Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tammy Has Grandkids!

I feel like a broken record going on and on about weekly occurances at the Mustard Seed, but so many neat things are starting to happen as walls come down and people start opening up to me. I took a brand new karaoke machine over on Monday afternoon, and Helen gave me a big hug - it was a lot of excitement with the karaoke crowd that they were going to be able to ditch the old, run down machine. The afternoon crowd had a different vibe - people coming and going, sorting clothes on the tables, sipping on coffee. It was nice and casual. And of course who would I run into but Sheldon, first looking at me like, "What are you doing here?", and then saying in his slow sarcastic way, "I saw what you brought in." He does not enjoy karaoke night. I told him I'd bring him some extra donuts to make up for it.

When I arrived on Tuesday, Nathan and Mel were setting up the new machine, and it worked perfectly. No skipping disks, no issues, but most of the great karaoke regulars (Amos, Clayton, Gary) didn't come last night - maybe because they thought there would be no karaoke? The music was good last night, lots of different people, great renditions of songs....I was so glad to be able to contribute! Even when Helen called me up on the mike, although I was embarrassed to be recognized openly, it was so nice to be thanked and cheered for, just for that small gesture. Georgie then came over to the coffee bar to thank me personally - it was worth it to hear her sing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" in her crazy way!

But the highlight of the night had to be when Tammy (the women that it took me months to get a smile out of) started telling me about her new grandson, and that she had three grandkids now! For one thing, she looks way too young to be a grandma, but I was just thrilled that she decided to share that with me!

I've never thought of myself as a "people person" - I like to be alone most of the time, but when I do interact with people (on my own terms), whether it's with clients, out in public, or at The Mustard Seed, I really enjoy myself. Maybe as I'm getting older I'm appreciating human interaction a bit more....who knows.

But my thoughts of becoming a staff member came to a grinding halt last night as the staff filled up buckets with bleach to clean a urinal which someone decided to use as a toilet. There is some truth to the inner city that I don't often see because we are in a safe place where people are sober, and I am just a volunteer who hangs out and serves coffee. I wonder if my posts would be so full of optimism and hope if I went and hung out at George Spady for a day, where all people are welcome, drunk, high or sober.....

Thursday, January 20, 2011


My dad and I were having a chuckle about whether Scott would enjoy hanging out at the Mustard Seed. We decided he would not. My theory is that Scott has no empathy - he just can't relate to those who are a little down and out, and sees everything in black and white. If he just knew that a lot of people that come in to the Mustard Seed are neither down nor out, and many are just looking for a place to hang out for a couple of hours. On the other hand, maybe not everyone is right for an inner city mission, and I just can't see that because more and more I am seeing it as a place where I could be all of the time.

Our karaoke machine broke on that made it a long night as the TV was tuned into a tennis match (why they weren't watching hockey, I have no idea). Apparently the laser is gone and they need an entire new machine. Not only is the machine used for karaoke on Tuesday, but also movie night on Friday. I am waiting to hear whether a new machine is in the budget, because if it isn't, I told Megan I would buy a new one (at which point I received a thankful hug from Helen, the community member who runs karaoke each week). Tuesday night just isn't the same without Gary's rendition of Johnny Cash, or Amos' rendition of Johnny Cash, or Clayton's wailings to Stone Temple Pilots or Nirvana. Even when some "less talented" singers take their turn at the mike, it's still fun. I have to make sure that they have a new machine for next Tuesday - I don't want to be stuck listening to tennis again!

Of course there are those who cringe at karaoke night, including Sheldon, who was very happy that the machine was broken (I didn't tell him I was going to buy a new machine!). We had a spirited discussion about our hockey teams (he's a Flames fan), and it was great to find something else to talk to him about. He's a funny guy, with that biting sarcasm that often leaves him sitting alone at the tables. But underneath he's just like the rest of us, with a mom and a dad, and a love for his sports teams (even if they are the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg BlueBombers!). It's taken me seven months to dig under his layers, but it was worth it to have a great, yet insulting discussion about our rebuilding Edmonton Oilers!

And remember the woman who comes in every week, looking all grumpy, and I managed to eak a smile out of her a couple of months ago? She came in this week and addressed me by name with a cheery, "Hi Jo." Wow, I never would have guessed that in a million years. I even found out her name - Tammy.

So even though my beloved karaoke machine was broken, it was still a great night at The Mustard Seed. No wonder I can't wait to go back week after week.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

So Cold

There is a song by Breaking Benjamin that came out a few years ago with this title, and even though it's not about being cold, I've been thinking about it a lot this morning after a sad night at The Mustard Seed. The lyrics that keep going through my head:

Show me how it ends, it's all right.
Show me how defenseless you really are.

My heart was crying last night for the people that walked through the doors of The Mustard Seed. Some were only wearing layers of sweatshirts, few had proper boots, and many were very cranky. I was yelled at twice last night for refusing second plates - the first time I had been yelled at (apparently, it won't be the last). I could only look at them with sympathy and understanding - what I day they must have had.

The temperatures had been hovering around -20 all day, and was dropping by the time we let the community in around 630. Stewart and I watched the window thermometer as it dropped, and the people kept streaming in from the outside, looking for some warmth, however brief. Usually by 930 there is a noticeably thinner crowd, and cleanup can begin, but a lot were hanging around last night. I watched as they gathered their blankets and headed out. One man and his girlfriend came in about 945 and he was begging for food, but we didn't have any to give - the food and hot chocolate was all long gone. I gave him some peanut butter and jam that we had behind the counter, and I saw him munching on some ice cream cones that had been left on the shelf. His girlfriend helped clean up so that they could stay a little longer, and then they gathered their blankets to head off, who knows where. I thought about them every time I woke up in the night.

And then there was Sheldon, who came in to play cards, Sheldon with the crazy curly hair, who had been the only recognizeable face in a dream I had about the Mustard Seed when I first started back in June. The dream had a winding lineup of people, and I didn't know any of them other than Sheldon, who stood out from the crowd like a bright light. Last night as I was cleaning up the tables he paused before he left, looked at me, and I just felt a call to go say good night. All I said was, "Have a good night, see you next week", and he responded in his slow way, "I'll try." There must be a reason why he was pointed out to me in that dream.

As we left, a couple came in to ask if they could use washroom, even though we were closed. Maria was angry with them, but the young guy, who I had always seen as a rough and tumble cool guy, pleaded with her, "Please Maria, I need to go pee."

Show me how defenseless you really are.

Show me how it ends, it's all right.

I can only hope it all ends up all right. How blessed I felt last night to be sleeping in a warm bed.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Can I Be a Cliche for a Day?

Like zillions of other bloggers out there, I'll wish everyone a Happy New Year and reflect on the year that was and hope for the year that will be.

What a crazy year, full of emotional ups and downs, ending on a significant down as a lunatic attempted to burn our house down (with us in it), and we were saved by the angel on my sleeping shoulder who woke me up before any significant damage was done. I now sit here still depressed and anti-social, but putting up a good front, I think. It was so nice to be out of this house for a couple of days and not lie awake in the night watching the windows for any sign of something strange. But now we're back, and life goes on. I hope I can sleep tonight.

But I smiled as I read my posting from June 15th of this year, written minutes after I arrived home from my first shift at The Mustard Seed. I have gone down there faithfully every Tuesday for over six months - nothing has kept me from the drive downtown to meet and greet the friendly folks of our inner city. I can hardly believe how I have been transformed over the last six months; I never would have believed how close I would become with these people, many of whom I still don't know their names (Is it rude to ask now that I've been talking with them for so long? I'm not sure.). I sat on the couch New Year's Eve, wishing I was at the party with them, serving coffee and snacks, and ringing in 2011 on a hopeful note. I am counting down the minutes to Tuesday when I can see them again. I wish I could be there more than just one night a week, but I have to be grateful to be there at all. And to think that I almost didn't go - it was only because a local Senior's Centre didn't call me back that I decided to send my application to The Mustard Seed.

I wonder what will happen this year.....last I talked to Darryl, he and Monica were hoping to move into an apartment today - they have been homeless for over six months. I hope they are sleeping in their very own warm bed tonight. Will my Vietnamese buddy quit smoking this year - he told me if I brought him candy canes he would try to quit. Will I finally learn the names of all the people I talk to, instead of calling them names like "Vietnamese buddy", "Guy with the thermos", "Young guy with the crazy hair". Maybe that will be my resolution - to learn the names of at least two community members each week. Stewart will help me, I'm sure - he knows everyone!

January 1 - a day to start all things fresh and to forget the bad times of the past year. I have faithful optimisn that it's going to be a great year - not just for me, but for those who need a bit of a lift. Only God knows......