Saturday, August 25, 2018

Feeding the needy: When you have to say no.

On the 4th Saturday of every month, K and I help to serve breakfast to those in need at our church.  Our church program is one adopted from the church blend that we experienced with a closed church in our area almost 2 years ago.

The program is fairly simple.  If you feel you are in need, come.  We will provide you with toiletries, laundry detergent, dish soap and toilet paper.  We will serve you a hot breakfast on real plates with real silverware.

You do not have to qualify with some particular monetary proof.  You come.  We serve.

We have a lot of the same monthly visitors.  We've been able to develop a lovely relationship with many of them.

We have appreciative visitors.

We have entitled visitors.

We have people who complain no matter what.

Today, we had a record crowd.  We served 71 families and have basically averaged that out at probably 150 people served.  (Since we have many double/triple trippers, my guess is at least 180 meals were served.)

We started serving a half hour early today since we are also hosting homeless families for the week.  Another program our church is involved in helps to keep homeless family members together as a unit.  They travel on to the center each day, so we needed to feed them to get them on their way early.  The church member in charge of transport had no idea of serving time and was rather upset that we weren't serving breakfast at 8 AM.  She could see that we were not ready.  "The bulk of our donations come in during the 8 o'clock hour."  She was irritated, but I told her friend, "As you stand here, you can see that we cannot make it go any faster."  She agreed.

Anticipating a larger crowd, I decided to make two egg casseroles this morning.  (I usually only make one.)  M came trucking in with two bags of produce from a farmer co-worker, so I made some veggie cups to give out.  I put everything in the oven this morning at 5:30 AM so that we could be there an hour early for our crowd.

Crowded it was.

There is one woman who we haven't seen for a few months.  K and I call her The Sausage Lady.  Others call her The Container Lady. She will come in and have us pile and I mean PILE food on her plate.  She yells at us if we give her subpar pieces.  (She doesn't like browned sausage.)  She yells at us if we give her small pieces.  She yells at us if we don't give her the piece she asked for.  She yells at me if I cannot see (I'm short) that there are some extra bits left behind.

We have the Pancake Kids.  There is a family of two adults and 8 rag tag lil kids.  They are very polite.  They have been taught to take only what you can eat.  They have been taught that after you eat what is on your plate, you may have more.  They do one pancake at a time.  Each kid.  Over and over.

We started running out of food at 9:15 AM.  The two ovens and warmer were empty of their contents at 9:30 AM.  We had to send someone out to buy more food.  We went through 6 dozen eggs in less than a half hour.  Usually, eggs are our fall back.  At 9:55 AM, they called last pancakes.

"You can't!  The pancake kids haven't been here yet!  Last time they came at the last minute and we can't go without pancakes for them!"

In the meantime, The Sausage/Container lady was rounding on her third trip.  She sits at a far back table, thinking that we cannot see that she brought a Market District freezer bag full of containers to place all of her food in.  She comes back for more.  She eats some, and containers more.  Rinse and repeat.  She wanted two pieces of a casserole.  My serving mate told her that she'd have to come back around.

At 10:15 AM, the pancake kids arrived.  One small scoop of eggs, one pancake, two sausages.  Repeat x 8.  They laughed.  "You knew that they were coming.  You wouldn't stop the pancakes."  No I wouldn't.

You see, the last time we served, they were here when we broke everything down into take home containers and people could take food.  They had no idea what was going on, but when I explained it, it was as if we handed their family a brand new car.  They were so excited to have the extra food.

It comes time to break down what lil bit we had left.  I start containering leftovers and low and behold, The Sausage/Container Lady rushes up.  She grabs two containers, an empty and is standing waiting to have it filled.  There are others standing behind her.  I couldn't hold it in any longer.  All morning, she saw our struggle to make sure we had enough to feed the masses.  I paused with the counter ladies and said, "We must pray."  I prayed that we would have enough food and patience.

"I know that you have other containers back at the table, too."

She looked at me and went on to get another container filled.

I went to bag up the remaining pancakes for the kids.  5 of them were standing in front of me.  An older woman walked up behind them.  She was holding two filled containers of food.  She wanted the pancakes.

"Ma'am, I'm going to give these pancakes to the kids."


"Ma'am, you have two containers in your hands and these children have nothing."

She yelled at me again.  I put two pancakes in a bag for her and told her, "I will be giving the rest of the pancakes to the children."

She mumbled something else crappy to me and went off.

Um, how low can you go?  Container lady bugs me, but she has never stepped in to take food from a child.

I almost cried right there.  I seriously could not get those pancakes packed up fast enough.  I passed them on and they were eating them as they walked like they were a bag of chips.  Those kiddos were so happy.  All they wanted were some pancakes.

Several of us talked about it later.  I don't regret anything I said.  But, a point someone brought up-- How hungry do you have to be to take food from children?

M has referred to it as an "eat or be eaten" mentality.  If you don't jump up and fight, you are going to starve.

Food insecurity.  It is real.  When do you say no?  I guess that I hit that point today.  I always said that if I had food in front of me, I would never say no.  Now I have.

At 10:35 AM and after the dust had briefly settled after the great pancake denial, we had a woman at the counter asking for food for three women.  "We just gave away the last of what we had."  "But I am so hungry.  We need food for three women.  We are late, but you have to give us something.  I'm just so hungry."

I got two of our men to bust out some pancakes and eggs.  The woman was mad.  She wanted the full spread at the end of the day.

"Ma'am, we ran short of some things today.  We had a record crowd.  The amount that we did have at the end, I was surprised that we did."

We served them, took care in making sure that they received their bags of goods and on the way out, I made sure to check the date for them for next month.  I told them when and what times.  "We do this on the 4th Saturday of the month."

Another volunteer chimed in, "Except for November and December when we shift it for the holidays."

"Well you DO something for the children at the holidays, DON'T YOU?"

"We actually do the same each day we serve."

"But I have three grandchildren who live with me."  (None were with her at this time though.)

"I'm sorry ma'am, but we do the same we do every month."

Her friend piped in, "And we THANK YOU for everything that you do!"

Appreciation, not expecting more.

These ladies would have been back up for more, but I think that they got the hint that we served each of them a beautiful hot plate of food, despite having most everything broken down and cleaned.  There will be next month.  There will be expectations.  There will be demands.  Sometimes you just have to say no.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Breakfast Casserole: Veggie Egg Tater Tot Bake

Once a month, K and I go to the church to serve breakfast to those in need in our area.  It's important to say that these folks don't have to qualify.  If they show up, we provide them with toiletry items/cleaning items (toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo . . . ) that they might not be able to get otherwise.  We love this ministry.  For the first few times we came, we helped without bringing anything.  We really didn't know what to do.  After a few cracks at seeing what works, I have come up with a recipe that volunteers and visitors alike love.

Veggie Tater Tot Bake
Serves 12 or more (depending upon how you cut it)
NEEDS TO SIT OVERNIGHT.  (Don't say that I didn't warn you. ;) )
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Cooking time:  1 hour and a half

I have always made this in a standard sterno warmed foil pan.  (The kind that go into disposable catering trays.)  You could also put it together in a cake pan.

1 bag of frozen tater tots*
1 dozen eggs
A cup or so of milk
1 package of pepper jack cheese slices
Probably 1 cup of shredded cheese (I've used cheddar or colby jack)
2 1/2 - 3 cups diced veggies  (I use broccoli, carrots and sweet peppers)
Salt and pepper to taste.

I started creating this recipe by seeing what vegetables needed used in my crisper drawer.  Probably horrible to admit, but it is true.  Whatever you choose, chop up those veggies! 
Throw them into a bowl with the FROZEN tater tots.  My salt and pepper measurements are by pepper grinder and salt mill.  For me, it is 12 cranks of each one.  Toss in your shredded cheese.  Stir all of this together and place in a pan sprayed well with Pam.  

Into a 4 cup measuring cup, I crack 1 dozen eggs, top off to the 4 cup mark with milk then add 5 more cranks each of pepper and salt.  Scramble all this up in the measuring cup then pour evenly over the tater tot/veggie mixture.  

If I was thinking, I would have taken a picture but I didn't.  Here is where you place the slices of pepper jack cheese on top. 

If using a foil pan, place your pan on a cookie sheet, cover with foil SPRAYED WITH PAM on the side of foil closest to the food, fold the foil edges down over the sides and leave in the refrigerator overnight.  

Place your oven rack one step down from the middle.  (Meaning not the bottom rack.)  Bake at 375 F for an hour and a half.  You may want to double check baking times and adjust for your own oven.  

This is done when you can cut into the middle and see no liquid sloshing around. 


*Don't use hash brown potatoes.  You'll be tempted to.  They were bland and watery.  I've already made the mistake for you.  Trust me.  Avoid them, please.  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

My child chose a project beyond her reach and we didn't stop her.

My 14 year old daughter had STEM this quarter.  STEM was a rough road last year, so I knew that it would wobble a bit this year, too.  At the beginning of the quarter, K told me that she chose to tackle the VR project.  It was a tough assignment, warned to be so and no one else chose it because of that.  Encouraged by the teacher that she would help her along, K went for the challenge.

I knew that it was beyond her reach, but I said nothing.

It turns out that the same encouraging teacher who stated that she would be there to help my child was always out.  Meetings, off for the day . . . The supplementary help K had bargained for didn't quite work out as she thought.

It is here that I pause and say that K is certainly not the teacher's only student and I didn't expect her to hold her hand.

Time went on, K worked and worked.  She did what she knew, checked in with the teacher as she could and the end of the quarter came.

She bombed the project.  It dropped her grade from a low B to a middle D.  K cried and cried.  "Mom, I really tried."  M and I didn't question that she did try.  She wasn't in trouble.

It was more important for us to have K challenge herself and falter than to choose an easy project and learn little to nothing.

K's previous advocating for herself had kicked in and at the last hour, a project that K wasn't terribly successful in, but had permission to do again gained enough points to tick her up to a C.  The teacher had the re-grade in her possession for over a month and I am thankful that she allowed a redo and that she remembered that grade before grades closed.  But . . . if K walked away with a D, the world wasn't going to give way.  She chose to challenge herself and while the end result on paper didn't look to be a success, it didn't kill her and she learned.  She did her best.  Her projects were turned in on time.  She learned.

Will she dodge a challenge for a safe grade next time?  Nope.  She'll make the same choice and we will encourage her.

Friday, May 4, 2018

For the love that is all good and right, please stop all of this testing.

For those wondering how all of this standardized testing affects our kids, my child is in therapy for test taking anxiety and the anxiety from all of this testing has caused the kids to fall apart, causing one class to be so very disruptive that my child cannot even concentrate anymore.  She has grades suffering because of worry, lack of sleep, general ill feeling . . . Just when she thought that the AIR testing was all done, now MAP testing is coming down the pike.  Fabulous!  :scowling mama face:

Her therapist talked with her yesterday about the illing class that she has.  All year she has gotten A's and B's.  This seems to be the class that the wheels fell off the bus.  The train is no longer on the track, but she is turning everything in on time and the in class work is just sinking her.  She is trying but she cannot concentrate in this one particular class-- the class she has generally done the best in all year long.  We are dragging her through these last few weeks, hoping that this class can pull around and give her a good feeling before the end of the year.  We want to end the year on a positive note.

If the administrators who put these tests in place could just experience what the kids are feeling.  Teachers stressed to the max because their performance evaluations are riding on these test results, telling the students that they could fail the grade if they do not perform well.  (Incidentally, this is untrue.  These tests are placement tests for next years coursework.)  These are statements that further damage those amongst us with test taking anxiety.  Kids are falling apart.  Teachers are falling apart.  The educational system is teaching to test.

Please stop the madness.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Please don't stop writing thank you notes.

This was a photo that we used on some handcrafted thank you notes that K sent at the age of 4. 
I know that there are people celebrating the recent story about the "gift of no thank you cards."  How very little time it takes to write a thank you.  I have to say that it is probably far less effort for you to write a thank you than for what the person went through to choose your gift, wrap and present it to you.

Most people put a lot of thought and caring into the gifts that they give.  I know that in my house, we do.  Granted we miss the mark every now and then, but we look at the person and really try to choose something for them.

Our society has turned into quick, easy, dash in and dash out, e-mails, texts, Facebook and Twitter and how thoughtful it is to receive a handwritten note of thanks.  Not that much effort involved, but certainly very appreciated.

Please don't stop writing thank you notes.  I know that we won't.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The one with the wardrobe malfunction.

My dear sweets had the annual Solo & Ensemble event just yesterday.  She had prepared a violin solo and was doing a string duet with a friend.  The girls go, play their string duet and do a fairly decent job.  It was a lot of shifting and frankly, other than saying that apparently that is very challenging in violin playing, I have no idea what I am talking about.  However!  The girls did a great job, particularly since they hadn't a lot of time to prepare for it.

K had worked on her solo for months.  My friend, Heather, is her violin instructor.  Bless her soul, she sees K and does not charge us for it.  She has prepared K.  She has tweaked.  The other day, she sent me a text stating, "Perfection and I don't say that to my students."

K finished playing her duet with C, then she was the very next time slot.  She had to wait for the judge to finish writing her comments about their duet before she started playing.  She patiently waited for a few minutes.  While she did that, she had the bottom of her violin resting on the top of her thigh.  When it was announced that she could begin, she raised her violin and  . . .  her dress.  The shoulder rest grabbed hold of her dress and pulled it up!  I gasped, but we all laughed.  Most importantly, K laughed.  Thankfully, she had some legging capris on under the dress, so all we saw were pants, but . . . At 14, I would have rather ended up sinking into the surface of the floor than to continue on, but she did.  She continued on beautifully.

K earned a I on her solo.  (1 out of 5, with 1 being the best.)  She and C earned a II, and both girls were elated.

It was a great lift for her, not only to her esteem, but also to her dress hem.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Advocating for our kids: Let's allow them to use their own voice.

All too often, I've run into parents too concerned about speaking on behalf of their children.  Just today, we had a woman in with her daughter and she was speaking for her.

The daughter had the ability to speak.
The daughter used that ability to speak.
The mother continued to speak for her, but when the daughter was speaking she did pause her interruption.

I believe that the daughter was mildly learning disabled.  She spoke on her own behalf.  She made her needs known in appropriate ways.  She responded appropriately.

So why was mama speaking for her?  I believe that she has probably protected and advocated for her all of her life but since this young lady is probably ball parking 16, she is going to have to have mama loosen those communicative apron strings a bit.

As parents, letting those strings out can feel uncomfortable.  As parents, letting those strings out could also cause us more work.  As parents, we need our children to learn to live outside of our protective or hovering presence.

There was another young woman who came into work to inquire about a job.  As you can guess, mom was with her.  Mom ran her over, ran to the counter, interrupted her and was completely overbearing.  The child could not speak up for herself and she was 18 and going into college.

Parents, we can't do this to our kids.

We need to teach our children how to advocate for themselves.  We need them to learn to speak their needs, themselves, and to learn to be (as my kiddo would call) problem solvers.

I was just talking with M this evening and said that it was a blessing for K to move to a school system that I have not been all involved in.  At her elementary, every teacher knew me.  I was the PTA president, was there all of the time and wrote the monthly newsletter.  K was there with me all of the time schlepping tables for book fairs, decorating things, setting up different events and I think that in some small way, this earned her a bit of a communicative pass from some of her teachers.  Now this isn't to say that K didn't communicate at all, but she was far more shy about making her needs known.

Fast forward to 6th grade.

M and I dropped K off to a strange school with a building full of kids she did not know, no one knew her mama and she had to make it on her own.

Honestly, at the end of her 6th grade year, she fell flat on her face.  It was ugly.  We knew that it was happening because of a series of poor choices, but she needed to learn.  She was in big trouble.  (Lying and not turning work in.)  Her teacher allowed her to turn her work in late, but at a maximum of 50% score.  It sucked, but we had to let it happen.

She pulled through and in the end, open enrollment continued for her 7th grade year.  (We have to re-apply every year, making this mama quite nervous.)  K dusted herself off in middle school, found the book club, volunteered at the library, helped her Language Arts teacher during lunch (we didn't even know this until the end of the year) and was chosen to be Student of the Month for October.

She did this all on her own.

It's not to say that there weren't gaffs in 7th grade, but she really pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made her needs known.  She discussed some inappropriate speak that was going on with one of the young men, asked me my opinion and I gave her both sides.  The next morning she told me, "I've decided to go speak with Mr. L about it.  I know what can happen, but what is going on isn't right and I need someone to know."  Though retaliation was a definite possibility, she spoke with the Vice Principal about her concerns and throughout the remaining part of the year, he would check in on her and make sure that all was okay.

She did this all on her own.

Children's choices may not be our choices, but we need to allow them to make decisions.  We need to allow them to learn to effectively speak for themselves, make appropriate choices and speak out when wrongs need righted.  They need to know ramifications of poor decision making. (Clearly we need to make certain that they are safe and keeping others safe.)

We need to help them to model good behavior and good citizenship.

We need to be an example to them of:
  . . . love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control.  Galations 5:22-23
We need to allow them to use their voice.  We needn't speak for them.  We need to guide them.  We need to be there to listen.  We need to allow them to do it . . . on their own.