Saturday, March 21, 2009

Change Is Good. No. Really. It Is.

Thursday culminated several weeks' planning and many hours of effort to pull off our ward's Eight Cow Woman Birthday Luau. A sister in our ward, whose sister-in-law is the Enrichment Leader in a neighboring stake, gave me the idea after being told what a success it was. At first it seemed a little bit cheesy and gimmicky, but as I thought about the idea of doing something Hawaiian themed, that seemed very fun. In recent weeks, I have heard of many people doing the same thing and ideas for this are all over the Internet.

We had a dinner--Hawaiian Haystacks, of course. Then Tamathy shared the story of Johnny Lingo, which I had written out. I had written it out because I had planned on telling it myself and wanted to get it just right. Then, not wanting to make Enrichment into the STM-show, I asked Tamathy to do it, as she is an excellent writer and orator. She was wonderful, of course, and the sisters were mesmerized by her reading, but I wish I had just given her a brief outline of the story so she could have made it her own. After the reading, we separated for classes that were basically self-reliance things. We made the connection of self-worth and developing talents and self-confidence and self-reliance so that the theme matched the classes.

A month or two ago, when the planning for all the hoopla began, Nem posted about how ridiculous the "fluff" get sometimes with planning for church. She gave a couple of really over-the-top examples in that snarky voice that nobody does as well as Miss Nemesis. The comments generated by the post numbered into the forties or even fifties. People had a lot to say--some in complete agreement, others in defense of at least a degree of fluff. A few people were down right angry about things they'd been asked to do at church. An older and wiser voice of reason commented that everyone might consider stopping their whining and just getting to work. I've been thinking about it ever since, especially since my Enrichment calling sometimes seems all about fluff.

Here are the conclusions I have come to over the last few years:

* The purpose of any activity/program/lesson/meeting/whatever we do in the Church is designed to bring people closer to Christ, or at the very least be uplifting. If the thing we plan isn't doing this, then we must re-think our approach.
* Any activity involving women (of any age) will nearly always be social, unless you are in a ward or branch with serious unity problems. However, not every activity will be spiritual and/or uplifting. If you plan an activity to be merely social, that is probably all it will ever be. If an activity is planned to be uplifting then it can still be social. You rarely get spiritual by accident.
* Enjoying hanging out with your friends is not the same thing as a spiritual experience. It doesn't mean it is a bad or invaluable experience, but it is not the same. (Hanging out is the key word here. Some of my most spiritual experiences have come from one-on-one talking with friends about things that really matter.)
* It doesn't matter how fulfilling your activity is if the sisters' butts aren't in the seats. Sometimes the "fluff" gets them there.
* Some women show their love by doing all of those extras. Our current Enrichment Counselor is a perfect example--teaching, presenting and remembering names make her nervous and tongue-tied, but nobody puts in more hours to make a room look truly beautiful and welcoming to anyone who enters. She is also one of the most Christlike women I know. Being a fluffer doesn't automatically mean that you are shallow or missing the point (this person is a fluffer-nutter) any more than being a non-fluffer means that you get it.
* Tithing funds are sacred, and though your calling shouldn't cost you any money, if you are a person who likes to do a lot of that over-the-top thing then you should pay for it yourself.
* An RS activity should always involve at least some chance to serve.
* Women often talk about needing a "break." The fluff does a good job of helping sisters to feel loved, needed and wanted.
* As women, we might need fewer breaks than we think we do. (Remember how much many of you have expressed a hatred for the word "entitlement.")

Our classes and theme were very uplifting, but the sisters came away feeling treated too. They had each been invited personally, by phone call and invitation (which were fairly labor intensive this time; one of the sisters on my committee said that she wasn't so sure she needed all of the "raffia blessings" she was earning.) They'd had a nice dinner, of which they had to do very little work. They shared their talents, some of which were remarkable and surprising. They each had a candy lei for their necks. They had an opportunity to contribute toiletry items to a local homeless shelter. They had a folder with a cutesy cow sticker (ala picture at the top) on the front and a pencil reading "8 Cow Woman." For the few that brought children, there was a nursery. Their tables were decorated with pineapples and fruit skewers and leis and tiny flip-flops.
It was a ton of work, but at 9:30 that night I was able to honestly say through my exhaustion and the cold I felt coming on, "It was absolutely worth every minute." Because many of the sisters, as they left, took a minute to say, "What a lovely evening," or "I learned so much," or "The classes were wonderful," or "Everything was perfect."

Everything. I take that to mean the spiritual and the social. The formal and the fluff.

I think with RS especially, sisters need incentive to get out the door in the evenings. An activity claiming to be for all the sisters should have something for everyone because everyone's needs are different--a chance to serve, a chance to socialize and a chance to learn something.

These are going to be valuable lessons for me as I head into the next phase of my life. Last Sunday I was asked to have a new calling. I was initially told that it was to be the Beehive Advisor. I was over the moon. I loved this calling when I had it years ago. (All my girls have now gone off to college.) I thought, "No more party planning! A chance to teach and do the thing I'm the best at!" When I spoke to the president Thursday night, however, she corrected me. I am to be the new second counselor, not the advisor.

Time-wise there is not much of a difference in the two callings. Being in the Young Women's organization is always a huge time commitment, regardless of your calling. However, the difference between being a counselor and being an advisor is that I will rarely be teaching and instead will be planning activities nearly every Wednesday night. Like mini-Enrichment. Every. Stinking. Week.


I know that every calling in the church is an opportunity to teach, but I was so looking forward to the security blanket of the lesson manual. My creative juices feel really dry right now. And these girls will need a lot of love--two of them in particular. I hope the lessons I have learned during my last 3 ++ years with Enrichment will translate into my new calling.

On a lighter note, my Hawaiian-themed activity this week got me thinking about something new to try food-wise. There is a restaurant in town called "Ron's Island Grill." As far as I know, it is only here but there are three different locations in the city. Plantboy discovered this place about a week after we moved and it has been a favorite ever since.

Their specialty is teriyaki chicken over rice and this forms the basis for most of their plates. Plantboy loves their red curry version of this with vegetables. It is really delicious. Last night we got to talking about it and decided that we could at least make an approximation. The result was fantastic, loved by the whole family, and is a recipe that will certainly make the regular rotation.
At first glance it sounds like a lot of work, but total kitchen time was probably only thirty minutes, even if some of the stuff has to cook longer than that. It is a meal that you assemble in layers, so everybody gets exactly what they want. Even better.
I started with 4 chicken breasts in the crockpot (we wanted leftovers) and a half a jar or Kikkoman's new teriyaki sauce. It is much thicker than their original, more the texture of barbecue sauce. There are three varieties of it and any one will do. The chicken cooked on low for about 3 1/2 hours until it was tender and shreddable. Plantboy did a combination of shredding and chunking.
This teriyaki is the basis for the rest, and it would be delicious and completely easy on its own just over rice, or BBQ sandwich style on a toasted bun, with maybe a slice of pineapple. Yummy. Still, Plantboy and I are very rarely able to stop at simple, so we decided to kick it up a notch.
At Ron's, he likes the red curry topping over the teriyaki, so on the stove, I mixed a cup of coconut milk, a generous tablespoon of peanut butter and a few tablespoons of red curry paste. I whisked all this together until it was warm and then turned it to low until everything else was ready.
We stir fried carrots, broccoli slaw (you've never bought this stuff? Look for it; it is brilliant in just about anything), red and green peppers, and celery for just a few minutes until everything was crisp-tender. Use whatever veggies you have on hand--mushrooms, green beans, even water chestnuts would be great.
On each plate, we layered rice (we used brown--easy to make, but takes about 45 minutes to cook so plan ahead), teriyaki chicken, red curry sauce and vegetables. The kids just ate chicken and rice, but they slurped it up. Even the baby Hoovered his because we cut the chicken in small enough pieces that he thought he was just eating rice.
For garnish we used a little bit of sweet, flaked coconut and I put chow mien noodles on mine too. (STM likes her chicken crunchy.) The fresh pineapple was left over from Relief Society, which was definitely a fringe benefit of heading up the committee. Isn't this meal lovely?

To conclude, as everyone has been waxing poetic about spring this week, I thought I'd throw in a picture of my little ones in the garden. We've grown by two planting beds this year and I am already dreaming about fresh produce.

Our spring break is this week, and so far rain is forecast until the middle of the week. If the coming of spring is characterized by the crocuses we have all been so fond of photographing, then spring break is characterized by the packs of teenagers driving too fast down my street and girls wearing flip flops and tube tops.

And, yikes, I just have to say it: tube tops are horrible in any size but just obscene in a double X.


Sherry said...

I'm really glad your Enrichment night went well. I kind of feel guilty that I didn't make it to mine.

And you will be great with the Beehives- even if you are mostly doing activities instead of lessons. :) When I worked with my Beehives (for all of three months), I was the teacher AND the adviser.

Nerd Goddess said...

Good post! I dread the day I will have to be part of the planning of Enrichment activities, but hopefully I can stay at least somewhat as positive and focused as you seem to be.

And good luck with the Beehives! You never know what sort of activity will make an impact on them. When I was in Mia Maids, we made "Eternity Cans" to be opened on the day we went to the temple for the first time (kind of like a time capsule). I'd always remembered mine, but couldn't get to it with the craziness that was my wedding day. However, it was really sweet to open it a few weeks afterwards, and find a note from my leaders, a letter from my dad, horrendous 15 year-old poetry from myself, and a lovely embroidered handkerchief that will be making it's way to my temple bag. I don't know if those leaders ever thought we'd actually open them, but it was a fun thing to have around that chaotic (and wonderful!) time.

Alas, I am rambling. Also, that chicken recipe looks amazing. I'm going to have to try it out.

Z. Marie said...

Your enrichment night sounds great. That's not something we have here (I think there's been one enrichment activity in the year and a half I've been here, and I wasn't able to go), and I do miss it even though I'm one of those people who has to drag herself there.
Beehives will be a challenge, yes, especially counselor vs. adviser, but I think you'll be able to come up with more ideas than you think. And some of those weeks will be with the other classes (and even the Young Men), so perhaps it's not as daunting as it seems.
The recipe looks awesome. What kind of crockpot do you have? I'm in the market for a new one and am looking for recommendations.
And you're definitely right about tube tops. Ugh.

Slyck and Slim said...

You have learned a lot in the last three years! I remember Norma Haines telling us about how important preparation and ambiance is for an activity to enable the Spirit to be there. There is a balance isn't there? I am grateful to have opportunities to serve in the church -- even in callings we think we will dread or not be good at. It trains us so that we can be of use in other aspects of life. I was amazed at how capable and willing the Mormons were to help with our neighborhood Spring Fling. Serving in the church had trained them well, and my non-member friends were flabergasted at the willingness of those volunteers and the ease at which we were able to pull that off. You will be able to take what you learned as Enrichment counselor and microsize it for those weekly YW activities. If you are focusing on extending love, it won't seem like work at all. And by the way, I do have to agree with you on the tube tops. :)

chris w said...

I LOVED your conclusions. Amen to every one of them.

My husband and I have a love for red curry so I am going to have to make that recipe. Sounds heavenly.

And you are a 20 cow woman - those beehives are VERY lucky. :)

Janssen said...

A double X tube top. Oh dear. Doesn't anyone realize that just because some items exist, doesn't mean they should be actually worn?

Going to try that recipe sometime soon. Sounds divine!

Suburban Hippie said...

Part of why I love my calling is that it means I don't have to go to relief society - I used to love it, I don't know what happened.

emandtrev said...

Excellent conclusions. So glad to hear that the birthday luau was a success. Yay, you!

I think you totally hit it on the head about "needing a break." I definitely do need breaks now and then, but I've found that I'm happiest when, for example, I am not just watching some mindless show on TV. My best "breaks" have come from doing something constructive--reading something different, having a good discussion, etc. Truth be told, my best experiences with Relief Society have been outcomes of both the formal and the fluff.

Your Hawaiian Haystacks look absolutely fantastic. I am definitely going to try your method for making them!

kanaboke said...

I can't stop laughing at the the last line...Nor can I stop salivating at the picture of that Lovely Chicken Concoction!! Must try!! We'll have a Hawaiian Restaraunt here in Logan in a few weeks..our friends that Henlines, Meatogas, Mossmans, and Fongs are opening it up..I'm sooooo excited!

Jenny said...

Whew! Reading your post was like taking a journey, and coming back again. Great points, and some wisdom in there. It's a delicate balance (the enrichment night part--although containing double x's in a tube top sounds like a delicate balance as well)I'm bucking the whole enrichment night in the cultural hall gig, and taking our next one on the road. We're going to help out in a food pantry/homeless shelter, since we had the founder of it at our last EN to tell her story. No decorations, no fluff, just roll up your sleeves and get to work!

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Jenny, Your comment was completely wonderful. I should have added another point to the list:

* Traditions in a ward are wonderful, until they stifle new ideas and positive change.

The ward I live in now was established in the late 1960s; the boundary has actually changed very little in all that time, and there are many people here who were a part of that original ward. This is not the best recipe for change. When the church switched from the monthly to the quarterly format, this ward kept the following activities: birthday party, garden party, Souper Saturday, Christmas party.

Did you see the word "party" three times. I did. This was highly disturbing to me and I tried really hard to rock the boat, but was basically told to leave it. We have held one "extra" activity each year as well as a humanitarian day--they are pitifully attended.

This year I really pushed to have some kind of donation drive set up at each activity. Our counselor was wary, especially in these times, of asking people to do to much. Our wonderful president's response to that concern? "If people get angry about donating a bar of soap to a homeless woman, then we have WAY bigger problems than what to do for Enrichment."

Amen, Sister.

Yankee Girl said...

I'm sure that you will do an absolutely wonderful job with your new calling. Congrats!

And loved the recipe idea at the end. Sounds yummy!

CaLM RAPIDS said...

I thought I would take a minute to comment since I think we feel generally the same about enrichment. I've been enr. ldr. for about 9 months. Since it's not an every month thing, it's taken a while for me to feel comfortable in what I'm doing and to find my purpose in it. I'm not a party person and I really do not like planning parties. Just ask my kids--I'll do just about anything to get out of throwing a party. Anyway, it's also hard for me to let other people do their job because it might not be how I think it should be. So, after prayer and pondering, I've discovered that my purpose in this calling is to bring sisters to Christ. The sisters on the board and all those in the ward. It has changed my outlook on the whole situation. I really try hard to help every sister on the board have a positive experience. And I try to make a worth-while experience for those that come. Sometimes that involves a lot of fluff because I want them to feel that they have worth. They each get a personal invitation, they are involved when they come, and the topics are timely and relevant. No matter how busy their day/week/month has been I want them to think "I'm glad I came."

I appreciate your blogs. Now that you're back in YW, I'll miss your thoughts/ideas on enrichment. Thanks for letting me vent a bit.