Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Seniors

I woke up early thanksgiving day. There were so many things going through my mind. So many last minute details to attend to. I knew Jimmy would already be hard at work in the kitchen cooking Turkey. I admitted to myself how it would be impossible to do this task without him Jimmy had been working from sunup to sundown everyday of the week. This was his favorite project. It had actually started many years ago in his own restaurant in Calistoga, CA. We have merely taken his original idea and embelished it, adding our own unique flavor to it. The meal is basically an "at cost" meal for seniors. Our goal is give them a great meal for the very best price and to be the family for any senior that is around that does not have one close by. One of the important things there is the entertainment and I was very proud our especially our first act this year. A young 14 yr old Classical guitarist named Travis Johnson. He has won awards all over the Pacific Northwest and he and his siblings were to play the first hour and a half of the event.

Judy and I arrived shortly after 9 AM and began the preparations for the serving area. A couple of our regulars had joined Jimmy in the kitchen and were helping him with some of the food prep. All were having quite a gay time up until around 11:45 when the first customers began to arrive. I quickly realized that we were not prepared in ways that we needed to be prepared. We had not given ourselves enough time to properly train the volunteer serving staff and they were arriving the same time as the customers. The same went for the preparation of home deliveries. My daughter, Carrie, who was the greeter arrived to quite a few seniors wondering where they could sit. Judy helped Carrie while I set up the servers in their positions and helped the delivery drivers prepare their deliverys. I quickly realized a couple of problems that needed to be changed next year. One was to prepare the deliverys at off hour times and the other was that I had booked to many people. Originally, we had set for 50 customers per hour but when I saw empty tables, I tried to fill them and we ended up with more like 60 plus. By the time we got all of the first hour set and beginning to eat, the second hour was upon us. I could see the stress getting to both Judy and Carrie and saw Carrie actually break down and start to cry. People were all around her pointing to their name on her sheet and asking why they could not be sat. I quickly gave her a hug and kiss and told her she was doing just fine which seemed to help.

It was also a while into the first hour before I realized that the young classical guitarist had not shown up. With all of the hectic suroundings, I am not sure that any of the seniors even realized it however. Our next act, Mike, wondered if any of the seniors would hear him through the din, but I assured him that it wouldnt matter that if they saw him playing it would be equal to the same. They would just appriciate the fact that he was there serving them.

Wave after Wave of seniors came through the door and before we knew, it was 3PM and the Singing Sousas had shown up. Jeannie Sousa and family have entertained our seniors for three years now and were big hits especially when they walked through the crowd and sang.

As I dropped into a routine, my fears subsided and I began really listening to happy seniors that were so very much appriciative. Over and Over, Judy and I were given handshakes, hugs, and thanks. Everybody seemed to be having a grand time. One of our greatest compliments were that it felt just like family which is exactly what we were attempting to do. Others were so happy to see the young children of one of our helpers serving them also. The youngsters were equally getting valuable experience of real life that should stay with them for quite some time.

Now the day was a special day in another light was my wife Judy's birthday. Now she is Australian and so the Thanksgiving holiday does not have as much meaning to her as it does us but she relished serving the seniors and I could see that in her eyes. At one point, the Sousas sang her Happy Birthday. I went over right afterwards and planted a kiss on her. The oos and ahs and claps from the crowd of seniors were what you would expect from a younger crowd. I could really tell right then that these seniors were truely enjoying their time with us.

Five oclock came with our food nearly gone. We served the last group of seniors and then sat down to feed ourselves. The wives in one of our delivery groups were still busy hustling around serving and cleaning and refused to sit down until they were finished.

All in all, we served right around 350 seniors with invaluable help from old and new found friends. I am so thankful for them all. Jimmy, who worked so hard to prepare the food. His daughter, Paula who lovingly worked alongside of him. Dale and Mark, two of our newer cooks along with Mark's Daughter who served in the kitchen. The mother, father, and daughter whos names escape me (I am so bad with names) who jumped in and served food. The brothers Zack and Jake who also served. Frank, my best friend who walked around and kept people laughing and happy. His son, Chaz who helped serve. Cindy and Tyler who went wherever they were needed. My buddy Richard who represented the American Legion and served the pies. The deliver families of Al and Gary. Al's sons helped serve afterwards and Gary's wife and daughter were so incredible. And then our children and grandson, Casey, Carrie, and Jayden. I also need to give a special thanks to some of our suppliers that donated some of the food that fed the seniors. Thanks to Franz Bakeries, Sysco Foods, and Food Services of America. It was so neat to have their willing help.

Looking back, I do have one regret, however. I had relied on a helper to pick up a lady for the first hour. I was to take her back afterwards. I didnt take anyone back home so I wonder if she was even picked up and all of the paperwork is now gone. If she did not get picked up, I feel so bad and hope that I can find out who she is so that I can try and make it up to her.

So ended the day. 350 people, up from 220 the year before. Can we top that next year? Maybe if I start an hour earlier. Or if I stick by my original 50 per hour. But for now, we crawled into our beds tired.....but a happy and satisfied tired.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Veteran's Day Chili Cook Off

This years cook off was a week later than Veterans day but with more participants and that meant more competition.

Last year, Jimmy had won third place in the red chili and first place in the green and he was anxious to join the fray again. He had been trying out different meat grinds and collecting all of his needed ingredients and was there early on Saturday morning to get started.

The day was cold and rainy and we gladly shared a tent with our American Legion buddies that kept the wind off of our backs and the rain off of our heads.

At around 1PM, the samples were taken to the Judges and the people began to sample all of our creations. The VVA's chili was definitely the hottest with my mouth burning for hours afterwards.

At 2PM, we were called in for the results and Jimmy received second place in both categories. At one time, I offered to share secrets with one of the groups. "You tell me your secret ingredient and I will tell you mine:, I quipped. When they agreed, I pointed over to Jimmy and said, "My secret ingredient is the big guy over there with the chili apron on!".

Congratulations Jimmy!!!