Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Joys and Concerns

These Johnson County Women are three of the JOYS of our local Community Action Office!

Our local SENCA office has an Outreach Worker, Terri Brethouwer, and she is assisted by her Advisory Board.  I am honored to sit on this board.

On every agenda there is a topic we call "Joys and Concerns" which includes things we feel need some attention.  It may be that we agree that we need new furniture for the entry room.  *We did!  And we are so delighted with the new chairs for the clients to sit in as they wait for the Handi Bus or wait to have an appointment with Terri.  We also agreed that new carpet was in order because the old one was beyond shampooing.  *THAT happened, too!  And we bought locally so that supports our community!  Our Women of Distinction event, an annual program which recognizes the women in Johnson County, NE, is one of our greatest joys.

When it comes to concerns I plan to campaign for repair of the poorly working fluorescent light
above the serving counter/coffee center in the dining room.  It blinks and goes very dim.  Since the area is meant for Seniors to use I feel this is a safety issue.

Another thing that happens at the Center is the Tuesday morning Breakfast Bunch!  The Normanator and I are  always game to wake very early in order to put our toes under the table and meet with our fellow Seniors for the great food Loretta Pope prepares for us and the conversation.  *People in general love to eat and love to visit with others!

The Breakfast Bunch
Lola, The Normanator, Larry, Craig, Wilma, Twila, Gertrude, Mary
*Not pictured:  Eldon, Connie and Kay

Tuesday breakfast is not the only thing Loretta reigns over...she prepares the noon congregate meal for Seniors and she sends many, many take-out meals every noon!  The Meals on Wheels are prepared in her  SENCA kitchen with the regular help of a volunteer, Sharon Snyder.  Our SENCA meal programs run more smoothly because of Mary Sand.  Sometimes Kevin VanLanningham offers his assistance, as well.

Every weekday mid morning a large group of fellows from retirees to professionals to farmers to ministers crowd around the table to solve the world's problems and drink coffee.  It is an institution all on its own and they enjoy one another's company immensely, even when opinions clash!  It's all about guys bonding and debating every issue that comes up!

When our local Advisory Board meets in March I will voice my own personal concerns:  Why don't more people come to share their lunch?  (It only costs $2.75)  How come more people don't come for breakfast on Tuesday mornings?  For that meal, you'll have to pony up $1.25 for the meal and $.25 for a tip for the cook!  Surely that's affordable even for Seniors!

According to their website, SENCA offers a wide range of services that are aimed at the reduction of poverty, the revitalization of low income communities and the empowerment of low income individuals and families to become self sufficient.  The services and activities offered have a measurable and potentially major impact in causes of poverty in the community.  SENCA works with participants to increase and improve their skills, knowledge, and motivations to secure the opportunities needed for them to become self sufficient.  The services and activities offered have a measurable and potentially major impact on causes of poverty in the community. 

Lots of good things happen at our Action Center in Tecumseh, NE:
  • Food Pantry:  The SENCA office and food pantry is located on the East side of the square in Tecumseh.

  • Cooking Classes:  These are offered 4 times a year.  There is no charge for them but attendees need to reserve their space by phoning 402 335 2134.

  • Tax Preparation:  Terri can help with this and can make referrals, as well.

  • Chore Assistance:  For Seniors who live at home but cannot manage cleaning and yard care as they once could, help can be arranged for them. Terri can help you with a referral.

  • Health Insurance Assistance: Special training has been arranged for Terri regarding the ACA.  She is a certified Navigator.

  • Congregate Noon Meals: To reserve your noon meal Monday through Friday, call 402 335 2134 .  The cost is $2.75.

  • Take Out Noon Meals: By calling 402 335 2134 before 9 AM on Monday through Friday you can arrange to pick up your food at the SENCA center.  Those meals cost $3.00.

  • Weatherization: SENCA offers assistance for low income and Seniors to make their homes safer and more comfortable.

  • SENCA Smart: Here is a program to help 8th grade and senior students learn to navigate money management.

  • Family Development: This is a quest to keep anyone-singles or families-from poverty and help them to become successful by learning how to budget their income, manage their spending and save for the future.

  • Poverty Simulation Programs: Students role play real life simulations where they have to work and/or go to school while caring for family members, shop for food, and arrange for transportation as well as apply for loans.  It is a light hearted way of teaching a serious subject with the goal of keeping people from living in poverty.

  • Backpack Program:  To make sure all students have adequate nutrition on the weekend, when school lunch programs are not available, backpacks are filled every week at the SENCA office.
Our local SENCA office also is available for rental.  If a family has a celebration or reunion, they may arrange to rent the facility on weekends, when the building is available.  That is the location of some of our fund raising campaigns, such as the Potato Bake which will be held in April 21 of 2016.

SENCA is having a big birthday on May 2, 2016.  We are half a century old!  Look for festivities to abound as 2016 rolls along.

As you can plainly see, we have far more joys than concerns.  How can it get any better than this?

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Con Can Cook

Mother Connie

Public television carried a wildly popular cooking program long before most of you who are reading this existed.  It featured a charming and talented Asian gentleman named Yan.  He called his show, as you might expect, "Yan Can Cook."  I watched every episode I could.

Because I'm a bit of an imp, I pinched that title and restyled it a bit for the title of this piece:  "Con Can Cook."

Many cooks become foodies because their mother or grandma tutor them in food prep.  The family takes out bragging rights on the stories about culinary successes and failures and they become legendary.  Food and the rituals around it are central to family lore.

My own mother hated to cook.  She was creative and conscientious about getting good meals on the table but she loathed the process.  When I was 10 years old Mom broke her leg and convalesced from the couch for six full months in our living room, which overlooked the kitchen in our basement apartment.

Mom was able to tutor me in the  art and science of meal making from her new perch.  As her fracture mended, she talked me through the process of meal making, which I lapped up eagerly in that miniature kitchen.  My first foray into culinary territory was a menu featuring fried pork chops with cream gravy; canned green beans and "from scratch" biscuits.  I vividly recall chopping iceberg lettuce for our salad and Mom taught me how to make a mayo/vinegar dressing to drizzle over my masterpiece.

Even though I knew precious little about food and what to DO with it, those 6 months of planning, shopping, chopping, stirring and serving  during "Cooking Class With Mom" were unspeakably valuable to me. *I strongly suspect it was meaningful for my mother, as well.

For a high school graduation gift my parents arranged for me to have a series of Culinary Arts lessons from a retired Home Economics teacher who lived nearby.

SIDEBAR: For Millenials and those who were offered no such class, "Home Ec" covered clothing construction, food preparation, child care and floral arranging as well as etiquette and table setting.  END SIDEBAR.

As newlyweds, our kitchen consisted of a 3 burner apartment sized gas range, a base cabinet with a lone drawer and a set of china and cookware from my Hope Chest.  The cooking utensils were hand-me-downs from relatives which I still have and use!

The meals I fixed in those days were pretty much what you'll find in the Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker cookbooks.  Many of our recipes in that time frame came from the Martha Gooch and Kitchen Klatter radio shows.

SIDEBAR:  Yes, we had radios all those years ago and homemaker programming was a staple of the mid morning lineup!  END SIDEBAR.

As our youngsters arrived one by one I had more cooking to do.  I was not a fabulous cook but at least I never cooked eggs in dish washing detergent like Dorothy Dixon did!  Her family of 9 were not fed this disaster but the event prompted the family to buy breakfast cereal by the case so she never had to cook again!  *True Story!

When our family was invited to a Saladmaster Cookware dinner I sat up and took note of all that shiny kitchenware being demonstrated!  It was in the 1970s that I became a demonstrator for the company and found myself preparing meat loaf, chicken, vegetables  and dessert for a dozen people or so two or three times a week!

I took my young daughters with me so they could help with clean up.  They took turns demonstrating kitchen cutlery.  Adorable little girls who are gregarious and verbal can really sell knives!

Everything in my experience has informed me about food--growing it; preparing and serving it; and using it as medicine.  By the time The Normanator and I moved to our retirement home the price of food was rising at an alarming rate.

I was making lunch one day, thinking about how much a gallon of milk set us back.  I recall sticking my head into the fridge as I gathered what I needed to make us our midday meal...I distinctly remember saying aloud, "How on EARTH will FAMILIES ever manage?"

The answer to that question raised another.  "What might I do to help them?"

The solution, as I saw it, was to put up a blog dedicated to users of Public Assistance.  Holders of EBT cards for WIC, SNAP, or people who depend on Food Pantry food or Food Commodities could learn about low cost, densely nutritious meals.  If they had not learned to cook, for whatever reason, we could help with that.

I was warned it would not work.  I was reminded that "poor people don't have internet access" and there was a long list of reasons why it would never happen.  I made a lot of phone calls, chatted with a number of experts, and finally played deaf.  I launched the blog Food Stamps Cooking Club and invited visitors to the website to "join."  When they do join they are sent a series of cooking tips. There is nothing to buy so it really does offer assistance with no strings attached.

NEVER did I envision how my little corner of the internet would impact so many in need.  I have heard from Members who have used the information to help homeless people to cook in California! Members have sent us recipes, stories, tips--I could not have foreseen that I would forge tender bonds with other bloggers or that we would host a French Chef in the Clubhouse!  There are videos on YouTube, I've participated in Cooking Classes at the Action Center  and all this makes Mother Connie feel all warm and gooey inside.

Knowing that Con can cook really made me happy last week.  The Normanator got in on the fun, too...we roasted lots of chicken thighs, de-boned the meat and prepared noodles to pair with the meat to feed a crowd.  This food was prepared for our little town's traditional Lenten Luncheon series.  We did our work to honor the memory of one of our recently departed church members, Delilah Laue, who always gave of herself and did everything she could to prepare food for this yearly event.

Cooking is a joy for me in so many ways.  This very morning I saw one of our Club Members at the convenience store ....We hugged hello and she regaled me with her latest cooking success:  homemade noodles!  Her husband raved about how good they were and how they were just like the noodles his mom always made!  She recalled the cold winter night she had come to the Clubhouse and helped to make a dinner so she could learn how to make gravy and plan for good nutrition on a tight budget.

So I don't know where Yan is these days but I am in hog heaven!  YES.  Con CAN cook!

Connie Baum

Friday, October 23, 2015

In the Food Stamps Cooking Clubhouse!

No.  The Clubhouse is NOT in Utah and NO, I am NOT in prison!

The Clubhouse was buzzing with activity this week!  It was a party atmosphere, really, and it filled my bucket as nothing else could.  Nikki is raising 3 charming children, a garden, several businesses; in a very real sense she is setting the world on fire!  She is concerned about the environment,  how food is sourced - and the ethical standards of that process. She is interested in everything on the planet, the planet itself and she is extremely well read.  She is far better informed than most people. Besides that, she's cuter than cute.

SIDEBAR:  Nikki has 4 youngsters if you count Danny, her husband, who is a professor at Peru State College.  JUST KIDDING!  END SIDEBAR.

Nikki collected Mother Connie's favorite spaghetti sauce recipe:

I got a jump start on our meal by sauteing the 'trinity'-onions, carrots, celery:

When Nikki arrived, she brought eggplant, potatoes, more carrots, and tomatoes.  We added this and that until we had a full soup pot of goodness.  Among the items added were quinoa, vegetable broth, tomato paste, a touch of sugar to brighten the tomatoes, and a whole clove of garlic, peeled. 

Nikki also brought a home made loaf of sourdough bread  -*YUM YUM YUMMY - and a shaker of kale flakes she had made with her dehydrator.  We had fresh basil available for topping the soup at serving time. We were on nutrition/flavor HIGH ALERT!

Another family was invited to share the food and the fun.  Their 10 year old, Ava, brought soda bread that she had made ALL BY HERSELF!  That was snarfed up before the camera could capture it.  IT WAS SO DELISH.

Jack, Eli, Ava and Lucy had the whole kitchen for their giggling pleasure!

While the soup simmered and we tore the greens for the salad (which we forgot to photograph!  ARGH) we chatted about how we could use cabbage in various ways and how forgiving it is.  Mother Connie showed Nikki how to use celery to make broth and how to wrap celery in a kitchen towel and foil to keep it fresh longer.

The salad was a duke's mix of bitter greens like spinach, chard and kale with sweet, tender butter lettuce, cranberries, slivered almonds, and chopped broccoli.  A variety of dressings were available; the meal was presented buffet style.

We hated to have to eat dessert.  *That is a blatant lie.  There were TWO kinds of brownies.  We could not decide between them so we had a piece of each flavor.  

The tabletop conversation was scintillating!  We discussed every topic known to mankind, including food and cookery!  The children enjoyed their play and I was sorry to see the evening come to a close.  It was important to get the children into bed in a timely fashion; the next day was a school/work day.  Y A W N...

It is so wonderful to know and love people who seem to be on the same page.  It is inspirational to hang out with well educated, well intended, well spoken folks who express themselves eloquently about topics we all care about.  And it's way fun to share a meal with people we admire.

It is great fun to cook in the Clubhouse and it is such a treat to share all that fun!

Thank you, Nikki and Danny, Annie, Lucy, and Jack!  And thank you, Wendi and Dustin, Ava and Eli.  DO HURRY BACK!  You make our hearts sing.  And dance!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Johnson County Women of Distinction

Wendi Buggi * Velda Koehler * Sally Hutt

Building on our success from 2014 we gathered to plan for Year Two.  We shuttled all over Johnson County, Nebraska to distribute Nomination Forms to people in every town...we got a bit of coverage from the Tecumseh Chieftain as well as the Beatrice Daily Sun!  Of course we posted updates on Facebook too!

Because our SENCA office location was so small for what we hoped would be a growing crowd, we opted to rent the historic Community Building on the village square.  Not having air conditioning had us hoping for cool weather.  At least there were fans to keep the air moving and the amplification system was in place.

We chose the theme: "Johnson County Women are the Keys to the Past, Present and Future" and the decorated tables carried that out with canning jars filled with red and blue marbles (SENCA's signature colors) holding tiny keys hanging from branches.  The table cloths were red or blue and scattered across all of them were keys, watches, clocks--every type of timepiece.

As the guests arrived they signed our guest book and a young volunteer escorted them to their seats.  They were further welcomed by platters of bars and cookies as well as pitchers of icy water on each table.

The radio format was followed again but this time it was broadcast from 'The Poverty Network, 57 on the FM radio dial'...57 came from the Johnson County license plate.  We featured commercials again, this time with a little girl, Ava Buggi, helped by her mommy, who carried the SENCA banner as well as posters with ads for volunteers.  They acted out each commercial for Cooking Classes, Meals on Wheels and other SENCA programs.  The audience seemed to enjoy seeing Ava and taking in her personality, especially when she interrupted me and whispered in my ear that it was time for the Outreach Worker, Terri Brethouwer, to take her place at the podium.

Those who sit on the Advisory Board were introduced: Rev Jason Wolter, Rev Eric Biehl, Ann Curry, Judy Coe, Kevin VanLanningham, Cortney Brown  and yours truly. *The board members wore blue stoles; the 2014 winners were  given red stoles to wear.  We also were thrilled to welcome the Executive Director for SENCA, Vicky McNealy and her sidekick, Pam Armknecht, who oversees the Community Outreach Workers.

Our brilliant and sparkly Keynote Speaker was Anita Lewandowski Brown, former Executive Director of the Grand Island YWCA .  Anita was accompanied by her husband, Ralph P. Brown.  Anita spoke about her experience with the Grand Island event and she sprinkled stories throughout her talk.  She brought a visual that was displayed below the stage reading, "Believe There Is Good In the World"  [sic: Be The Good In the World.]  Ralph drew from his Mohawk Indian upbringing by  drumming and singing the Honor Song for Women.  It was a very moving moment in the event.

We had another speaker who was a 2014 Candidate in Grand Island:  Debra Rakosky gave a lovely talk, sharing what it had meant to her to be a part of the annual Grand Island event.  Debra was nominated for Woman of Courage and was given a glass starfish to remember the occasion and her nomination.

Gifts for our speakers and a special helper were original art pieces created  on canvasses by Rev Eric Biehl.

Again there were three categories and the nominations came from every town and village in Johnson County!  Each candidate was introduced, as was the woman or women who made the nomination.  A tidbit  about each one was shared so people who may not know these women would understand who they are and why they were nominated.

Each candidate's entry was judged by people from out of Johnson County so the judging would be fair and unbiased.  Some of the nominations from 2014 were brought forth by the board once again because of their merit.

The winners of each category, pictured above, are as follows:
Woman of Courage  -  Sally Hutt
Young Woman of Achievement  -  Wendi Buggi
Johnson County Woman of Distinction  -  Velda Koehler

Following our program, the attendees were invited to mingle and meet n greet the winners and their families.  Dustin Buggi favored us with background music.

SO MANY PEOPLE helped to make this event successful.  If we mention them all it will fill up the Ethernet!  Here are a few who made it all happen:  Jody Schultz, Dustin, Wendi and Ava Buggi, Joy Robison, Lois McClintock, Norman Baum.  SENCA salutes each of you.

Next up:  The Johnson County Fair Parade!  Our Woman from two years have been invited to ride on an entry with signs and banners touting the women and their sponsoring agency, SENCA
HI! HO!  COME TO THE FAIR!  **Let's hope those pictures will be good enough to share here!

We are up to our elbows in plans for 2016!  Look for more categories, more entertainment more  entries, more honoring our peers and way more fun!  After all, Johnson County Women are the Keys to the Past, Present and Future! 

Connie Baum
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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Women of Distinction: The Maiden Event of 2014

Devon Roesner, Dr. Joan Christen, Kesha Beethe

Early  in 2014 I received a notice that women in Grand Island, Nebraska were being honored at at event hosted by their local YWCA.  I knew I wanted to nominate someone so I made a nomination and in return I got a letter inviting me to join my candidate for the grand dinner event.

We both attended; she brought her mother in law, too.  It was quite the gala occasion where women of every age had been nominated by their peers, their families, their friends.  There were gifts for each nominee and awards for the winners of each category:  Woman of Courage, Young Woman of Achievement and Woman of Distinction.  The photos of the Women of Distinction line the walls of the YWCA's building.

As I saw how each candidate's heart was touched I thought, "We need to do this in Johnson County Nebraska!"

It is my good fortune to sit on the Johnson County Advisory Board for SENCA-- South East Community Action in Tecumseh.  I met with Terri Brethouwer, our outreach worker, and her immediate response was to look at the calender for 2014.  She noted that Friendship Day falls on the first Sunday of August.  She looked up from the calendar and said, "Let's do it!"

So we DID.  We had no clue what we would do or how to get it done so we begged the YWCA director, Anita Lewandowski Brown for information.  She was gracious enough to send us all their forms and a page full of ideas they had tried successfully.

Some 60 curious people crammed into the SENCA building for our maiden event on Friendship Day, August 1, 2014.  We had a handful of candidates, their nominators, some family members,  We even had Vicky McNealy,  Executive Director of SENCA from the home office at Humboldt, Ne.  She was accompanied by Pam Armknecht, who is the Community Services Director.

Teen aged girls dressed in their prom gowns served bars and fruit that had been prepared by the woman who prepares the Senior meals at the Center, Loretta Pope.  Jacob Schultz favored us with some musical solos.

A radio show format was adopted.  'The Poverty Network' carried the show on their waves;  the call letters were SENCA , 1700 on the radio dial.  'Commercials' were sprinkled throughout to educate people about SENCA and all the programs they offer. The guests heard, "SENCA is helping people, changing lives" until they remembered and believed it!

It was determined that SENCA people were ineligible for awards but we bent that rule when we heard about a way we could make a special award for one of our Board members.  Ann Curry's family had a tragedy and from that sadness came a wonderful foundation that helps with children who have been traumatized by accidents or illness.  Because of  the Aiden's Animals foundation we gave Ann a stuffed elephant and the mother of the child they lost from an accident talked about the foundation and the work they do.

Every candidate got a miniature, hand carved onyx elephant.  We will never forget the event! The candidates will always remember, too!

2014's Johnson County winners were Devon Roesner, Woman of Courage; Kesha Beethe, Young Woman of Achievement and Dr. Joan Christen was Woman of Distinction.  Each woman received an award with their name and the date engraved on it.

We had so much fun that we determined we would build on that success.  We'll tell you all about what transpired in 2015 in the very next post!

Connie Baum
The FTC wants you to know there might be links on this page. Should they be clicked, resulting in sales, your humble blogger would be fairly compensated. Please do your due diligence when conducting affairs online or offline. Always do business with those you trust implicitly. If you are reading this outside of the USA, you may be leaving cookies behind.