet sound of one of the cats chasing a bug in the barn. Often I listen for the birds as they wake and begin to sing in the morning. Always, I hear the busy scratching of the roosters and rogue hens looking for any little scrap of grain that's fallen to the ground from the picky goats who forage around in the bucket. I hear Daisy, our little doeling, bleating, trying to get my attention for one reason or another or just to hear the sound of her own voice. I hear the chorus of sheep off in the distance calling to make sure we remember to feed them.

There are no more beautiful sounds on earth than these things. Starting my day to this soundtrack has been one of the best things that's ever happened to me, and while it's tempting to let my mind wander and think about important things like how to use Facebook to market the seminary better, I often name the intrusive thought when I notice it and return to listening to the farm.

And I'll admit it here for God and of the things I hear is my own voice. I talk to the animals. I tell them thanks for the milk. I tell them that I love putting my face on their stomach as I milk. I apologize for having to spray cold cleaner on their teats. I tell them they're beautiful. I tell them that they're good girls. Silly, maybe but there's something about the intimate connection of milking that makes saying such things seem important, if not for the goat, then to remind myself that what we're doing here is a partnership.

What I see is the narrow view of the rear end of the goat, particularly the back legs and the teats tucked in between them. I notice all of the small pieces of hay and debris clinging to their udders and undersides and brush it away to keep it from falling in the bucket. I watch their legs for movement, hoping to avoid having feet in the pail. I see the milky white stream flow into the pail and erupt into a splash as it hits the side of the pail. I watch as the teats become limp and wrinkled once their udders are empty.

Once I'm sure of my rhythm and that my hands are positioned right to hit the pail, I see the cats exploring the barn, jumping up on the stack of bags of grain, then onto the counter, and finally up into the rafters. I watch as they circle the edge of the barn's ceiling looking down on me and the goat, and I pray that they neither fall nor jump when they get anywhere near the stanchion. Sometimes I see the new pups watching from the barn door, cocking their heads to get that curious sideways glance. I see the chickens searching, searching, searching on the barn floor for the smallest specks of grain.

And with all that good stuff to watch and hear, I still let my mind wander and think about what I'm going to do that day. Often, I'll plan my day or make a mental note of things I need to do or take care of. I think about projects at work or on the farm. If there's a problem we're trying to solve, I consider solutions to it. If I'm upset about something, I think about it obsessively until a rooster jumps up on the stanchion with the grace of a drunk trying to step off a curb and brings me back into the moment.

And always, always, I think about how incredibly grateful I am for this life and that it found me ready and available to live it....and then three goats crash the gate and come running in to the barn in a race to the stanchion and I'm back in the moment, sorting out who's supposed to be there and sending the others back into the barnyard to wait their turn.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reverb 10: Body Integration

Body Integration: This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

I have these moments pretty frequently, actually. Most of my life they've come as a result of running and while my running suffers from my farming habit, I'm grateful to have had the experience of using a daily activity to work on consciously seeking that body integration. Like many things in life that are good, this takes practice. Long ago, basketball also helped. I was well-known for my court presence when I played. I had a sixth sense about where I was on the court in relation to the ball and the basket that resulted in some great shots and occasional blocks from time to time.

On the farm, herding animals often poses the bests opportunities for consciously seeking to be fully integrated. Take for example the day when we were moving boy lambs to a new grazing rotation. One of them was not cooperating and kept running away from where we needed him to go. He was tricky too. He'd slow down and seem willing for us to walk up to him, only to dart as soon as we were within striking distance.

Lisa and our intern, Kathleen, and I were working together to get him headed in the right direction. He ran up against a fence and was moving south toward the gate. I quietly approached closer, took a deep breath and as he darted in front of me, I lunged forward, eyes wide open, fairly well aware of where I was in comparison to the lamb, the fence, a big tree that he'd run behind, and the ground. I kept my eye on him the whole time, and in a moment that seemed perfectly choreographed, I caught hold of his leg and held on for dear life, while I fell to the ground in a thud. His leg securely in my grasp, I scooped him up under me and stayed still until someone got over to pick him up from me, not daring to stand and run the risk of losing him. I may also have been hiding the fact that landing the way I did made getting up quickly a near impossibility.

It was a comical scene, actually, perhaps not the almost mystical, spiritual experience that body integration often provides. But I did feel alive, deeply aware of myself as an integrated whole, focused solely on ending the ridiculous chase that was preventing us from moving on to the next thing on our to-do list. I had bruises to show for it when I finished, and a deep sense of satisfaction that would rival any I ever felt from those glorious moments of eyes on the ball all the way up in the air, matching stride for stride my opponent's moves, until with a long stretch of my arm and a perfectly timed move, I cleanly blocked a shot on the upward part of the arc toward the basket, with not even a brush of a finger against the hand or arm of the opponent.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Reverb 10: 11 Things

11 Things: What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

  1. At least 1/2 of the remaining consumer debt I've carried for far too long;
  2. Approximately 1/2 of the stuff in the boxes stashed in the corner of the garage;
  3. Some lingering stress, anger, frustration, and grief with my family for not accepting that I'm gay and welcoming Lisa into the family;
  4. Refined sugar in it's various forms;
  5. The junk pile between the garage and shed;
  6. My farm jacket that is ripped and torn to the point of being almost useless;
  7. Any remaining clothes from the pre-weight-loss days.
I honestly can't think of anything else. I got rid of a lot of stuff in 2010. I live a relatively junk-free life. I'll add to the list if I think of something else.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reverb 10: Wisdom

Wisdom: What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? (Author: Susannah Conway)

Shortly after the new year, I approached my supervisor about the possibility of working from home on Fridays. I had been taking occasional days at home to work and it seemed to go well for me. Lisa and I had taken a long look at our finances and set some budget goals, most of which focused on each of us getting out of debt so that we could move toward sustainability at the farm. As we looked at where our money was going, I quickly noticed that one of my biggest monthly expenses was gas and toll associated with my 100-mile round trip commute to work each day. The possibility of dropping that item 20% by working from home one day per week seemed like a good plan. It also felt as though it would get me one step closer toward living out the values I hold around sustainability and environmental impact. When I approached my supervisor, she readily agreed and immediately noted ways in which she thought the seminary would benefit from me doing it.

It's hard to say if that was the wisest decision I've made this year, but as I sit here in the comfort of my home this morning, having milked the goats and done other chores, enjoyed a good breakfast with Lisa and am now ready to settle into the day's work, there's no question it was a good decision, and not just for the money saved.

Working from home gives me back the hours I spend commuting each of the other four days a week that are taken away from time spent with my favorite person in the world. While she does farm things on Fridays and I do seminary things, it's great to take a break together and go for a walk or to slip outside for some fresh air and to give her a hand with a quick project that really requires two people and not just one. I'm able to get laundry done and some other things, like occasionally fixing dinner.

The thing that really surprised me, though, is how much more I'm able to get done on some of my projects at work. Early on, I noticed that one day per week working somewhere other than my office allowed me the option to organize my work a bit differently and to start thinking of what tasks require me to be in the office and which ones benefit from the fewer distractions I have when the only one stopping in to visit with me is a dog who is really just interested in laying down next to me to sleep. The space I have to think on Fridays, I believe, is helping me be more creative at work.

You'll excuse me, now, while I go put another load of laundry in and start on the web analytics for the seminary.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Reverb 10: Party

Party Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. (Author: Shauna Reid)

I'm not especially fond of the prompts the past couple of days. I punted yesterday, so I'll take this one. Apparently the prompt writers are more social creatures than I. I'm struggling to think of any "party" I attended in 2010 in which anything more than the food would be of note.

The parties I attend these days are monthly gatherings to celebrate birthdays of folks in our common circle of friends. We usually go potluck style and the food is amazing. We are all about eating well. One such gathering recently, which as it turns out wasn't actually a birthday celebration, was a soup supper. Each household brought a pot of homemade soup to share.

We set the Crockpots and stockpots up on a table in the corner. There was dahl (an Indian soup made with lentils), corn chowder, three different pots of lentil stew, etc. I can't remember what all we had. Someone made bread to go with it. We each took a bowl and set out to make our way through each of the soups.

When we get together we usually meet at one friend's house. She has a large kitchen with an island in the middle, around which we sit on stools. There are usually a few chairs scattered in the back by the fireplace. Cheesy 80s music plays on the stereo in the background and dogs, oh my the dogs! (this friend is a veterinarian), either watch wistfully from behind the gate that keeps them in the living room or run from person to person hoping for a scrap or a pat on the head.

On this particular evening two of our friends, who also happen to be sisters, told stories about their grandparents. I asked another friend who is from Louisiana for some restaurant recommendations for an upcoming trip to New Orleans. And we talked about the recent spotting of one of the children of our friends who was supposed to be grounded but had managed to sneak out to meet a boy.

We're old, so there are no shenanigans, well, most of the time anyway. Since milking happens in the wee hours of the morning, we were gone by 10:00.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Reverb 10: Community

Dec 7: Community Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

We live about a mile west of a small town, about eight miles from the nearest town of size, and 50 miles from Tulsa, where I work and where we sell most of the farm's products. I work in the office 4 days per week and from home one. Our days are bracketed by the chores we do to care for the animals. Rain or shine, snow or heat, the goats have to be milked and the animals fed and watered.

As a result, it's hard for us to be spontaneous with friends. A quick decision at 3:00 in the afternoon to go out to dinner means we have to drop whatever we're doing, do chores, shower, and drive into town, making it a good 7:00 before we can sit down to eat. If we get the invitation any later than that or we're in the middle of something we can't drop when the call comes, we can't make it. And even with planning, we have to limit the number of times we accept such invitations because of the cost to go into town and the time involved to do it.

All of this is to say, participating in community is something that remains a challenge on the farm. Lisa warned me when we first got together that I would need to be very intentional about socializing and doing things that would get me off the farm. Without that intention, the farm becomes isolating and lonely. The warning is a good one for me. I am, by nature, quite comfortable being alone and would consider my "community time" needs to be low, but I do have them and perhaps more importantly, participating in community isn't all about me. :)

The move to the farm has meant a shift in where I most experience community. I have found relationships at work deepening. I love the people I work with and enjoy regular lunchtime conversation and banter in the student commons. The casual or sometimes more serious conversation that happens when people come to get chocolate from my desk and sit down to visit are a treat as well. I'm grateful to work in a place that values community to the extent that such connections are encouraged.

Beyond work, Lisa and I have found a circle of friends who have similar interests in farming or animal care and live relatively close to us, making it much easier to plan things together. And these are people who are more involved in our lives (and we theirs) than just the occasional lunch or dinner together. We call on each other when there are needs to be met or when support is important.

This is a hard prompt for me to respond to in a public space. I acknowledge some unresolved grief and perhaps even a little guilt (though I'm not sure it's justified) about the way in which where I find community has shifted this year. I worry that I've abandoned a group of friends from the pre-farm days, though I realize it's unrealistic to expect that the huge changes moving to the farm brought about in my daily life would mean those relationships wouldn't also change. For awhile, Facebook felt like a way to remain connected, but without common experiences on a regular basis it has became harder at times to follow what's going on through Facebook. I know that some of my habits (I hate to make phone calls, for example) contribute to the way this changed, but I also know that some of what's happened is a natural shifting. It's all, I guess, an area of my life which could use a good bit more reflection and attention, perhaps in an effort to find some way to resolve the uneasiness about how the change came about.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Reverb 10: Make

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

Lisa and I made a new wall in the barn yesterday to cut down on the draft in preparation for the winter weather. We used some old barn metal scraps and wood from a structure that was torn down a couple of years ago. The metal was attached with tek screws and nails. It's not especially pretty, but the temperature difference from inside the barn to just outside was remarkable. We needed a heavy jacket outside. Inside, we worked in our sweatshirts.

We also reattached a cattle panel wall in the doelings' pen, put up new wood slats in the hay feeder (to keep the goats from getting inside it) and added a piece of fencing to the gate to keep goats from getting out underneath. Perhaps you notice a theme here. 95% of goat-herding involves something to do with fences. Getting all of those projects done yesterday left us feeling very satisfied!

Farming involves a lot of making things. We try to use as much recycled material as possible. Most of what we make is functional and practical and is almost always made when it has to be, so clearing time becomes absolutely essential.

But, if I shift my thoughts away from the farm, I am reminded of something I want to make and have not found the time for yet. I want to develop a resource, a website or book or both, that lists the community gardens in the greater Tulsa area, where they're located, who is involved, and what approach they use. I would like for it to be a resource for others who are considering starting community gardens, as well as a place where stories about the gardens are told. And out of the data collection process, I think it would be great to see a regular informal gathering of people involved to share ideas and pass along tips, as well as provide support for those just getting started.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Reverb10: Catching up

I've seen several people I used to blog with joining the Reverb10 bandwagon and made the decision to use it as a way to see if I can get back in the blogging habit again.

Here's how it works. "Reverb 10 is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. Use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead." The focus of this particular writing project fits well with what is normal part of my life's discipline, reflection at the end of each year in preparation for the year to come.

I need to catch up, though, since the project began on Dec. 1. The responses to the first four prompts will be brief.

Dec. 1: "One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?" (Author: Gwen Bell)

The word I'd choose for 2010 is success. The move to the new farm proved successful. New initiatives at the seminary have been successful. There's a sense of "arrival" that I feel in all areas of my life, not a comfortable feeling, necessarily, the kind in which I feel like I can just sit back and relax and I don't have to worry about anything. It's more a sense of feeling as though what we've done in all these areas is something worth maintaining and building on.

The word for 2011 is depth. There is so much about my life that is joyful and fulfilling. I want it to last and for that to happen, the roots established in this year or so need to go deeper.

Dec. 2: "Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?" (Author: Leo Babauta)

Oi. THAT question! Lisa and others have been encouraging me to get back in the habit of writing. They are aware of my desire and frankly, it's hard for me to really name what's holding me back. The way this question is framed really helps put in a more helpful perspective though. It's not such a psychological hold up to think in terms of daily doing. So, what do I do each day that doesn't contribute to my writing. Well, honestly, a lot of mindless internet surfing, particularly on Facebook. A lot of telling myself, "You have nothing to say. Who wants to read about endless encounters with goats, sheep, and other critters? What if now that I feel more settled in my life and the "searching" that motivated my writing years ago isn't so present, I have nothing of value or interest to say?"

So, yes, I guess just writing and not letting myself get caught up in whether someone reads it or not is the key.

Dec. 3:
Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

There's no difficulty for me in choosing that day. It was the day Lily was born. Lily, one of our lambs, was born with a lot of challenges. Her mom was accidentally bred and was too small to carry a baby to full-term. Lily made it long enough in the womb to be viable, but she suffered a compacting of her spinal column as a result of too little space to grow. When she was born, she didn't take the usual first steps within a few minutes. It is critical that a lamb stand up soon so that she can get the necessary nutrition from her mother. I waited for Lily to stand until it was obvious she was too weak. I carried her to a protected are in our barn and coaxed her mom there with some clean hay. The air was warm with the first hints of spring, but a cool breeze from the north made it clear it would be cold that night. The barn smelled of clean, fresh hay. Lily laid still in a corner when I returned with some things I need to milk her mom and to administer the essential colostrum to Lily afterwards. Her mom's udder was small and very little came out when I milked, but I gave every drop of it to Lily with a syringe. She drank it down quickly. Then, with her laying on my lap, I took a warm bottle with colostrum supplement in it and put the nipple in her mouth using my right hand and with my left hand I held up her chin so the milk would go to her stomach. Her mom watched cautiously from the corner of the barn, a growing look of concern taking over her face. She took a few steps toward us and watched curiously. Then she approached my side and took position next to Lily's back side. She reached forward and licked Lily's bottom, just as she would do if Lily was nursing from her, an action that helps stimulate the young lamb to suck. It's hard to describe that moment, to capture all that I was thinking and feeling in those few, short minutes of cooperating with the two of them to help that lamb have her best shot at life. I was new to farming, and was dealing with my first newborn without Lisa's help. I wasn't at all sure I was up to the task, but Lily's mom gave me a deep sense of confidence and assurance. I have likened it to ordination. It's as if in that moment, Lily's mom chose me to be her shepherd, to help her care for her struggling newborn. It was a powerful moment.

Dec. 4: "Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?" (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

Wonder for me is almost always attached to the natural world and indeed, my life is filled with daily opportunities to be caught up in a deep sense of it. From the long walks through the woods that change and support life in such amazing and diverse ways as the days move us from season to season to the slower, deliberate movement through chores in the morning, I find some much all around me that leaves me breathless and curious at the same time. What I think is missing for me in this area is the long stretches of time when I sit down with pen or computer and put words to those experiences, to find meaning in them beyond what's obvious in the moment, to connect that wonder to a deeper or broader sense of the expanse of my life. That's something I hope to cultivate more in the coming year.

Okay, I'm caught up now. I'll post for today's prompt later. I need to give it some thought.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Preached again

I preached in chapel at the seminary yesterday. The sermon was on the gospel text for the second Sunday of Advent. During our weekly chapel services we use the lectionary texts for the coming Sunday.

Click here for podcast. Scroll down to November 30.

The text: Matthew 3:1-12

Advent comes to us this morning on the jarring, jangly words of a wilderness wanderer, a character who, in our minds, seems a more likely candidate for a mental hospital or a Far Side cartoon than as herald of the coming Christ.

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

Admit it, he lost you at “Repent!,” didn’t he? The very word reminds us of the kind of preacher who turns us off…the one whose approach shames us and leaves us feeling worthless. We tune him out before he really gets started, guarded and protected from the words of someone we’re sure doesn’t really understand our situation. The word repent for many of us is so closely tied to the privileged, fiery preacher who never for a moment considers how his position colors his demands that we can’t really hear it without shutting down. He appears on the scene and with his first word “Repent!” we hit the channel up button on the remote and move on to something else. The only surprising thing in this story, then, is that the man, John the Baptist, actually had a significant following in his day.

What happens, though, if we position the preacher squarely in the midst of the oppressed, facing the religious, political, and economic powers of the day, calling them to repentance? Are we a little more willing to listen to what he has to say? Does the call to repentance make more sense? Some of us may be ready to jump in with a hearty “Amen!” We might even be willing to make excuses for him. You know, something like, “Fighting oppression is exhausting, crazy-making work. Of course, he’s a little odd!”

There’s no doubt his message was meant for those in power. Matthew brings that into clear focus when he calls our attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought John’s baptism. “You brood of vipers!,” he calls them. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Then his message gets more direct. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” In other words, “You don’t really understand what you’re asking for. In the kingdom that has drawn near, your privilege will not allow you to be content with the exclusion of others. Citizenship will be made available to everyone, and so those who would receive the call to repentance will be those who are ready to open their hearts to those without power, to those on the margins, the outcasts, the weak and vulnerable."

I’ve seen a lot of conversation on the internet about a perceived need to move more quickly to the message of Christmas this year. Those who are advocating for less Advent and more Christmas are noting a weariness in their congregations…a weariness from the problems of the economy and the ways it affects them, weariness with all things politics, weariness with war. I get that and it’s something that we need to pay attention to, that need for relief that folks are obviously feeling, but I believe it’s the longing for relief that makes us need Advent all the more. My concern, I guess, is that too quick a movement toward relief in the story of Christmas causes us to run the risk that John saw present with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We might fail to see the Christ when he comes. Advent calls us to prepare, to make sure we’re truly ready to see the Christ.

Nancy Pittman helped call our attention to the importance of this aspect of Advent’s message a couple of weeks ago. To those of us content with life the way it is right now, we need to take heed lest we rush to the joy of Christmas without naming the very real despair of others who suffer. Advent slows us down and asks us to pay attention, to hear the cries of those in pain, to consider the possibility that in our contentment we may be too quick to assume our present experience is all that matters.

John's message of repentance is an invitation to preparation. It calls attention to our easy commitments to a God made in our own image. Advent helps us guard against the temptation to run to the stable and “ooo” and “ahhh” at the sight of a sleeping child who holds so much hope and promise only to depart quickly when the child awakes and screams in hunger or for need of comfort.

John’s call to repentance asks us to let go of our hope that lies in the things of power in this world. It invites us to consider that the kingdom of heaven is more like the woman who makes space in her peaceful, happy life for the neighbor children, whom she admits are difficult to handle, to give them a safe place to play and to learn that their lives don’t have to follow the same pattern of abuse, addiction, and trouble that they see in their parents’ lives. It opens our eyes to see the Christ with the young man who walks through villages and in the dark parts of the cities of the Philippines, pushing a cart full of books, offering education to children who would not get it any other way, in hope that it will provide a future otherwise unavailable. It lets us witness him dwelling among a community that hears the cries of help from Haiti and asks, “How can we be with them?” It urges us to let go of the easy comfort of privilege.

Repent, my friends, for the kingdom of heaven has indeed come near. Are you ready to be a part of it?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall journey

Buttons the cat is gone. Again. She left for her annual through-hike on the Ozark Trail. She goes this time every year. She never lets us know she's leaving, but one day, I'm milking in the barn and the familiar presence is gone. No one jumps in my lap while I'm sitting on the milking stool and kneads my bare legs. After a few days, I realize she's left. I miss her.

This is the third year Buttons has left around this time. The last two years she returned some time in October or November. Seriously, I don't think she's far, but I do wonder why she disappears and steers clear of the farm for so long. And why is it always in September? Last year, I thought it was because we'd moved and she didn't like the new place. The year before, we thought she got into an old home where the owner left for several weeks. Every time we think she's gone for good and have just gotten used to the idea that she won't be back when she suddenly appears. I hope that's the case this time as well.

But I wonder where she goes and why she leaves. Is there something about fall that calls her into the woods, that makes her long to reconnect with the wild cat in her? Are we not feeding her enough to help her fatten up for the long winter outside? Does the sound of goats in heat drive her nuts like it does me sometimes? Do cats have spiritual lives that need tending? Does she go on a spirit quest every year? A silent retreat?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cattle trails

Most of the land we live on is wooded with oak, hickory, pecan, and walnut trees. Cattle trails wind in and out of the forest and provide us with a way to explore the farm. Lisa and I followed one last night through the back pasture and across to an area of the farm where a spring runs and fills several ponds. It's beautiful. Crab apples are ripening, as are the persimmons, filling the air with hints of fall.

The woods never look the same. No matter how often we walk the trails there are places that seem new and unfamiliar. From the lush greens of a rainy spring day to the stark absence of green in winter, the woods show a new face each time we hike. I'm struck by all the life that makes its home in the woods. Last night I walked through something, some tall grass perhaps, and came out with a dark brown patch on my leg. I bent down to investigate just in time to see dozens of tiny little bugs scatter across my leg. Lisa thinks they are chiggers. I'm not convinced, but I brushed them off furiously just in case, and then wiped down with alcohol and showered when I got home.

Our walk last night started with a hike out through the back pasture to close the gate. A cattle trail led us through a part of the farm we hadn't explored before. After a few minutes we reached a place that's familiar, a fork in the path where we'd always turned north. We headed down the familiar path to our favorite pond. The pond is lined with reeds on three sides. There's a beautiful clearing to the north, with a perfect canopy of shade on the edge. We'd like to camp there some day, and hope it will happen soon. Until a few weeks ago, cattle roamed freely through the woods. Neither of us wanted to camp there with them around. As friendly as they are, I wouldn't want to wake up to them checking out our tent.

I love this time of year, when the farm is slowing down enough to allow time to explore. The evenings bring cooler temperatures and the sun's light softens, inviting me to shed the office and spend some time outside after work. There's a sense of urgency in it. Soon, darkness will set as I drive home, giving the last glimpse of light on the western horizon as I pull into the driveway.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The end to a long summer

These days I go to parties where people sit around and play music, eat food we've made with our own hands, and talk about what a horrible summer it's been for tomatoes. I've never been much of the party-going type, but this I can handle. After working all day outside moving fences and doing chores, it's hard to make ourselves get in the truck and drive the 30+ minutes it takes to get anywhere our good friends live, but it does help.

Farming sometimes feels very lonely and isolating. We have neighbors that live fairly close, but we don't see them much and even if we did, we'd still feel isolated. They don't farm. The isolation we experience is of a particular kind. It's the kind where until we make an effort to check in with someone else who is doing what we're doing, we feel like we're the only ones having struggles or going through tough times.

We went to an annual party held by a friend of ours on Sunday. It's a party that marks the end of summer, and for some of us, the end of the farmers market season. It's a good chance each year to catch up with some friends after the busy market season, when it's hard to get together with anyone. Naturally, the conversations turn to what kind of year it's been, and if the conversations on Sunday are any indication, it's been a rough year for farming. The usual playful feel of this party was replaced with a fatigue that was palpable. We were in the truck headed home well before the sun was completely out of the sky....and we weren't the first to leave.

In spite of the struggles, we've had a decent year. It's our first year at this location, and Lisa and the interns did an amazing job of eeking out some good veggies from soil so nutrient-depleted from years of laying fallow that it's hard to imagine much of anything good growing from it. In another couple of years, with lots of good compost and proper cover crop planting, we'll be in good shape. The animals that have managed to fight off the barber pole worm look healthy and well-fed. The dinners have been amazing, and have helped us introduce our farm to new people.

But it's been hard too. The heat has been outrageous, burning up plants and beating up anyone who dares stay out in it very long. It's taken a toll on some of the weaker animals, leaving them susceptible to the barber pole worm which thrives in hot, humid conditions. We've lost two or three lambs already, including Lily, and have two near death. We were able to save two or three that have been infected by the worm, but this worm is wicked and very hard to treat. Worst of all, the anthelmintics that are available to farmers now are growing increasingly ineffective. The worms are developing a resistance to them, leaving us with management of the sheep and goat's grazing as the main option for prevention and protection.

We're not alone. Others are facing the same problem. For some, it may mean not having any lambs left to sell when the time comes. If the cooler weather shows up soon and we see an end to the high temps during the day, we will be fine, but it's hard to lose animals.

At one point during the conversation on Sunday, someone asked if we thought the winter would be mild. No one responded. Another asked if we'd looked in the Farmers Almanac. No one had had the courage. I pray it's mild, well at least not as harsh as last winter. I know a lot of people who could use the break.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Showing up

Okay, I'm here. Writing. Well, that sounds more like I'm doing it grudgingly, which I'm not. This is something I really want to do, but for some reason it's become a struggle. Again. And, no doubt, it's because I keep waging the battle in my head instead of just sitting down to write. Seriously. I think that's a lot of it. I'm mean, my fingers are moving across the keyboard now, so there's clearly no mechanical failure. Odds are pretty good that if I just show up and do this from time to time, I'll occasionally write something that I actually like, and maybe in the process, figure a few things out.

Much of my writing in the past was done to figure something out. I was in a bad situation and needed to get out, so I wrote. I got out and needed to make some changes so I didn't make the same mistakes again, so I wrote. I was alone and had a lot of time to let my mind go to a place far away to think, so I wrote. There are a lot of other reasons to write, remember, to share, to play with words, to create.

It's interesting, just sitting down here to do this, feeling the slick surface of the keys under my finger tips, hearing their click and thud as I press them down, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. There's a sense of relief, actually, recognizing that I'm doing it. I'm not just thinking about it right now.

So, showing up is a start, and now the trick is to let go of my expectations of where it will take me. Yes, that's it. I need to let that go and just write.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Haycation reflection

I've been on vacation for almost two weeks now...vacation from the paying job, the one in the city, the one where I sit inside an air conditioned building all day and either talk on the phone, go to meetings, answer e-mail, or show people around the school, the one where I wear dry-clean-only clothes and carry a briefcase. I have not, however, been on vacation from the farm and have, instead, leaped head first into the farm life, making it my sole vocation for these two weeks. It's been good, albeit hot, the hottest two weeks of the year to be exact. I'm trying not to take it personally that come Monday, when I return to the office, the high for the day will be a mere 90 degrees, a good 12 or 13 degrees cooler than it's been any day this week or last.

Our days start at six and include the usual chores and an assortment of projects around the farm, things like setting up a planned rotational grazing system for the sheep, which included examining and treating the sheep for worms and/or foot rot, cleaning out the barn, hoeing in the garden, and mowing the lawn. We've also managed to host a couple of private dinner parties during these two weeks and come up with our farm plan for the fall and winter months. On a calm day, we're in bed by 9:30 or 10:00. Most days it's been around 11:00. All and all, I'd say, it's been good.

And without two hours of commuting everyday, there's been time for a nap or to read and write and I'm grateful for that. In fact, I'm not really sure how I'll give those things up to be able to return to the office.

Last night we worked with some chickens, clipping their wings so that we can move them to the Hennebago tonight. I looked up and saw stars twinkling in the sky, so many of them, their vastness almost overwhelming. I was struck by a sense of my smallness in the vast scheme of the universe. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my life, for a chance to be human, to live on this earth, to be witness to stars twinkling and chickens cackling and spiders weaving their webs and goats running in a green pasture. I have a truly amazing life.

Amazing to be sure, and a bit surreal at times. We have a buckling who has been a bit sickly this week. He wasn't responding to the treatment we've given him and was very anemic. He needed a blood transfusion, so I loaded him and his mama (so she could be his blood donor) up in my truck and headed into town to our vet. This is not the large animal country vet we normally use, where the sight of a goat would be all in a day's work. This is our small animal, pet vet, a friend who was kind enough to answer the phone at 8:30 this morning and agree to do something that's not part of her normal operation. I think it was the point at which I sat down in the waiting room with the buckling's mama that I realized, "My life is not normal." Did you catch that? I sat in a vet's office waiting room, milk goat in tow, while she stubbornly tried to graze the tile floor.

The little buckling is improving. If all goes well tonight, we'll pick him up tomorrow and wonder why on earth we saw fit to transfuse a goat. He'll grow up, perhaps live his days out on this farm. If we're lucky, he'll breed our milk goats and give us babies as beautiful as he is. Regardless, our lives will carry on, daily looking after the care of 20 goats, 47 sheep, five llamas, six dogs, five cats, and more chickens than you can shake a stick at. We'll manage to grow some vegetables, and we'll host people for dinner parties and treat them to fresh food grown right and cooked well. This is our lives, and it suits me just fine.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sitemeter amusement

Just glanced at my Sitemeter stats and noticed there are a number of people who find my blog by googling "how to introduce a preacher." I'm not sure what's so special about introducing a preacher that drives folks to the interwebs for help, but I have to admit it pleases me that they find a post where I write about the best introduction I've ever heard.

There are a surprising number of folks finding me through searches on things related to dead possums. Those searches take them to a post about my experience with one. This post might actually prove a bit helpful.

I am, however, resisting speculation on why someone in the U.S. House Representatives Information Systems is googling "possum kicking."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sermon: A father and two sons

I had a chance to preach in chapel a few weeks ago. I don't do that very much anymore. I'm not ordained, and have no plans to be. I once felt compelled to wrestle with that and kept trying to find a way to make ordination make sense for me. But, something shifted for me last summer and I'm happy to report there's no longer a struggle. It's a huge relief to say I'm a lay person, one who is theologically trained. And one who occasionally preaches.

So here you a go, a sermon on the text from Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32. There's a podcast of it on the seminary website for those who would prefer to listen to it: Go to this page and scroll down to 3-10-10.


The familiarity of a text such as our gospel reading for this week causes me to work a lot harder to find meaning in it. A surface glance doesn’t reveal much, at least not for me. And in the case of the particular text for this week, there is so much there that it’s hard to figure out where to focus my attention. I’ll admit even to a momentary longing that the lectionary actually offered up for us the parable found earlier in the 15th chapter of Luke, the one about the lost sheep. I am, after all, a shepherd now, and let me tell you, I have a lot to say about searching for and finding lost sheep. With lambs running around the farm, it’s a daily experience. And can you imagine the props I could bring to breathe new life into that story!

But, at this point in the middle of our Lenten journey, the lectionary offers up the story of a father and his two sons, a familiar story that we can too easily dismiss precisely because of its familiarity. One that we know so deeply in our bones is one that requires work to let it shed new light on our faith.

For me, some of the newness came as I paid attention to the pace of this story. It covers a lot of time in a relatively short space. It seems to be in a hurry to get a particular point. The younger son asks for his inheritance. It’s given to him. He blows it on wild living. He comes to his senses, and returns home. Phew! The details are sparse, just enough to give us some sense of the significance of what happens next. And with that the story shifts to a moment, one particular moment only. And it is the meaning of that moment and all that is behind it that remains the focal point of what’s left in the text, the moment when a father embraces the son he fears he’s lost.

Reading the part of the story that focuses on the younger son, my thoughts almost always immediately go to a ballet performance I saw when I was in college. Ballet choreographer George Balanchine created a beautiful interpretation of the story, set to the music of Prokofiev. In the ballet, the younger son is seen dragging himself through the mud and slop of the pigs, an image made more profound in my mind as I grew to understand the significance of a Jewish man finding himself caught in that situation. The choices the younger son made didn’t just mean he ended up penniless. They ultimately led him to give up his family and his faith. Balanchine understood the younger son’s decision to return to his father to be an indication of remorse and repentance. The principle dancer in this ballet is seen dragging himself across the floor, no longer walking, perhaps weak from hunger, but more likely, given the downward gaze and lack of eye contact when he meets his father, an act of contrition, a sign of his sorrow for what he’s done. In the text, we are given every reason to believe that too. When he comes to his senses, he recognizes that his suffering is needless. He knows a man, his father, who treats the least in his household better than he’s being treated by the one he hired himself out to. In what he says both to himself and to his father, he demonstrates at least a cognitive awareness that his actions mean the relationship has to be different. He can no longer be a son, but his hope is that he can at least be a hired hand in his father’s household. It would be better than his current situation by far. He doesn’t seem to expect to go back to what he had before. He’s merely trying to improve his current situation and turning to the resources he has to do so.

The climax of the ballet is the point at which the father sees his son from afar and runs to meet him. The music reaches an emotional crescendo as the beautifully choreographed scene shows the father run and fall to his knees to catch the son who is unable to stand, and from that position on the ground they embrace. There’s no distance, no holding back. The depth of each one’s longing for the other is seen in the profound absence of separation.

For most of us, it’s not hard to identify those times in our lives when the regret of our actions leads to a shame that keeps in place a distance from those we’ve hurt. It may be physical distance. It may be emotional distance, but it is separation nonetheless. There’s an invisible line we feel can no longer cross because of what we’ve done. We know what it’s like to be out of God’s presence, don’t we. We know what it’s like to feel the sheer force and impact of the consequences of our poor choices. And, certainly, in this season of Lent, we are invited to an examination of our lives that sheds light on those things which separate us from God’s love. And when we recognize those things and become aware, we need only turn to God and know that God stands ready to receive us. Indeed, that is the good news of the gospel. And what beautiful news it is to be reminded of God’s grace, to be reminded of and to know that we are invited to experience again those moments when the past is overlooked so that the distance that separates us might be overcome.

There are some who are satisfied with the story ending there. Theologically, I don’t think it’s particularly troubling to do that. But it is hard for me to simply ignore the fact that there’s more. There must be a reason for it, right? This is, after all, the story of a Father and his TWO sons.


Balanchine stopped too soon, I believe. There’s such richness when we shift our perspective to look at this scene through the eyes of the older son.The story is still focused on that moment, the one when after the father and younger son embrace, the father casts everything else aside and throws a party. He’s been watching and waiting for the day when his son would return. What he longed for has happened and nothing else matters in that moment. It’s an occasion to celebrate, and so he tells the servants to put a robe, the best one, on his younger son and to kill the fatted calf so that they can eat and celebrate.

And without moving away from this scene the perspective of the story shifts and instead of seeing the celebration through the eyes of the father, we are invited to see it through the eyes of the older son, the one who has been there all along, the responsible one who has followed the customs and honored his father, the hard working one who we see working in the field when the party begins.

He’s indignant when he discovers what’s going on. And if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not terribly hard for us to understand why. In fact, we have some good sound reasoning to help us support the older brother’s position. Isn’t the celebration a bit premature, we might ask? Has he been to rehab? How do we know he’s sincere? Don’t we need evidence of changed behavior to demonstrate that he really understands what he’s done?

The older son is focused on the past. He can’t overlook it. And, in all honesty, there’s some wisdom in that perspective. We know that. If our concern is a changed relationship as we move forward, then the past matters, and we’re wise to make clear our expectations that things be different.

But I believe it’s at this point that the pace of this story reveals something very important to us. The focus of this parable is on that moment of reconciliation, the one in which the past is overlooked and the future doesn’t yet matter. It’s that moment when what was lost is found and the celebration begins, when our hearts are open to the beauty of reconciliation with God and with each other.

And, we like the older brother, run the risk often of robbing ourselves by focusing on the past or the future so much that we can’t allow our hearts to feel the profound joy that comes when, for a moment, there is no distance that separates. Our own self-righteousness or concern for the integrity of the church steals the opportunity for joy.

I wonder how different our lives and churches would be if we would say to ourselves at times, all that matters right now is that what was lost is found, that which was dead has been made alive again. Maybe, my friends, that’s the open door to a true transformation, one that invites something new, not something predicted or controlled. For those of us who are in need of reconciliation, like the younger son, transformation is possible because we’re allowed momentarily the chance not to have to answer for the past or prescribe how the future will look, but are simply allowed to experience in the very depths of our being the profound joy of being reconciled with God. And maybe for those of us who haven’t strayed far from God, what we need to truly be transformed is to allow ourselves the opportunity, momentarily, to enter into the joy of others who find their way home without expecting them to explain the past or demonstrate how things will be different, to participate in the demonstration of God’s grace that makes the transformed life possible.

It’s in those moments when the love of God infuses us and makes possible things we can’t imagine, when resurrection can occur and our lives and faith are given new breath. In the remaining days of Lent, what do you need to let go of to truly experience reconciliation with God? What do you need to let go of to be ready to celebrate with all of God’s children?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Lily smiles for the camera

Shot yesterday after Lily followed me around the farm. There are no words to describe how much I love this lamb!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

An Open Heart and the Will to Live

The following is an article I wrote for the All Souls Church monthly journal Simple Gifts on the theme for the month: salvation.

An Open Heart and the Will to Live

We operate with a simple rule on the farm: If a sick animal shows us she wants to live, we will do everything we can to help her get well. The rule was at the forefront of my mind the day Lily was born. A lamb born to a ewe that was too young to be bred, Lily came into the world without all she needed to survive the first few hours of life on her own.

Too weak to stand or lift her head, Lily needed help getting her first meal. I prepared a bottle and brought it out to the barn where she lay in the soft hay. Her nervous mama paced and called to her. I picked her up and put the nipple to her lips. Mama came over to us and licked Lily’s back, stimulating her to suck, the two of us working together to give the lamb her best shot at life. Lily latched on to the nipple, emptying the bottle in a matter of minutes. I knew immediately she had a strong will to live.

I took Lily in the house as night fell and the temperatures dropped. I held her to my chest while I talked to Lisa on the phone. It’s been a hard winter at the farm. We’ve lost some animals and my heart has been broken more than once. Lisa knew immediately what I needed as I described the situation. I had the basics down, all the necessary care to help keep her alive. But I was tentative and scared. Lisa affirmed all that I was doing, but quickly zeroed in on what was lacking. “You have to open your heart to her. She’s going to break it. You have no control over that. It may be tonight. It may be tomorrow. It may be ten years from now, but she will break it, so accept that and let her in.”

I nuzzled Lily against my chest, and let her rest in my arms. I prayed for my heart to open. Tears fell as she nibbled on my chin. I felt a deep connection to her. I struggled with fear that she would die. I knew the odds. If a lamb doesn’t get up on her own in the first few hours of life, she isn’t likely to live. The impending sense of doom that had lingered since we lost the first animals in the Christmas Eve snow storm crept in over and over again. I wanted her to live but I was afraid to ask for it, afraid to believe that it would happen.

I let her sleep near me. Every few hours, she stirred and I fixed a bottle. For nearly 48 hours, I fed her and stood her up. I talked to her and sang to her. I watched her struggle to get up on her own. Time after time, she’d almost make it, only to collapse with a thud. Until, finally, almost two days after she was born, she got up. Her shaky legs barely able to pull her up, she stood and in seconds began to walk around the room. She walked circles around me while I danced and laughed. I felt the wall that I had so carefully erected around my heart come crashing down. Salvation came to both of us. With an open heart and the will to live, joy returned and lifted us to the sky.

by Rumi

There is no salvation for the soul
But to fall in Love.
It has to creep and crawl
Among the Lovers first.
Only Lovers can escape
From these two worlds.
This was written in creation.
Only from the Heart
Can you reach the sky.
The rose of Glory
Can only be raised in the Heart.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February showers bring....?

If I had a camera with a powerful telephoto lens, I'd take a picture to post here this morning. It would look through our rain-streaked kitchen window out toward the barn. It would show you the soggy barnyard, puddles standing in most of the yard, thick, sticky mud everywhere else. The background would be grey and foggy. And then the photo would land on a lone figure standing in the doorway of the barn, Sugar, a goat with ears down, head drooping slightly. You would see her head leaning on the post at the doorway and her sad eyes looking up toward the kitchen window, pleading with us to do something about this rain. This was my view while I washed the breakfast dishes.

She's miserable. They all are. They'd much rather be headed out to the pasture by now, or climbing up on the round bale of hay. Being confined to the barn is not their style. I hope it lets up enough for them to get out in awhile. There's no telling what the sheep and goats will cook up together in that barn.

One of our ewes had twins while we were over at some friends' for dinner last night. Lisa found them safe and sound when we returned. I checked on them this morning. They were toasty warm and full of life.

The 5-acre field that we'll use for growing is now plowed and ready for Lisa and Kasey to lay irrigation pipes and tape. Planting in the field will begin around March 1. Planting seeds for germination in the greenhouse has already started.

This place is bursting with life, even if some of its livelier beings are a bit thwarted by the rain. Maybe I'll put on some rain gear and go for a walk today.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In the middle of the night.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night. We're still lambing, and have some goats we're concerned about, so I slipped out of bed, put on my jacket, grabbed the headlamp, and walked out to the barn. There was a chill in the air. I pulled my jacket tight around me. A cat stirred from the pile of cats and dogs on the porch and glanced my way through bleary eyes. In a moment, the pile came to life as cats lazily stood, stretched, and yawned. The dog laid motionless, sleeping peacefully after a full night chasing coyotes away.

I walked on toward the barn. The darkness enveloped me as I stepped off the porch and away from the lights at the house. It was quiet. I could hear only my own breathing and the crunch of my boots on the frosty ground. The barnyard is usually so full of activity, lambs and ewes looking for each other, doelings jumping and head-butting, everyone looking for corn. But last night there was one lone woolie, lying next to the fence, to greet me when I entered.

I walked on toward the barn. The sweet smell of hay met me as I walked through the open door. Some animals stirred. The sheep are not used to us yet, so they run when we get too close. Several of them sprang to their feet and ran out toward the pasture. I looked quickly to see if any were showing signs of labor. Then I looked past them to see if there were any ewes down in the pasture on the other side of the barn. Everyone was on her feet. I breathed easier. There would be no babies in the house this night.

On the far side of the barn, the goats were piled up together in a corner. The two or three on the outer edge looked up, but the others continued sleeping. I walked closer to look at them. The one we're most concerned about was in the middle of the pile, completely surrounded by the others. I watched her breathing, soft gentle rises of the area just past her rib cage. She was safe for the night.

I turned to walk back to the house and stepped past the hay feeder. I looked down to see two woolie lambs cuddled together sound asleep in the safest place in the barn. I smiled at their cleverness.

I made my way back to the house. The dog was still asleep but the cats had scattered. I walked through the door, took off my jacket and laid it down. I turned out the lights and went back to the bedroom, walking softly and quietly to keep from waking anyone. I got to the bed and laid down. I closed my eyes, holding in my mind the beautiful sight of the animals safe and warm, sleeping peacefully in the middle of the night. And, soon, I too, was sound asleep again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking requests/suggestions

My life is full. I want to write, but it's hard to find a place to start. What should I write about?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Finding Isaiah

I met a friend for coffee today at a coffee shop I've been to a couple of times, but not for a long time. We walked up to order and were chatting as we got to the counter. The barista overheard me say something about my friend leaving soon, so he turned to my friend and said, "You're leaving?" I could tell that they were familiar with each other. My friend Duane said yes and explained that he's moving to the West Coast. The barista said, "Oh, that's so cliche! Everyone does that!"

The tone of his comment sounded very familiar so I looked a little closer and realized it was Isaiah, the barista who worked at the coffee shop I used to go to pretty regularly. I knew he'd left, but had know idea where he'd gone. It kind of felt like I'd found a long lost friend.

The two of you who've stuck with the blog for the past few years may remember Isaiah was featured in a post I wrote a couple of years ago. I've been thinking about that post all day, laughing about it and fondly remembering the regular back and forth banter with Isaiah.

I'm reposting that old post in honor of finding Isaiah. Here it is, from June 2007:


I had to travel for work today, so my work day started with a trip to the rental car agency to pick up my vehicle. AJ the manager checked me in and asked if I wanted a Mazda 5 or a Subaru. When I rent for work, I usually choose something that blends into the background, is relatively conservative and businesslike, and gets decent gas mileage. I asked for the Mazda 5. I signed the documents, grabbed the keys, and looked as AJ pointed me in the direction of my car.

AJ said Mazda 5 and I replied Mazda 5, but I pictured Mazda 6, a nice generic, nondescript sedan, preferably white or grey in color, something that just sort of disappears into the road when I barrel down the highway. I have this fantasy that neutral- colored cars decrease the likelihood of a ticket. The warning ticket tacked to my bulletin board at work is a testament to the falsehood of that fantasy. Still, I believe it.

At first I thought he was pointing to the red car directly across from me, until I realized, to my relief, that it was a Toyota. I walked up two more cars and saw the car I’d rented. It didn’t look like anything I’d rented before. It was kind of young and hip, I thought. It looked a little like a hatchback, only bigger. I walked up next to it and unlocked the doors so I could put my things in the back seat. As I got closer, I saw that it had a sliding door. “Good god!,” I thought. “I’ve rented a minivan. I can’t drive a minivan. I’m not a mom. I’m single. I’m, I’m, I’m….cool!” I tried the key, thinking maybe the car was unlocked and that I hadn’t, in fact, opened the right car. The key worked.

I pulled the door back and looked in to find that there were six, possibly seven seats. I got serious van vibes and worried about my image. Nevertheless, I was running late and had to get going. I put my things in the back seat and drove off.

It didn’t drive like a van. I was sitting up high, but not above everyone. I could maneuver it easily. Clearly, I was driving a hatchback, I reasoned. I sat back, put a cd in the player, cranked the volume, and set my mind on the trip ahead.

I decided to stop for coffee at a place I frequent. I did a u-turn, pulled into the parking place in front of the shop, got out and walked in. Isaiah the barista walked up from the back room. He smiled and greeted me by name. I’m a regular.

Isaiah is twenty-something, a rock climber who wears designer jeans, retro shirts, and whatever you call those shoes that look like something I rented at the bowling alley when I was twelve. His curly blonde hair flows from his head like a bush. His beard makes him look like Grizzly Adams.

“You get a new car,” he asked. I was stumped. He’d come out from the back of the shop when I walked in. It hadn’t occurred to me that he saw me drive up. I hesitated. “Your car. Is it new? I don’t remember you driving a van.”

Looking down to find my frequent buyer card, I mumbled, “It’snotavan.”


“I said it’s not a van!”

“What is it then?”

“It’s a Mazda 5.”

He nodded his head. “Right. A van.”

“Define ‘van.’”

“You define ‘van.’ You seem to be the one with specific ideas about what it is and what it isn’t. I think you’re a little sensitive about this,” he said chuckling. He stepped back to start my drink. The cup was sitting on the counter under the espresso machine. He pulled the shots and began to the steam the milk. “What’s wrong with driving a van?”

“I’m not a mom. I’m, I’m….well, I’m not a mom.”

“Is there something wrong with being a mom?”

“No. I’m just not one, so I don’t think I should be driving a car that makes me look like one.” I suddenly remember that I’d been offered the Subaru and wondered why I didn’t just take it. Sure, it screams lesbian, but I am one. I could drive it with my authenticity intact, and in that moment, we would have had a very different conversation.

The sound of the steam blowing against the bottom of the metal milk container brought me back. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t actually ordered a drink. I was curious what he was fixing me. “What are you making for me?”

“The same thing you’ve order the last 25 times you’ve been in here.”

“I haven’t been here 25 times.”

“Okay. The same thing you’ve ordered the last 15 times you’ve been here. A large mocha.”


“Is that okay?”

“Um, yeah. I was just going to get something different today. One of those Previa mochas.”

“What’s a Previa mocha?” The blood rushed from my face. As soon as he said it, I knew what I’d done, but I tried to cover it up.

“You know. A mocha with semi-sweet European chocolate. Not that sweet American stuff.”

“That’s not a Previa. Where did Previa come from? Wait. I know what a Previa is. It’s a VAN, a Toyota, isn’t it?”

“Um. Yeah.”

He nearly dropped the milk from laughing so hard. “Why did you think of Previa?”

“Well, I have some friends who have one.”

“Really. Do they have kids?”


“So, it’s not a mom-car to them.”

“Well, no. But, it’s still not right. I mean, I drive up to their house and see it sitting there and I wonder who’s visiting them. They’re not van people. I don’t really know why they have a van.”

“Or maybe you’re just narrow-minded about the whole van thing. Is the regular mocha okay, or do I need to make a Prague mocha?”

“Regular is fine. You’ve already started it.” He picked up the cup, carefully poured the milk, creating the perfect swirl of coffee and milk to look like a leaf. I paid and walked away.

“I’m going to go get in my van now,” I said, looking back over my shoulder.

“That’s right. Embrace it, Linda. Embrace the van.”