After spending years in the workforce, I was surprised to find that in retirement my life still revolves around routines. I’m happy with my routines, but every so often I need to devote a day to doing something entirely different. And last week I devoted a day to doing two very different somethings.
One morning I went to help out in the church kitchen, as members of the women’s group prepared desserts to sell at the annual salmon dinner fundraiser. I use “help out” loosely, because many of the cooks are second-generation Japanese-American, and hold higher standards for the appearance of food than I do. I’m just happy if I can make something taste good. Also, the food we were preparing was Japanese, which brings up another limitation. I can make a simple dish called Five Ingredients Noodles and have, on occasion, assembled some very untidy sushi rolls. But fancy desserts, the plan for the day I was there, are way out of my league and comfort zone.
The good news is that I kept busy without straining my skill level. There are some areas, like writing, public speaking, even cooking and baking at home, where I don’t mind taking risks, but I draw the line at showing off my incompetence in a crowd, while cooking food to sell to the public.
One of the desserts involved making little pancakes and layering sweet bean paste between two of them. Women standing over portable grills made the pancakes. My job was to trim away any rough edges on the cooled pancakes, a task I felt confident I could handle. Then others branded them — using tiny metal branding irons heated on a gas stove — spread the sweet paste, and wrapped them up. All 230 of them.
I also helped make another dessert, one I actually have some skill at, since I’ve been doing it for years. It’s called ohagi, which is mochi wrapped in a sweet bean paste. My job was to cocoon the balls of rice in the bean paste. Both assignments were enjoyable, but more important was the sense of community and fun created by the activity and all the cooks.
Later that day, I attended a city event called, “A Dialogue with our Muslim Neighbors.” An outstanding panel of speakers, male and female professionals, told their stories of life here and answered questions from the moderator and members of the audience. I felt pride to hear that their experiences in our city and our schools were so positive. Their most uncomfortable encounters occurred after each terrorist attack somewhere else in the world, when people here would ask them, “Why did they do this?” One speaker answered for the panel, saying, “I’ve lived here, worked here, raised my children here for more than twenty years. Why do you think I would know why they did it?”
I’m back in my routine again, but feel richer for the time I stepped away.