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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cooking from the heart

“The food is good!” a nursing home resident exclaimed. I was truly excited to hear that. Food-related grievances usually top the list. Not at this time. I asked co-workers how that facility has achieved such a high level of culinary satisfaction. Then, someone finally told me, “We have a good cook!”  

Of course, it has to do with the cook, I mused. 
I have heard people commenting about nursing home food, wondering how difficult it must be to please everybody. I smile. I smile, because I believe it’s not hard to cook appetizing and delightful meals for residents in a nursing home, or for patients in a hospital, or for your family or friends when cooking is done with love and caring.
I have found myself watching quite a few movies involving food lately. “Julie & Julia” was one of them. I definitely love that movie!  It’s a truth-inspired story about a girl - by the way, she was a blogger- who decides to embark in the adventure of cooking all 524 recipes outlined in Julia Child's culinary classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is a must-see movie for bloggers and food-lovers alike. 

I also watched “Tortilla Soup.” Although the movie was about family relations, food was an important element in their gatherings and conversations. My mouth literately watered as I watched the main character -a loving father- preparing exquisite dishes. 

“The Ramen Girl” completed my food movie vigil. It’s about an American girl in Japan, who tries to enliven her frustrated life by learning how to cook ramen noodles. Although she follows the instructions of a peculiar chef, she doesn’t succeed. But things change when an elderly lady tells the girl, “You are cooking from your head.. You must cook from your heart.” 

I love cooking. I do.  

Throughout the years, I have ventured to try new recipes. I have explored the taste and aroma of multiple spices. I have even created my own secret recipes. “What did you put in this?” my husband curiously asks. I disclose no more than a third of my “secret,” and smile. “You should open a restaurant!” my son shouts. And I smile again. 
The pleasure that my family expresses when referring to my cooking is just priceless. Hearing that “This is good!” gives me joy. Their satisfaction is my reward.  
When you hear your loved ones praising the meal that you have prepared for them, then you will know that you have cooked from the heart

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tell me about your game, I'll tell you about life.

“A game that never ends?” I exclaimed, questioning Ernie, my son. 

Ernie was trying to explain to me about EverQuest, an online game which he learned to play in his early teens, and now at age 20, decided to play again.    

For those of you not familiar with EverQuest, it is a modern version of the popular game Dungeons & Dragons. The players are assigned a character in a wargame. They engage in adventures,  individually, and as part of a party, or guild. In the process of winning battles, solving dilemmas, and finding treasures, the characters advance their levels of skills, knowledge, and ultimately, power.  

I was quite surprised that the game was still going on after Ernie quit playing five or six years ago. “What happens when you complete the quest?” I  inquired.  

“Another expansion takes place,” he replied.  

“A what?” I asked.  “It means another setting is added, and new challenges are presented to the characters. And with each higher expansion level, it is more necessary to be part of a guild or team.”   

Ernie is very animated when he tells me about his battles and the strategies he employed during them. He enjoys being assigned some type of leadership role in the guild. He has also admitted making some poor decisions and suffering the consequences –expulsion from the guild and the loss of his leadership role. 

“That sounds just like life, Ernie,” I said.

I used his EverQuest experiences as an opportunity to talk about the importance of having a goal-oriented life, continuously revising our quests, goals, and an expansion of our perspectives.   

While EverQuest is a role playing game, it likens itself to our everyday lives.  We often face unpleasant events (fighting  evil creatures).  We must make important, right and timely decisions (dilemma solving) and seek our family, church and community for support (our guild) in making those decisions.  Faith, discipline and respect must be followed (the player's rules of conduct).  There’s the enjoyment of short-term achievements (the treasure hunt), and the celebration of successful expansion experiences (character development/skill advancement). 

I believe a meaningful life is based on aspirations and established plans. But, more importantly, on the accomplishment of those goals and plans. Success presupposes that there will be challenges, but courage, confidence, and a great deal of work ethic will assure the accomplishment of success.  

I shared with Ernie some of my “quests” in college, work and life. “Wow, mom” Ernie said, “You are the most amazing woman I’ve ever met.” A conversation that began over a discussion of his game turned into a the lesson for life.

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” - Deuterenomy 6:7 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The pearl

I recently read a quote posted by someone on Facebook: “Allow your disappointment to form a life-affirming pearl, just as an oyster does when an irritating grain of sand gets inside its shell.” The author’s name was not posted. It got my attention.

I read the quote several times. I found it quite interesting. I thought it was a beautiful allegory. Definitely a seductive invitation to look at difficult times in a different prospective. Disgusting, annoying events or circumstances can be transformed into pleasant, fulfilling experiences.

I have witnessed quite a few of those transformations. One of my best experiences has to do with my friend Barbara, Barbie, as I call her. She is a colleague, a licensed clinical social worker, abbreviated -LCSW. But overall, she is one of my best friends.

Barbie and I met at work. She came to work at a nursing care facility that had recently hired me. There were some difficulties at that time, and months later things turned into a nightmare. Seriously. We went through a lot of commotion, chaos and we all were put under a lot of pressure. We worked long hours. Multiple projects were assigned to be completed with short deadlines. Daily meetings and close monitoring made our days exhausting, unenjoyable, and almost unbearable. At times, we shared a few tears.

Barbie and I didn't seem to have too much in common beyond the fact that we both were healthcare social workers. Barbie was tall, blonde, kind and patient. I was, to the contrary, petite, brunette, hyperactive, and often neurotic. One day in despair, complaining about our jobs, we started to talk and share our disheartenment. But we also started to talk about our personal lives. Our relationship almost immediately changed. Barbie admitted to me -after we had become close friends- that she was initially guarded due to the fact that I resembled a person she had detested in her past. Today we both find that to be one of the cutest confessions ever admitted and heard.

The truth is that the difficult work environment that we went through was the best experience that could have happened to Barbie and I. We discussed our tasks and assigned projects daily. We helped each other despite our exhaustion and burnout. And as our friendship grew, we found our career and personal aspirations were surprisingly similar in many ways. No matter what was happening around us, we knew we could trust each other, regardless of the stressful environment.

Barbie and I no longer work at the same nursing facility. We pursued different jobs, but Barbie and I talk almost daily. We meet for lunch every week. We both agree that the irritating sand of harsh circumstances formed the pearl of our shiny, strong friendship. No doubt, we became best friends forever.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The healing ointment

About five years ago I attended a symposium for nursing home professionals. There were multiple booths where sponsors displayed information on services and products, typical of these events. As I explored the booths I saw both important and irrelevant information, I filled my courtesy bag with brochures, pens, note pads, cups, and samples of lotions and skin care ointments for geriatric use.

Months later, I found myself using some of the lotions samples. It was in the winter, when my skin would often get dry. I didn’t find any significant difference between the geriatric and my traditional skin lotions until I tried one with surprising results. It’s was a very thick ointment, but, rather than airing a fragrance it smelled more like medication. The lotion was labeled Lantiseptic. I generously applied it to my hands. “Mother, you smell like old lady,” my son, Ernie, said, making fun of the ointment’s odor. Amazingly, the next day my hands looked smooth. I decided to save a couple of the ointment samples for any extreme skin dryness in the future.

About a year later, I observed that my son’s hands were very dry, and the skin was cracked almost to the point of bleeding. I remembered the Lantiseptic samples I had saved, and gave them to him. His discomfort overweighed his pride, and he agreed to try the ointment. His hands healed within a couple of days. “Wow, it works!” Ernie said. The healing properties of the ointment was undeniable. And I hoped Ernie learned a lesson before he made fun of another “old lady” lotion.

Now sold on this product, I decided to buy it, however, I searched in the local stores with no success. I asked in the nursing home where I worked at the time what type of skin care products they used, and learned it was a different brand.

A few years later, I found myself working in a different facility and was surprised to find it was using the ointment I had been searching for. Each resident using the lotion had their own large jar, individually labeled with their names. I asked for the name of the manufacturer and was told it was a wholesale company. I concluded I was wasting my time; it was probably only sold in institutional quantities for nursing homes and hospitals. I gave up my search.

Last year, I transferred to another nursing home facility. I noticed it was using Lantiseptic as well, but in small packets instead of the large jars. This allowed the staff to apply the treatments more often and conveniently. I noticed from one of the packets that the company had a website. I looked it up on the Internet. “Got it!” I exclaimed. I found all the information I needed: the company, its products, and options for purchasing which included online orders. But I also found out it sold to retail purchasers as well.

I was very excited. After five years I finally found out where to get the “healing ointment.” I didn’t care that the ointment lacked a flowery scent. I didn’t mind that it’s recommended for geriatric use. I was simply happy that I have found what I considered the best skin healer ointment I have ever known.

I have often thought about this story, especially when I am thinking of “healing”. Not actually skin healing, but the healing of the soul, or emotions. Inner healing. I think of this healing when I learn about my residents and their loved ones carrying on unresolved conflicts for years. When I listen to my broken hearted friends telling me about their suffering. When I have seen my son grieving his father’s passing eight years ago. When I have myself experienced hopelessness a few times in my life.

I’ve learned that I can’t be at peace if I feel emotional pain . There’s no feeling of comfort if the soul is “dry” and “cracked” by resentment, hate, selfishness, despair or sadness. Inner healing is a continuous journey, not just a temporarily relief. People may find healing in spirituality, music, art, counseling, forgiveness, faith, devotion, harmony, meaningful time, words of wisdom, humbleness, serving others, sacrifice, gardening, writing, prayer, love. The list may be endless.

It may help asking ourselves: Are our choices driven by appearance -looks and smells good!-, or by what others do? -That many people can’t be wrong!-, or by options that don’t require effort -why bother? The true question is: are we sincerely pursuing spiritual/emotional healing? If so, may God guide us in our arduous search: “He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because he delighted in me” Psalm 18:19

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Finding your treasures

“It has to be special,” I kept thinking. March was the month to appreciate Social Workers and I wanted to come up with an innovative strategy to honor my fellow colleagues. I wanted to thank my fellow social workers who work at the hospitals and other institutions for referring new residents to the healthcare facility where I work.

“Treasures!” - came to my mind. It sounded good. Treasure boxes symbolized my idea.

Exploring my thought, I decided to search the Internet for further ideas. I typed “social worker treasures,” and viewed the results of my search. I stopped at one that caught my attention. It was a writer’s website. The word “treasures” was contained in the blog link.

The blog was not specifically about social workers, but rather how this person started her journey as a writer. It was the writer Terri Tiffany’s blog.

"What you do need to do is this: Commit. If God puts a

desire in your heart to write, find a way.”

Terri’s words were powerful. They were motivational.

“Is this a coincidence?” I wondered. I have carried a pipe dream in my mind for years to become a writer. “It's just a pipe dream,” I often reminded myself. A few days after I came across Terri’s blog, I thought again about my pipe dream.

I emailed her and told her how encouraging her words were to me, and that perhaps it was time that I start a journey as well. That evening, Terri replied to me, with inspirational thoughts. “She is precious!” I exclaimed, after reading her email.

I am thankful to Terri for her encouragement. I have definitely committed to pursue my dream. This blog is a step toward the adventure of writing.

How amazing is that while I originally searched for the word “treasure,” I ultimately found the treasure of a new journey. God works in mysterious ways. Doesn't He?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

May God bless you with annoying things

I find myself reflecting quite often, immersed in my thoughts of events or people at the nursing home, or simply on what’s going on in town. I am a social worker and I also market the facility for future prospective residents. It has been an interesting mix.

Networking with other professionals and competing institutions brings me a rich experience. I could write a story daily, if I had the stamina and the time. However, at the end of the day I am exhausted. Although I’m willing and able to write and capture the stories in prose, when I get home, all I want is to treat my family with a delightful meal, snuggle up on the couch, and then get a good night rest. Yet, the uplifting thoughts and stories I didn’t write about remain in my mind and I awake refreshed mind, ready to excel and meet the day’s challenges.

Occasionally I wonder if there were any inspiring events at the end of my day. Sometimes I feel frustration and burnout-- not unusual for healthcare professionals. “What’s was wrong today?” I asked myself a few days ago. “Nothing inspired me today.” I was terribly annoyed. After unsuccessful care plan meetings with two unreasonable families, I was drained. “What a waste of time!”. I continued to gripe.

I shared my frustration with my husband that evening. I was so glad he listened to me-- or at least, the thought that he was listening. Perhaps it was a simple monologue. I had talked and talked. I was so thankful for his patience. He remained so peaceful when I was venting my despair, and it certainly helped decrease my distress. I concluded that there was, indeed, nothing inspirational from that day’s journey.

“Oh well,” I sighed. I wanted to leave my inner emotional turmoil behind. After getting ready for bed, I decided to check my emails first. I had a few, as usual, mostly jokes and funny stuff. One email was different from the others. My friend Melba forwarded me an email that I had actually read before. “Do little things annoy you?” was the subject. It was in essence a reflection about things or events that make you “mad or frustrated”, and how “it may just be that God is at work watching over you.”

I was perplexed. What a coincidence that this friend sent such a message that evening. “She never forwards me emails!” I recalled. “She writes personal notes occasionally.” --I was pleasantly surprised. How blessed I was that she decided to include me in her forwarded email.

She wouldn’t know it, but she was God’s angel that day. She relayed a message that reminded me that even during the most frustrating days we still can find inspiration. It was a comforting message. “May God continue to bless us with annoying things.”