Cooking & Talking: the Magic of Baked Salmon

One more time -I thought I published it on Wednesday; I did not, but do not want to edit the dates now, just imagine, it’s from Wednesday :).

I have lots of things to worry about at the moment: I need to find a replacement for my leaving DBA. I need to complete the end-of-the-year reviews for my team and myself. I worry that my glasses are not ready yet, which can put my surgeries dates in jeopardy. For the next week’s conference, we were asked to shorten our presentation to 18 minutes. 

I have a lot of things to worry about, but I am not going to. Because what I am thinking at the moment is the last night’s dinner in the Open Door Shelter. 

A Baked Salmon is always a hit, along with mashed potatoes, and when I make baked salmon, I always purchase it myself and bring in to the shelter in the insulated bag. 

When I entered the kitchen, it was empty except one girl who never showed interest in cooking with me, and would always make her meal, when I was making dinner with the others. 

— Hi, what are we making today? – she asked. 

I realized that, like many others, she didn’t want to compete for my attention and approached me only when there was nobody else around. I pretended to be not surprised, and we started peeling potatoes together. Later, other young people arrived and joined us. My most favorite staff was present, which always makes my job easier. 

All the easy tasks: lay the foil in the baking sheet, cut the lemons, chop the onions, make it easier for multiple people to feel that they are included in the process. Even now, on my way to work, I am smiling recalling their yesterday’s exchanges:

— Is it ready? Shouldn’t the salmon be darker?

— Shut up, she knows what she is doing! She is a pro! 

— Can’t you wait? Do you thin I don’t want a second? But I am waiting. We need to make sure everybody got a piece, and then go for seconds!

As always, there were a couple of people who tried salmon for the first time, and as always, the fish was gone fast, with only aluminum foil left 🙂

Another treat was that the girl who was in the program last year came in to lead a group activity. I was thrilled to see her. Most of the time, I have no idea how it turned for those who graduated from the program. It was a delight to learn that she is attending college and that she is giving back.

We sat and talked about the goals for the new year, about plans and hopes. And then there were hugs and goodbyes, and see you next time. 

The staff walked me downstairs and even outside. And as much as I am annoyed when my mother says she will wait till I turn around the corner, it feels different when leaving the ODS.

How I Started the New Year

After I returned back from Helsinki, I felt that my life started to get back to normal. I know that I will be busy with new things, and I even know what those things are going to be, but still.

I went to the forest preserve workday; I went to the movies. I started to blog more. And also, on the first day of the year, I went to political fundraising – I didn’t do any political activities for several months.

I was thinking with anticipation – how many people will come? Who will come? Do people remember me? The fundraising took place in the house of our old friend, who at some point engaged all of us starting from Anna, into political activism.

There were a lot of people who I knew! And they remembered me! And we had conversations, which I didn’t have for months! Suddenly I remembered why I like to participate in this kind of event so much, even when there is no political urgency.

At gatherings like this, you talk to your kind of people, you get feeling that you are not the lonely warrior, and you are not insane to think what you think and to feel what you feel. Lots of meaningful discussions, new ideas, new opinions – that was such a great way to start the New Year!

Last Forest Preserve Workday of 2019

Both November and December were extremely busy because of work, professional commitments, and health issues. As a result, I had to cut on many of my usual activities, including most of the volunteering. I limited it to the youth shelter, as this is an activity, which does not allow interruptions.
After Christmas, I felt like I started to have my life back, and one of the first things I did – I went to the Forest Preserve workday. It was the last workday of the year, and we had quite a crowd.
It was before the snow started, and the day was really warm and not wintery at all. We were cutting bushes and burning the wood.

I was happy to catch up with the folks I know and to chat with new people. One of the new volunteers was trying to pull out a small dead tree, whose roots were loose in the soil. He suggested I would try to cut the tree close to the roots, but I told him, he should be able to pull it out, He said – I tried, it does not go. And I told him: let me help! I was ready to pull it together, but just one person (me) was enough:). He was… well, impressed :).

Everybody was encouraged to bring Christmas leftovers to share, and I brought some of my cookies, and they were a hit! I hope that by next Christmas, people will still remember that they can join me in the cookies decorating activity and also get some cookies for themselves.

Here are some pictures:

On the way to the work site
Waiting for the fire to die out
The last of my cookies 🙂
Continue reading “Last Forest Preserve Workday of 2019”

Do the Dates Matter?

Last week, when I was leaving the Youth Shelter, I told that next time I would come on December 11 for their Christmas party. I was very apologetic that I will be away for so long. I said that I wouldn’t be able to come because I will have my family coming for Thanksgiving and that I will be out of the country for Christmas. And one of the residents said: I do not think I ever had a real Christmas. He said it matter-of-factly and continued our conversation, and I was stunned.

I immediately remembered how my dear friend N. told me that she is going the spend her Thanksgiving and Christmas not with her family, but with those who need it most. At that moment, I felt more than before the rightness of what she is doing.

Our grown-up children are often the subjects of the parental wars over Christmas and Thanksgiving – everybody wants them in their homes. But how does it feel on the opposite side, when you do not have a place to go…

I remember that last year, I was talking to Vlad about bars being opened on Thanksgiving and Christmas (and him always having to work on these days). I told him: I can’t imagine anybody heading to the bar at Christmas! He replied: Mom, you will be surprised!
I guess I never realized how many. A girl from the nail spa told me today; I am going to have a Friendsgiving on Friday, I have nobody to get together with.

And here is another thought. In our family, since we all are scattered around the world, we learned not to stress out about the particular days, knowing quite well that it’s the thought that matters. Although I have to admit that there are some dates, we are trying very hard to make. But the reason we are so flexible with dates is that each of us knows we have our family. That we care about each other, and that we understand the difference between important and not so important things. We do not need any symbolic reassurance.

And for a person who lives in a world of uncertainty, the symbols are way more important. They make a world around more friendly and more accepting.

There is no moral for this story. I just learned something about the world and myself, and I will try hard to give my holiday time to those who need it most.

Life is Still Crazy

This week was even worse than previous. Although I work through most of the weekend, I didn’t have enough time to prepare for all of the training I wanted to run this week in the office. Thereby I constrained myself to not doing anything, except necessities, and spend each and a single minute I had “extra” on the training development. 

I didn’t help much (maybe partially because, in reality, I was doing something extra, like going to the performance of Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra on Tuesday). So now, at 11:15 PM, I have a little bit more than half of tomorrow’s training ready. I’ve already booked 2.5 hours tomorrow morning to complete it, but I am ashamed of myself. 

Still, today after work as was at the Open Door Shelter. Last week, a group of youth from the Open Door Shelter had a field trip to the Christkindle Market, and I asked to message me when they will be close – my work is just a block away. We had a really great time at the market. One of the girls mentioned how much she loves German potato pancakes, and I told her we can make them next time. 

Today was the next time:), and we peeled and grated 10 lb of potatoes, and made beautiful potato pancakes. And I had truly amazing conversations with some of the youth. And when I was walking out of the shelter, thinking about these conversations and smiling, I felt that this is something I can never let to disappear from my life… 

Recap on Volunteering

And one more thing about volunteering. In just two days, several people told me something to the effect of “now I am retired, and I can volunteer.” And one person, whom I met at the volunteering-related event, responded to my question with “I do not volunteer, I work!” I know that in the latter case, I should skip any reaction entirely, but I almost automatically reply: I work, too!

I guess I do not know why people need any excuses for not volunteering. It’s just … up to you, no justification required. Maybe, it’s just a social situation. Or maybe peer pressure…

What Does Volunteering Mean?

Last week, I had several conversations, which made me first upset, then angry, and then angry at myself that I got angry:). And now, I am trying my best to abstract from particular conversations and to say what exactly was so upsetting. 

What does volunteering mean? It means that you want to do something with no pay. And this includes – possibly no thanks. You want to do something because you believe that this something is important. That somebody’s lives: people’s, animals’, plants’ – will become better if you will be doing this – whatever “this” is. 

You say: I want to volunteer. Great. By the way, nobody “has” to volunteer. I will never criticize anybody for not wanting to volunteer. A person can only decide by themselves, whether this is indeed what they want. 

But want I do not understand, and what makes me mad – when somebody expects to be rewarded for their volunteer work. When they get upset that they do not receive enough thanks. When they wonder why others do not want to listen to them or utilize their expertise. 

I’ve lost count of how many times I had heard this: I want to volunteer, I offered my services, why “they” are so picky and do not want me? Why am I not receiving thanks for helping out?

For me, it means that this person does not want to volunteer. They simply want a payment of a different kind. Because when you volunteer, you just give. You give and never ask for something in return. Sure, it feels good when you hear “thank you for all your do!” but that is not a reason why you volunteer.

Also, when you do volunteer, you do the whole thing. There is no “dirty work.” If you want to support this cause, you will do whatever is required in the current situation. In many cases volunteering activities are scary. Or at least uncomfortable. That is a part of the package. 

A Letter from the Night Ministry CEO

As most of my friends know, I am a long-time friend and supporter of the Night Ministry – an organization that provides food, shelter, medical services, and emotional support for the homeless population of Chicagoland.

Below is the email I received as a Night Ministry supporter several days ago. I have nothing to add to it, except of now, since the president is going to deny a health coverage for millions of people … time for another post, but first – email.

Continue reading “A Letter from the Night Ministry CEO”

About Homeless, Internet, Cellphones, and What is a Necessity

When Igor told me about this event, I was surprised I didn’t know anything about this program, and if you think about it, it’s a great idea. And by “idea,” I do not mean the MediaLabs, I mean the discounted internet access. Igor’s article says:

The Internet Essentials program offers qualified customers to get 15 megabits per second of Internet use (an average Internet speed for most American households), for a little over $10 a month. The program also lets customers buy discounted desktop and laptops for around $150. Customers can also receive free classes on Internet literacy, basic skills, and useful tips for getting into college or applying for a GED.

Originally, Internet Essentials was only open to families of students who receive free or reduced lunches. It was subsequently expanded to families that either live in public housing developments or receive Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, as well as college students eligible for Pell grants and low-income veterans.  

Now, Comcast opened eligibility to any resident who receive Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Medicaid; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Low Income Home Energy Assistance; Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; and WIC. 

I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that internet access is no longer a luxury, or entertainment, or something you can save on. The internet has become a vital necessity, comparable with food and housing. And it’s great that organizations are starting to recognize that fact.

I often hear comments about homeless people with cellphones. For some reason, when people spot a cellphone in the hands of a homeless person on the street, they immediately think that this person is not really poor, but just pretending. But it is very far from being true.

In fact, many organizations work on collecting used cellphones to donate them to disadvantaged people, including the homeless. Those people, even more than others, need to be informed. Where hey can get assistance. What’s the weather is going to be. I lost count how many times I was trying to explain to somebody how they can find a Night Ministry bus. The stops vary by day, and not everybody is familiar with all the city neighborhoods. 

We often take these things for granted and saying, “it’s easy to look up!” while it is not really that easy. At least not for everybody.

And while I am on the subject of homelessness, I also wanted to paste here an article, which appeared in Chicago Tribune about three weeks ago. I copied its text because the ability to access the Chicago Tribune content is limited, especially outside the US. And the reason I wanted to paste this text here is, that this is one of the subjects of which the general population is so often unaware. 

Same as those folks who commute to work by train every day do not know, that there is a Family Planning clinic just two blocks from the train station, and antis are going wild there. Same as many people do not understand why a student can’t buy a registration for a professional conference to be reimbursed later. Same way as twenty years ago, people would say they never met a homosexual person in their lives. 

The same way people often do not understand how close to them is the homelessness. Here comes the article. 

Continue reading “About Homeless, Internet, Cellphones, and What is a Necessity”

Making a Difference

It happened so that in August, I was able to come to ODS to cook dinner for three weeks in a row. And it opened me a completely new experience. When I first started coming to ODS, I was told that I could be flexible and come there when I have time. That was one of the reasons I chose this program -I thought I would be able to fit my activities in whenever. I can write volumes about how I started to come to the ODS (Open Door Shelter) and how I was slowly winning the trust of the residents, about all the ups and downs.

As for the flexibility, I was never required from me to come with a specific frequency or on certain days of the week. But then I started to hear the “old” residents telling the new ones “she is coming every week.” And when we were trying to film “a cooking show” a boy posing as a show host would say to the camera: Our friend Ms. Henrietta is coming every week. I also hated it when I was not able to tell the youth when I am coming next time. I knew that some of them would be gone by my next time, and a half of the others will forget what I said, but I hated this moment when they would go: oh, whenever you have time! We appreciate you coming …

Continue reading “Making a Difference”