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.”

Winter garden magic

Lisa and Kasey grow our garden using methods developed by Eliot Coleman, author of a popular book Four Seasons Harvest. Coleman has been a leader in the movement toward small-scale sustainable farming for many years. What he teaches dispels the notion that reliance on local farms for your produce means you only get fresh vegetables in the summer. He teaches ways to have fresh produce year-round.

I had the pleasure of experiencing this joy for the first time last year. Lisa kept a couple of cold frame garden boxes near the house. She grew spinach, kale, chard, and lettuces last year. A cover made with a wood frame and greenhouse plastic was placed over the raised bed any time the temperature dipped below freezing. The cover kept the plants warm and protected from frost. When the sun would shine and the temperatures jumped above freezing, the cover came off, allowing the plants to soak up the sun's rays or get some moisture from the rain. When it was frigid or snowy, the lids stayed on tight, keeping the plants protected from the damaging weather.

This year, Lisa and Kasey planted a winter garden at the farm to provide produce for our community supported agriculture (CSA) members. Rather than using raised bed boxes, they planted in a plot of land that receives a lot of sun from the south and has some protection from the north winds. Small metal hoops were placed in each of the beds, over which they lay a layer of fabric insulation and greenhouse plastic. They've planted all of the same things Lisa planted last year, and included some broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.

Amazingly, the plants, for the most part faired well in the Christmas Eve storm. With the exception of the cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, which were in a bed where the plastic was blown off in the strong winds that we received, the plants have done well. Lisa and Kasey will have to work quick to harvest in these frigid temperatures, but even with the cold weather they can provide the CSA members with fresh produce.

A friend from work got curious about gardening this past year and learned a lot from Lisa. She's been keeping a cold frame of her own in her back yard in midtown Tulsa. She's so excited about it she told a friend who lives in Texas what she was doing. He's in town this week for a class at the seminary and is watching her cold frame with curious skepticism. He bought the book Four Seasons Harvest and is considering options for himself.

One of the greatest pleasures of my life is getting to eat fresh salad from the garden in the middle of winter. It's magic!
Pictures were taken by Lisa.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Farm bio: The long version

I had to shorten my bio for the farm website so I thought I'd post the longer version here:

It took exactly two days and two nights at the Living Kitchen to get me hooked. Some friends and I were farm sitting to allow Lisa a much needed break, and while we didn’t do nearly all the work the farm entails, the daily routine of milking, feeding, and harvesting provided a rhythm for my life that made my soul sing. I left telling a friend, “I’m going to live on a farm someday. I don’t know how or when, but I’m going to do it.”

I moved to Tulsa in 2006 determined not to make the same mistakes I made years earlier when I moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Months before my move I started reclaiming parts of my life that had been buried under books and hidden in corners of a library while I tried to finish a Ph.D. I lost 70 pounds, started running again, became more concerned about what I ate, and most importantly, got out of the house regularly and reconnected with nature. When I got to Tulsa, I found rich opportunities to allow those pursuits to grow, including the chance to work occasionally at the Living Kitchen, farm sitting, helping plant potatoes, shoveling out barns, raising a yurt, really anything that needed to be done. I loved the chance to be outside, to be connected to the source of the food I ate, and Wow! did I eat when I went out to the farm!

In 2009 my level of commitment to the Living Kitchen shifted when I moved here to live and work. I still hold a full-time job in Tulsa, which I enjoy, but in the waking hours when I’m not at work, I have the chance to help with the animals, work in the garden, do projects around the farm, and assist with some of the administrative tasks that keep the farm running. I also get to hike and fish!

My life’s work has centered on spirituality. I’ve worked as a counselor and chaplain and in graduate education for ministers. At the heart of my spiritual interests is a deep love for the natural world. Farming for me is an expression of my spiritual life. As my role at the Living Kitchen evolves, I hope to offer opportunities to assist others in exploring their spirituality using the amazing resources the land and its fruits provide.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Back to the office

So today I head back to the office. It feels like it's been a month since I've been there. In reality it's only been about 11 days. The long commute in will help me shift gears to the work that lies ahead for me there. It's going to be busy!

The weather forecast for this week keeps changing. Every time we check it, the lows get lower. With some windchills below zero later this week and the prediction of another snow storm, I'm so glad we managed to get the barn enclosed. As we were working on it yesterday and the day before, we could feel the temperature rise in the barn as we added walls. I hope and pray it keeps the animals warm!

The propane truck comes today. We ran out on Tuesday of last week and have managed pretty well with a couple of small radiator heaters. I'm ready to have the dryer back too. The laundry has been piling up.

We will be getting a wood stove soon. We really prefer to have one for many reasons. For starters, it will help us cut back on the propane we use. It also gives us a good source for heat and for cooking if the electricity goes out, which will no doubt happen some time before winter is over. The wood stove gives me a great sense of security. I'll be glad when we have it in.

All that has happened the past few weeks has made me conscious of how much we rely on energy resources. We are working to be more intentional, again, about how much we use. That means making the most of any trip we make to town so that we can cut back on the number we make each week. It means using the sustainable practices that we know work. And for me, that means living in line with my values, something I can get excited about it.

So while it's cold and I'm headed back to the office this week, I'm coming into this new year humbled by the experiences I had over my break, and ready to practice what I preach. I sure wish they made dress Carharrts. My office is pretty cold. I could sure use some!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Another year

...and what a year it's been. So much has happened to enable me to live a dream. I have a lot to be grateful for...amazing love, a chance to live and work on a farm, some growth in admissions at the seminary, wonderful friends and a deep sense of connection to this place and to the community that surrounds us. If that's how 2009 is ending, 2010 should be absolutely amazing.

December ended with my initiation into farming. I've been a farm sitter and have helped out around here a lot for the past few years, but when Lisa went to Seattle for a week and Kasey went to be with his family for a few days, I found myself solo farmer for nearly a week. The farm has grown. We now have 28 ewes, a ram, and several little lambs added to the goats and llama that we have. I was expecting lambs to be born while Lisa was gone, and indeed a healthy baby boy was born the day after Christmas, all without any help from me. Mama and baby are doing quite well.

A winter storm was predicted for the time Lisa was away, but they were making it sound like it wouldn't amount to much. As it got closer to time for the storm, the predictions grew larger and larger. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, we were hearing "Blizzard Warning," words that are rare in these parts. That day rain turned to sleet and things started icing up pretty quickly. I checked on the animals and though they were clearly cold, all seemed okay. The winds started picking up and I found myself checking the weather radar every few minutes. The storm seemed to be moving on and it appeared at one point in mid-afternoon that we were nearly out of the woods, not much more than sleet and a little bit of snow. Oklahoma City had been hit hard, about 10 inches they were saying, and I could see on the radar how the storm was hammering them.

A few minutes later I looked out the window and saw snow coming down sideways with almost no visibility. I looked at the radar again and realized something had caused the storm to stall out on top of us. I pulled on my Carharrts and coat and raced around to check on animals. The snow was drifting in the barn. The area where we kept our bucks was quickly receiving a covering of snow and I could tell that there wouldn't be much dry, warm space left for everyone. I knew it was crazy, but I opted to put the does in the milk barn for the night and coaxed the bucks into the does area of the barn.

I slept uneasy that night. I had to make myself get up and go outside the next morning to see what had happened. There was snow everywhere. It was beautiful to see the sunrise on the frozen acreage, the faint hints of light peaking up over the hill beyond the pond, just beginning to reflect off the ice that covered it. I stepped into the barn and found everyone huddled. The two bucks were still lying on the ground, cuddled together to stay warm. Everyone else was standing. There was a four-foot drift just outside the barn, creeping into the south end. Everywhere I turned there was snow.

I fed everyone and went back in to get ready to milk. When I went back out I checked on the bucks again. They seemed to be listless and not very responsive. I called Lisa and made the decision to get them in the milk barn where I could turn on a heater. They were so cold at that point that they couldn't walk. I had to carry them to the barn. I laid them on a thick bed of hay, turned on the heater and grabbed several blankets to put over them. A friend of ours recommended putting hot water bottles under them to help warm them up, so I did that as well. I laid on top of them and talked to them, alternating blankets and water bottles. Lisa stayed on the phone with me for a long while, coaching me, talking to the boys when I'd put the phone to their ears.

In the end, all that I tried didn't work. They had already shut down too much when I found them. They both died that day in the barn. It was hard to accept. It still is at times.

But I find myself as I move into this new year, aware of all that we've accomplished in 2009, trying to celebrate what did happen those few days when I was here alone, deeply aware that I am not in control. I play a role here. I am responsible for the care of these animals, a responsibility I share with Lisa. A responsibility I share with the animals and the elements too. I won't always be able to save the animals. At some point, our best efforts fall short, and I'll learn from those times, just as I've learned from this one.

Being a farmer is not about being a hero. This narrative I write of my life will not have its heroines. It will be the story of living beings learning to live to within a balance of life, each playing a role, each impacting the other. There's a rare beauty in that. I've seen it intimately these past few days. It's like seeing the face of God, I think. I can't walk away the same.