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Better Living through Potlucks

I in no way cooked this

I got in a lot of fights as a boy. I didn’t win many, but I knew how to take my lumps. I was never the strongest or the fastest or the smartest. I certainly was never the best looking. My garanimals where always on point tough. I played the usual boy sports, baseball, football, basketball. I kept toughskin jeans afloat for a few years I think. I always hoped I was cool. I knew that I wasn’t. I was voted “most likely to donate my brain to science.” I wish I was kidding about that.

My coffee is too hot to drink; I suffer for my craft today.

Anyway, I teased my fair share of kids. We’re mean without thinking of the consequences. Empathy is earned. BUT, with every bully and bullee eventually I was going to wind up in center with them in right. Somewhere down the line we were going to be a team. So, we swallowed yesterday’s kerfuffle and got a long – like little tiny, crazed, men (boys) do.

I don’t know, there was something comforting about a well worn glove – leather oiled, laces constantly coming undone. After catching a thousand balls, playing pickle for hours, that glove was mine and only mine. It curled around my fingers perfectly. The padding had sunk just enough on my hand where the sweetspot for catching seemed to soak in line drives. Weathered and ugly and perfect.

Heck, I wouldn’t mind if someone referred to me like that. “Oh, he’s weathered and ugly and perfect and I love him so.”

I was allowed to make mistakes. All kids do, I struck out. I bobbled a grounded. I walked the kid in orthopedic shoes. There were teammates though that did that same. They bobbled, they struck out, they walked. They caught what I missed. I hit when they struck out. We ran, we feared high pop ups, and we tried our darndest not to screw up. There’s constant tension on the field.

Step into the dugout and that tension drops (unless you’re on deck or in the hole). On the field you are “third base” or “catcher.” In the dugout, you are “Sue” or “Carl” again. For a few minutes, you just get to be kids. You get to joke around, talk about the cute ones or snow cones. Laughter keeps people loose.

Ask any General, you don’t fight for the cause. You fight for the person dug in next to you. Teams aren’t built on the field. Teams are created in the dugout.

Come with me to adulthood now. I wish I still slept with my glove and ball. These days, it’s mortgage payments and morning rush hour traffic that I tuck under my mattress when I go to sleep.

My coffee is now cool enough. Just thought you should know. I realize you worry.

At work, we are all stressed out all the time. That’s the nature of the beast. There are people that you tease, people who bully you. Nothing has changed. When it’s game time, it’s all business in the real world. And there’s no dugout where you can all just chill.

My suggestion to you, keep in mind this not groundbreaking, hold a potluck. Everyone needs a time in the workplace just to get to know each other. Take an hour, pour off work, let go of spreadsheets, and just be people. Shed your labels of accounting, receiving, office supervisor, and just be Jennifer and Robert. Often we ignore there are people behind the titles. We all need that chance to sit down, have a meal and just chat about nothing. Forget about who are the top performers, who manages whom and break bread on equal ground.

It’s a pretty simple process to manage. There needs to be some ground rules though.

1. No one talks about work.

2. It’s just food. There’s nothing mandatory about it. Eat, play, don’t play. There’s no attribution for those who want to eat their lunchable in peace.

3. Don’t make it more than once a month. But do make it a regular thing.

Here’s how you set it up.

1. Pick a day when the most people are available. Make sure the boss can be there. If there is no good day for the boss, make sure you send your apologies.

2. Figure out a theme. It can be a chili cook-off. It can be breakfast for lunch. It can be in celebration of “World of Warcraft” day. It doesn’t matter, and the theme doesn’t have to make sense. Google-machine the day you pick. A random Thursday might be “National Vacuum day.” Go with that.

3. Pick a day when the most people are available. Make sure the boss can be there. If there is no good day for the boss, make sure you send your apologies.

4. Send out an email or an outlook calendar invite. Send it to your work group. Make sure they know that they can invite whomever they like. Potlucks are inclusive events. All are welcome. Make sure you include your work spouse. Include the date, time and place. Give the time a large window. Not everyone has the same lunch hour. Make sure it’s a large enough time block that people can wander in and out as they choose. Include the theme.

5. Set up a butcher block paper in a common room. Label it for the potluck with the theme and the day.

6. Guestimate the number of folks. Label the paper with the following. Put the appropriate number of items in each category depending on number of participants. Here’s the set-up for ten. It’s not a hard and fast break-out. It works though:

a. Main dish:

b. Main dish:

c. Side:

d. Side:

e. Bread:

f. Dessert:

g. Dessert:

h. Drinks:

i. Drinks:

j. Plates, napkins, silverware:

7. On the day of the potluck, make sure there’s room in the fridge. Set up a table with power strips for warmers and crockpots.

8. Hang some printed out pictures to go along with your theme. You don’t need to get fancy.

9. Have some tables and chairs set up so people can just eat and talk and get to know each other.

10. Just eat and be people. This isn’t about work. It’s about each other.

11. Have everyone help clean up. This is everyone’s job. Don’t leave it to the low person in the food chain. Everyone cleans up. Leave the place like it was before the potluck.

12. Send out a thank you.

See, it’s not that hard. What do you bring? It’s ok to be the soda person. It’s perfectly fine to bring the plates and silverware. It’s also acceptable to bring store bought cookies or a bucket of fried chicken. It’s about the work community. Everything else is far down the list of importance.

Just so you don’t get all stressed out about what to bring if you do a main dish, here’s my recipe for crock pot chicken tacos. Seriously, this is easy. And look, recipes are made to be adjusted. Feel free to do whatever you like with this. I won’t be offended.

Put a liner in your crockpot. If you don’t have a crockpot, go get one. Immediately. This is not a request. It’s an order (Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy). Put a liner in your crockpot. These are required for office potlucks. After the event, you just throw away the bag. No office crockpot cleaning required. I know this is weird, I keep a crock under my desk. Really. When I set up potlucks and someone says, “If only I had a crockpot…” Well, I have an extra. It’s basically the only pet I’m allowed to keep in the office.

Put two pounds of chicken breasts in the crockpot. Add ½ jar of green salsa. Depending on your time, cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8. With 30 minutes to go, shred the chicken and add ½ block of cubed creamed cheese. Serve with a bag of small flour tortillas. Make sure you bring serving tongs for people to dish it out.

You can make this the day before. If you do, don’t add the cream cheese. Shred the chicken though. 30 minutes before the potluck starts, add the cream cheese and set the crock to high. If you make it the day of, just make sure you have at least four hours (cook it on high). It’s kind of just that easy.

Play ball. Go Cubs.

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