Saturday, August 22, 2009

Life Among Schoolchildren

      While many people know me as an Episcopal priest, I am afraid that does not quite pay the bills. Where I have made the really big bucks for the past twenty-nine years is as a school teacher. (For those of you who did not catch the oh-so-subtle humor in that last sentence, please click here).

      I admit the moment I see the first back-to-school commercial on TV (usually around July 1), my blood runs cold, and I feel a tightness in my chest. It always seems like I have just gotten into the slow-paced swing of summer: my lawn is just beginning to fill in the brown patches, I still have ten or twelve huge projects lying unfinished, and here we are talking about sales on binders and pencils and backpacks.

      Yet, as August wanes, I always find myself looking forward once again to new faces and children, old friends and nervous parents, desks and crayons.

      There will come a time soon, when autumn will come with children’s laughter, but I will not be there. I know I will miss them. Still, that is not this year – this year I have bulletin boards to put up, lesson plans to prepare, and the future to welcome through my classroom doors. It is time once again to begin the dance, and I can’t help but smile.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teachers I’d Like to Thank

      It is still August, but there is a chill in the air at night that says fall has returned. With the fall comes school, and thoughts of years past. It seems right to pause and thank some of the teachers who made a difference in my life.

      Thank you, Mrs. Gashio, for reading to us every afternoon in fourth grade. It was my favorite time of day. While afternoon sunlight filtered by the pine trees slanted through the huge windows, I would lay my head on my desk and be transported to other lands, other lives, and all because of the rise and fall of your gentle voice.

      Thank you, Mrs. Brackett, for giving me that “D” in Math in fifth grade. You see, I was one of those cocky kids who always got “A’s”. Mrs. Bracket had a rule, however, that even if you missed only one problem on your math paper, you had to correct it and turn it in – I never bothered. Three days before report cards came out, she told me I was going to get an “F” in Math; she later had a spasm of mercy and agreed to raise it to a “D” if I could learn the Preamble to the Constitution in one night. To this day, I can still recite, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” Thank you for teaching me that ability is not enough without hard work and responsibility.

      Thank you, Mr. Kelly, for taking time to talk to a rather gawky sixth grade boy not just about school, but about faith, and about life. Thank you for being patient with me.

      Thank you, Mr. Pavalakis, for joking with me as you taught me algebra and brought me out of my shell.

      Thank you, Mr. Birmingham, for being a fraud. Although everyone thought you were a high school history teacher, your students knew what you really were… you were a time machine. To this day, I attribute my love of history and political science to you.

      Thank you, Mrs. Williams, for saying to me in your smooth southern accent that, “Reading a big book is just like eating an elephant. You just take one bite at a time.” And despite my objections, I was able to stretch beyond what I thought possible. You are one of the reasons I have become a lifelong reader.

      Finally, thank you, Mrs. Elliot, for encouraging me to write, to keep a journal, to believe that I had something important to say.

      To these and many other teachers I can not remember, I offer my gratitude. Your efforts were not wasted. I doubt you ever made much money or received many awards, and you may not have even known the difference you made. Still, thank you. I believe your lives were well-spent.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos

     My daughters and I tried a new recipe last night from Cooking Light magazine. I highly recommend it for those of you who, like me, are trying to lose or maintain weight. Add a dollop of fat-free sour cream to give it an even better taste. Be sure to wash your hands frequently while cutting the jalapeño! It's really delicious!

     Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos

     Use the same pan to brown the pork and make the rave-worthy sauce. Browning the pork improves its color, and the browned bits enrich the sauce's flavor. Add more jalapeño pepper if you enjoy spicy food.

     1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into thin strips
     1/4 teaspoon salt
     1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
     2 teaspoons olive oil
     1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
     1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
     1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
     1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
     3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
     2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
     8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

     Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and black pepper. Add oil to pan. Add pork, and sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Remove pork from pan; place in a bowl. Add onion and jalapeño to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add broth; reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in tomato; simmer 2 minutes.

     Return pork and accumulated juices to pan. Stir in cilantro and lime juice; cook 1 minute or until pork is done.

     Heat tortillas according to package directions. Spoon 1/2 cup pork mixture into each tortilla; roll up.

     Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 tacos)

     CALORIES 416 (28% from fat); FAT 13.1g (sat 3.6g,mono 6.8g,poly 1.6g); IRON 3.8mg; CHOLESTEROL 75mg; CALCIUM 101mg; CARBOHYDRATE 43.1g; SODIUM 569mg; PROTEIN 30.2g; FIBER 3.6g

     Weight Watcher's Points: 4.5 per taco

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


     The quail have definitely decided my backyard is the place to be today. It reminds me of how it must have looked when the quail rained on the children of Israel after they complained about having no meat. I can not imagine eating the adorable birds with their black plumes bobbing. The babies are hiding under the lilac bush to the left, and both males and females take turns guarding them while others go out and eat.
     They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert.
                                                               - Psalm 105:40, 41

Monday, August 10, 2009

Leapin’ Lizards!

     In addition to the wrens, the quail, the blue jays, and Bandit the squirrel, I have a family of blue-bellied lizards that have lived with me since I moved in. Perhaps it would be better to say I moved in with them.

     I first noticed them when I moved in years ago and was working on the lawn. It started with a large black lizard that would follow me from the front to the backyard. It seemed he was curious about what I was doing. Peeking around the corners, he followed me back and forth all day. Soon, there were two, and then three lizards ranging in color from black to tan to light-gray, all keeping tabs on my activities.

     Now some are afraid of lizards. Not me. I grew up in Nevada, and it was a favorite pastime to catch them. If you get too close, they might also start their “lizard push-ups” – that is them saying to you, “Okay, you think you’re gonna take me? Bring it on chump! I’ll fight you with one claw tied behind my back! You ever see Jurassic Park, fool?!” They are tough to catch and have detachable tails as a final emergency escape. All too often you chase them and end up with only their tail in your hand.

     Their final line of defense if caught is to play dead. We would catch them and then open our palms, and they would lie there as long as you stroked their belly; when you stopped (and they realized there was no immediate danger from this huge predator) they would “wake up” and scamper about.

     They get their common name from the males who have iridescent blue stripes on their bellies often bordered with black or tan. They can also have the same beautiful blue on the scales of their throats. The females have no underbelly coloration. Their scientific name is “Western Fence Lizard”. They occasionally bite, but they do not have teeth, rather a bony plate that has the texture of sandpaper; it does not really hurt, but it can surprise and startle you.

     Over the years, there have tiny baby lizards every spring and three or four stick around the old homestead. I always welcome them and tell them I knew their parents and grandparents very well. One assumes the others set out to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. None of them seem afraid of me, but all of them are curious. If I go out onto the patio to barbeque in the summer, within minutes, a tiny reptilian head or two pops up over the edge of the cement to watch me.

     What I appreciate the most about my lizards is they love to eat ants. We do not have a lot of problems with flying insects like mosquitoes in the high desert, but we have lots of ants. As soon as the ants open a new hole in the dirt, there the lizard family is, enjoying the new location of the Lizard Buffet.

     Want to see these adorable lizards up close? Watch this video to see a blue-bellied lizard with beautiful markings pretending to sleep after being captured:

Sunday, August 9, 2009


     I spent over an hour yesterday, just working on weeds in one part of my yard that I had neglected for a few weeks. It has decorative rock, and getting the weeds out from in between all the rocks is a tough chore. I was on my hands and knees the entire time – compared to spraying, it is still the most effective way to get rid of weeds. I prefer to wear rawhide gloves while weeding – not much gets through them, and I get to feel a little bit like a cowboy.

     It is estimated there are hundreds of weed seeds ready to go in the first few inches of everyone’s topsoil. My definition of a weed is pretty much anything growing where I do not want it to grow. Many of the weeds in Nevada have a built in protection I call the “Oh-You-Got-Me-Sheriff-I’m-A-Goner” technique. You pull on the weeds, and they appear to tear out, but unless you grasp them deeply and firmly, they tear away from their roots and are in full business again within a day or two.

     I got a lot done. Here is the before and after picture of the section:

     I have a lot of weeds in both my yard and my life. Weeds in my life are things like not getting in better physical shape, procrastination, impatience, etc. What I know about weeding is probably true about life too. You have to weed, and then spray, and then weed some more – it just does not end. The weeds are always present, so maybe I should not be so shocked when they start sprouting again. The trick is just to spend a little time regularly weeding both my lawn and my life.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cries for Grace

     Science Fiction writers have always managed to include aliens who have the ability to read minds. I have always thought this would be an unmitigated disaster. This week, however, it has come to me that perhaps one form of telepathy might make the world a bit better: What would it be like if we could hear the cries for grace all around us? If we could, perhaps, hear others when they plead for mercy from us, perhaps it would change how we treat one another.

     Maybe we would back off the bumper of the person driving slowly ahead of us if we could suddenly hear, “Please understand I'm driving too slowly because I’m coming back from the funeral of my husband of forty years. I‘m numb. I don’t know how I am going to go on.”

     Might we understand a young man’s anger better if were able to eavesdrop on his thoughts: “I’ve never accomplished anything in my life. I’m worthless.”

     Could we be a bit more patient with an elderly person in the check-out line while she sorts slowly through her change purse if we could read the thought, “Oh please, God, I’m so frightened. Please let me have enough money for this.”

     The chorus must rise all around us every day – pleas for grace, for understanding, for mercy, for compassion. They rise from grown men, children, and from the disabled. Young mothers and old men; black and white; gay and straight, all pray for grace from you and from me. Even animals pray for grace, I believe.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

     There will come a time when we will understand one another completely and know absolutely all the many reasons why each one of us is the way we are. We will know about all the cries for grace each of us hoped for from one another every day. Until that time, maybe we do not need telepathy.

     All we really need is grace.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reno Carjacker Foiled by Stick Shift

     If it were not for the fear his victim, a fifty-seven year old registered nurse, must have experienced, you would almost feel sorry for this guy. His photo in the newspaper was just kind of pathetic.

     A 23-year-old man remained jailed Tuesday after Reno police said he allegedly returned his car jacking victim’s keys because he couldn't drive her manual transmission.
     Read the whole story here: Reno Gazette-Journal

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bread of Angels

     “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

                         – John 6: 35

     The crowds in today’s Gospel had felt the power of bread. They had just seen the miraculous feeding starting with only five barley loaves and two fish, but that wasn’t enough. They followed Jesus looking for more bread. Jesus doesn’t miss a beat and begins again to teach them about real bread. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

     So, how do you get this real bread? If you go back to the original word for manna, it comes from a Hebrew expression meaning, “What is it?” Sometimes we do not recognize bread when it is all around us. You can’t bake it yourself, but you can be ready to recognize this bread, this manna, this "Bread of Angels" as the Psalmist says, when it is offered.

     Manna wasn't found in the Israelites’ houses, they had to go outside to gather it. We find this bread in paying attention to God in others, in relationships, in attending worship, in getting outside our own problems and helping another. We this find bread in scripture and in prayer.

     Never underestimate yourself – you are someone’s priest. Someone you might not have even met yet or someone you know well is looking to you this very day for bread. They’re looking to you for compassion. They’re looking to you for forgiveness. They’re looking to you for love. They’re looking to you for grace. They’re looking to you for the Bread of Angels.