Category Archives: service

Coffee Grinds Everywhere

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.

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Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

“How do you like your steak?” I’d ask.

As a vegetarian for more than twenty years, I found this question ludicrous. I like my steak on the cow where it belongs. Most people like theirs well-done.

Every job always has something that’s hard to swallow.

Jennys spiral

Back home in the US waitresses fear chefs. There is a tension between them that literally can become palatable. I remember a friend telling me how she dreaded returning anything to the kitchen, especially after the chef threw a potato at her.

At Rosaleen’s Restaurant, however, comradeship existed between us. Any tensions disappeared as we focused together in the preparation of steak, lamb, fish, and vegetable. At times, three of us fluttered around a single serving: the chef, pouring sauce and garnishing the plate, her assistant placing doilies on dishes and slicing bread, and me waiting to whisk the plate to the customer so to deliver the meal hot.

This shared longing to serve our best was perhaps what the customer tasted most.

Tea cup

“How do you like to polish your silver?” Mona, the dishwasher, asked me one night. “Do you like the silver wet or dry?”

I laughed out loud. I had no idea! I had never polished silver in my life. Never in my life thought about polishing silver. Never planned, aspired, or longed to polish silver. Yet, polishing silver was part of my job and I was supposed to know how to do it.

How often life turns us around and expects us to know how to do something. How to watch a child die, how to care for an elderly parent, how to fight cancer.

“I suppose I like my silver wet,” I said.

Cup

At the end of the night the toilets were swept, mirrors wiped, and trash bins emptied. The ladies’ and gents’ toilets look exactly alike, but I prickled all over while standing inside the gents’. Ready to bolt, I couldn’t wait to finish with the chore. Years of conditioning, years of identifying with one gender and separating from the other, screamed inside me with just one simple act.

Jennys spiral

One night I noticed fingerprints on the glass case that holds deserts: Banoffi pie, apple crumble, profiteroles with butterscotch sauce, Bailey’s cheesecake. I remembered two customers peering in, sampling with their mind’s eye, leaning into the case as if to swallow all the deserts whole.

I quickly wiped the fingerprints away, but my haste only smeared the glass with an uglier film. How often we think we’re cleaning something up, only to make it more of a mess.

Tea cup

Five days before I started to work at Rosaleen’s Restaurant, I had a dream. So many customers entered the restaurant that I couldn’t serve them fast enough. They were helping themselves, making their own cappuccinos and lattes, leaving coffee grinds everywhere, moving the counter askew, spilling foamed milk. Then an overweight lady entered. She sat on a chair and it broke beneath her. Splayed wood and rolled flesh lay in a heap on the floor.

Our fears are always more frightening than our reality.

Cup

“Thank you, that’s lovely,” the woman said when I handed back her five-pence change. The Irish often say money is lovely. Not in general conversation, but when it is exchanged. This always struck me as odd. Flowers, children, and kittens are lovely, not twenty euro notes or VISA cards.

But perhaps it’s really the exchange that they find lovely. Perhaps it’s the support for one another’s services and talents and the acknowledgement of our interdependence that is so lovely.

Jennys spiral

Catherine Makes Gnocchi

Catherine still finds herself in the kitchen 20 years later, only in Italy making gnocchi along with the village women.

Under the Napkin Tent

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.

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Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

I found it curious who ate what and how much. The Burren lamb bones gnawed clean of meat. The barbecued chicken wings, once garnished on a bed of lettuce, reduced to tiny sticks. Baked cod picked apart and left under a napkin tent.

Was it the food, its taste and appearance, that mattered or the hunger, its degree and duration? Was it the conversation shared or the person listening? When we are given the food of life, what and how much do we eat?

Jennys spiral

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Where lemons are sliced thin…

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.

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Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, owner of Roseleen’s Restaurant (http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/)

I realised the first day that my challenge was to stay centered. During the five-hour shift I found myself scattered between Table 3 wanting more bread; the blinds needing to be pulled; the empty roll of toilet paper in the ladies’ room; Table 6’s demand for a receipt; and the three hungry people who just walked through the door.

Where was I? How quickly I no longer existed, no longer felt my own thirst and tired feet.

Jennys spiral Continue reading

Book Announcement: The First in a Series

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am happy to announce the publication of A Free and Wild Creature: Women, Service and Motherhood.

Book Cover I am a Wild CreatureThis book is a selection of blogs that have appeared on this website from 2014 to 2019. As the past five years have flown by, these bi-monthly reflections followed each other without any thought on my part to their cohesion or continuity. They simply captured moments in time – concerns, joys, wonder, delight, and sorrow.

And yet, while preparing this series of four small books, the reflections seemed to have mysteriously folded into one another. Like the flotsam washed ashore by the sea, these reflections seemed to have divided themselves by weight, roundness, shape and tone. Continue reading

Wedding Bells for Joy

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Joy.

For a year now, I have been a volunteer working one morning a week for the local Italian Catholic organization Caritas, which means ‘charity’ in Italian. This national organization, funded in part by the Vatican and in part by donations, offers food and clothing to the poor, subsidizes housing, pays medical bills, and tries to find or create jobs for the unemployed. During this past year, I have done everything from teach asylum seekers English, pack and distribute groceries for the needy, canvas for food outside supermarkets, help run an auction, perform basic office work, and hang out with people in the Caritas waiting room.

One sweltering July morning, Rose (Note that all names have been changed) showed up hot and sweaty and on the verge of tears. She had walked three miles in the sweltering heat pushing her 4-month-old baby girl in a rickety stroller down a road full of racing Italian traffic and no sidewalk. Rose plopped down onto a chair and started sobbing. Everything was just too much. Despite having been in the country for two years, she still didn’t understand much Italian. (I would realize months later that she could barely read and write.) That day she sat gripping another official letter that can had come in the post. One of those bureaucratic letters full of convoluted language that just tells you to wait for another bureaucratic letter to arrive someday soon. Continue reading

Harkening Within

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Etty Hillesum in 1939

Seventy-five years ago on November 30th, a young Dutch Jewish intellect died at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her legacy of love and reconciliation, as described in her ten diary notebooks and the many letters that she wrote, continues to inspire people around the world. Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) was only 29 years old when she died, but during her short lifespan she managed to live a life of contemplative spirituality and practice in a world that seemed to be falling to pieces around her.

Hillesum grew up in a non-religious home of intellectuals. Her parents were both teachers – her father taught the classics and her mother Russian literature. Hillesum had two younger brothers, both very talented but mentally unstable. She describes having grown up in a “chaotic and sad situation … a madhouse where no human being can flourish.” Continue reading

Courageously Creating Good Will

003415 good willOne could not help but be horrified by the images last week of Dr. David Dao being violently dragged off United Airlines overbooked flight to make way for a crew member. His forcible abuse and maltreatment by the three policemen ended up with him suffering a concussion, broken nose and the loss of two front teeth. Dr. Dao only wanted to go home to see his patients the next morning.

Since the release of the videos made by fellow passengers, responsibility for this incident has been placed on a number of different people.

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