Out On A Limb

Out on a Limb

The iguanas of St. John–

St John USVI Iguana

St John USVI Iguana

We were warned before we went: they’re all over the island; AND–they love red. We didn’t know why, I only knew that I’d  forgotten to change my RED toe nail polish…So, as we explored on our St. John trip, me and my red toes avoided the iguanas until we could find out more. We asked a St. John local and found out that the red hibiscus flower is the iguanas’ favorite treat. The red blossoms are absolutely intoxicating to them. Soooo–they associate all things red with intoxication and, like the moth to the flame, they feel drawn to pursue it. I wanted to keep my toes, so I continued to avoid the iguanas, but they are EVERYWHERE on the island!

And these guys are truly fascinating.

They look like a mini Jurassic World exhibit with their sharp claws, scaly, spiny bodies, their bulging eyes and slow blinking eyelids, their tongues that lap out like a lazy snake tongue and their whip-like tails.

What surprised me most is their agility.iguana dragon

Figuring me and my red toes were safe in the pool, I went for a swim. The Westin St. John’s main pool is lovely: the warm waters, the waterfall features, the mini oasis in the middle of the pool with a water bench shaded by the palm trees and foliage that it houses. It became my favorite hang out, until…

I flipped around on the bench and lifted my toes to prop them on the side of the oasis wall. This way I could semi-float and look up at the palms swaying in the Caribbean breeze. I saw people walking around the pool and floating on their floaties doing the same thing–looking up. I followed their gaze. Those iguanas apparently can swim. Not only can they swim, they can climb! My gaze locked on the iguana napping in the luxury of a large green palm frond about twenty feet directly above my head. And, if he swam out to the oasis, then my red toes were no longer safe just inches away from the dense foliage that could’ve housed many more of his camouflaged green friends!

We left this pool and found another Westin pool located on the hillside with nothing but time shares and concrete to threaten us.

As I sleepily floated around this tiny pool on my float, I looked up at the Caribbean clouds floating by and the branches of what appeared to be bare trees across the street up the hillside. My eyes popped wide open as I realized who was there—another tree top Jurassic friend! I breathed deep, relaxed and observed this creature from the safety of my pool float.

This determined dragon scaled the 30 ft up to hang out in what appeared to me to be a bare branched tree.  There were no red hibiscus flowers or luxurious leaves of green on its branch arms; just bare, spindly branches.  I understood the palm frond locale for an afternoon nap, but why hang out in a bare tree? I watched as he expertly made his way down one of the tree’s crooked limbs. As the breeze kicked up and he made his way toward the end, the branch bounced up and down. The elements threatened to blow him off or to be just enough to break the branch, but it didn’t. And he progressed.

I watched amazed as minutes ticked by and this daring creature patiently balanced his way almost completely to the end of the limb. His tenacious claws held fast to the branch; his long tail skillfully balanced the weight of his body; and my heart skipped a beat, as each whispering wind and movement bounced the branch beneath him. I thought surely, any instant, I’d hear a crackling and watch this amazing creature plummet to the depths.

LOOK CLOSE!

LOOK CLOSE!

I didn’t want to miss a thing.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away; witnessing the patience and determination of this creature!

What was worth this journey to the end? Why the risk? I focused in on him. Then, in the blink of an eye, his tongue whipped out and latched on to the tiny white flower that I hadn’t seen at the end of that tree’s limb. Wide eyed again, I swear I saw him smiling at me as he chomped and chewed the fruits of his labor.

Still not tearing my eyes away, I watched him, inch by inch, retreat and repeat this same journey on a different limb. I now could see the tree that I once thought was barren, housed at least a dozen lightly colored, teensy flowers at the end of its limbs.

I later learned that these guys do this to many trees and all across the island.

And, every so often, you’ll hear a crackling and the plummeting.

I must admit it–I’m more like the pool iguana; choosing the comforts of a large, luxurious palm frond where, if I’m startled awake or if the branch breaks and I plummet, it is into a nice splashy pool where I can swim to safety.  This life can be quite exhausting. It’s really tough to beat a good nap.

But then there’s the daring, skillful, hillside iguana. My heart just beats faster as I remember witnessing him risking it all; traversing out on that skinny limb to secure the succulent flower bud for a snack. Time after time. More risky, but also yielding a reward.

Are we really that different than the iguana?

How often do we sit idly by, in the comfort of whatever palm frond, couch, job, relationship, etc., and not take the chance because of not knowing what is at the end of that branch? And what if you plummet?

Or, how often do we watch others taking great risk or making sacrifices, without understanding that what they are striving for is so worth it to them?

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.—Jeremiah 29:11

God has great plans for each of our lives.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.—Psalm 37:4

God created us each with different dreams, ambitions, thirsts, skills and talents.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

He will make a way for us. He clears the path before us and helps us when we plummet.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.—John 15:7-8

Agile, swimming, risk-taking, hibiscus loving, daring, fascinating!

Agile, swimming, risk-taking, hibiscus loving, daring, fascinating!

I believe that God will place in you a tenacious hunger for something that will require a leap of faith.

Whether you are a risk-taker or not, I encourage you to use the God-given talents you possess to pursue what motivates you.

You have no idea who might be watching or who YOU might inspire.

Go ahead. Go out on that limb.

Because you know how many hillside, succulent flowers the napping “palm frond iguana” enjoyed and savored?

Not a single one.

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Student becomes Teacher becomes Student

Teacher becomes Student becomes Teacher

It’s my husband’s last week of the school year and he is counting the days – NINE school days until graduation and the end of another academic year. This marks his 18th year teaching. I’ve been praying for him, the other teachers and the students this time of year when burn-out abounds and frustrations over-flow.

But today is special.

It is Saturday! The birds are chirping and a cool 70 degree breeze and blue sky greets us as we depart on our adventure: a PIZZA cooking class! 

We’re so excited that we arrive 30 minutes early to the strip mall that houses the Classic Cooking Academy and side restaurant PIZZETTA. It’s practically in our back yard at 10411 E McDowell Mountain Ranch Road.  We walk through the front doors of the school to a serendipitous surprise.

“Good morning. Hey?” Says the young man dressed in the chef’s smock checking us in at the front desk. “Didn’t you teach at Ironwood?” he says to my husband.

“Yes. It’s been a while…Aren’t you Christian, uh, what was your last name?”

“Driessens!” says the young man as the former student and his old teacher shake hands.

Teacher and student blog

The reminiscing begins as the two catch up, the surprise being that Chef Christian Driessens will be our instructor for the course!

Since we’re way early and the staff is still readying the area for the class, Teacher Bacon and I walk the strip mall.

“Wow. Almost didn’t recognize the kid,” he shakes his head and looks down, “He used to have long hair and always wore this attitude…like ‘I’m going to do what I want and school isn’t one of those things.’ You know? Square peg in the round hole.”  

We walk a little further and he begins Facebooking former teachers to let them know of this happy turn of events.

“See, the thing is, even back then, he loved the cooking stuff…and there was a teacher who helped point him in that direction…”

We return to the Academy kitchen and it begins:

Chef Driessens told us about himself. How, although he looks quite young, how he really had grown up “in the business” with both grandparents and parents who taught him along the way. How, right out of high school he had enough passion, interest and knowledge to get schooling that opened opportunities for him and how he interned at some of the valley finest dining spots and learned from some top chefs.

Following his introduction, he dug right in to the course, working his way through the topics like a pro. I floated above the moment, like the flames licking the top of the wood fired pizza oven from Italy. It was surreal to hear the masterful way this former student taught a packed kitchen full of teachers, microbiologists, (writers—-wink wink), couples and families. He schooled us on everything from the best flours and the structure of gluten and how it makes the elasticity of the dough, to the way the oven works to pull out moisture and create the perfect crust. 

Pizza oven teacher blog

Chef Driessens fielded questions about the best pizza stones to use in our own ovens, to storage methods of ingredients and the correct knives to use on romaine lettuce to avoid the rusty look.  I watched in fascination as he demonstrated his knowledge and expertise all the while whisking up a fantastic dressing, flipped out perfectly round pizza dough and created a masterpiece for us all to envy as we tried to re-create his instructions.

teacher blog two

Later, as we all chatted over our beautiful pizza pies, I watched as Chef “took the room.” He chatted with the biologists about his love for cars and all things fast. How his profession, that he loved, really fueled his hobby and first love of cars.  He detailed the benefits of Arizona Restaurant Week to the couple across from us. And spoke like a true professional about all the courses offered at the Classic Cooking Academy.

As I looked across at “my beloved teacher,” Keith, I saw his beaming face.

For a teacher, despite not knowing it at the time, despite thinking this long-haired, large attitude kid was not learning, there was a passion and a drive (pun-intended) that was at work behind the scenes of the school house walls.

I thought of all those teachers I had growing up who saw me for who I was, not just a number, a seat in second hour, or a grade in their roster. I thought of the teachers that took the time to find out about me and encourage me in that direction.

I wondered about all the teachers in Chef Driessens life that got him to where he was this day.

In the span of a few hours, I witnessed the teacher become student and student become teacher.  I learned not only how to utilize centrifugal force to flatten and stretch the perfect pizza dough, how to make fresh mayonnaise and fresh Caesar salad dressing, but also that not everything  that is learned is taught in school, but rather taught by people who care.

teacher blog three

Teachers be encouraged, don’t give up on students. And students, be encouraged, don’t give up on your teachers.

PEAKS and VALLEYS

from GEONiius.com

from GEONiius.com

PEAKS AND VALLEYS
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler all sang, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”
You take one step forward and end up ten steps back…
Have you ever faced something seemingly insurmountable?
Divorce, Depression, a Diagnosis, Death of a loved one…
Have you made it through or conquered that “thing” and stood back a moment to breathe and bask in that moment?
I think this is what they were singing about…life.

As a kid, it always cracked me up to hear parents and teachers telling how they “had to travel to school by foot in the snow and it was uphill both ways!”
I totally get this now. Life is tough.
I’ve had those moments and am witness to this in several friends who are right there, right now. As if those insurmountable things are everywhere; surrounding, taunting, jabbing. Like you’re standing at the bottom of the lowest point of the vast depths of the Grand Canyon, entombed by its red cliffs, and on your last drop of water and final morsel of nourishment…

Approaching the hill at mile 23 of my second marathon, I heard the “POP” and felt something inhuman happen in my knee. It was sharp-shooting pain like I have never felt before, EVER.
Several doctor visits, MRI’s and consults later, I learned all about bulging discs and the nerve pain I was experiencing. I was told to quit running, to take up swimming and prescribed physical therapy (and injections, but no way am I having needles inserted in my spine!). The doctor told me, if I absolutely had to run, to quit for a year and if I continued to run, I better do it on soft surfaces and only uphill; downhill would aggravate the condition.
If you are a marathon runner, you know this news is like hearing your best friend just shot your dog and ran away with your life savings and your spouse (and insulted your mom on the way out!) Plus, if you are a runner (or athlete of any kind), you can relate to not wanting to give-up.
“…The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
I kinda half listened to the doctor’s advice; and half marathons are only one-half of a full marathon…
The Whiskey Row half marathon:
“Starting and finishing in historic downtown Prescott, home of the famous Whiskey Row, this out and back course is considered one of the most difficult in the United States, offering panoramic views of Northern Arizona. Starting at 5,280 feet, the elevation increases at 7,000 feet at the 13 mile turn around. The course is paved road for the first and last 3.5 miles, the rest is on Forest Service dirt road in the pines.” (From Active.com)
I registered, booked the hotel and was not going to let a little nerve pain get in the way. Well, if you know anything about back pain– it can take you to your knees in about .00015 seconds! I pushed through the pain. I stretched, attended physical therapy, did all those exercises at home, learned to swim and got addicted to ibuprofen (if that’s possible!)
I showed up at the starting line and prayed that I wouldn’t end up on my knees (no pun intended!) I lightly jogged until we hit the first uphill; I gritted it out and passed people! Funny thing though, it is followed by a downhill (those parents and teachers were full of sh*#!! 😉
A pack of three women, each with matching motivational t-shirts kept blowing by me on the downhill. I walked and prayed all the way down; hoping the ibuprofen would keep those bulging discs in check for a little while longer. Yet, on the next uphill, I was able to pick it up again and I caught back up to those three women! As I passed them I wanted to stop, but they cheered me on! Then, when they passed me on the next downhill, I whooped and hollered for them. For 13.1 miles of peaks and valleys this continued.
“Cause He who is in me, is greater than I will ever be and I will rise”-lyrics from “Rise” by Shawn McDonald.
And guess who crossed the finish line at the same time?
Me and the three.
Regardless of pace or terrain, we end up at the same place if we press on.
“How were you able to run all those up-hills?” One of the three approached me after the race and asked me, “Was this your strategy?”
As we chatted, I explained my run was not a strategy but was my survival.
We do the best we can with what we’ve been given.
The pain I am feeling from last weekend’s FBFW half marathon run as I write this reminds me that I tempt fate. I also realize that at any point, this could be taken from me. Will I be okay with that fate? –The prognosis of not running to me is worse. So I trudge on.
There are no guarantees in this life. Or are there?
Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 6:16:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
This life is hard. It throws things at us that we never saw coming.
BUT, there are moments when you will be renewed; you will be the shiny, new, crystal “windshield.” Relish those moments—regain strength, breath in all that is good and pure and praiseworthy. Because, guess what?
Bugs happen.
Whether you are just trying to breathe, just needed a moment of rest and gritting out the uphill climb of that heart pumping, legs aching, body deteriorating and spirit dousing ascent and cannot even see the summit , OR
If you have ascended from that valley, are breathing in the majesty of God’s peaks, mountaintops and towers of glory, OR
Maybe you are gliding the downhill slope and breathing in with ease as if the wind itself is propelling you effortlessly through the moments of this life and you can enjoy some peace and rest;
My hope is that; wherever you find yourself, the valley, the peak or the slope of life, you take in a deep breath and PRESS ON!
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
-Hebrews 12:1-3

REPTILE RELAY

LIZARD © 2004 Richard Soberka - http://www.photoway.com/REPTILE RELAY
Do you run alone?
Running along the succulent lined sidewalk of sunny Scottsdale, AZ this summer, I was thanking God that this was the last stretch of the run. The sun blazed out its 100 degrees already at 8 a.m. and I was enjoying the slight downhill of this last 1.5 miles of the run. I slowed to take a sip of the rationed remainder from my quickly evaporating water bottle (now approaching those 100 degrees!) and noticed I had a bulging-eyed admirer checking me out from the block wall.
I stopped briefly to study the approximately 5 inch lizard flexing his muscles in a two-, then three-pump push-up before he scattered down the brick wall to the shade of the small succulent bush. As I continued on my run; he followed and began to keep pace. I watched from the corner of my eye. My five strides matched up with his hundreds of steps as he stalked me; bolting from bush to bush that lined the well-manicured embankment of the Cactus Shadows housing development. I began laughing out loud as I continued on; for hundreds of feet, this lizard continued to keep stride with me!
I studied it closer, thinking this had to be impossible for this tiny creature to maintain this pace! Was there somehow another lizard hiding along the pathway, ready and waiting to take the next leg of the race? How could this lizard keep up? But he did!—I was amazed; he, so tiny and having to work so hard to match my downhill run; and me, advancing toward my own air conditioned shade and fresh, chilled water awaiting me at home, yet enjoying the moment with my new running partner. I would slow a bit advancing on the next opportunity for him to rest in the shade, but he would dart out once again and I was motivated anew to continue.
I thought back to the mile relays I ran for Arvada West’s high school track team. Each of the four girls on the relay team had to run ¼ mile at top speed as she transported a shiny aluminum baton to the next fresh-legged runner. What began as a featherweight baton and run-ready legs pumping like well-oiled machinery, at 300 yards would transform into exhausted, wobbly legs nearly giving out and handing over what had become a leaden encumbrance. The next girl then took over transporting the (once again) lightweight aluminum cylinder and, undoubtedly she underwent the same transformation at that 300 yard mark. This went on for each runner and ended with transporting that baton across the finish line to victory!
It would seem that my little lizard stalker had his own teammate with fresh legs waiting in the cool shade of those succulent bushes ready to take over for his endeavor to keep up with me. I laughed at the thought of how many millions of steps he (and his teammates) would have to take to catch me before I made the rest of the journey to my air-conditioned oasis.
I thought back to those Arvada West relay days and, what I loved most about the team was, even though each girl was exhausted after her own leg of the run, each girl would find enough strength to make her way to that 300 yard mark (wobbly, exhausted legs and all!) and cheer on her teammates.
About ¼ mile in to my reptile relay run is when my companion’s journey with me ended. I still had quite a way to go and I thought back to all those mile relays–without that girl located at the 300 yard mark, cheering when most needed, the journey seemed impossible.
My mind returned to the joy I felt during that little jaunt with my lizard companion and it carried me the rest of my way home.– It also struck me as so similar to the journey we have with God; I thought about His footsteps and that old story of the “Footprints in the Sand.”
Whether we see the one set of footprints or we see both sets of prints, we never run alone.
Whatever it is that you are carrying; a shiny baton, a nearly empty water bottle, the loneliness of heartbreak, the loss of a loved one, the burden of an illness; or, maybe you run from the shadows of shames in your past; there is One who can carry you on; One who will heal all your wounds and quench your soul-thirst. He cheers us from the 300 yard mark and every other lonely stretch along the way, providing laughter for the moment, a friend to help carry your burden when your body has exhausted its strength and, most definitely, He shows us the hope of an Oasis at the end of the journey.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version (NIV)
May your relay, your day, your journey and your life be blessed.

THE BEAR

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Getting ready to head out on a “maiden” run along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, we stopped to look at the map and trail. What we found was a warning—Just two weeks earlier a black bear had been sighted in the area.
We set out anyway.
By the time we had meandered up the winding trail, viewing massive scenic expanses of water sparkling like diamonds across the sky, greenery reaching up, up, up into the billows of blue overhead, that bear was all but forgotten. I don’t take my camera on most runs—I like to capture the moments in my heart and my mind’s eye—like taking the time to try to capture the AWE will scare it away like the mist of breath on a cold night.
Seven and ½ miles later we had witnessed a skunk blaze the trail ahead of us and two deer bravely traverse a cliff. Our senses were mildly alerted to the wild life, but our perception of danger was overpowered by the beauty of this place.
Then we heard it.
Straight from Friday the 13th, the crisp and foreboding break of a branch on the forest floor—broken by something heavy and halting our journey.
“The bear!” it was a hush that felt like a scream to me.
I stopped dead in my tracks for just one moment that felt like eons.
“There –just to the right—about 50 yards up from us—“
That’s all I need to hear. My sights never locked on that bear, but I didn’t need to. The ominous echoing crack of that branch and the sudden memory of every bear mauling I had ever read about, heard about and seen on TV. came pushing through my body propelling me toward the safety of the trailhead and the protection of the car.
It was easily a quarter of a mile before my more adventurous bear seeker caught up with me. “Did you see him!? Did you see it!? I didn’t see any cubs…I wish I would’ve taken its picture!” The words came out in excited bursts…
We continued our escape and warned all below us of the sighting. The rest of the trip I heard about how much he wished he would’ve taken that picture.
Hindsight is 20/20—especially from the safety of your car.
What if? What if he would’ve got that perfect shot?
I am glad he didn’t. Like I said earlier, I am okay with not having the photo— Seriously; it is okay to miss some shots in life. I have the story to tell.
What if he’d stayed just long enough for the bear to get pissed at us in his territory…What if?
I have a picture of another bear.
It was mid 1980’s and my father spent three years bear hunting in the woods of Colorado. Three seasons of baiting, waiting, re-baiting, more waiting and nothing, nothing, nothing.
All the hours spent preparing: practice shots at the range, canvassing the perfect area, months spent reading about the most aromatic and appealing black bear baits. And then–the season comes and all that waiting–crouched for hours, with black bear shot gun loaded and ready–finally pays off.
His first black bear! Large nose sniffing the air and moving ever closer to that perfect bait, branches breaking beneath the weights of those grandiose paws getting closer and closer and closer!
Breath is suspended, muscles peak and moving ever so silently (especially after three years of practice!), he prepares to shoot. There is something untold that happened right then. What will all the men say! The pride of shooting this creature, the pelt, all that meat for black bear burgers…I think not. I think it was awe.
He shot it. With his 24 exposure Fuji disposable camera. Got three wavering shots off before the rest of her cubs came into the view–two babies trampling behind her. (This was way before digital, so there was an actual wait time before we could see the evidence!) The film was so fuzzy and the pictures only showed the mother’s behind and the babies’ beginning.
I know my dad got a lot of crap about that moment. The moment he made the choice to not shoot—it was the last year of his preparing, baiting and waiting.
I was never more proud of my dad for shooting his first (and last) black bear.