Holden Village Staff Experience August, 2003

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Jobs, Food, and a day off

The alarm rings at 5:50 a.m., and I slip out of bed quietly, so as not to awaken Eileen, my roommate.  Down the hall to the bathroom where I hope that some water on my face will have the desired effect.  Then into jeans, Tshirt, hiking boots and sweatshirt.  Stick my headband in my hair to keep it off my face.  Attach work gloves to my belt loop.  Then down the hall again and out the door.
Oh my God, it's cold!  The sun hasn't made it over the ridge, and I can almost see my breath.  Fortunately, I'm only headed to the next building, to meet with my team in the dining room, and it'll be warm there, and the coffee will have been made.  Someone got up much earlier than I to accomplish that, and I bless them, whoever they are.


At Holden, being a Lutheran retreat center, there are three kinds of coffee - decaf, regular, and STRONG!
Making weak coffee is grounds for excommunication in the Lutheran church.
Nicole, David, and Roger are usually there, and I'm usually ten minutes late to a 6:00 meeting, but I refuse to set my alarm any earlier (Phil is saying, "So what's new, Sharon?").  Everything starts off slowly until the caffeine takes effect, and we're finally able to talk.  We discuss the work that has to be done and who is going to do what,  but I already know I'm to water Chalet Hill. 
The coffee spoon receptacles were made in Holden's pottery shop, and show a little evidence of Holden hilarity.
After discussion of the work that's needed, we head out at 6:30, and it hasn't warmed at all, so I pull on my gloves.
I start at Narnia, the school building, pulling out hose, attaching its sprinkler head, setting it out, and running back and forth adjusting the hose and the water, so I'm watering the grass, and not the building or the paths.  I repeat this 15 times, for that many hoses.  Climbing hills all the way.  By then, an hour has gone by, and the first hose is done, so I move all 15 hoses.  The whole procedure is repeated 5-6 times, with breaks for breakfast and lunch, and by 1 pm or so, I'm done.  Then I can spend an hour weeding, or deadheading flowers, or rebuilding rocks, or helping someone in a different work area, then I'm done with work for the day.

Here is Nicole, the 20-something lead of the Lawns and Gardens group.  She's a laid back, soft spoken woman who is a professional masseuse in her real life in Bellingham, Washington, but who is living at Holden for a year.
I'm amazed at the solitariness of the job, the grass's constant fight for life in the thin, rocky topsoil, and the steepness of the hill at the top.  It's like hiking the Yosemite Falls trail every day!
This job is not for the faint of body.  The hill, while not formidable (like Taylor & Jones streets), is steep and long enough to make the many climbs tiring.  Hauling hose tests the strength of my upper body, and I figure what I lack in femininity these days, I'll probably make up in buff.  I'm exhausted, bone tired, covered with mud and soaked through.  Whatever was I thinking when I volunteered for this work?
But three days into the job, a long nap and an even longer sleep that night give me some semblance of humanity.  Everything hurts, though.
In no time, I've assumed ownership of the area whose grass I maintain.  My system is evolving quickly, and I notice that my usual attitude is already in place -
"Don't give me your advice, because I've already considered and discarded your crummy idea.  It won't work for reasons that obviously have not yet occurred to you." 
Those of you who know me well should be familiar with that one...

August 11, my day off !!
Slowly I'm coming back.  Sleeping in is wonderful!  Sitting in the dining room, sipping coffee and watching the activity around me - teenagers playing cards, kitchen staff making coffee and chopping vegetables, people coming and going, grabbing the omnipresent homemade bread, and the PB & J, and the sounds of

"I'm too busy thinkin' 'bout my baby,
And I ain't got time for nothin' else"

coming from the kitchen, where the music can be anything from early Renaissance motets, to old time rock & roll, the Beatles, Aaron Copeland's  "Applachian Spring" (at 6 am that'll wake you up!), and jazz.  But Mary, they never did play "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy".  Oh well.

Everything at Holden is made from scratch, including the bread which is baked at least once a day.  There is always bread, butter, peanut butter, jelly, coffee, tea and milk available no matter what time of day, and it's hard to resist.
Meals are primarily vegetarian, with meat or fish served for two meals a week, usually midweek and Sunday noon.  A typical lunch will be black bean or zucchini curry soup, bread, and salad.  A typical dinner can be vegetable lasagne, tempeh with veggies and rice, enchilada casserole with pinto beans, and lentil loaf.  Now don't knock that until you've tried it!  I had it after my 10 mile hike to Holden Lake, and it was so good that I ate three helpings!  (I have a better recipe for the mushroom sauce, though.)

Here's the menu for August 11, in both Spanish and English during Abriendo Caminos week. 


Volunteer guests cutting corn off the husks for the enchilada casserole.  Lots of guests volunteer to help when needed - for jobs like this, for scooping ice cream, folding sheets, and cleaning lodges.  The call goes out at mealtimes, and people pitch in when Holden needs it.  It gives a nice feeling of community.


Meals are served family style, except for breakfast, and the conversation is always lively.  Or was that because wherever I sat, the conversation was lively?  Does that have anything to do with ME??


Friday, August 15: The other job - Dish Duty
One volunteer at each table scrapes the plates with a rubber spatula and takes them to the dish pit.  The compost goes in the compost bin, and the dishwashers take over.

"If you want it, here it is,
Come and get it,
Mm-mm-mm-mm, make your mind up fast.
If you want it, anytime,
I can get it,
But you better hurry, 'cause it may not last..."

OK, someone, name the movie for that theme song.  Hint: The group that sang it is Badfinger, but they sounded like the Beatles, and the movie starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.  Answer below.  If you remember the movie, you remember that scene towards the end...the gross one...
Once a week you get dish duty, and I was unfortunate to get assigned to the dinner for the big fiesta marking the end of Abriendo Caminos.  You are assigned to "Dirty" or "Clean".  I was always "Dirty" (nobody wants me to be a girl around here, it seems...).
Job 1: Scrape the stuff off the humongous cooking pans and into garbage cans for composting, which now contain (are you ready?): Rice, green peppers, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, flan, peanut butter, jelly - now mix it up - yum!  I won't describe how it looks.
Job 2: Wash off all the food that you couldn't scrape into the cans off the pans.  Use big sinks that start with soapy water and end up (after 2 minutes) looking like that vat from the movie.  No, you can't drain the water and start all over; your job is just to get the food off so the dishwasher can do its thing. 
The muffin tins for the flan will have to soak overnight.  Whoever thought that caramelizing sugar was such a great idea?
But it's fun, as the dish crew pitches in and works hard.  Jerry, the spiritual director, and I discuss Thomas Merton and organizational development, as we sling food and dirty dishes.
But all I can think about is that scene from the movie, and I can't get the song out of my mind.  OK, it was kind of a cult movie, but it was "The Magic Christian". 


Finally, there's the big Holden treat - ice cream, brought in every day by the Mavericks, who send the coolers down lake and load the filled ones onto the truck.  The snack bar was the soda fountain back in the days of the mine, and it looks exactly the way you'd picture it. 
There are usually about 8 flavors of ice cream, sherbet and sorbet, and it's hard to choose.  Expresso Explosion?  Rocky Road?  Mint Chip?  Mango sorbet?  They don't mess around with uninteresting ice cream here.  For 75 cents you get a "junior scoop", which is what the woman in the picture has - a huge scoop that you can't get your mouth around.  For a dollar you get a "Holden scoop" which is "two or three scoops".  Nobody cares.  Pay your buck and they will fill up an old fashioned heavy glass banana split dish for you.
The only time I ever got a Holden scoop, there were two of us to eat it, and we were fortifying ourselves against cleaning the room that the teenagers used for games and cards.
With all this food, I still lost 4 pounds while I was there.