Friday, December 27, 2013

Wrong Labels, Right Attitudes

A co-worker and I were lamenting some of our mutual observations from work. She asked me to “write a blog post about that, please." So, I did and hopefully you will enjoy it.

Everywhere I look there are caution labels. I am sure a quick search with Google will net a myriad of examples of labels that border on the ridiculous, such as: Caution, Knife may be Sharp; Blow Torch May Burn; or Dynamite may Explode if Fuse is Lit.

I think the biggest danger is from labels themselves. We live in a great big messy world and we like to make sense and order out of the chaos we see. Thus, we label what we see. Unfortunately, labels convey attitudes that vary widely. A wonderful lady I work with gave me a small tin of homemade Italian cookies for a present. I brought them home and the entire family enjoyed them. Almost. For Middlest, the label of ‘cookie’ meant sweet and gooey and probably chocolaty. She tried one of the cookies eagerly and immediately expressed her distaste. Like a good Italian, she threw her hands in the air, gesturing eloquently as she exclaimed, “That was not a cookie! That was....FIG PASTE!” Apparently the Italian in her extends to hand gestures and not to cookies.

My full time job is full of labels. I work with people who score lower than you or I might on some test of intelligence. Years ago, the label affixed to these people was mentally deficient, then mentally retarded, and now, people with mental challenges, consumers of services, or residents.

Twenty-five years ago, when I started working in the field, we had training classes to take, like First Aid, CPR, and Behavior Modification and Control. At that time the Government body that regulated, and funded, the agency, had a history of label changing in order to make peoples lives better.  I would tell you the name of the governing body, but they have changed it so many times, no one is sure what the name really is. In that they couldn’t change the names of First Aid and CPR, they changed Behavior Modification and Control to Strategies for Crisis Intervention and Prevention.

Along with the label change, there came a bunch more rules and regulations. The agency I work for, not to be outdone by the state of New York, added their own policies and procedures. Not to be outdone by administrators, the behavior specialists (these are people who specialize in having behaviors) also enacted new guidelines.

One of these new regulations by the State of New York, was that all employees of agencies like the one where I work, had to take a class called “Positive Approaches”, the basic theme of which is, find the most positive ways to help a person become independent and as productive as possible.

Some time ago, an administrator heard some interactions between staff and residents at a house I was working at once and didn’t like what she heard. The next staff meeting she visited and said, “You cannot use the word ‘no’ when talking to the residents.”

I questioned her to make sure I really heard what she said. “You are saying that, 'No, we can no longer say 'no’ to the residents?”

“That is what I am saying,” she replied.

This lack of insight and concentration on eliminating restrictions misses the point entirely. Rather than concentrating on what restricts people, we should be concentrating on what makes them free and independent.

When we concentrate on labels and restrictions, we get it all wrong.

Consider my friend who had the attitude right, but the labels wrong.

I picked this gentleman up from a visit with his parents that had lasted a few days. He was so excited when he saw me, he couldn’t sit still. He sat in the back of the van, yelling and pounding his fist on the ceiling of the van.

He yelled my name, “ROB! ROB!”

When I asked him what he wanted, he replied, “Rob, I love you, you bitch you bastard.”

Sense of duty pulled me to correct his labels, but my heart rejoiced in his attitude, because even though the labels were wrong, the attitude was right.

At least I hope so.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Plain Old versus New and Improved

Hold your hats on, I went shopping. All of my dear readers know that shopping and I are not the dearest of friends. However, this was grocery shopping, and I am on friendlier terms with groceries. In fact, the scale in my room tells me on a regular basis that I am much too friendly with groceries.

As Beloved and I strolled the aisles of the grocery store, I was suddenly struck by something. Thankfully we were in the cracker aisle and it was only a box of Wheat Thins that had fallen off the shelf and landed on my foot. Thankfully, we were not in the canned vegetable aisle.

Being a good citizen and conscientious shopper, I put the crackers back on the shelf. Then, as I looked up and down the aisle, something occurred to me; everything new and improved is simply the old tried and true product with a different flavor or unique twist thrown in. Not only can I buy my trusty old crusty crackers, but now I can buy ones with basil, sundried tomato, garlic and herb, or a variety of cheese flavors.

These flavors make me uncomfortable. When I come in from working at the newspaper at 2:30 in the morning, all sweaty and dirty, I don’t want to feel like I need to take a shower, and put on my Sunday goin’ to meetin’ clothes, just to slap a hunk of cheese between two crackers and munch contentedly. I do not feel like I can do that if my crackers are “Red Onion and Rosemary with a hint of Goat Cheese”.

This making something new by adding different flavors has leaked into coffee (Hazelnut Mocha Cinnamon with a dash of Cayenne Pepper), Salad dressings (Bacon Peppercorn Ranch with a twist of Lemon Lime), and even Potato Chips (Sweet Sea Salted Potato Chips with a light Dusting of Cocoa Powder).

I am all for trying new flavors. I once cooked a pot roast in Barq’s Root Beer; it was delicious and had a bite. But let us be realistic here, you know that all of this unique flavor business is to catch our attention and make us all think we are more cultured and eclectic than we really are.

So, I am making a call to all my fellow “Sticks in the Mud”, to join me on a boycott of the odd and unique flavors. As soon as I get done here I am going out to the kitchen to get the coffee pot set up to brew a pot of plain old coffee tomorrow morning, and in the morning I am going to pour that plain old coffee into a plain old travel mug to drink while driving my plain old car to my plain old job.

Who is with me?

Monday, December 16, 2013

So this is Christmas...Shopping

Christmas is almost here. Due to the diligent planning of my wife, we have finished shopping. I think there may be a couple of odd gift cards to special stores that need to be acquired, but the bulk of the shopping is  done. In fact, Beloved is so on top of the situation, she has the presents wrapped already.

Getting shopping and wrapping done early is a very good, but very exhausting, thing. In fact, everything about the holiday season is tiring. The longer nights and shorter days, the rushing hither and thither to visit family, the cooking and baking-- and squeezing that into the cracks between three jobs--all of it tends to tire me out. In all of that coming and going and doing, we sometimes forget to enjoy the Advent season. For my family, there will be church services, holiday parties, and we will find one night to go out and look at Christmas lights. Hopefully we will be able to spend one night drinking hot chocolate and speaking to one another in our best English accents. And, if we are very fortunate, Middlest will serenade us with an operatic rendition of the mundane activities of the day.

Speaking of Middlest, she is involved with “Service Club” at her high school. The entire purpose of this club is to be of service to the community. This year, the entire school donated money for the service club to buy Christmas presents and food for some disadvantaged families that live in the district.

And that meant more shopping.

So Saturday, after working until 2 AM, I took Middlest and two of her friends out to the stores. There I was with three teenage girls, shopping. This could have disastrous consequences. I tried to distance myself from them, under the guise of allowing these young adults the freedom to make their own choices and be productive members of society, without the intrusion of one of their parents.

The real reason I moved to a different part of the store was-- honestly-- three girls shopping! After an hour or so of wandering aimlessly in the wasteland of consumerism, I found a chair and tested it out. Finding it quite comfortable, I relaxed. And after what seemed to me a brief rest, a sales person who was stocking shelves nearby made a comment about my having a nice nap.

Feeling a bit embarrassed I began to search for my three shoppers. I finally found the three girls, delightfully shopping away, but not quite done. After another couple of hours, they were finally ready to check out. When we approached the registers, the sales associate who noticed my sleeping, was manning the cash register. She looked at the three girls and asked them if they found everything they were looking for. Then she looked at the two carts, loaded with toys, and her eyes widened a bit. Then she looked at me. I could see a flicker of recognition in her eyes. Then a look of  understanding crossed her face and with her eyes wide, she said, “Ah-ha, now I totally understand.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It was "One of Those Days"

I hate “those days”. I am sure you also do, as I am sure you have had them as well. Just this past week I had one of “those days”.

It started in the afternoon when I arrived at work. This would be my job at a group home. This is a home where individuals live who score a bit lower on some silly standardized test than you or I might score.

Like the awesome employee that I am, I checked the assignment book and found that I was cooking dinner on this soon to be disastrous day. I like dinner; I like to eat; and I like to cook. I was eager to get started. I flipped through the menu and the dinner for the night was a variation of chicken pot pie.

This brought to light the first problem. All of the chicken was frozen. I quickly immersed the package in warm water to let it start to thaw. Reading the recipe, I looked for the rest of the ingredients and realized we didn’t have the mixed vegetables that were called for.

Despite these two major set backs, I was undaunted I decided to make a substitution on the vegetable.

The kitchen at work has two ovens, and I decided to take full advantage of them this evening. I put the chicken in one baking dish, covered it in creamy goodness to make a delightful gravy and put the dish in one oven. Then I turned on the other oven to pre-heat. This was my critical error.

After a few minutes, the fire alarm went off. I was perplexed and checked the ovens to see what happened. It seems that someone on a previous shift had put a plastic plate with food on it, into the oven. The plate had melted, and when I opened the oven door, I was assaulted by a cloud of noxious smoke.

I turned the oven off and we evacuated the house and waited for the fire dudes to arrive. When they did, I explained what happened, leaving out the fact that I was the one who had not checked the stove prior to pre-heating it.

After the fire dudes, along with a dudette, ventilated the house and declared it safe, we all went back in. I finished cooking dinner; instead of biscuits I made mashed potatoes.

The good thing? Everyone enjoyed dinner and no one succumbed to food poisoning.

The bad thing? A few days later I was looking at the menu book again and realized I had read the menu for the wrong date. I was supposed to make Chili.