Warning Signs and Pride-Lessons From the Grand Canyon

Why do find it easy to follow some warning signs and ignore others?

Why do find it easy to follow some warning signs and ignore others?

Pain laces my first few steps each time I get up to walk anywhere, and the pain has increased twofold since yesterday. But I learned some things on Sunday that I wouldn’t trade for all of my sore muscles and the two blisters on my feet

It all started on Friday when I discovered that Pedro’s group of bicyclists for our school’s Super Sunday activities only included three students (so they didn’t really need me) and that the group that planned on hiking from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back to the rim lacked a female chaperone. For some reason, hiking 16 miles appealed to me more than a two-hour mountain biking trip, so I volunteered. I have a history of accepting outlandish physical challenges and failing to properly prepare, so this time I would prepare.

My alarm went off Sunday morning and I jumped out of bed, ready to relax a little before the rigors of the day. And then I looked at my phone and realized that my 3:00 am alarm had not gone off and I should have already arrived at the bus! I texted the group leader and he graciously agreed to wait five minutes while I threw on my clothes, grabbed my trekking poles and ran out the door. I despise lateness and I take pride in always arriving on time.

By 7:55 we had parked the bus near Bright Angel Lodge and everyone stood in line for the last ‘real’ bathroom break until we returned. The warning sign in the stall caught my attention, and I thought to myself, “That’s ridiculous! How many people have they caught drinking out of the toilet bowl?”

The view from the top can deceive the hapless hiker

The view from the top can deceive the hapless hiker

The group gathered to look over the rim towards our destination—a crevasse in the canyon clouded in morning mist and bright shafts of sunlight. We warned students about keeping properly hydrated and fueled, and then took off down the trail—breezing by the sign that warned hikers to never attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day. I figured my role at the end of the group would allow me to snap a few photos on the way down, and if a student decided that they couldn’t make it, I’d have a way to entertain myself whilst we waited for the others to head back up.

Black-chinned SparrowI carefully followed the advice about proper hydration and food intake, and every twenty minutes or so, I had a handful of nuts and M&Ms and a drink of water. I also kept my birding obsession to two stops when birds I hadn’t seen before happened to sing out close to the trail (I hoped to see a California Condor, since I’d seen reports that they frequented the area).

When I reached Indian Garden (4.5 miles down into the upper part of the canyon), a student looked up and said, “Oh! There’s Mrs. Ojeda. Where did she come from?”

Another boy replied, “She’s like a skin walker (a Navajo ghost). When we went hiking yesterday, she was so far behind I could barely see her and then I turned around and she was standing right there!”

The end of the oasis at Indian Garden

The end of the oasis at Indian Garden

This made me laugh. I just kept a steady pace (and ignored the advice about resting for at least 5-10 minutes every hour to reduce lactic acid build-up in my muscles—I had stopped to take some photos, and didn’t want to make the group wait too long for me).

After filling up our water bottles, we headed out again—this time our legs had a mile or so of gently sloping terrain before we dropped down into the bottom of the canyon. The cottonwoods and willows provided a beautiful, shady canopy, and a spring-fed stream gurgled and helped me think cool thoughts as the temperature rose. From up on the rim, I never imagined the beautiful dichotomy of the desert canyon with an oasis springing up at the halfway mark.

When one hikes to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, one will travel through five ‘life zones’ (does this mean that one ages more quickly due to the strenuous nature of the hike?) that equal starting in Canada and ending up in Mexico (and then hiking back up to Canada—all hopefully before dark).

Other warning signs, we chose to ignore...

I won’t drink toilet water, but I will try this!

We passed another warning sign advising against hiking to the river and back in one day. I ignored it. I had confidence in my physical abilities—after all, I run 12-18 miles a week plus do a rigorous weight-bearing/cardio routine five days a week.

By the time I reached the lower desert regions, the temperature had risen to almost 90 degrees—the cool breeze blasting down the canyon kept me from suffering too much (I hate heat). When I reached the river at 11:30, a beautiful sand dune and the happy shouts of our students greeted me. I sat down for about five minutes to eat my lunch, but spent the remainder of the thirty-minute break photographing the river, the towering canyon walls and the crazy students that splashed in the frigid water.

When standing at the bottom of the canyon, you can't really see where you hiked from.

When standing at the bottom of the canyon, you can’t really see where you hiked from.

Cactus in bloomAs we headed back up the canyon, I got to hike at my own pace (and I chose medium fast); our leader would bring up the rear. I took more photos on the way up (the perfect excuse for taking short breaks), and didn’t see any of the students that had sprinted ahead until about a half a mile above Indian Garden—where the trail starts some serious switchbacks and elevation gain.

As I climbed, I questioned my sanity. I seem to take on these crazy physical challenges and then regret them when I have passed the point of no return. Each time I get embroiled in a challenge, I learn something about myself (usually that I need to get in better shape and pack a bigger variety of food). This time, Shaun T.’s voice kept ringing in my head: “Don’t just throw those legs up there! Use your core!” Thanks to his coaching in the Insanity and Focus T-25 DVD workouts, I actually understand how to use my core. I felt tired, but not exhausted. I still ignored the advice to stop for a long break every hour or so—this time because I didn’t want to arrive at the bus last a second time in one day (plus I had the keys to the bus).hike up collage hikeup2

I spent the last four miles of the hike encouraging the two students who I’d caught up to. When one of them wanted to lie down in the middle of the trail, I explained that he looked like the perfect California Condor lunch, and since I hoped to see one, I’d wait around with him until the birds started circling. He changed his mind and decided he could go a little further. I confess that his tiredness stoked my ego just a bit—after all, I felt a little tired, but I knew I could make it.

My bag of peanuts and M&Ms ran out (I never want to eat another M&M) about the same time I thought I had a rock in my boots. I sat down to empty out the rocks (and wondered, once again, if perhaps I should check for rocks in my head instead). It turns out I had a blister on the inner edge of each of my heels. Thankfully, I only had a mile and half to go to reach the top.

As we neared the top, we planned our celebration and marveled at all of the tourists from around the world who had hiked over a mile down the trail without water, snacks, decent shoes (we saw dress shoes, cowboy boots and flip flops), or proper clothing—one lady wore a dress!

The view from about halfway down the trail to Indian Garden.

The view from about halfway down the trail to Indian Garden.

When you stand on the rim and gaze out at Indian Garden, your mind automatically skips over the fact that you have to go down a trail you can’t even see from the top for over FOUR miles. And then once that trail disappears over the lower plateau, it will take another FOUR miles to reach the river.

Watching unsuspecting tourists wander down the trail made me realize why they had the warning signs. People read that the canyon is one mile deep and forget that it takes eight miles of switchbacks to achieve one mile of depth. The downward slope seems doable, and hapless tourists just take ‘one more step to discover where the next switchback leads and then find themselves in too deep to get out without real suffering. I smirked inwardly that I had prepared so well and would no doubt be ready to run my customary three miles in the morning.

We garnered strange looks and a few polite smiles as we passed the Kolb Brothers’ studio (the official trail head) and shouted with glee. I hadn’t seen a California Condor, but I could claim that I’d made it from the rim to the river and back in nine hours and seven minutes—not bad for an old lady—and ahead of five others from our group!

We stumbled to the bus and found the majority of the students hanging out, eager to scavenge the leftover lunch sacks and sit in a comfortable seat. Once we settled on the bus, one of my students called out, “Hey, Mrs. Ojeda! Did you see those condors?”

“What?! You saw the California Condors?” I immediately perked up. “How long ago? Where?”

“I think that’s what they were—some big black birds. People all started clapping and pointing. A huge group of people all stood right there at the edge watching them. It was just twenty minutes ago.”

I groaned. I didn’t feel like moving…or carrying my camera bag anywhere—even across the parking lot and to the front of Bright Angel Lodge. Even to see a California Condor (a true sign of my real tiredness, that I wouldn’t want to go find a bird for my life list).

“You should go look for them, Mrs. Ojeda,” my student encouraged.

“You’re right. I should,” I replied. I took everything but my camera out of my bag and hauled myself out of the bus and hobbled to the front of the lodge, searching for a group of people who looked excited to see something.

No luck. I went inside and bought an ice cream cone as my reward for surviving the hike and sat on a bench outside to eat it. As I enjoyed my treat, I wondered again what I had been thinking to impulsively volunteer to go on a hike because I have a need to prove that I could do it—and do it better than other people my age. Something I have struggled with since my first sentence at the tender age of two—‘No! Me do it!’ That attitude, combined with a large dose of pride, can create a deadly combination.

Taking pride in one’s accomplishments has no inherent evil—after all, pride helps us do our best and not be satisfied with shoddy work. But pride for comparison’s sake smacks of sin. Paul tells us in Galatians 6:4 “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”

My need to prove I could do something spectacular and then pretend afterwards that it had been no big deal had caught me again. Already, I could feel the effects of not resting adequately on the way down or on the way up. I wondered what I’d feel like in two days.

I wandered over to the rim one last time, and glanced to my left. There, not 200 feet away and 60 feet below me, two California Condors perched on an outcropping of rock in the late afternoon sun.

California Condors are all radio tagged and numbered due to their status as an endangered species (they almost went extinct in the 80s).

California Condors are all radio tagged and numbered due to their status as an endangered species (they almost went extinct in the 80s).

I snapped a few photos, than noticed a better vantage point from the terrace of the gift shop right above the outcropping of rock. I managed to hobble over and gingerly hoist myself down the steep steps to the terrace (going downhill hurts a lot more than going up hill) where I got some great views of two birds that are so ugly they’re cute.

To think! I didn’t need to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to see the condors—I could have waited at the rim. But life is about balance—having a healthy respect for rules and guidelines, but keeping constantly prepared for an adventure; taking pride in my accomplishments, but not comparing myself to other people. Like the Grand Canyon, I am an ever-changing canvas on which my Creator works the beauty of his love.

Anyone want to go for a hike?

Angie Ryg

The Golden Spoons

{fmf} Paint

Join us at Lisa-Jo Baker’s for Five-Minute Friday, where we receive a prompt and write for just five minutes and then hit publish before we overthink or over edit–it’s exercise, after all  ;).
Carol Bovee
With a flick of his head
Hair flops to the side
And settles back over downcast eyes
Slouching on past the group by the locker
Hiding pain behind the stroke
Of his swag

With a grimace of lips
Pulled back from white teeth
Faintly resembling what once was a smile
“How are you?” receives the requisite, “Fine!”
Masking loneliness with the brush
Of pretense

With a trembling “I can do it myself”
veined hands grip the walker
Marching painfully on toward
The smell of old people, potatoes and coffee
Denying frailty with a perfected dab
Of pride

With a narrowed ice glare
Words shoot across time
“Why don’t you trust me, I’m not stupid”
Ducking into the car filled with laughter and hormones
Fighting for independence with a roller full
Of ignorance

With a palate of paint, a person the canvas
Brushing and dabbing, scraping and shading
Choose the direction that life has to take:
Carefully cover unwelcome truth
or thoughtfully create a masterpiece
of beauty and love.


Five Minute Friday


AnitaFriday—the day of the week when hundreds of beautiful writers gather to flex their writing muscles and share their beauty at Lisa-Jo Baker’s. This week’s prompt: Paint.

My eight-year-old hand shook as I carefully daubed the paintbrush into the small, clear plastic pot of paint and then carefully transferred the blob of ‘color 32’ into the small, oval edged on one side by a sea of black velvet. Just three colors left, and I would complete my masterpiece.

I worked my bottom lip with my teeth in concentration—this time—this time I would succeed. My efforts to paint by number would result in a beautiful horse’s head that I could proudly hang on the wall in my bedroom. I might even sell my painting and make money. People would want to collect my paintings and they could hang in museums.

Each time I opened a new tiny container of paint, a pungent whiff of oil would remind me that real painters smelled the same smells, waited patiently for each color to dry, and always cleaned their brushes before they turned into hardened fingers that no cleaning solution could repair.

At last! Each tiny island had received its corresponding color—I had finished. I peered at my painting—and then glanced nervously at the illustration on the box. The horse on the box looked like a horse with sunlight and shadow creating the perfect dance of color and detail. My horse looked like a Sunday morning cartoon with puddles and bumps of color hinting at the real thing.

Maybe if I propped the painting against the wall, it would look better. It didn’t. I threw my paintbrush down in disgust and ran outside to play—my dreams of becoming a painter left to dry on my desk. I saw no point in even starting the second picture that came in the box.

A vague sense of loss at my failure to create a masterpiece (or even something I’d want to hang on my wall) nibbled at my confidence, but I still longed to create something beautiful.

Almost forty years later the same sense of longing sometimes plagues me. I see in my mind’s eye what something should look like, or I know in my ears what melody should come out of my mouth, but my hand and my voice never match up.

And so I appreciate. Our youngest daughter has the crazy ability to connect her imagination to her hand—and beautiful images pour forth. Her voice brings me to tears with its beauty. I draw stick figures and listen to my voice leap from alto to soprano to tenor all in the space of one hymn (thankfully, the congregation covers my voice and together we all sound beautiful).

I also discovered photography. I might not paint with my fingers and a brush, but I have discovered the art of waiting for the perfect shaft of light to coax colors from harsh rocks into a palette of beauty waiting for me to capture with a click.

The Grand Canyon at sunset reveals the colors you'll never see during the day.

The Grand Canyon at sunset reveals the colors you’ll never see during the day.

I’ll wait for hours just to snap a photo (ok, maybe hundreds) of a hummingbird and then gaze in awe at the fine detail in each feather.Allen's Hummingbird

But my ‘painting’ has a different purpose now—I no longer labor to create a masterpiece to prove I am a painter. I capture beauty to prove I have a Creator. And for once, I feel satisfaction in my efforts.
Join us with YOUR art! Five Minute Friday

Happy-Face State of Grace

Sometimes, the grace of God protects you from news that could overwhelm you.

Sometimes, the grace of God protects you from news that could overwhelm you.

Today I’m linking up with Holley Gerth with some Coffee for Your Heart.  It’s a strong cup of coffee this morning, friend.  But I want to encourage you and let you know that God’s grace covers in ways you may not realize until much later.

“How’s your husband doing?” a vaguely familiar lady asked as I stood looking blankly at the library’s free magazine collection.

I smiled. “He’s hanging in there,” I assured her. “We leave for San Francisco for further treatments tomorrow.

“I’m Alicia, from the furniture store,” she reminded me.

“How could I forget?” I had never lived in a small town where people actually remembered details about you. “You were so helpful!”

“Did you ever find a recliner?” she asked.

Not only did this kind soul remember my husband’s cancer diagnosis, but she remembered the specific type of furniture I had looked for. That worried me a bit. Had I spilled my guts to a complete stranger? “No,” I replied. “My husband went into remission rather quickly, and we found him a comfortable deck chair that we could carry outside. He loves hanging out in the front lawn.”

“That’s nice. I’m so glad to hear he’s doing better.”

The details of our first encounter came back to me. Sometimes, I had difficulties remembering where I’d met someone and what I’d told them…I tend to talk too much when I’m nervous.

“Actually, he’s back in the hospital, but we just got news today that a bed opened up for him in the oncology unit at University of California San Francisco in California.” I smiled again, this time a more genuine one.

“I’m sorry,” Alicia said. Honest concern clouded her features.

“It’s ok,” I smiled again. “It’s a large hospital and they will know how to treat his cancer.”

“I’m glad he’ll get help,” Alicia gushed. “I hear there’s a really sad case at the hospital now. A young man has inoperable brain cancer.”

“How tragic,” I murmured.

“It is!” she conceded. “He has two young daughters and the doctors can’t do anything for him.”

“Wow,” I answered, feeling sudden pity for the wife and children, “that’s horrible!” I glanced at my watch. So much to do. “I’ll have to look for them this evening when I see Pedro. Thanks for asking about him.” Alicia smiled her reply as she hurried out of the library. I selected a couple of random magazines, and suddenly remembered that I needed to talk to a librarian and explain my late books.

“Excuse me,” I said with a smile, “I need to ask if there’s anything I can do about the late fees on these books.” I held up the offending children’s books and looked my most apologetic. “My husband has cancer and—“

“I spoke with you earlier this summer!” the librarian exclaimed. “How’s he doing?”

“Hanging in there,” I smiled in amusement but thought to myself, “Which is hard to do when one has lymphoma cells multiplying like bunnies in one’s brain fluids.” Someone else recognized me.

“Don’t worry about those fines.” The librarian took the books from me. “Life must be pretty hectic for you right now.” She tapped on her keyboard and my fines magically disappeared.

“If only cancer would disappear like that,” I thought. “Thank you so much!”

“Don’t worry, honey,” the librarian replied. “I can just tell from your smile that he’s getting better.”

If only my happy face mask could restore my husband’s health.

That evening tears filled my eyes as Laura and Sarah ran toward me down the hospital hallway. My parents walked more slowly behind them, and I just couldn’t believe all the ways God had blessed us: My parents had moved in with us to watch our children; a patient liaison who had arranged for an air ambulance for Pedro’s flight to San Francisco; community members who cared enough to ask; a kind staff at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. How could I wrench myself away from this little community and throw myself on the mercies of a big teaching hospital whose employees probably outnumbered the population of Bozeman.

I took a deep breath and put on my happy face, excited to share our good news with the girls, even if it meant separation for who knew how long. The important thing remained—Pedro would get help!

When visiting hours ended, I hugged the girls one last time. “Will we see you tomorrow?” Laura asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I won’t know until tomorrow what time our plane leaves. I promise I’ll come to the house and let you know and say goodbye if I have time. I f I don’t, I’ll call you for sure.”

“Ok.” I could see the uncertainty and sadness and the unanswered questions. But I couldn’t answer them yet.

I hugged them both again, my arms aching for that other mother with small children, girls, I think Alicia said. I just had to explain a trip to another city. How could that poor mother explain to her daughters that they were losing their daddy to an inoperable brain tumor?

Laura and Sarah walked back down the hallway—a hallway that seemed to darken and stretch and swallow my two small daughters as I prepared to carry my husband with cancer in his brain off into the unknown. I shook myself and looked around. I should find that other woman. Maybe I could comfort her in some way.


I wandered around the hospital for a good twenty minutes, looking for the other woman with two young girls and reminiscing about the time I’d spent there over the last five months. The short stays, the long stays, the stays where the cafeteria ladies inadvertently gave me the employee discount because I ate there so often, the sweet nurses and CNAs, and he doctors had tried all they could, but who seemed to have given up hope.

I finally wandered back to Pedro’s room and prepared my cot for another night in the hospital.

I never did find that lady with the terminal husband and two small daughters.

How has God’s grace shielded you?
Link up with other talking about words of life here and Telling His Story.

A Soft Gentle Voice

Never Try to Kill a Rat with a Mongoose

By 1952, only 30 Nene (Hawaiian Goose) survived on the island of Hawaii due to invasive species such as the mongoose.

By 1952, only 30 Nene (Hawaiian Goose) survived on the island of Hawaii due to invasive species such as the mongoose.

A balmy December breeze wafted the scent of plumeria flowers all around us, and the Big Island surf crashed in the distance. Paradise. Our first long vacation without our children in twenty-five years of marriage and we had made it to Hawai’i to celebrate. As soon as it warmed up a little more, we would go snorkeling, but until then, we would look for birds.

I heard loud snarls from a clump of bushes and grabbed Pedro’s arm. “What’s that?”

“Cats fighting?” he replied with a shrug.

“No,” I pointed as a long creature with short legs and small rounded ears took off across the lawn of the park with another nipping at its heels. “That’s no cat!”

“Mongoose,” he said. “They’re nasty critters.”

“Ah, they’re kind of cute,” I responded. I lifted my camera and focused on the pair as they continued their antics and argument in a nearby pile of dead wood.

“There’s nothing cute about them,” he assured me. “I remember them from when I was a kid in Jamaica—they’re mean.”

I snapped some photos—not an easy feat since the only time they sat still appeared to be when they had achieved the safety of a brush pile or dense bushes. I shrugged and we continued our walk through the park in search of birds.

Introducing mongooses to the island did nothing to solve the rat problem.

Introducing mongooses to the island did nothing to solve the rat problem.

Later that evening, I researched the mongoose (I confess to having doubts about Pedro’s conclusion that mongooses harbored evil—after all, I’d heard about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and how the mongoose in India will fight and kill the dreaded cobra).

I found that in the early 1880s, the rise of sugar plantations sparked a rise in the rat population—evidently, rats love gnawing on sweet things like sugar cane. Some plantation owners in Jamaica imported mongooses from India in the hope that the mongooses would keep the rat population in check (mongooses do eat rodents as well as snakes). The Hawaiian sugar cane plantation owners heard about the Jamaican experiment and decided to import mongooses to the Big Island—all without really researching the efficacy of their solution to the rat problem.

Mongooses, you see, sleep at night and they love snacking on eggs and birds. Rats, on the other hand, sleep during the day and skulk at night. The mongoose-to-kill-the-rats plan didn’t work. It only resulted in the destruction of native bird species—especially those that nested on the ground where mongoose could easily devour their eggs or even eat the birds.

Now Hawai’i has two invasive species to deal with—both of which breed like bunnies (a female mongoose can raise 2-3 litters of young each year, and each litter has 2-5 cubs). Introduced species have no natural enemies, so mongooses roam and multiply with impunity.

How often do we as humans treat the rat of bad habits the same way? We had a bad day at work? A cold beer will make us feel better, right? We got in a fight with our spouse? Chocolate solves everything, right? We can easily fall down a slippery slope of entanglement to habits we never meant to start if we harbor the wrong attitude towards disappointment, conflict and confusion.

Or we see a bigger problem in our lives and think we can handle it—that it’s annoying, but the latest How To book will solve our problem. So, we buy the book, register for the seminar or search the Internet for the perfect plan—although, sometimes, we forget to check the reviews or think about the practicality of our solution.

That’s why we should never try to kill a rat with a mongoose. We’ll probably make the problem worse by introducing an invasive species into our life. As humans, we need to acknowledge that we have selfish hearts and nothing we do on our own will engender lasting change.

Instead, we should search the Bible for wisdom, advice and help. Each time I grapple with rats in my life, Proverbs 3:5-6 has a way of popping up in my subconscious. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your path straight.”

And when rats of confusion gnaw on my peace, I remember Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I don’t need to import a mongoose—I can find the solutions to my needs from the author of life.

Today I’m linking up with Angie Ryg for Inspire Me Monday–I hope you’re inspired! Click here to find other inspiring thoughts to start your Monday out on a positive note.

Angie Ryg

Bow-Tie Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes and Green Beans

If you're in a hurry, you can purchase ready-made pesto sauce.

If you’re in a hurry, you can purchase ready-made pesto sauce.

I usually make the pesto sauce ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator with a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep it from discoloring. That way, I can throw the dish together in twenty minutes when I get home form work or from church. If. fresh basil isn’t available, Costco sells a good pesto sauce (I always add some black pepper to it, though). This is not a sponsored post. If I have a favorite ingredient, I just list it and explain why ;).

Pesto Sauce
Serves 6-8

4 cups fresh basil leaves (stems removed)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup. lightly roasted pine nuts (roast in a dry frying pan)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor or high powered blender, add the first six ingredients in the order listed. Pulse until all of the ingredients have chopped a little, and then slowly add the olive oil and continue to blend until a smooth paste is achieved. If you plan on storing the pesto, reserve a little bit of the oil for spreading across the top.

When you’re ready to assemble the dish:

3 red potatoes, diced into small pieces
1 14.5 box of Barilla Plus Farfalle pasta (I use this kind because it has added protein)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. fresh green beans, stem caps removed and snapped into 2-inch sections

In a large stockpot or sauce pan, bring 4-6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and set the timer for 10 minutes. Prepare the green beans whilst you wait for the potatoes. After ten minutes, add the box of pasta and set the timer for 7 minutes. When the timer goes off, add the green beans (frozen green beans work as well). Boil for five more minutes.

Meanwhile, spread about half of the pesto sauce in the bottom of a very large serving bowl or pasta bowl. When the potato, pasta, green bean combo has finished cooking (everything should be tender but not mushy), remove from the burner and drain, reserving about a half a cup of liquid. Add the pasta/potatoes/green beans to the serving bowl and then pour the rest of the pesto sauce on top. Mix well. If needed, add some of the reserved liquid to bowl. Garnish with roasted red pepper slices for flavor and pizzaz.

{fmf} Writer

AnitaI’m linking up with other writers at Lisa-Jo Baker’s for a Five-Minute Friday exercise in writing. The prompt this week is: Writer. The assignment? Write for five minutes and hit publish. Join us!

My students sort baggies of M&Ms and count each color. Groans and exclamations spread across the classroom as they glance up at the board.

“EIGHT orange ones? I have to add EIGHT lines of dialogue to my story?”

“I’m lucky, I only have two red ones,” another student crows. And then suddenly realizes how many blue M&Ms he has, “Ah, man, I have SIX blue ones! What’s a sensory image, Mrs. Ojeda, I forgot.”

“Well, I have to remove FOUR uses of the verb ‘to be’,” another student moans. “How will I ever do that?”

“Wonderful question,” I jump in and flash my work in progress on the overhead projector for all to see. My naked baby in the bassinet. “I wrote this 14 years ago, and I’ve let it sit for a very long time.”

“How come we only got to let our stories sit for two weeks?” a cheeky student interrupts. “You got to let yours sit for 14 years!” Leave it to a student to point out the injustice of adult inequality.

“If I let you not work on your stories for as long as I didn’t work on mine,” I assure them, “you’d never graduate form high school.” I highlight four uses of the verb ‘to be’ on the document and ask, “how would you rewrite this sentence to make it active instead of passive?”

Blank stares meet my eyes. I almost give up hope that everything I’ve tried to teach them about dynamic writing has fallen on deaf ears when a hand shoots up and a student gives an alternative. “Excellent!” I type in her suggestion in all caps. “Now read the section using the new sentence, doesn’t it sound better?” Nods and grins and bent heads greet my gaze.

“Ok, it’s your turn. Remember, don’t eat your M&M until you make the change—it’s your reward for revision.”

Between answering questions, I return to my manuscript and revise along with my students. I need this community—this safe place of teenagers who bravely revise their first stories and good-naturedly chide me for letting my work sit too long. In my disappointment at rejection so many years ago, I had forgotten the joy of writing, revising and sharing with a community. Life, parenting, cancer in the family, new careers and a host of other excuses have gotten in the way.

It’s times to breathe some life into this baby. I need to practice what I teach. I am a writer.


Five Minute Friday

Why We Should All Want to be Indentured Servants

“What would you like me to do next, Mum,” Laura asked as she curtsied and then put the broom away.

I looked at her and stifled a giggle. She wore her blue prairie dress and pink apron that I’d made her earlier that year so that she could dress up like a character in one of her favorite book series, and a sunbonnet hung down her back. “You may dust the house,” I said, handing her our wool duster.

“It should have feathers,” she answered, and then caught herself. “Yes, Mum, right away mum,” she said with a grin (and I’m sure her eight-year-old imagination immediately solved the problem of working with a modern duster) and another curtsey. I liked this new, helpful ‘indentured servant’ who immediately and cheerfully set out to do her chores.

An hour earlier, when she’d first called me ‘Mum’ and explained that she wanted to be an indentured servant when she grew up, I had shrugged and wondered how long this phase would last. “Oh, wonderful!” I had said, “That means I’ll only have to buy you one set of clothes each year. Just think of the savings!”

“Yes, Mum,” she’d answered, “that’s written in the contract.”

I’d handed her the broom and asked her to sweep the house. Both of our girls liked to act out stories that they read (they went through a phase of wrapping themselves in blankets and hanging by their feet off the back of the couch when they read Stellaluna). I wondered how long this phase would last. Seriously, though, how long would someone want to act the part of an indentured servant? And what mother in her right mind would go along with the career choice?

Thirteen years later, I realize that every mother should want her child to grow up to be an indentured servant. No, not some kind of modern slave—my desire for both of our daughters is that they indenture themselves for life to their heavenly Father. That serving others comes as second nature.

I’ve been reading and pondering Luke 13—where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and tries to help them understand that he came to serve and to save—not to perform miraculous signs and defeat the Roman empire.

The Lord and King and Creator knelt down on the hard floor in the position of servitude and scrubbed the nasty feet that had trudged through dust and muck and who knows what else in order to show his closest friends that he expected servant behavior out of them.

“I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.” (Luke 13:15-17 NIV)

How often do we think a job is below us when we should be looking to our Father with a smile and a curtsey and saying, “Yes, Lord, whatever you ask, Lord.” After all, he paid the ultimate price for us. He saves us from a life of slavery to sin and clothes us in his own righteousness. All he asks in return is that we serve him with joy because we love him. That’s the kind of indentured servant I want to be. I encourage you to indenture yourself to him, too.

I’m linking up with Holley Gerth and other bloggers who pause to encourage each other over virtual coffee on Wednesdays. Join us? Coffee-for-Your-Heart-150

Vegetarian Fiesta Pizza With Creamy Jalapeño Sauce

Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza

Jalapeños, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts create a fiesta in your mouth!

I remember the first time I ordered a vegetarian pizza in Mexico, at a popular pizza joint in Ensenada. When we asked the waiter if they served a vegetarian pizza, he shrugged, gave us an odd look, and nodded. Thirty minutes later, he returned and placed a pizza on our table with a flourish. I almost gagged. It was a vegetarian pizza, all right. Traditional pizza sauce with a bag of frozen veggies dumped on top with just enough mozzarella to thinly disguise the lima beans (which I hate), carrot squares, peas and green beans. NOT my idea of the perfect vegetarian pizza!

This recipe will please even the meatatarians in your family with the fiesta of flavors. From the whole-wheat crust, stuffed with spicy jalapeño sauce, to the medley of toppings, this pizza is anything but ordinary.

Preheat the oven to 400˚
Yields TWO 13″-15″ Pizzas

Pizza Dough

2 cups of warm water
4 Tbs. dry yeast
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1/2 cup. olive oil
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
2 tsp. salt

Place the ingredients in the order listed in a mixing bowl, making sure to pour the salt on top of the vital wheat gluten so that it doesn’t sink down and react with the yeast (stop it’s growth). Let sit for five minutes and then mix in:

4 cups of whole-wheat flour (I prefer Wheat Montana’s Prairie Gold flour–they don’t sponsor my posts, I just love their flour! I use their wheat berries and grind my own flour)

If you’re mixing by hand, you should now be able to transfer the dough to a floured surface and start to knead it and incorporate more flour–about 1 1/2 additional cups. If you’re mixing in a mixer with a dough hook, just keep adding flour (about 5-6 cups total, depending on what brand of flour you use) until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Knead for 8 minutes and then cover with a towel and let raise until doubled in size (about an hour).

Jalapeño Cream Cheese Sauce

3 jalapeños, diced very small (this will make it spicy, use fewer jalapeños and remove the seeds if you’re worried about too much heat)
1 tsp. olive oil
16 oz. of Neufchatel or low fat cream cheese (2, eight ounce packages)
1/2 cup of water
1 tsp. salt

Sauté the diced jalapeños in the teaspoon of olive oil over medium-low heat until they are soft. While the jalapeños are sautéing, heat the water in a large glass bowl and then add the Neufchatel cheese and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir the water and Neufchatel mixture until it’s relatively smooth (you may need to microwave it for an additional 30 seconds). Add the salt and the jalapeños and mix well. Set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in size, divide it equally and roll each ball of dough into a circle that is about two inches bigger than your pizza pan (my pizza pans are 13 inches in diameter).

Rolling out the crust.

The vital wheat gluten adds more protein to the dough, and keeps it soft and fluffy.

Stuffing the crust ensures that the pizza pleases to the last bite!

Stuffing the crust ensures that the pizza pleases to the last bite!










Place the pizza dough on top of the oiled pizza pan (I used a light coating of olive oil), and then press the dough down around the inner edge of the pan before using a teaspoon to drizzle the jalapeño sauces around the edge of the pizza. Fold the pizza crust up over the circle of sauce, and lightly press the edge to the bottom crust. Fold the pizza crust up over the circle of sauce, and lightly press the edge to the bottom crust.

Now it’s time to add the toppings. Spread about 1/2 cup of the jalapeño sauce on the bottom of the pizza, think sprinkle two tablespoons of drained capers on top of that. Add 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes, 1/2 cup of marinated artichoke hearts and 1/2 of a red pepper (I sliced it in thin slices and grilled them on my Foreman Grill). Sprinkle about 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese on top of everything and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 400˚.
Topping the pizzaIngredients







Shopping List:
Whole wheat flour
Vital Wheat Gluten (Bob’s Red Mill sells packages in most grocery stores)
2, eight-ounce packages of Neufchatel cheese
3 jalapeños
1 large red pepper (the kind that looks like a Bell pepper but isn’t)
1 small jar of capers
12 oz. jar of marinated artichoke hearts
12 oz. jar of sun-dried tomatoes
16 oz. bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
(If you don’t have brown sugar, salt and olive oil at home, you’ll need those, too :) )

What Was God Thinking? {fmf}

Andrew watches the Sabbath School program from home when his white blood cell counts were too low to attend in person.

Andrew watches the Sabbath School program from home when his white blood cell counts were too low to attend in person.

First weekend back since my son’s onset of leukemia. First time teaching my cradle roll/kindergarten church kids. First time home without my boy or my husband, who was giving me time home with the girls. First time singing songs with my little darlings about a loving, amazing God while my son was hooked to tubes and machines four hours away. First time seeing the sympathetic faces of church members as I bypassed the foyer on the way to the children’s division. First time ever, where my boy wasn’t on the edge of his chair bellowing answers with the rest and singing along.

I blinked back tears and continued the program I had developed, knowing how much he loves camping and as we came to the part of the program where the kids gathered around my fake campfire to sing songs, I regretted, again, that he couldn’t be there and that God had decided our family could handle the battle with cancer. What was He thinking?

God knew my worst fear was something dreadful happening to a child of mine. And dreadful it was. Leukemia—smacked into the healthiest kid in the family. How did that happen? Truly, what was God thinking?

One of my little ones turned the “campfire rock” over to reveal the name of the next song we were to sing, “My God is so Great.” I sighed and continued my program as any good Christian teacher should do.

“My God is so great, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”
As we repeated the refrain and the children got louder a mist covered my eyes as my smile became real for the first time all day.

“The mountains are His, the valleys are His, the skies are His handiwork too.” And so is my boy. His.

I looked out the window at the mountains and clouds, wondering if my child was looking out his window.

“My God is so GREAT, so strong and so MIGHTY…” Yes Lord, you ARE.

And the children bellowed, “There’s nothing my God cannot do! For YOU!” and they enthusiastically pointed at me, because usually I was pointing at them.

There’s nothing my God cannot do. FOR YOU.

I’m joining the Five-Minute Friday writers over at Lisa-Jo Bakers. Today’s prompt is ‘Mighty’. Five Minute Friday