Monday, September 26, 2011

Finding our way

As I have broadcast to anyone who would listen, I took on the food service for the Ranch a few weeks ago and have been working HEROICALLY (according to me) to get things in order, organized, and working as they should.

This involves interactions with...the Foodies!

AKA the kitchen work team of Ranchers whose job is to assist in the kitchen.

First of all, by general consensus of the Ranch's leadership and program staff, we made the decision a few weeks ago to cease cooking a huge lunch with salad, green vegetable, yellow vegetable, roll, main course and dessert and instead go to...sack lunches.

That the Ranchers prepare themselves.

This was in part because we decided that a) who needs such a lunch to begin with? and b) it kind of didn't make a lot of sense to pay people to prepare their own lunch and then pay them to clean up after it.  Kind of like a snake eating its own tail.

Program liked the change because it's more "normalizing" in that most people fend for themselves for lunch, and a lot of them do it via the sack lunch.

But back to the Foodies.

Another matter is that the fact that we need to ramp up the professionalism of the Foodies in the kitchen.  Supervision has been a little lax, and we (meaning me) are tightening up.

So I held an in-service on dishwashing this morning.  The Ranchers mostly liked it, but one didn't.

"I KNOW how to wash dishes," she stated adamantly.

"Still," I said reasonably, "we can all learn to follow certain rules and do our work better."

She turned her back.  I objected.  She turned around.

Five minutes later as one Rancher struggled to take apart the working parts of a beverage dispenser, our offended party walked out and went to "tell" on me to Marci.  I knew where she'd gone, and what she was doing, and clocked her out of the training so she'll get to do dishwashing 101 all over again.

So...we spent an hour washing five beverage dispensers (but boy, did they need it!)

Later, in staff meeting, we agreed that our commercial kitchen has to pull its weight in the economics of the Ranch.  There are so many ways we could make money out of that kitchen, and we need to make money!  We can cater, bake, sell, go to Farmers' Markets, get contracts with local restaurants.

But we have to be prepared to do it professionally and better than anyone else.  And darned if I don't think we can!

(And I'll make a happy dishwasher out of that girl yet!)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Last night

The Village at Twilight
This week was a hard week.

Our cook quit abruptly a few weeks ago, and we figured out that our Pavilion kitchen had been suffering from...shall we say, a lack of stewardship...for some time, so I'm handling all the food ordering, shopping, menu creating, and consequent flack-catching for the Ranch for the next several weeks. 

Marci has mostly been wrangling the kitchen crew, and I've been trying to use up inventory (what, cod again!?) prior to getting things under a little more coherent management.

The work is hard--not just for a 70-year old, but for anybody--and the days are long!  Most nights I go to bed with a sore back and wake up long before dawn.  We're talking 13-hour days here.

Yesterday was particularly tough, since we had to get ready for a retreat group coming in, and the Ranchers were going to go to Special Olympics swimming competitions today, so I stayed late making sandwiches and getting the lunch ready for the Saturday outing.

Then I mopped the floor six times in a row until I could finally get semi-clear rinse water.  The San Jose people showed up, and Jerry and I raced around getting the lights on and such.

People often say to me, "Oh my gosh, you must have such a sense of pride and fulfillment whenever you look around this place."

The truth is just the opposite.

Wherever I look I see things that need fixing, watering, painting, finishing, cleaning...

It reminds me of funeral services I've attended for children with special needs, and I've attended more than a few.

The moms stand brokenhearted before the assembly and confess that they never, ever, not for one day, felt they ever did enough for their child with disabilities.

However much they did, and they performed heroic feats, year after year, after year...still, they were always exhorting themselves to do more.  Surely one more half hour of speech therapy per week, one more enrichment class, one more hour of homework supervision and help would make all the difference in their child's life.

But after all was said and done, the kid still had Down syndrome, and given basically decent parenting, one turned out much like another.

Which is a good thing.

Because recent studies indicate that families with children with Down syndrome are among the happiest familiest around--even laying the disability issue aside.  That's because our kids are generally fun-loving and emotionally generous (to put it mildly).

And what do they NOT do?  Well, when they consider the world, they tend not to fixate on what needs fixing, cleaning, watering, or finishing.  They take the world on its own terms and, when in doubt, have a party!

None of which has anything to do with what happened last night, which was that Jerry and I, tearing around fixing this and adjusting that, stopped for a breathtaking moment and looked around the Ranch and really saw it the way it deserves to be seen.

The sun was well below the horizon.  The sky was a dusk rose in the west, and the barn caught the last rays of light.

The lanterns had come on, and the yellow light shone from the houses in the Village.

The Pavilion shone forth, and inside we could see the young Hispanic adults on retreat assembled in fellowship.

And I had a deep, welcome sense for just a few minutes that all the striving, all the worry, all the endless toil over the past 20 years has been worth it after all.

It was a blessed moment, and I know it will soon pass, but it lingers with me today.

And I am grateful beyond measure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A salad's a salad...or is it?

Marci and I worked with the kitchen team yesterday doing some major cleaning and reorganization, .

I was struggling to move a large shelving unit in the pantry to get behind and clean (the result of which today is a very sore back) when Julia walked past me.  She stopped in her tracks, fixed me with a stern gaze, and muttered, "So you're the reason we can't have any more CROUtons!"

Guilty as charged.

After several frustrating forays in our HE-HAW (High Energy Health and Wellness) program, we are once again regrouping and rethinking.

You may (or may not) recall that HE-HAW was established about a year ago at Down Home Ranch to provide a platform for healthy living for our Ranchers by improving their diet and encouraging lots of activity.

The Ranchers are overall way more active at the Ranch than their peers in most other places. Our guys and gals have jobs, and they work hard at them--cleaning stalls, working in the gardens, swimming, jamming to Richard Simmons or just biking and walking around the Ranch in the normal course of their day.

The food front, however, continuesto be a bear of a challenge.  Despite repeatedly providing guidelines we find that within a few weeks, the diet begins migrating back to the Great American Food Pile, where a "salad" may consist of a heap of oversized croutons, a pile of cheese on top, and Ranch dressing poured all over the whole thing.

After all, all those things are found in the salad line, aren't they?

While the above might be amusing,  and its logic unassailable, the overall situation is not.  Women with Down syndrome especially have an inborn tendency to obesity.  They're short, female, and their metabolism runs at about 80% of normal.  It's a huge challenge, and one many parents give up on early in the game.

But we're not going to!  The stakes are too high.

So we decided the only thing to do is to hire a single person who will have authority and oversight over the entire HE-HAW program.  This person will be called the Food and Wellness Coordinator.  He or she will oversee every aspect of the food program, and work closely with other staff to provide guidance in the fitness program.

Although we can use our powers of persuasion and rewards to influence our Ranchers' food choices while dining out or shopping at Wal-Mart, in the end they have the right to buy what they want.

But day-to-day here at the Ranch we can, and we will, assume control of the menu items available, and continue to work on education, portion control, and the lifelong waltz with weight control so many of us--certainly not just our Ranchers--contend with on a day-to-day basis.  It's bound to help, but I don't for a moment assume it will be easy. 

I know better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Good morning, Moon

It's once of those staff-crunch times at Down Home Ranch.  We're all doing double and sometimes triple duty as we deal with unexpected staff departures and unfilled new positions.

Like the Food and Wellness Coordinator.

Changing our "food culture" at Down Home Ranch has been a challenge, to say the least.  We once again have begun grappling with the need to exercise stricter control over the food provided the Ranchers.

So as to get started in this venture, I agreed to serve as interim FWC until we can find that perfect person.

Well, at least I knew what I was getting into.  Suffice it to say that rising long before dawn is part and parcel of the package.  So many things to think of, so many items needing attention, so much to learn and relearn.

So here I was in my office about 6:00 AM when Mr. Lobo appeared at the door.

"Did you see the moon?" he asked.

Of course I'd seen the moon...but then, had I really?   I'd walked out the door, thankful for its light so I could find my car at 5:30 AM, and glanced up at it.

But I didn't really see it.

I went outside with Mr. Lobo and together we beheld its shocking presence in the western sky.  We marveled at it  and Mr. Lobo told stories of how he'd gotten his kids up one night to watch all the planets align in the sky one night in the 80s.

I told of the awesome array of stars I'd seen during the leonid meteor showers in the mountains of Colorado back in the 60s.

Two old friends, standing in the dust at dawn, beholding the heavens.

Thanks be to God.

Image courtesy NASA via Wikipedia

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not the dream he counted on....

I recall the early days after learning my newborn daughter, Kelly, had Down syndrome.

"Maybe she won't be affected as much as others," people would say in an attempt to comfort us.

But this was unlikely.  Down syndrome carries both a blessing and a curse in that, once you see that typical little face, that fat hand with the crease straight across it, you pretty much know what the future holds.

When Kelly was born, those in the know said things like, "Down syndrome is the Cadillac of the disabilities.  They're easy.  Everybody loves them."

And while not true of everybody exactly, a lot of people actually do. 

But when you're born looking completely normal, and grow up to have a vocabulary to match, but you happen to be, gets way more complicated.

In our country, if you have an IQ of under 70, you qualify for a lot of services.  They're not always great, and it's not easy to access them, but at least they're there.

But if you have an IQ of 75 or thereabouts, you're pretty much on your own, tossed out in the world to compete against the guys with MBAs from Harvard.

Not exactly fair.

If you have a lot of support, and people around you who recognize your real gifts and talents, you will be encouraged to move toward independence, getting and keeping a job, and making it on your own.

It comes to be a big, big dream, and you long for the day it will come true--your own apartment, your own friends, independence from those you've depended on for years.

Sure, this is also the dream pitched to the kids with Down syndrome.  Here at the Ranch we work toward independence openly and honestly, but in truth--the real deal is unlikely to be realized.

I'm thinking of this today because I have two friends who trusted in the dream, and it didn't turn out exactly the way they'd dreamed it would.

They had the house or the apartment.  They had the job in the competitive market.

But they had pitifully few people who wanted to spend any time with them.  They were scammed repeatedly, in the case of one out of his entire retirement fund.  And it happened more than once.

Any overture that seemed to offer friendship was eagerly grasped, but the savvy wasn't there to see that really, it was just somebody out to take advantage of you.

Tonight one lies in the hospital fighting for his life, and as I think back on the years I've known him, I'm sad.  He never had the acceptance he craved, the friends he so wanted.  He was our friend, and we were his.  We spent time over holidays mostly, and a few times throughout the year after church, going out to eat.  But he was mostly alone.

On paper, his life has been a grand success.  In reality, it's been a hard, lonely slog.

Yes, we do come to be thankful for the blessing of Down syndrome.  There are lots of people willing to put them down, but there are lots willing to extend them protection, too.  They are identifiable as persons in need of assistance, and I've found that, more often than not, that assistance is there when they need it.

But my heart aches for those for whom it is not.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Little Quail

How she survives, I do not know.

She is small, slow, flightless, and gives no evidence of being very smart.

She appeared with another of her kind two months ago.  The other disappeared shortly thereafter, and we've no idea where they came from to begin with.

But two months later, she continues to appear in our front yard, looking for seed that falls from the bird feeders.

Every evening I think must surely be her last. 

I call her Little Quail.

I gave thought to capturing her and thus extending her life, feeding her Purina quail food or something.

But then I thought better.

God knows how she survives the evenings, when the foxes, skunks, coyotes, and bobcats begin to prowl.  Maybe she hides right under my nose, under the large ferns on the porch.

But she survives, alone of her kind, and when she is gone I will be sorry.

But I will be glad that she survived living free.

Image courtesy Wikipedia: brown quail