23 September 2011

Sabbatical adventures II: Resume Building

One of the tasks I have been engaged in lately, on my sort of sabbatical, is editing my resume. You reader, can even have a look-see yourself if you are so inclined; I have posted it here as a google doc.

Today I added an experience that I am not quite sure, yet, how to place on my resume: substitute beginning violin teacher. I was asked last week if I would do a huge favor for one of the music teachers at the school my children attend. Without any hesitation and before even knowing what the request would be I said yes. I love the school, the teachers, and the staff. Anything for the school I would happily do. Then the teacher informed me that the school needed an emergency orchestra teacher for this week, to teach beginning violin for second graders. I hem-hawed around for a few minutes explaining my lack of ability and such until the teacher told me the kids are not even up to using a bow. My heart rate and blood pressure eased and I said sure. After all these are second graders, how hard could it be.

Today was my first day. I prepped by chaperoning for a field trip with 125 third graders on a swamp tour. Did I mention I signed up to ride on the school bus? Did I mention this same bus did not have air conditioning? Did I mention it was 90 degrees this morning? And did I forget to mention the bus ride was about 45 minutes? What a preparation!

Fast forward to 3:15, when the bell rings and school is dismissed. I went to round up my class of second graders. There along the fence were 15-16, maybe 17 second graders, who had no idea who I was or that I was their teacher for the day. To my surprise there was no protest.

We made it to our designated temporary spot (kids without instruments had to obtain loaners and sign them out). Then we hiked up to our designated classroom spot. But our first choice was already occupied, so was the second choice. So we hiked back down to our temporary spot and were assigned...the balcony. Did I mention the balcony (really a porch) is outside? Did I mention that I did not have a blackboard to write any music notation down? Did I mention how humidity and heat stretch violin strings?

I got all of the kids in some form of a line, took attendance, and then attempted my lesson for the day: explaining the different parts of the violin. I asked the students to get out their violins, only their violins - no bows. But the kids wanted to get their bows out. And I told them to put their bows back. Okay, now back to the parts of a violin. I was able to communicate about the neck and then, and then I lost them...one person was playing their violin like it was a guitar, one was swatting at a spider with their violin, and one somehow managed to get their bow back out and was playing like crazy.

I adjusted the lesson and began to pluck, or pizzicato lessons with them. Just follow me kids: D D rest rest, D D rest rest, D D rest rest; and the like. This went well until they spotted a wasp nest and a real live wasp. The "real live wasp" by the way was on the other side of the glass wall - thus, inside the building. I was able to calm them down a bit, we plucked some more, but then the wasp moved and that got the kids all in a tizzy. When I calmed them all down I noticed one little girl had tears streaming down her face. I was not prepared for this. I wasnt going to go Jimmy Dugan on her so I simply asked what was wrong? Another kid had told the crying kid that she was not allowed to name her violin, Viola. (I had instructed the kids earlier to name their instruments). I told the kid she could name the instrument whatever she wanted to, if tomorrow she woke up and wanted to name it saxophone or chocolate chip cookie it did not matter. We all had a good laugh and were able to pluck some more, A rest A rest; A rest A rest... Then the wasp moved again and a parent was spotted inside the building, the very building where the rabid wasp ruled, in the very hallway where the wasp caused bedlam and fear. The kids had no choice, they had to warn the unsuspecting parent of the assured lurking danger (because everyone knows in situations like the one I am describing the wasp would not only sting the parent just because but also sting the parent until he/she was motionless and in a coma). To make matters worse the parent, recognizing the melancholy of modern day American and a world starving for comedy, decided to act like he could not hear the dire warning from the kids. While this exchange was taking place rock star violinist, bowing like mad, and the swatter were back at it in full force. I looked at my watch: 4:21. I said pack it up kids, that's it for the day.

But what to do about the wasp...inside the building...in the hallway...the very hallway that held their backpacks which the students had to retrieve before going home? Piece of cake. Kids we are spies, if we tip toe and don't say a word the wasp will never even know we were there. By a miracle of the Holy the wasp paid no attention to us and not a child was stung or slipped into a coma.

If only all of this could be intimated in "substitute orchestra teacher" under work experience on my resume...

21 September 2011

Revives My Soul Again

Last night, shortly after 10pm, I finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. You may say big deal, many people have read that little 247 page jewel of a novel - and you would be right. I mention it because it was the second real effort at reading the book in the last five years. I tried to read it shortly after my father died but the book's theme was too much. I bet I got through at least 60 pages, but when I started it over this time I couldn't remember one iota from my previous attempt. This time was different. God bless you please, Ms. Robinson.

I am amazed at how Robinson was able to create the John Ames character. How did she create him with such detail? How many elderly preachers did she sit with before she wrote? How in the world did she get an Iowan cadence down on paper? (Yeah, I loved the book). After I put it down I wanted to write a similar book myself, not for my son but in the voice of my father writing the book for me. I would love to reconstruct his life from the memories he shared with me.

In other news...

As I mentioned the other day I am now on a sort of sabbatical. I am reading and writing but I am also trying to find something to do with myself during the day. I have hooked up with a landscaper. After the first day I realized (and I know this is going to be difficult for the non-preaching folk out there) that there are certain muscle groups and body motions that preachers just do not use on a regular basis.

I love to garden, but this is gardening on a massive scale; this is moving trees, and filling up pick up trucks with debris, and planting 30 bushes. Despite the soreness and aches I am finding the work to be very therapeutic. It is amazing how much frustration one can get rid of by weeding, trimming, shoveling, and pruning plants. It is also amazing how sharp, aggressive and down right nasty the thorns on a lemon tree are!

Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!

16 September 2011

Sort of Sabbatical Adventures

Many people have emailed and asked what I am doing nowadays. It is true I recently resigned as the Senior Pastor at the church here in New Orleans. It was a mutual agreement between myself and the congregation that we were not the fit for each other that we all hoped and prayed for. These things happen in congregational life. If I had it to do all over again I wouldn't trade my time here in New Orleans for anything. I found my voice as a preacher and found my heart for pastoral ministry was re-affirmed via Rhode Island.

So what next? Well, I am looking for a new call, helping out with music classes at the school my children attend (i.e. tuning violins), working on two manuscripts (a work of non-fiction on the social history of pigs and a children's book about a bear who smells bacon cooking) and an essay on long sermons.

I am also using this time (which I am calling a sort of sabbatical) to tackle one of the biggest fears and most troubling obstacles in my cooking life: BISCUITS. I love biscuits. I have probably eaten somewhere north of 100,000 of them over my thirty-six years of existence. I can attribute at least 50% of all my caloric intake from 6th grade to college to biscuits. Oh the loveliness of Tudor's Biscuit World - how "convenient" it was to have a strategically placed Tudor's between my college apartment and the Marshall University Campus. But despite my above average bread baking abilities I have never been able to make a decent biscuit. This week, however, I decided to give it my all.

First I experimented with the Alton Brown recipe - I did not, however, use vegetable shortening - I used coconut oil instead. The biscuits were tall, light, and fluffy. But according to The Joy of Cooking I did not incorporate the baking powder enough into the flour, thus the brown spots on the top of the biscuits.

Then while at the grocery store, for the heck of it, I bought a 5lb bag of Lily White Flour. Yes, the enriched kind with baking powder, baking soda, and salt already mixed in. But where does one find non-self rising soft winter wheat flour? The first batch was okay, a little dense. The second batch, that's another story. I sifted the flour, to better incorporate the pre-mixed baking ingredients, and used an equal mixture of butter and chilled bacon grease. This worked like a charm!
Riding a wave of new found success I decided to push myself and tackle one more elusive accomplishment: sausage gravy. Well I gave it all of my culinary skills I have obtained: a roux, deglazing, and pre-browned flour. The verdict: I am ready to open up a restaurant and sell nothing but biscuits and sausage gravy!

Maybe not a full scale restaurant, maybe a pop up restaurant open only on a Saturday & Sunday mornings.

Two more food finds of note.

1. Hubigs Pies. These deliciously evil concoctions are ubiquitous here in NOLA. I have spied them several times but never in the flavor I desire, until this weekend:
2. Blue Dot Donuts. I cannot recall if I have mentioned this place or not. Get this three New Orleans Policemen opened up their own donut shop. Man do they turn out some great donuts. Perhaps you viewed them on the Food Network the other day? They are "famous" for their maple glazed bacon long john. That's right bacon, maple, and a donut - it is like the ultimate breakfast pastry! Here is a picture of a remnant of one.

For the record: I am exercising at least an hour each day!