28 September 2011

Each 5 weeks at Quaker Cottage one of my responsibilities is cooking lunch for the families for a full week. So, I had my first cooking week the week after last. I had to prepare enough food for 10 adults and about 8-9 children. I also chose 2 menus for the week, with a slight variation for the children. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I served hamburgers, soup, and coleslaw, which was very easy to prepare. I slapped patties on the George Forman grill, heated up soup on the stove, and had help making the coleslaw. Thursday and Friday I chose to serve champ (which is similar to mashed potatoes with green onions), beans, and sausages. Thursday morning, I was getting help from 2 of my coworkers, and I felt like I heard hundreds of suggestions and advice. I was asked to serve something simple on Friday so that I could work with the children and be in the kitchen as little as possible, so I decided I would just double my recipe and save enough for Friday's families. I thought things were going well with the champ. The mothers even came in and helped mash the potatoes up, making a hell of a stir about it too! However, once the families left for the day, my boss Grant had to tell me that the champ wasn't good and that the mothers wouldn't eat it. He explained that the champ was too lumpy, and I couldn't serve it to the mothers for Friday. As mentioned above, I thought the meal was going well, so I was taken by surprise with the bad news. I realized the champ had lumps, but I personally don't mind lumpy mashed potatoes because it reminds me of homemade-with-love potatoes vs. perfectly smooth instant mashed potatoes from a box. So I sulked lamenting my failed meal. Friday Grant took charge of remaking champ and sausages, and I prepared the children's lunch and snack that day.

Trying to shake off my culinary flops and insecurity in the kitchen, I arranged to go to the Giant's Causeway with a few friends. The Giant's Causeway is up on the north coast, and it's 40,000 hexagonal flat step-like stones miraculously arranged on the coast. These stones have a wonderful legend of two rival giants. The protagonist in the legend is the Irish giant, Finn McCool, and he was shouting and fighting with the Scottish giant, Fingal who was across the Irish Sea. Finn picked up clumps of the earth and threw them across the sea, which formed stepping stones to Scotland. By the time Finn had finished, though, he was exhausted and too tired to go to Fingal. Fearing Fingal would cross the sea to confront the Irish giant, Finn's wife dressed Finn up like a baby to fool Fingal. The hoax worked! Fingal took one look at the “giant baby,” and thought if the child was that large, how much larger would the father be? In a fright, the Scottish giant bounced quickly back to Scotland tearing it up as he went, and creating the step-like stones that we have today. The Causeway was beautiful, and we hiked a bit to see “the organ,” which were the famous stones in the shape of a pipe organ. The sun even appeared for about 20 minutes on our hike, creating even more beautiful photo ops.

Last week Quakers had its September residential at Corrymeela peace retreat center in Ballycastle. Residential is another term for holiday or vacation time that is a special part of the Quaker Cottage program. The staff and 9 families go to a retreat center for 4 days. The idea is to give the families a break from their lives in Belfast, and also provide a fun family holiday. Quakers has a good relationship with Corrymeela retreat center, which is an amazing peacebuilding organization that specializes not only in hosting peace retreats, but other great programs that work for peace and reconciliation. Our residentail at Corrymeela was from Tuesday to Friday.

After arrival and lunch on Tuesday, I was with the afterschool group ages 5-12 and we had a treasure hunt on the beach! I was excited to play pirate and see the children light up when they discovered new clues. There is just nothing like enthusiasm you experience from children! After our treasure hunt, we went to Dunluce Castle about 30 minutes away. Dunluce Castle has an interesting story. One week there was a festival with lots of food being prepared. One night, the kitchen suddenly crumbled into the sea, taking several kitchen staff with it! Today the castle is in ruins, even without a roof. I enjoyed going and imagining what the place looked like in its prime. The children also enjoyed the castle. Wednesday, and Thursday I was with the babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, and we went to a farm, went on walks, played on the playground and baby room, had snacks, and the like. The days at residential were long; we were responsible for the children from 9am-5pm while the mothers were on their own adult outings. We also helped put the babies to bed and then supervised the afterschoolers at night. So our work shifts were around 8am-11pm each day. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end, and I definitely took last weekend to recharge my batteries!

On Sunday, I went to my first Quaker meeting. As many of you may know Quakers worship in silence, and if the spirit so moves, someone shares words of wisdom, or scripture, or a poem with the group. In most UK Quaker meetings, there is no sermon, no singing, and no liturgy. While I found sitting in silence to be a bit challenging, I truly appreciated the time to simply think and reflect about all that I've been experiencing. I prayed. I meditated. I thought about things I hadn't given myself enough time to think about. The silent worship was good for my soul, and I even got to chat with some of the congregation after worship, which was icing on the cake.

And now I look forward to getting back on schedule after residential. In a week or two we will get 8-9 new families, all with their own joys and concerns, struggles, fears, and dreams. I pray that they feel compelled to commit to Quakers, and allow the relationship to grow.

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