Your Love Defends Me

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to do something that was way outside my comfort zone.  I stood up and read one of my poems as part of a special Sunday night worship service at our church.  It was something that I had never done before and I was legitimately pretty terrified.  It was really putting myself out there.  However, I found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in worship and one in which I feel I grew as a writer, speaker, Christian, and person in general.

The topic of the poem was answering the question of whether or not Jesus is still relevant in our day to day lives.  I wrote it to lead into the song “Your Love Defends Me,” by Matt Maher.  So, if you’re reading this and you are a Christian, then read it as an encouragement that Jesus can be relevant in your life today.  If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, then try to come at it with an open mind and just appreciate the poetry and come to a deeper understanding of something that Christians believe.

Also, since this poem was written to be performed, not necessarily read, the rhythm and meter is a little bit quirky at times.  If you want to hear the song that this poem preceded, go to this link to find it.  I hope you enjoy this poem and come away with some kind of deeper under standing or enlightenment.

Who is Jesus? That’s a topic for deliberation.
I know that whenever it comes up in conversation.
There’s usually some kind of confrontation
It’s a question that can bring a lot of consternation.
But I think the issue that causes much of the strife
Is not who He is but what is His role in our life.
I mean is He still alive and active? Is He relevant?
Or are we talking and singing these songs just for the hell of it?
And when I say hell of it a pun is definitely intended
Because most of us see His role as just a ticket to get to Heaven.
But today I would really like to lay before you
Three ways that Jesus can be so much more to you.

First, Jesus can be a source of motivation
He increases our hearts’ emotions call it cardiac inflammation.
Jesus gives to our lives a meaning and a mission.
He places in our hearts a more extensive conviction
And sends us to go far outside our comfort zone
To do things that we never would dream to do on our own.
He might send you off to Africa to teach kids how to read
Or you might stay here with Agape or Jesus Prom and serve those with special needs.
He might send you to share His love and grace with your neighbor down the road
Or you may end up in Piedras Negras even though tu no hablas espanol.
You could help somebody clean their gutters by getting on a ladder
Or fight against racial injustice by joining a group like Black Lives Matter.
Either way my point is that we get comfortable and, now don’t call me crazy
That comfort causes us in truth to become a little lazy.
So, the first way Jesus has a function in our day to day
Is He gives our lives a purpose and He sends us on our way.

Part two
Some people say that Christians have completely lost their touch
They say this Jesus guy is nothing more than a simple crutch
What comes into my mind whenever words like these are spoken
Is that it seems like you just haven’t yet had your legs been broken.
And that’s awesome I mean please please don’t get me wrong
But I’ve found in life that eventually it simply won’t be long.
I haven’t lived that long but I’ve seen enough of this world in which we’re living
To look down at my cards and know it’s a loaded hand we’re given
See the history of the world begins in Genesis chapter One
Where we find God’s plan for how He wanted creation to be run
He created and it was good and that’s how it’s intended to be
Problem is, if you keep on reading that you’ll get to Genesis Three.
Where we come to the entrance of a little thing that we call sin.
And it corrupts the entire Earth and everything we find therein.
And everyone’s got a chapter full of dark and dismal days
The pain of them still lingers even though you’ve turned the pages.
And thinking we can heal ourselves is how the devil tricks us
When Jesus love is the only thing on Earth that can truly fix us.
So the second way that Jesus Love can be real to us today
Is that he has the ability to heal us from our pain.

Part Three
We’re in a battle and this whole world’s the battleground
Satan’s stationed at the center with his forces gathered round.
He’s got demons of depression, addiction, anxiety
And pressure to look perfect placed on us by society.
Hatred and bigotry
Lust and pornography
Christians fighting Christians just because of greed and jealousy.
He’s used these for millenia his tactics are tried and true
And if we ever solved them he’d just switch to something new.
See he’s got the human weaknesses all spelled out to the letter
We’ve been fighting them for years and believe me it’s not getting better.
No way on Earth can we protect ourselves from his attacks
He doesn’t fight a fair fight he’ll just stab us in our backs.
The problem is our thinking that we have to fight alone
We wander into battle just to struggle on our own.
But Jesus already won this war, he’s beaten Satan’s armies
When he is fighting for us there is nothing that can harm us.
So the third thing Jesus does to help us out along the way
Is he gladly comes to join us as we march into the fray.

So I hope tonight these words have helped to clear up some confusion
Of Jesus’ role today so let me say that in conclusion
We all get lazy so we need his love to send us.
We’re all broken so we need his love to mend us.
We’re all helpless so we need him to defend us.
His love defends us.

 

As always, please click on the link in the lower right corner of the screen to follow the blog.  You will be sent a confirmation email.  Thank you so much for reading.

Lonely Lives the Spider

The other morning was foggy and misty all around.  As I got out to mow one of the parks at work, I looked over the field next to the park and saw about a thousand spider webs still covered in the morning dew.  It was really an incredible sight.  As I got closer, I saw that each spider web actually had a spider sitting in the middle of it. All alone.

When you really look at spiders, many of them truly are beautiful.  They possess a deadly elegance not only in their physical appearance, but in their webs as well.  However, as I looked across the field at 1,000 solitary spiders alone in their webs, I wondered if they ever get lonely.  I mean, the only time that anything comes to visit them in their web, the spider kills it.  So, in true hipster fashion, I wrote a poem about it. Enjoy.

She sits enthroned in the morning mist
The arachnid queen of her silken fortress.
The dewdrops are diamonds that play on her strings
But they’re jewelry of death for the arthropod kings.

They clamor to her courtside, make haste for her hall
As a dutiful hostess she welcomes them all.
Her beauty is ravishing her charm is divine
Her allure irresistible but far from benign.

Will the spider’s rare radiance the fly even remember
As he slowly drifts off to his eternal slumber?
Or will her fair memory fade and be gone
In the foggy gray morning of the vast great beyond?

Baking on Saturday – Pumpkin Muffins

Repurposing Saturday mornings and leftover casseroles into fun learning times and delicious pumpkin muffins.

One of the things that I really love doing is baking.  Say what you will about my masculinity or what not. I’m ok with it.  I really enjoy it.  Cooking in general is something that I want to pass on to my own kids.  So, I’ve started a routine in which Saturday mornings, after breakfast, the kids and I do some kind of a baking project.  Two weeks ago we did zucchini bread.  This week, in honor of impending autumn, we did pumpkin muffins.  We had a leftover pumpkin casserole from last week (similar to a sweet potato casserole but pretty bland and gross to be honest) in our fridge.  So we re-purposed it into muffins.  Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp salt

1 cup of brown sugar

2 cups of canned pumpkin (I used the leftover casserole)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup no sugar added applesauce

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

Yields 24 muffins.

*Notes on the recipe – The vegetable oil and applesauce are interchangeable, you can do a full cup of vegetable oil with no applesauce or a full cup of applesauce with no vegetable oil. I like to substitute applesauce for oil in recipes as much as I can.  It adds fiber, vitamin C, and sweetness without a lot of sugar and eliminates a lot of fat calories.

Also, to make the recipe vegan, substitute about a cup of applesauce for the eggs.  However, if you do this, I would do a full cup of vegetable oil instead of the 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce in the recipe.

Last, 24 muffins is a lot of muffins.  However, I find that there is usually about 2 cups of pumpkin in the can that you buy from the store and it’s ridiculous to use only half the can because there are very few things that you can do with half a can of leftover pumpkin. So, this recipe should use about 1 can of pumpkin.  If there isn’t enough pumpkin to get the full 2 cups, substitute applesauce for the rest.

Step One – Dry Mix

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First, what you need to do is preheat the oven for 350 *F.  I don’t always do this with a moist bread like zucchini, pumpkin, blueberry etc.  I have found that putting the bread in before the oven is fully preheated helps cook the bread through without burning the outside.  Usually it just adds about 5 min to the overall baking time.  However, if you don’t want to do this, then preheat.  Get two muffin tins of 12 cups and spray them with cooking spray.

After you’ve prepped the oven and muffin tins, you need to combine the dry ingredients.  So, in a large mixing bowl, add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. mix these together with a fork and set aside.  However, if you’re cooking with children like I am, set in a high place.  My children have discovered that if they blow hard enough into the bowl, flour flies up in a cloud and blankets everything in white. Word to the wise.

 

Step Two – Wet Mix

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In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, and applesauce. Whisk it together for about 2 minutes.  I generally don’t let the kids do this as most of the wet mix will end up on the table.

 

Step Three – Combine the wet and dry mix

Take the wet mix and add it into the larger dry mix bowl.  Using a large spoon, stir it until the batter is smooth.  Usually it takes about 2-3 minutes of good mixing to achieve this.  When I do this with the kids, I usually get the batter mostly mixed on my own and then let them take over.  This avoids spills and ensures that the batter is completely mixed.

Step Four – Distribute the batter

Using the same large spoon, evenly distribute the batter throughout the muffin tin.  Usually, you’ll want to fill the tin 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.  The muffins will rise as they bake and not overfilling the tin will ensure that the batter is cooked all the way through.  If you overfill, the outside of the muffin will burn and the inside will not be cooked thoroughly.

Step Five – Baking

Place the muffin tins side by side in the oven.  Baking usually takes about 25 minutes.  I would check the muffins at about 22 to see if they are done though.

Step Six – Post Oven

Almost as soon as I pull the muffins out of the oven, I flip them out of the tin like the picture to help them cool.  About 10-15 minutes later, I take them out of the tin entirely.

These muffins are great served warm and topped with a little bit of butter.  They stay fresh and moist and pair excellently with hot coffee for breakfast as well.  Health wise, they have about half the amount of sugar as most similar recipes and have the applesauce and pumpkins for extra fiber and nutrients. For other healthy options, you can add flax seed, or substitute some of the flour for oats.

20180915_102421Well, I hope you enjoy these pumpkins muffins.  I think they make a fantastic and somewhat healthy fall treat and are fairly easy to do making them a fun learning activity for your kids.

If you tried this recipe and would like to add some advice or something you did different, please leave a comment in the comment section.  As always, please follow the blog by clicking on the link in the lower right corner of your screen.

25 Signs Your Child is not a Toddler Anymore

I get to spend a lot more time with my kids over the summer.  It hit me the other day that the boys are really not toddlers anymore.  It was kind of a sad and surreal moment for me.  Like how did this happen without me realizing it?

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It’s something that I want and yet don’t want at the same time.  I mean, things are a lot easier with them being less dependent on me for everything but at the same time… I don’t know, it’s just weird.  I don’t think that it was any one thing that led me to the conclusion that they are out of that phase.  It was more of a mix of different things.  So here are 25 signs that your child is not a toddler anymore.

  1. When you let them help you with the dishes or other chores, it actually saves you time instead of adding more time to the task.
  2. When they run up to you crying and you ask them what happened, the story that they tell you is intelligible and coherent.
  3. When they brush their teeth on their own, you walk away believing that their teeth are in fact cleaner than when they began.
  4. Their drawings actually resemble what they say they drew.
  5. They can buckle themselves into their own car seat.
  6. They stop constantly eating things that are not food
    (i.e. crayons, rocks, spiders, socks, etc.)
  7. The people they mention in their prayers at night include people outside their immediate family.
  8. They don’t cry for haircuts anymore.
  9. They stop growling at strangers in Wal-Mart/Aldi, etc.
  10. They stop caring as much about what color plate they get at lunch.
  11. They don’t use their spoon to drink water out of their cup anymore.
  12. They can actually sit through an entire 30 min episode of a show.
  13. You can let them eat their lunch on the couch.
  14. They realize that it doesn’t make sense that the characters in Veggietales pick things up when they don’t have hands.
  15. When they can sit still enough that cutting their fingernails doesn’t feel like you’re going to dismember them.
  16. There are several activities you can no longer do indoors because too much stuff gets broken. i.e. soccer, kickball, wrestling, coloring, eating anything spherical, etc.
  17. They understand your sarcasm and respond in kind.
  18. Having them clean up their own spills, messes, toys, etc. does not take significantly longer than just doing it yourself.
  19. You can trust them to get dressed and remember all the essentials.
  20. If they’re in a different room and you don’t hear them for 15 seconds you don’t automatically assume something has been destroyed (Again, with Izaiah, this doesn’t actually apply…we always assume something has been destroyed).
  21. They can actually chew gum without just swallowing it after 10 seconds.
  22. When you pitch the wiffleball and then flinch because that sucker might be coming back at you pretty fast.
  23. When they just climb over the baby gate so you leave it open.
  24. When naps become an “if” not a “when.”
  25. When they remember medications that they need better than you do.

Like I said, it kind of a bittersweet feeling that at least two of my kiddos are no longer toddlers.  I’d like to here some of the things that your kids did or signs that you saw to show you when you knew yours weren’t toddlers any longer.  Please leave any stories in the comments section.  As always, if you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog by clicking in the lower right corner.

Mexican Chicken Cornbread Casserole

So let me start by saying that I had to look up how to spell the word “casserole.”  Spelling has never been my strong suite.  If you have ever come over to have dinner at our house, chances are pretty good that you’ve had this dish.  It’s a staple of our family so I thought that I would do my first recipe on the blog.  This is one our favorites.  It’s a little spicy but not so spicy that the kids don’t eat it.  I’ll throw in some modifications to it at the end so that if you make it, you can adapt it to fit your own tastes.  Let’s start out with what is in the dish.

Ingredients

2 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 can of black beans (drained)

1 can of cream corn

1 12oz bag of frozen corn

1 4oz can of fire roasted diced chiles

1 can of diced tomatoes (drained)

1 package of taco seasoning

1 package of sliced mozzarella cheese

1 8.5oz box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

1 egg

1/3 cup of milk (whichever milk you want. I use whole milk)

 

Step One

Preheat the oven to 250.  Boil the chicken breasts in a large saucepan until they are cooked thoroughly and then pull them apart using two fork.  The chicken should separate into small stringy pieces.  Place the pulled chicken into a large mixing bowl.

Step Two

Add the beans, cream corn, frozen corn, chiles, tomatoes, and taco seasoning into the bowl with the chicken. Mix it all together thoroughly.

Step Three

Spread the mix into a 9″ x 13″ glass pan.  Place the slices of mozzarella cheese on top of the mixture.

Step Four

Prepare the Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix according to the directions on the box.  Add the mix, egg, and milk and stir together.  Usually, I use a fork to do this and it works pretty well.  Spread the mix on top of the cheese slices.

Step Five

Bake the casserole at 250 for 45 min.

Step Six

Increase the oven temperature to 400.  Bake the casserole for an additional 15 min or until the middle of the cornbread mix is baked through.  If the edges start browning too quickly, decrease the oven temperature to make sure that the cornbread is cooked all the way without burning.  Stick a fork into the middle of the dish.  It should come out clean.

Step Seven

Eat the food Tina!

 

Here are some additional options.

Vegetarian (Not absolutely Vegan)

Substitute 2 cups of brown rice for the chicken.  Brown rice and black beans in combination with each other provide all the essential amino acids to create a complete protein.  When preparing the brown rice, try adding lime juice or lemon juice to water for a citrusy flavor.  I’ve found flavoring rice by adding things to the water can go a long way in creating unique tastes without adding a lot of additional calories.  If you are a strict vegan, then use a vegan cheese and a vegan cornbread mix.  I have never used it, but Jiffy does have a vegetarian cornbread mix with directions on how to and what to substitute to make vegan cornbread.

More Spice?

If you’re like me, you like a little heat in your meals.  You can add some heat to this one pretty easily.  You can simply add red pepper flakes to the casserole mix.  You could add some fresh diced jalapenos to the cornbread mix.  Or you could substitute a hotter pepper for the fire roasted diced chiles.  One time I made this, I added diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce because ALDI doesn’t have the fire roasted diced chiles…I liked it a lot.  The rest of my family couldn’t eat it.

More Cheese Please?

Because who doesn’t like more cheese in their life?  You can add a cup of shredded cheddar cheese to the cornbread mix before you spread it on top.  It adds more cheese and more flavor but also more calories and more expenses.

 

Well, that’s all for the first recipe.  If you actually try it at home, please comment and let me know how you liked it or if you needed to make any modifications (i.e. cooking times and temps, etc.)  If you did anything else to change the recipe with ingredients or something, please comment as well with what you did and how it turned out.  Hope you enjoy this.  As always, please follow the blog by clicking on the link in the lower right hand corner of the page.  Thanks for reading.

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Who am I?

It seems for the last couple months especially, my entire newsfeed on FB, most Snapchat stories I follow, and most of the national and even local news have been focused on the racial divide that is still overwhelmingly pervasive in the United States.  I’m going to be completely honest and say that this is one of the things in life that simply weighs the heaviest on my heart.  It saddens me to see people so divided and hateful towards each other.  I was speaking with one of my best friends about it and he said, “It just shouldn’t be such a struggle to not hate each other.”

One of the things about the entire issue that has continually bothered me the most is the Christian Church’s part in it.  I’ll put a caveat in and say that some churches are better about it than others.  However, as a whole, the Church has fallen woefully short in the area of speaking out against systemic racism and race issues as a whole.  It has been damningly silent on these topics and even pushed back against groups trying to pursue true equality and take a stand.  If I had a quarter for every Christian/ Pastor that I heard say, “No, all lives matter…” but I digress.

So long story short, I was thinking about this whole issue the other day and, as I am sometimes want to do, I wrote a poem about it.  The rhythm and meter is a little bit odd I’ll admit.  I was listening to a song called “Love Letters to God” by Nahko and the Medicine People when I first started thinking it.  So if you listen to that song, you’ll get a feel for it.  Either way listen to the song.  It’s really good.  Well, without further ado, here is the latest rambling of my inner thoughts.

Who Am I?

 

When time began

I think that race was never part of God’s plan

But then we went and screwed it up again

And sadly then

hate and judgement

We started setting connotation to pigment

To think the skin makes the man that’s not intelligent

It’s a figment

Of imagination

To think that anyone is lesser a creation

Their star a smaller part the constellation

The human nation

Cuz who are we

Without the breath of the Almighty?

We’re laying lifeless underneath that tree

And can’t you see?

For what am I

But brown dust underneath blue sky?

My life and worth is from the Lord Most High

I wonder why

For who are you

To judge a brother by his color or hue?

With the same blood same soul imbued

And that’s the truth

In His likeness

Many colors but one palette now that’s priceless

A perfect picture of creation at its finest

Be the kindness

Stop the hatred

Just love God and one another that’s what He said

And give yourself for your brother that’s what he did

Stand united.

Love radiate

Instead of bringing others down elevate

And true love to one another demonstrate

It’s not too late

It’s not too late

It’s not too late

 

Well.  There it is.  I hope you can understand the place where this is coming from.  As always, if you like what you read,  please follow the blog by clicking on the link in the lower right corner of your screen.  Hell, even if you don’t like it, please follow anyhow.

June Recap

Happy July everyone!  June was a ridiculously busy month at our house so it’s literally been over a month since my last post.  Here’s a quick recap.

I turned 31…not really a big deal.  Just another year.  However, I have titled it my “Offspring Birthday.”  If you remember the song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” by Offspring, there’s a part that says. “He’s gettin a tattoo yeah he’s getting it done. He asked for a thirteen but they drew a thirty-one.”…corny I know.  It just popped into my head one day and I ran with it.

Speaking of running.  I completed the first, and most likely last, 50 mile race of my life.  My good friend Alex Woody convinced/coerced me into doing it with him.  To his credit, he hung back with me until about mile 32 before he took off.  I finished in 12 hours and 34 minutes.  To me, the only important part of that sentence is the first two words. I finished.  Coming into the race, I was only running 2-3 times a week and my longest training run was 16 miles.  My second longest training run was about 5 sooooo…. yeah.  Finishing was an accomplishment in and of itself.  I don’t know where I’m going next as far as training.  However, I do know that for the rest of my life, I can now say that I completed a 50 mile race.

Anya also had a birthday in June.  She is an insanely active baby.  This is probably a survival skill given to her because of her older brothers.  She is at least as energetic, if not more so, than either of the boys.  Our house is never quiet and still.  Until Joshua’s next birthday, we currently have a one year old, a two year old, and a three year old.  It’s fun, exhausting, frustrating, and amazing all at the same time.

Work-wise, HSA Denison Elementary is sadly closed down for good now.  It’s been really hard for me.  I’ve spent the last six years pouring myself into that school and that student body.  It really hurts to leave.  However, I am staying with the same company, Concept Schools, and transferring to one of our schools on the east side of Cleveland.  I am excited and nervous at the same time for the opportunity there.

I also got an Instagram.  One of the literary agents to whom I sent my books wrote back to me saying that he loved them but that I didn’t have a strong enough online platform for him to represent me.  One of the ways of building that online platform is through Instagram.  You can follow me at @erik_steidl if you feel like it.  Actually please do.  Also, if you’re reading this blog and haven’t actually followed the blog yet, please do that as well.  There should be a link it the lower right corner of your screen.  It will then ask you for an email address and send you a confirmation email.  Sometimes it goes to Spam though.  It is still a huge dream of mine to become a published author of children’s books.  I’ve been working really hard with editing, networking, and doing consultations to accomplish this.

Well, that’s basically a recap of where we are in life right now.  We hope and pray that your lives are amazing and blessed.

Teacher Interview Mrs. Calaiacovo

There are a few people in my life who I credit with helping to shape me into who I am today.  I had the pleasure of interviewing one of them, Mrs. Calaiacovo.  She was my Spanish teacher during my junior year at Medina High School.  She is one of the reasons I ended up going to college to become a teacher in the first place.  I really enjoy some the perspective that she brings as a veteran teacher.  Up until now, most of my interviews have been with teachers who are relatively young in their teaching careers.  I hope you enjoy Mrs. Calaiaovo’s wisdom as much as I did.

Erik – Can you give us a history of your teaching experience? Where have you worked and for how long?  What you have taught?

L.C. – In 1993 after graduating from Toledo I taught at Medina Jr. High/Claggett Middle School for 5 years teaching Language Arts and Spanish.  In 1998 I moved to Medina High School and have taught Spanish here since. Levels 1-3.

Erik – What is your favorite class that you have ever taught?

L.C. – I love teaching Spanish III.  The kids know enough vocabulary that I can stay in the target language most of the time and we still teach Destinos, the Spanish soap opera.  I like to teach grammar using “real world” situations from the drama to make it more meaningful for the kids.

Erik – Most of the teachers that I have interviewed so far have been very new to the profession.  I’m excited to get the perspective of someone who has been doing it for a little bit longer. How do you keep things fresh year to year?  What keeps you motivated?

L.C. – I never think that what I do is perfect; I always think there is room for improvement.  How to get more repetitions, how to be more efficient, how to make things more engaging. That is what keeps me motivated:  always striving to be better than the year before. Sometimes I get sick of teaching the same thing year after year so I try to change things up so it does not sound “tired” to my students.  

Erik – Aside from the obviously stellar class of 2006, are there any students or years in general that are extremely memorable to you?

L.C. – Of course!  We all have our favorite students.  My favorites are the ones I really connected with and could talk to, and were not always stellar students.  They were the fun kids who made class enjoyable. They were the ones who were energetic. Facebook is a great way to follow students who have graduated to see the amazing lives they lead.  After 25 years of teaching some of my students have kids that are now in the school system here at Medina!

Erik – What are some of the craziest things that you’ve witnessed?

L.C. – Crazy to me is simply not caring.  The crazy thing is that if kids would just put forth a little effort, they could do well.  I don’t understand kids who don’t value an education, but I think a lot of that comes from home.  

But I know you want bizarre:  so a 7th grader picked up a desk and threw it across the room.  I had a tile floor so it slid all the way across the room to the wall.  He was angry about something silly. By the way he was in jail before he graduated from high school.  

Erik – Aside from teaching, what other things are you involved in at the school?

L.C. – I am super involved in Student Council.  It consumes my life! I have a passion for leadership training for teens and love working on projects with the kids.  I have evolved StuCo into more of a service learning organization which has kept things new and exciting for me. I travel with my StuCo kids and take them to leadership workshops to help them with their leadership skills.  I probably spend more time during the week doing StuCo things than Spanish things, and I spend a lot of time preparing for Spanish classes!

Erik – What things do you do outside of school?

L.C. – My favorite sport is volleyball and I play indoor and sand.  I love doing classes at the rec center, walking, running, biking and spending time with my family and friends.  I am not a TV watcher and rarely sit. I like to be out and moving.

Erik – One of the things you told me when I first started teaching was that sometimes you just have to “Close the door and teach.” It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.  Can you elaborate on it? What are some of the specific ways that has applied to you over the years?

L.C. – There will always be distractions.  The state expects so much, the district, your department, your principal, that it seems sometimes they all forget that we are here to teach kids.  It is important to be able to shut out the drama and distractions and focus on your students and just work with them without being preoccupied with the other million expectations.  My main job is to teach students Spanish. They don’t have to love Spanish, but I do expect them to try to learn. They know when a teacher is not “all in” and then they don’t put forth the effort.  

Some times of year are harder than others.  I try to remember when I have 97 things going on that I just need to close my door and teach and forget everything else for that 43 minutes.

Erik – With summer fast approaching (Well…fastish), do you have any big plans?

L.C. – I am taking a group of students (StuCo and Spanish) to the Dominican Republic for a service trip.  We will be doing eco-tourism projects in the middle of the island. We were there in 2014 and I am excited to go back.  My family will also be going to Ireland, a trip we have always wanted to take. My son graduates in May so we have all the grad festivities and parties.  Volleyball and lots of working out, working on projects around the house and spending time with family will make a fast summer! I try to work on some school stuff a few days a week as well.

Erik – There are times when teaching is a simply exhausting profession.  Aside from “Close your door and teach.” is there any other advice that you would give to a first year teacher?

L.C. – Time management is huge to me.  As teachers we are pulled in so many directions and it can be overwhelming to try to keep up with it all.  I don’t waste a minute. While my kids are working on their bell ringers/warm up activities, I do attendance, talk to kids that were absent the day before, grade a couple tests, answer an email.  If we do a book exercise I tell the kids they have 90 seconds or 2 minutes, or whatever time I think it should take, then we go over it and move on. 43 minute periods can go by quickly and it is hard to teach everything without using all the time.  Kids stay engaged when there is no time for chatting or waiting around. This also cuts down on discipline issues, which I think is a huge hurdle for first year teachers. Kids don’t have time to fool around because we constantly move from one activity to the next.  Also, I try not to do any activity for too long so kids don’t get bored. 5-7 activities per class period keeps it fresh and makes time fly!

Erik – Do you remember any teachers in your life that made huge impressions or had a major impact?

L.C. – I had a speech teacher in high school that I just loved and she is the reason I majored in English/Speech.  She was kind, understanding, fair and fun. I think we remember teachers who made us feel good, but we don’t necessarily remember their curriculum and lessons!

Dandelions and Graduation

Every year in the spring, when I first start having to mow the yard again, I’m always reminded of something that my Grandpa Steidl used to say.  “If dandelions were hard to grow, people would want them in their yards.” I find this saying to have meaning on several different levels.  First, I think it could mean that although most people think of dandelions as a weed, they are a flower and do have beauty.

However, I think that another meaning is that part of the value and beauty of a flower is that it takes time and a lot of effort to cultivate.  A rose is considered more beautiful and valuable than a flower because it doesn’t generally just grow on its own.  You have to nurture it and work for it.  I think this is true of many things.  When you have to work for them, you appreciate them more.

This is where graduation comes in.  Yesterday was the last day of the school year for the sixth grade students at our school.  It was honestly a very emotional day for me.  As I said goodbye to many children that I’ve taught since they were in the first grade.  They are like flowers.  It took a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of energy to get them to bloom.  I saw them grow from tiny little six year old kids to almost teenagers.  Many of our students come to us not even knowing the alphabet.  To see them grow from that to being independent readers and writing full five paragraph essays is a true joy.

It’s always a bittersweet moment at “graduation.” (I know that they’re sixth graders and it’s not actually graduation).  On one hand, it’s really sad to see them go.  On the other hand, I take pride in the feeling of accomplishment as they walk out the door prepared for seventh grade and hopefully prepared in some respects for the rest of their lives.

Undeveloped

Hey Everyone!  It’s been a while since my last post.  Things have been super busy at home and at the school.  I started a story for a writing contest but didn’t finish it in time to submit it.  So then it took me about two weeks writing on and off to finish it.  The title is “Undeveloped.”  The ending is meant to incite some thought as to whether or not the character made the correct decision or not.  I know that to some, the answer is very obvious but to others it will actually take some thinking to decide.  Also it ends rather abruptly because I just really wanted to finish it.  I will probably revisit it later to clean it up and revise.  If you feel like responding with your thoughts on the ending in the comments section please do.  Thank you for reading.

Undeveloped

“No, Greenland is covered with ice and Iceland is very nice!”  I was lying on the bed of my hotel room in Nuuk, Greenland. Watching D2, the second film in the Mighty Ducks trilogy, seemed fitting right now.  Although I had no knowledge of Greenlandic, the language of Greenland, I was familiar enough with the movie to know exactly what the characters were saying.  

The quote was accurate as well.  Greenland was a country that was mostly covered with ice.  In fact, nearly 80% of the country was canvassed by the Greenland Ice Sheet, the second largest single body of ice in the world.  According to legend, the viking Erik the Red had named it Greenland in order to attract people to live there after he had been banished from his native Iceland for killing three men.  He had apparently settled on the eastern shore of the island and wanted people to join his settlement. Many historians like to think of it as the first case of false advertising in history.  However misconceived it may have originally been though, the name “Greenland” was now proving to be somewhat prophetic. The ice sheet covering the majority of the island had been melting and shrinking due to the global climate change bringing in warmer air. That’s what had brought me to Greenland in the first place.  I was part of a team sent to study the island with a focus on the effects of the rapidly vanishing layer of ice and snow.

I had found during my two days in Nuuk that I really enjoyed it there.  Everything felt fresh and natural. The houses were painted vibrant colors that seemed to spring out from the backdrop of white snow and gray-black rock.  The climate and environment seemed as much a part of Greenlandic culture as language, art, and music were to other cultures. The cold ocean air whispered wondrous words of its own as it drifted through the city.  Sometimes the wind spoke long drawn out sentences in creaking planks on front porches and sometimes it spit short staccato syllables in the banging of a loose shutter. The works of renaissance artists paled in comparison to the lichens, mosses, and cow vetch painted onto the canvas of the mountains.  And the chatter from the colonies of puffins, auks, and kittiwakes created a symphony of sound that rose and fell in crescendo and decrescendo like choir of tuxedo clad choristors.

As a scientist, I dreaded what I anticipated the results of our study would be.  I thought of what beauty might be lost should the ice sheet continue to disappear as it had been doing.  Just how fragile was this ecosystem? One hundred years from now would the Greenlandic musk ox be merely a photograph in a history book?  The biggest question really was whether or not we were too late to stop it?

An avid environmental activist, I fought hard for policies that did more to protect the environment but it always seemed like the big businesses won out.  As the saying went, “Money makes the world go round.” and in this case it was making the world go warm too. As a geologist and cartographer, I had been offered jobs with exorbitant salaries to work for big oil, fracking, and natural gas companies.  I’d turned them all down to work at a research laboratory. I had always thought that I would feel like Luke Skywalker flying TIE Fighters for the Empire if I took any of the other jobs. My heart was definitely in environmental protection, not exploitation.

The pounding on my door woke me from my reverie. I rolled my eyes.  In times like these, I pictured myself like Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, as he looks to the sky and says, “Sometimes I wonder, when it gets too quiet up there, if You are thinking, “What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?”  

Really, this mischief was none of God’s doing and all of the budget’s.  Due to monetary constraints, everyone on the expedition had been forced to share a hotel room.  I had drawn the short straw and had spent the last two nights rooming with the trips official photographer Devin Hiteman.  He was, in my humble yet unadulterated opinion, as untalented as he was revolting. To call his clothing, personal hygiene, and equipment unkempt would be an insult to people who were simply unkempt.  In the three days we had been traveling and staying together, I had not yet seen him shower or even brush his teeth. To be completely honest, I doubted altogether if he had even brought a toothbrush or owned one at all for that matter.  I tried not to judge too harshly on trips such as this as I maintained a rather disheveled appearance myself, but he was another matter entirely.

“Hey buddy! Can you let me in? I forgot my room key again.” came the shout from outside the door.  I was tempted to act like I was asleep and let him stay out in the hall all night. At 1:15 in the morning, it would not have been an unreasonable response.  However, I decided against it for the sake of the other guests of the hotel. Devin would have simply kept yelling and pounding until someone had let him in the door.  I got up, walked to the door and opened it.

When I was in the fifth grade, my two older brothers had filled  my closet with water balloons as a prank. As soon as I had turned the handle, the weight of the balloons had forced the door open so rapidly that the falling balloons had all but enveloped me and knocked me to the ground, soaking me in process.  Drawing from this memory, I stepped to the side as I turned the handle. As I had suspected, Devin had been leaning on the door and, just like the balloons, his weight against the door drove it open and he stumbled in. He was clearly very drunk and stood there blinking and looking around like he was Dora the Explorer and had just asked a question to an imaginary audience who couldn’t actually answer.  

After about 15 seconds of awkward blinking, he mumbled something about helping him out of his shoes and collapsed onto the plaid armchair next to the bed.  I did not feel that the boundaries of our relationship extended to the point of actually touching his shoes, so I left him where he was and began prepping my equipment for the next day.

We had decided to travel across the ice sheet via dog sled.  Satellite imagery had already revealed that the ice sheet had been losing a total of about 200 cubic kilometers each year for the past twenty years.  If melting continued at the current rate, it would not be long before there would be serious effects on not only the Greenlandic but global ecosystem as a whole.  Scientists estimated that, were the entire cap to melt, global sea levels would raise over 7 meters; a truly catastrophic event.

One of the mission goals was to find how much the ice sheet was losing in height as well as width.  Satellite imagery was still unable to produce a conclusive measure of depth. This was going to be done via boring.  The last time that a team had drilled through the entire ice cap, it had measured a thickness of almost two miles. We would be travelling to almost the same location to drill and find a new and more accurate measurement to determine how much the ice had melted down.  Our equipment for the drilling was obviously heavier than we could take in dogsleds and was being delivered to the location prior to our arrival. We were travelling separately in order to study the landscape from the ground on the way out. Satisfied that all my equipment was in order for the next morning, I lay down on the twin bed and drifted to sleep.  

The next day started predictably enough.  Rousing Devin from his stupor was a frustrating fifteen minute process.  By the time he was actually awake and ready to go, we were already over an hour behind the schedule that we had set out.  But eventually, we were off, skimming along the snow on dogsled. The fresh frigid Greenlandic air was absolutely invigorating.   There was a chaste, virginal aura to the terrain. As we left civilization behind, I felt as if I was the first human in the history of Earth to ever draw breath in this location.  I almost felt guilty for sullying the purity of the air as we passed through. Not only was the air remarkable, but the landscape itself was as well. Having never been on an ice sheet before, I had pictured it to be a long flat blanket of ice.  I found the topography to be anything but. There were hills and valleys, mammoth ice caves, and statuesque frozen monuments seemingly carved out in tribute to the ice gods of a bygone era.

We took somewhat frequent breaks as we travelled.  We had a guide with us to help care for the dogs. His name was Artaartik but he said to call him Arty.  He was a seasoned outdoorsman, as most Greenlanders were. As we were taking our breaks, he spoke of his love for his native land.  The way he talked about Greenland, it was as if he had a tangible personal relationship with the land. The flora and fauna were like family to him.  His DNA intermingled with that of the environment in which he lived.

When we spoke of the reason for our mission, a palpable sadness fell over the group.  His face contorted in pain as if we were speaking of a family member dying of cancer in the hospital.  As scientists, we all agreed with Arty on the importance of preserving the environment and protecting the natural beauty around us.  However, we had one outlier among us. Devin had a much more capitalistic view of thing. “Come on bro. It’s just a bunch of snow and stuff.” he said.  He argued that the environmentalist “tree-hugging hippies” were holding humankind back. “It’s ridiculous,” he continued, “that you put some birds, cows, and even the moss here on the same level of importance as humans.”  I didn’t bother to correct him in that a muskox was not nearly the same thing as a cow.

That was really how most of our conversations went over the next couple of days as we journeyed out to the center of the ice cap.  We spoke of our love for nature and the importance of exercising prudence when using natural resources. He lauded the merits of industrialisation and the virtue of human ingenuity.  We revelled in the natural beauty of our surroundings and he devised plans for tourist attractions and ice castles. “This could be really big!” He kept saying. We just rolled our eyes and continued on.

When we arrived at the drilling site, we set up camp and got to work assembling the equipment.  The sheer enormity of the drill was overwhelming. Obviously with the ice being nearly two miles thick, it’s not as if there was a single drill bit.  There were stacks of bit laying neatly side by side that we would have to keep adding on as we bored deeper and deeper into the ice.

Every 50 meters, we were going to take a sample of the ice to study back at the lab.  Much like the rocks that make up Earth’s crust create the geologic record and provide us with some history of the planet, the layers of ice also could provide us insight to what Earth was like many many years ago.  

Our virologist warned us of the possibility of prehistoric viruses and bacteria that had preserved for hundreds of millions of years.  “The human immune system has not interacted with these viruses and diseases for thousands of millenia.” she said. “We need to use caution when handling the samples.”

As we finished constructing the equipment and prepared for the drilling, there was a tangible feeling of elation amongst the group.  Even Devin seemed somewhat excited though he tried to downplay it. After the first two hours of drilling however, that feeling dissipated rather quickly.  It was slow, monotonous, and arduous work. However, we kept at it, working in shifts and laboriously delving further and further into the ice underneath us.  We carefully packaged and labelled each sample of ice according to drilling depth and set them aside for the trip home.

I was on my off shift the next morning enjoying a cup of black coffee when I first felt the ice shift beneath me.  The first movement was a slight, nearly undetectable shift in the frozen top layer of snow. The second time however, I very clearly felt the entire surface beneath me drop about three inches.  After that, everything happened in quick succession. I saw six large cracks emanate from the base of the drill and spread and fan like a bolt of lighting in a thunderstorm for about a 100 meter radius in each direction.  Then an entire circle of the ice cap split into seven large triangular slivers and collapsed in on itself. And then we were falling and tumbling. Everything a blur of white snow, gray steel, and then darkness.

It took a good five minutes are us to get our bearings.  Although the light was shrouded, it wasn’t completely obscured.  There was a dim hazy glow in the distance. We had all been so disoriented during the fall that we had no idea which way to go.  We conferred and decided that any light was a positive thing and set out in that direction. However, as we approached the source of the light, we began to realize that it was not the sun producing the glow.

It also became apparent as we walked that we were not travelling in a direction that would lead us back to the surface of the ice.  The ground beneath us was sloping downward at a somewhat alarming rate. We also soon came to realize that we were no longer walking on snow and ice, but on solid rock.  Call it professional curiosity that we continued. We were walking in a gigantic ice cavern whose ceiling seeming expanded upward as we travelled down. The air was cool and moist but not cold.  I soon found myself sweating and decided to shed my outer coat and tie it around my waist. The others all followed suit and did the same.

About five minutes of walking later, we discovered what was producing the glowing light.  A large outcropping of rock was protruding out of the ice wall. The shape of the rock somewhat resembled a nose so the entire scene looked somewhat as if a stone giant had been trapped frozen in the ice but had stuck his nose out to breathe.  And sprouting out from the bottom of the outcropping, like a large bundle of fluorescent orange nose hairs, was a growth of lichen. The glow was not so faint as to be indistinguishable but not bright enough to illuminate much more than anything in about a 5 meter radius around it. “Wow,” I breathed out.  There was not much more that I could have said in that moment.

We all simply stood there entranced by what we were witnessing.  The incandescence of the lichen was not steady. It swelled, faded, and shimmered almost as if the lichen itself was breathing and with each breath produced the soft warm glow that emanated from it.  All of a sudden a hand reached out and ripped a piece of the lichen off the rock. Devin had survived the fall.

“Dude, what are you doing?” I said.  He looked at me stupidly with the chunk of lichen is his hand and shrugged his shoulders.  As we stood there, the glow from the lichen slowly faded like a candle in a jar slowly running out of oxygen until it finally died.

“Can you just not touch anything and maybe just stick to taking pictures?” I asked.

“Oh yeah!” He replied as he reached into his backpack and pulled out his camera that had miraculously survived the fall.  As he started taking pictures, I heard a click and whir sound. I looked at him. “It’s an old school camera. Real film. Sometimes I prefer the feeling of it to digital.  It feels more natural. You can’t edit like you can with digital but the pictures still turn out great. There’s something I like about taking the film and developing it.”

“Well, it might be a good idea to leave the flash off,” I said, “We don’t know the makeup of the flora and fauna down here.  The bright light could be damaging.” He nodded and continued clicking away.

We continued on down the slope til we got to a point where the land leveled out.  At this point, the bunches of lichen became more and more frequent and larger and larger.  With the increased amount of lichen, we were able to better view our surroundings. We really were in a mammoth ice cavern.  In the increased light, I could see that the ceiling was about 500-600 meters above our heads which meant that there was still a layer of ice that was well over a mile thick.  The landscape was now visible for about two miles ahead of us. Glowing hills and valleys split by small rivers lit with dancing reflections of the shimmering moss. We were now able to see that there was an entire thriving ecosystem hidden underneath the mountain of ice above us.  

We came to the bank of a slow drifting river about ten feet wide.  I reached down and cautiously dipped my finger into the water. It was delightfully warm, about the temperature of a bath that you would make up for a toddler.  Not as hot as an adult bath but not close to luke warm either. The river emanated from underneath a large rock hill that was covered in a purple shade of the glowing lichen.  “It’s hot springs.” I said “That’s what keeps it warm in here. It’s like a giant igloo warmed by geothermal heat. We might be the first people to ever set foot in this place.”

Devin stopped taking pictures for a second to realize the implications.  “Guys, can you imagine how much money we could make? Tourists would come here by the boatloads!  How does it work anymore with exploration? Like do we need to plant a flag or something to claim this as our own?”  He said the last part partially in jest but we all realized that he absolutely meant the first part.

“Dude knock it off.  This isn’t gonna be a tourist attraction.  It’s basically the only untouched ecosystem on Earth.”  I realized though that we really did have to make a decision about who to tell, if anyone, about the previously undiscovered land.  We discussed this as we sat down for a break.

The majority of the group was in agreement that we should be extremely selective in the people who we informed of our discovery.  Obviously the Greenland government had the right to know. Their policies and administration generally very much supported maintaining the natural beauty of Greenland’s environment.  They were very careful about tourism and its effect and we did not feel that they would be as eager as Devin to start carting thousands upon thousands of people down into this breathtaking new world.

Click. Whir. Click. Whir. Devin was going crazy with his camera now.  “When I make my pitch to Carnival or some other big company, I want to have plenty of pictures to show them.” He was saying.  He was cut off as we turned the corner around a sharp chunk of rock and found ourselves face to face with one of the biggest muskoxen I had ever witnessed in my life.  Its long shaggy coat hung down almost to the ground.

Unlike the normal grayish brown of the muskoxen on the surface, this one’s coat was jet black.  If not for the eyes, we might have run right into it before we noticed it standing there. Its eyes were incredible pools of milky blue.  Though not as bright as the lichen, they held a certain luminescence of their own. A soft glow that was soulful and inviting all at once.  It looked at us quizzically but not fearfully, as if we were the attractions and it was studying us and not the other way around. As we stood there, two more muskoxen stepped out from behind the rock with a small muskox calf behind.  They all had the same black coat and softly glowing eyes. Their eyes were all different hues of green, blue, and purple and all held that same peaceful inviting quality. I had never before seen anything like it.

Click. Whir. Click. Whir.  The sound of the camera broke the moment between us and the muskoxen moved along as if nothing had ever happened.  “I can’t wait to get this film developed and show this place to the world!” Devin was downright exuberant. When we proposed the idea of using some discretion in who we told and when we told them, he started getting somewhat hostile with us.  “Listen,” he said, “I’m not going to let a bunch of sad sap bleeding heart liberal hippies hold me back from being rich and famous. You guys do what you want. I’m going straight to the media with this.”

At this point we didn’t know what to do.  There was really nothing that we could do.  Legally there was nothing that was stopping him from telling whoever he wanted about our newly discovered land.  However, as a group, we decided that we should probably turn back the way we came. We had no provisions down there with us and had already walked for about 3 hours in the exact opposite direction of where we needed to go.  We decided to table further discussion about announcing our discovery until we got to the surface. I just prayed that in the end Devin would display a little more wisdom than what he had shown so far.

After a seemingly much longer and definitely much more strenuous journey back to our original location, we could now see that our initial fall had only been about 200m and then we had rolled about a half mile down the slope from under where the hole in the surface of the ice cap had broken.  The broken triangles of the surface ice that had acted as a slide on our initial fall and saved us from falling straight down had shattered, leaving a 200 meter vertical ascent to the top. Fortunately, the drill had stayed intact and provided some means of climbing to the top. It was dug into the ice beneath us but bent at such an angle that it was not a direct climb out but more of a slant.  It would not be an easy ascension but not an impossible one either.

Our virologist went first.  Gradually but steadily going up the 9 inch shaft until she crested the edge of the surface ice and disappeared.  One by one, our other team members followed suite until it was just me and Devin standing together at the base of the drill.

“After you Chief.” He said, and gestured with his hand.  “Age before beauty.” I replied as I took my first step up toward the pole.  I’m not terrified of heights, but not exactly comfortable with them either. Fortunately, at this point, it was probably sometime around midnight and once I was several feet off the ground, was unable to see anything below me.  I climbed for what felt like hours until finally I was within a few feet from the surface. The rest of the team stood around and helped me off the drill bit before calling down to Devin that he was ok to begin coming up himself.  

“Can we just leave him down there?” the group botanist quipped.  “Seriously,” I replied in jest. However, I knew that Freud would say that in every comment said in jest, there is some subconscious truth.  I pushed the thought out of my mind and waited at the top of the drill for Devin to appear. Pretty soon his head appeared and then his entire body as he struggled up the pole.  He was laboring fairly hard as he reached the surface and it took both my and one other person’s full strength to get him onto the surface.

He rolled off the drill bit and lay on his back, breathing heavily on the snow.  His breath made small clouds of vapor that quickly dissipated in the cold night air.  His snorting reminded me of the muskox we had seen down under the ice sheet and I immediately felt remorse.  The perfect, peaceful life that the muskoxen and all the other animals had previously had was about to be shattered.  To what extent, we didn’t know. However, knowing what we did about Devin, he was not keeping anything at all under wraps.  

As Devin rose to his feet, I saw in slow motion the ice surface beneath him give way and collapse.  Using reflexes I would have bet my house that he did not have, he was somehow able to grab onto the pole as he fell and hung there dangling like a marshmallow on a skewer that was halfway melted and about to drop into the fire.  He was within my reach and I immediately moved forward to grab him and try to lift him.

However, as I reached out, the image of the fluorescent lichen, slowly fading and then dying off completely flashed into my mind.  The soulful eyes of the muskoxen came into my vision. Without thinking about it or truly making a conscious decision, I withdrew my hand and took a step back.

There are moments in time that are frozen, etched in the memories of those who witnessed it.  The look on Devin’s face was one such moment. I’ll never forget the sheer shock and panic that swept through his eyes as his hands slipped and he plunged down into the dark.

There was a deafening silence then that seemed to last for hours.  I was afraid to turn around and face the rest of the group. There was no way that they hadn’t seen what I had done.  Finally I slowly turned around and brought my head up. They were standing there in a semi-circle just looking. Jensen, our botanist, was holding Devin’s camera bag in one hand.  They all were looking at me but there was no judgement or anger in their eyes. There almost a mood of quiet understanding. Finally Jensen stepped forward and tossed the camera bag over the edge and down into the abyss.  “There are just some things,” he quietly said, “that should stay undeveloped.”