Monday, July 28, 2008

My Most Succesful Service Project

I read in the newspaper this morning about a scout who, for his Eagle Project, did some maintenance and restoration work at a little-used cemetery out in the county where the hamlet it used to serve has disappeared. Reading the article, I was reminded of the most successful youth service project of my tenure as YW President.

During that tenure, while presiding over several monumental failures, I discovered that a successful youth service project needs three key elements addressed:
1. Every youth needs a clear assignment
2. Every youth needs the tool that will make him effective in that assignment.
3. Every youth needs a supervisor who can guide, cheerlead, and, if necessary, give additional tasks to keep youth meaningfully occupied.

Our service project was in a cemetery as well, though it was still used by the folks on Lummi Island, a five minute ferry ride from the dock on Gooseberry Point in Northwest Washington. Keeping the three key elements in mind, my counselors and I visited the island and talked to the volunteer cemetery coordinator several weeks before the end-of-May date we had calendared. We walked through the headstones and took note of the things that needed to be done. We organized three crew bosses: one for cutting back encroaching bushes and blackberry brambles, another for scrubbing moss off of old headstones, and a third for carrying fill dirt across the cemetery to fill in sunken graves. When we selected the crew bosses, we told them how many youth they would have and asked them to make sure they had enough tools so everyone could participate. We followed up (read: nagged) several times, underlining how important it was for everyone to have a tool.

Finally, all was organized. There was nothing left to do but check the weather report and hope for good weather. The sun didn’t disappoint us, and we gathered at the ferry dock at the appointed hour. The cemetery was near enough that we could walk from the ferry dock up to the cemetery. Shouldering shovels, rakes, pushing wheelbarrows, and armed with stiff-bristled brushes, we looked like a rowdy Labor Day parade as we marched up the hill. Everyone went to work with a will, and because the crew bosses had good preparation, they were able to see that everyone had something to do that was a meaningful contribution.

It wasn’t all fun. Lots of it wasn’t easy. Crouching to scrub moss may be neat on the first headstone, but by the fifteenth, it gets boring and knees start to get tender. The blackberry patrol drew blood in the line of duty. But, in about two hours, we had accomplished everything on the list, and people were looking around and smiling at how good things looked.

One of our leaders who lived on the island had us stack our tools, and he led us around to some of the gravestones to tell us the stories the people lying there. Everyone was very quiet as they stood next to the white marble marker indicating a Civil War soldier. And they listened solemnly to the story of the little girl, daughter of the cannery supervisor, who had drowned in the pond behind the cannery in the 1920’s. The family had left the island, but the locals adopted the grave and make sure there are flowers there every Memorial Day. I looked at the young women I had seen scrubbing off the headstone earlier and saw tears in their eyes.

The march down the hill to the returning ferry wasn’t so rowdy, though it certainly wasn’t somber. The kids smiled a lot, and they hugged each other as they parted at the ferry landing. You could tell that they felt good about what they had been doing for those few hours.

I felt good, too, and I wonder if the memory of that day lingers in the minds of the youth as it does in mine, because I’m smiling as I write about it today, fifteen years later.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Serving the Autistic Community

This photo came from the web site of the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Yesterday, I got an email from my son with a link to the Daily Sparks Tribune. When I shared it with my writer’s group, one of the ladies said that my son had done a service for all the people who deal daily with Autism. I had been wondering what to write about in today’s service blog, and bingo, there it was.

This is what happened:

Mike Savage, a radio personality, dubbed a ‘shock jock’ by the local newspaper, in a piece he was doing about autism, apparently said that doctors were overdiagnosing autism and that it was becoming a ‘racket’. According to the Daily Sparks Tribune, “In his broadcast, Savage called autistic children “brats” and that the condition is the “illness du jour.” He said autism is the result of bad parenting. Click
here to read the whole article.

When news of what Mike Savage had said on the radio hit the community of people who deal daily with autism, they mobilized. The National Autism Association demanded an apology, and Lori McIlwain, a NAA board member, posted this statement: “Many children with autism experience tremendous physical pain from underlying pathologies, which accounts for the screaming this person callously dismisses. To have an uneducated opinion about autism is perfectly within one’s right, but to earn a living by shock-value exploitation of children’s suffering, while suggesting they should be called ‘idiots,’ is disgraceful.” Her statement can be found at

As for my son, he didn’t have access to the airwaves to reply, but he had access to airspace. He has a banner towing business, and he had a banner put together and was up towing it that afternoon. His reference to Mike Savage as an idiot stems from Mike’s apparent reference to autistic children as idiots, as mentioned by Ms. McIlwain, above. On his web site at Mr. Savage says that his comments about autism were meant to ‘boldly’ awaken people to the fact that too many people are being labeled as autistic.

I don’t know what they do in other places, but my grandson’s diagnosis was very slowly, methodically and carefully arrived at. Too slowly, methodically and carefully to suit me. I was saying, “Hello?? It’s as plain as day! I’ve watched the Sixty Minutes Segment on Autism. I know what the symptoms are. Let’s get a diagnosis and get started helping this boy and this family.” But, all things were done in order, with a neurologist and a behavioral psychologist having to agree before a diagnosis would be issued.

In a way, Mr. Savage may have done a service to the autism community, because, by posing, however inelegantly, the question about what autism is and how a diagnosis is arrived at, he has allowed those who have legitimate information to educate the public.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Serving Your Neighbor in a Small but Significant Way

My husband wears size twelve shoes. This became important as I was ruminating about what the subject of today’s blog would be. I don’t know about you, but I do some of my best (mental) writing while my hands are busy, and this particular ruminating moment, I was on my hands and knees scrubbing doggy doo out of the carpet of our travel trailer. We were at a family reunion where there were several dogs, and as my husband was setting up, he stepped in a generous pile and, unknowingly, tracked a size-twelve-ful of it through every area of the trailer.

That’s not the first time we’ve had this kind of trouble, lately. We live in a small town, but it’s a well-run little town and has a well-enforced leash law. You never see a dog running loose in town. However, we live on the very edge, and the people across the street live in the county, where the leash law doesn’t apply. They have a black and white spotted dog who must think our front lawn is malnourished, because he fertilizes it regularly. These are very nice neighbors, and I don’t think they know about their dog’s personal service project, but it’s been impressed upon our notice (and our living room carpet) on several occasions.

Our son (also size twelve shoes) was visiting from college and had to walk across the lawn to get to his car one Sunday morning. He got halfway to church before he realized the persistent odor hanging heavily around him was emanating from the soles of his own shoes. Since eau de doggy doo doesn't enhance one's coolness, he had to go home to clean up and was half an hour late.

This is not an earth-shaking problem. There are lots of more serious problems in the world. In fact, there are more serious dog problems in the world. We had one, once. When we lived in the country, someone gave us a beautiful husky-shepherd cross that we just loved. However, he started running with a couple other dogs, and one day, they killed a neighbor’s sheep. We had tried to keep him home by tying him up in a stall in the barn at night, but he chewed through the rope and dug out of the stall. Then, after the deed was done, he went back to the stall and acted like he was all innocence. The chewed rope and blood on his muzzle told the tale, though, and we got rid of him and paid the farmer for the sheep.

On a simpler note, I’d like to think, if I had a dog that left a pile on my neighbor’s lawn, I’d take responsibility for that, too. That’s my Service Topic for the day: monitor your dog. Pick up the poop. You will be serving your neighbor, and your neighbor will be grateful. Especially, if you live across the street from me.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cut Up that Chicken and Save $$

During one of the many times in my married life when means were very slender, I found a chicken farm that was selling molters for fifty cents apiece. Chickens shed their feathers once a year, and during the process, they stop laying for a period of several months. This farm was replacing its molters rather than feed them through the eggless period when they were growing new feathers. I had a beat-up VW bug, and I found that I could transport twenty-five live chickens (feet tied together, laid out atop newspapers on seats and floorboard). They were all strangely quiet during the ride home, and one in particular, occupying the front passenger seat, unnerved me with her steely stare.

Those chickens were candidates for the stew pot rather than the frying pan. Fryers have to be young chickens, and no telling how old these were. But, they boiled up great, and I used the stock for soup and the meat for everything from sandwiches to tacos to cannelloni.

A few years later, when I was Relief Society President, we experienced a severe recession here in the Pacific Northwest because of a downturn in the forest products industry. I decided that we needed to focus on provident living, and remembering how those molters stretched our food budget, I arranged for a class on how to dress and cut up a chicken. I never will forget how large some of the young sisters’ eyes were as they watched my mother demonstrate how to kill a chicken by wringing its neck. (We did this out in the church parking lot. Probably couldn’t do that today.)

We showed them how to scald the chicken in hot-hot water to release the feathers so it’s easy to pluck them off the carcass. Lost a few sisters there. Then we showed them how to eviscerate the chicken, making sure not to cut the bowel. Lost a few more sisters there. We demonstrated which giblets are edible and how to cut open the gizzard to take out the crop. We talked about the need to be careful about cleaning your utensils and cutting surface as we washed the chicken. Then we held it up for all to view. Ta-da! It looked just like one that came in a plastic bag at the supermarket. The few sisters we still had with us applauded.

I doubt that there are many reading this blog who have access to live chickens for fifty cents apiece, so my little trip down memory lane won’t benefit anyone except as cultural information. However, the next thing we taught the sisters that day was how to cut up a chicken. That’s relevant to most everyone, because you can save a considerable amount by buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself.

I’m not going to go into detail about how it’s done, but my service to you is to provide two links where you can find detailed, illustrated, step-by-step instructions: Link One
and Link Two. Or, tell your Relief Society President you want to learn. She’ll pair you with a gray-haired sister who can show you.

Starting with a whole chicken is more time consuming than buying a cut-up chicken, but it’s a way to make a dollar stretch, and you’ll be surprised at how pioneerish and tied-to-the-earth you will feel by mastering that skill.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

The Demise of the Full Serivce Station

I remember the first time I ever pumped my own gas at a service station. It was back in the early 1970’s, not too long after the Arab oil embargo. The cost of gas had risen to somewhere around forty cents a gallon, and using the self-serve pump was a way to save the cost of one gallon on each thankful.

Even back then, I was an an old dog, reluctant to learn new tricks. However, after riding with my super-frugal neighbor, and watching how she confidently got out of her car, took off her gas cap, lifted the nozzle, turned the lever, and squeezed the trigger, I thought, “I can do that.”

I didn’t try it on my very next trip to the service station. I waited for a time where there was no one else at the self-service island and the attendant was busy helping at least two full-service customers. I didn’t want anyone watching me as I physically performed the procedures I had played over in my mind so many times. I don’t know how much gas I wasted circling the block, waiting for just the right moment. Once or twice I had to give up and slink ignominiously into line at the full service island because I was running on fumes, and there was always someone at self service who would most certainly watch my fumbling maiden attempt to fill my tank.

One day the stars aligned: self service was empty and the full service attendant was busy. I swooped into the station and, coached by my second grader, I successfully filled my tank. The elation I felt was all out of proportion to the difficulty of the endeavor. Even the fact that I had to drive back and ask for the gas cap that I had forgotten didn’t dampen my feeling of accomplishment. It was a tremendously freeing moment, for I was no longer at the mercy of the service station attendant.

Prior to the advent of self-service islands, you sat in your car and waited to be served. There was always someone there to pump gas for you, but he might be serving another customer or changing the oil on a car in the service bay, or he might just be talking with his buddies. In smaller towns, the local service station was a congregating place for teenage boys. I’ll save a digression into the service station as a social club for another day. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t always someone running out to get you gassed up and on your way.

On the other hand, along with gas, you usually got your oil, tire pressure and radiator checked and your windows washed. That’s something I don’t do for myself every time I fill up, but even on cold and windy days, I much prefer self service.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Infrared Barbeques

This is an odd subject for a blog on service, but stay with me as I blog about barbeques. If you have one that’s long in the tooth and are thinking about replacing it, you may want to know about the new infrared barbeques.

Because my husband has great shopping genes, and because I’d rather serve as a Cub Scout den mother again than be forced to spend hours in a store shopping for anything, I simply announced that his Father’s Day gift was a new barbeque, and he was in charge of finding it, making the purchase, and hauling it home. Easiest Father’s Day I’ve ever done.

Thus began his odyssey to find the perfect barbeque. He spent hours on line and haunted the grilling sections of Lowes and Home Depot, trying to answer the monumental question: should I get a barbeque with infrared?

The answer turned out to be a resounding maybe. I couldn’t help him make the decision, but I hastened it along with an announcement that we were having guests and he was in charge of cooking the hamburgers. The next thing I knew, I was on the other end of a monstrous barbeque, helping get it off the trailer and onto the deck.

He got the infrared. So, here is my service for the day: I will tell you how we’re doing with it. Kind of second-hand pros and cons, because I’m the indoor cook, not the outdoor cook.

First a definition: Infrared cooking systems consist of a burner or series of burners at the bottom of the gas-fired barbeque, the same as the open-flame variety. On top of the burners sits a U-shaped pan that goes from rim to rim and covers about a third of the unit. Two identical pans cover the rest of the area. Porcelain-covered cast iron grates sit atop the pans and act as the cooking surface. The pans radiate the heat from the fire beneath. Makers of the systems claim that this sears in flavor and keeps foods moist and juicy, not dried out.

We have found that to be true. You need to cook at a lower temperature than with an open-flame barbeque. If you have it too hot, melting fat from the meat will start a grease fire in the pan, and it blackens the meat and affects the taste. The burgers we’ve done have been very moist and juicy.

We ordered the rotisserie and tried a roast last Saturday. I used a top round that I got at Costco. It was about six pounds, and we cooked it for 3 hours, though we could probably have stopped at 2 ½. You can see from the picture that it had a beautiful and tasty crust and was nice and juicy and tender.

I think we’re finding, as we learn to use it, that we like the infrared very well.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Patty Kubeja Writes from Iraq on July 4th

My guest blogger today is Patty Kubeja. Last Fourth of July she was Relief Society President in Kent, WA. This Fourth she's in Iraq on a year's deployment, leaving behind a husband and their blended four children living in their newly-built family home.

Patty says:

It is already the 4th of July here, and my morning is just starting...that of course includes talking to my honey. I have a hand-head phone so I can multi task--talk and type. It was worth the $100 so I don't get a kink in my neck.

I started out my morning singing all the patriotic songs I could think of while I got ready for work. I decided not to have a TV in my room. I don't even have a radio/CD player. I try and enjoy the silence and quiet time. Walking out the door, it is amazing that now it seems cool outside--only 90 degrees when I check the handy wireless thermometer that Mark sent me. It really feels hot at 120, and that is in the shade, so I am sure the soldiers in the sun are feeling the 130-degree heat.

Thoughts about the 4th of July: I do have more patriotic feelings as I sit over here in the desert, thousands of miles away from family and friends. There won't be fireworks, parades, and the family gatherings that usually mark the holiday. But, perhaps it takes me back to the true reason we celebrate America's Independance from Britian.

The thought ran through my head this morning is one that is often on bumper stickers: Freedom is not free. I am in a position of rank and job that I have it pretty nice over here. I am not exposed to the elements and dangers that many of my fellow soldiers are. Many of the ones here are on their 2nd and 3rd deployment. Why? Because they see the conditions that the average person over here faces and are willing to fight for them to have a different life. At one point, our founding fathers were willing to fight for the future citizens of America, and because of that, we have freedoms many around the world don't enjoy. Day before yesterday, I went outside the wire for the first time in a convoy. I have taken one other trip, but a helicopter ride isn't the same as being in an Up Armored HUMVEE with mounted gun and a soldier watching guard out of the roof. It was a short ride to a base only five miles away, but along the way, there were little kids running along side the vehicles, playing and just being kids. They were oblivous to what really is probably going on in their own country, let alone in America. It is merely survival for them. They live in tents and mud huts with no running water or electricity, though perhpas a vehcile.

One soldier who makes this convoy run two to three times daily pointed out an old woman on the side of the road. He said she is there faithfully every day, no matter what the weather conditions, basically begging. Sometimes truck drivers throw her MREs. I am not sure there is any place for the homeless out here, or social programs. Probably not for the nomadic people who wander in the desert.

I know I am blessed and my children are blessed. As Americans, we are blessed beyond measure. It takes actually seeing the disparity sometimes to internalize and feel that overwhelming sense of gratitude and nothingness. I know that God loves those children and adults living on the side of the road in Iraq just as much as he loves me. I am not sure why being over here makes me more emotional; perhaps it is old age getting me.

Here is a quote my friend sent me that she carries in her wallet:

“Freedom has a price,
And always it is high.
Sometimes a man must give all he can,
Sometimes a man must die,
And give away all his tomorrows
To those of a future day;
Who will never understand the sorrow,
And the price that someone had to pay.”

Take Care..Happy Fourth of July!

Patty Kubeja

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