Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Peace on Earth

Mid-holiday season, the time between Christmas and New Years, I am enjoying the music, the bundling up to keep warm, the conversations with old and new friends, and the excuse to eat favorite foods.

Holiday music, the blues and funk have been playing in the house. My daughters have decided that cooking to soul music is more inspiring than traditional holiday music. A walk across the kitchen becomes a dance.

Actually, it isn't that simple.

I get the feeling that listening on Pandora Radio via the internet is more than a metaphor. The open box, it seems, is the conjouring room called a kitchen. The ingredients include past knowledge and all kinds of trouble that are the stuff of family politics. My daughters are now in their mid-twenties. They have taken over the kitchen for holiday meals.

Ideally, we would be doing a dance to encourage each other to do what they do best or perhaps express their deepest desire. This holiday cooking time moved beyond beginners luck of glorious meals produced uneventfully to this time where we had ovens that cooked unevenly, a turkey that wasn't going to serve enough as people were added to the guest list, and foods that we simply ran out of time to prepare.

During the last holiday meal preparation, there was a meltdown. Chaulk it up to hormones.

One of the kids had tried to tell me how to make roasted veggies. I basically told her to back off. She could make the dishes she was making her way. I was making mine my way. The son-in-law tried to intervene. I certainly wasn't dancing gracefully at that moment. Couldn't I just have acknowledged her ideas and moved a little kinder in the kitchen?... my kitchen?

That was part of the problem. When the girls cooked, they really worked well together. But I was the one who couldn't figure out how to share space. I had become used to cooking alone in this kitchen. When they were home, there was almost a glee in kicking mom out of the kitchen, mom's kitchen.

We moved a few years ago from a very tiny house to a more spacious home. When we cooked in the old house, we couldn't help but bump into each other as we moved around the tiny space. Now we had more space, a different space, in a different time.

These women have taken favorite recipes from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers and are making them their own to bring to the holiday table. There is such emotion in this cooking.

As the guest list grew and it became clear that one turkey would not be enough, I pulled out a beef to roast. Well, that screwed up the intricate, but unseen schedule someone was keeping in their mental calculations. Actually, I'm not sure who was figuring this out, but all hell was breaking loose.

Ovens were cranked up hotter, hands moved faster, recipes adjusted, creative cooking got more creative. Someone was trying to keep up with cleaning pots and pans, so that we could reuse them for other dishes. We were doing a dance and didn't know it.

Dinner was served a little later than planned. That's okay. There are family members who always come late anyway. Those who leave early stayed a little longer. Funny how this worked out.

Hospitality is a grace that my maternal side of the family understood. It isn't just the food, it is the awareness that everyone counts and is included. Truth be told, some of those dishes are awful, but are so packed with memories that they have to be included. This stuff defies logic. But each food or gift or conversation brings with it a connection to something larger than the face of the thing. I suppose it is love in all of its imperfect and messy glory.

Later in the night when everything was winding down, Pandora was switched off and traditional choral music was playing about the birth of Christ and the hope that comes with it. Somehow this music, too, motivates my family to find our groove in that most feminine of gifts: nourishment and hospitality.

As with our family holiday prayer: may this food be put to the use in the service of building God's Kingdom here on earth. Bless all who are here and especially those who aren't. Peace be with you. To which I would add, may love be with you in all of its imperfect and messy glory.

I wish all these things for you... and if you get a chance to eat Bean's angelic homemade mashed potatoes or Pumpkin's pies you are in for a treat. Their tag lines could be: No storebought instant foods used, or specializing in comfort foods. This proud momma can imagine a heavenly rest-stop/restaurant here on earth.

Friday, December 10, 2010

When is a new job not new?

I started a part-time social work position at a government-run assisted living - a remnant of the poor house in my community. My adult professional life has been focused on work with the poor, older adults and their families. In an era when there are fewer jobs for workers seeking work, I am glad to have this job.

After a week at this facility, the director of nursing came up to me and asked me how it was going. She asked if I was okay since I had been pretty much on my own. I smiled.

After 30 years of work where I have never had a job that had enough training and orientation and where the job description never really matched what actually was done, I jumped right in and focused on what I saw was my work: to get to know the residents, staff, families and volunteers.

I'm rotten with names, so I met residents and staff at breakfast and again at lunch. If they happened to be in public space during the day, I'd stop and introduce myself. Normally, I'd assume that they would be more likely to remember me - one new person in their life, as opposed to me learning several dozen names and faces. But, with many having some form of memory problems and my job being part-time, we may be a while learning and remembering each other.

Of course there are other details to attend to. I needed to see their records and at least look at their "face" sheet - the key information about the person, and then check the psycho-social sections. Then there is the business of setting up one's desk, computer and phone.

The real challenge, however, is the work-place politics.

The first week at work, a citizen had come in to do "research" on the organization. This person said their research showed that the property and services the community has commited to over the past 200 years has been bogus. The county bought the land and no documents have been found to support a responsibility to serve the poor.

Really? My heart sank. I can remember visiting a great-great aunt at this facility when it was the firetrap-of-a-poorhouse. In the 1970's, the county built a safer facility and was now building a new facility again on the same property.

Why would our community lie to itself about its responsiblity for the poor and elderly? Then I thought about the legal sense of what he was saying versus the moral and ethical bonds we have to each other in community.

Two days later, the new county board of elected officials had put the facility on "notice" publically in the local newspaper. The facility was operating in the red and things needed to change. Serving the poor is never a profitable business and this facility has been no different. In the past, there had been noise about closing down or selling off the long-term care services to the poor in the community, but local residents have always pushed back.

This time, the community has grown as a suburb of the big city so much that area residents are new and do not have a sense of connectedness beyond coming home to shop or go out to eat. At a PTA meeting years ago, my husband returned saying the tone of the meeting was that parents wanted a "good" school so that when they moved, their resale values would be strong.

The mood of the country around government services has radically changed in this past election with tea party groups seeking to dismantle anything that doesn't directly impact them. My community is no different. The county officials feel their responsibility is limited to funding roads and emergency services.

Week Two: the director of the agency called a staff meeting to allay staff fears about rumors of privitization. Almost all of the staff are personal care aides, housekeepers, and kitchen help. These folks are not weathly and need their jobs. We were told to not scare ourselves when the officials talk about "privatization" and instead to think in terms of "doing business differently." The director was fierce about trying to reassure staff that changes would affect new hires, not current hires. As a part-time director, she has dedicated her life to the care of the residents and nurturing caring staff.

I'm feeling like I've just been hired to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. I was hired to help residents, their families, and staff cope with the stress of an upcoming moving, the usual losses associated with aging, and working with very little resources, an already challenging place operating on the thinnest thread. It certainly feels like a ship in a storm. I just hope the hull is intact and we can ride this out.

And then, I remember that Buddhists believe change is eternal. For Christians, love is the common underlying force. With both spiritual perspectives, I have to acknowledge that this is a time to deepen my faith practices.

In my line of work, there always seems to be the threat of abandoning the poor. As the global economy faces challenges that impact all of us, my prayer is that I remain faithful to supporting ways of life that bring about health, wellness and happiness in the face of stormy changes.