A Literary Sketch of Many Dead-Ends

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Who in their right mind goes looking for employment in a greenhouse in October?  My sixteen-year-old self didn’t think anything of it, though.  It was a small yet sprawling compound of all things green and leafy just off Highway 45.  The parking lot was littered with different piles of stone, clearance rose bushes, pumpkins and square hay bales, as well as a myriad of odd cement sculptures waiting for paint or glaze.  The store front itself was mostly white with plenty of windows and sliding glass doors.  It was open in the back to the nursery.  Three other greenhouses could be found just to the south of the main building.

The inside had murals painted on the walls of vines, leaves, and flowers while the uneven concrete floor boasted what would have been a rather impressive impression of a water feature; now it was scuffed and chipped by the many carts of vegetation going in and out.  Sorghum molasses, raw honey, and all manner of jam were available for purchase and displayed on an old, ten-foot trailer in the middle of the showroom floor.  Potting soil and fertilizer all lay in sorted stacks along three of the walls and separating the public from the nursery was an old-timey wooden counter filled with glass-front drawers for holding seeds.  This counter, though it seemed fragile and dirty from age and use, was charged with holding up what seemed to be two of the first electric cash registers ever made as well as a tired-looking, sun-darkened old man who said he was the owner.

“I don’t have any work for ya right now, season’s almost over.  M’ wife and I are ’bout to go on vacation ‘fore the holidays hit.  Try back with me in February.”

That’s exactly what I did.  Trudging through the slush of a would-be snow, I put in my application for my very first job at that old, wooden counter, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the Feed ‘N Seed store went under about ten years prior.

At first, I didn’t get the job, but one of their long-time employees took a housekeeping job at the local university so that her son, a very bright boy, would have the chance to go to a private institution tuition-free.  She trained me a bit and I worked with her mostly on the weekends, but I was glad to be rid of her during the week because she was a mean-spirited woman who didn’t know how to watch her tongue – or simply didn’t care to do so.

I worked there nearly every day after school during the spring semester of my senior year doing transplants, watering the starters, and running the cash register for minimum wage.  My employment ended shortly after Mother’s Day because by that point those who were going to garden already had it in the ground and those who waited until May to plant probably wouldn’t end up fooling with it.

From there, I worked at two different gas stations in the surrounding area.  One was privately owned and my employment lasted just three short weeks.  I was fired for going on vacation, although I already had permission to do so.  I quit the other one after another three weeks and vowed that it would be my last job in a gas station.  The assistant manager could hardly manage to function after her mid-morning blunt and was certainly no help to someone such as myself who required more guidance than she was capable of supplying.  When I quit, I had to write a letter to corporate explaining why things didn’t work out.  I sang like a canary and when I went in to pick up my last paycheck, she was there to confront me.  I held my own and she was fired shortly thereafter for failing a drug test because the general manager wasn’t there to skew the results in her favor.

After dealing with the lowest of the low, I scored a great job for a huge corporation as a “package handler”.  It was summertime still.  The warehouse was scorching hot and both the work and the hours were grueling.  From 3:00AM until 8:00AM, I sorted packages as part of a team of three in my very first pair of steel-toed boots.  This job, too, proved to be too much and after months of my paycheck being wrong and my supervisor denying my requests to speak to the warehouse manager, a dear, personal friend of mine, about the issues, I snapped.  I said some unkind things to that woman and never showed up to work again.  Within a week, the deficits in my pay had been resolved but I was still out of a great job that I never should have quit, as I was just six months shy of receiving benefits.

I was jobless and desperate when a friend of mine arranged for me to be his replacement when he left his food service job at a small, family-owned BBQ restaurant inside of a gas station just off of the interstate.  It was here that I met He-Man.  He was kind and helpful with a willingness to do good work in spite of the overbearing manager.  He was the reason I lasted six months at this job before conflicts with the schedule and co-workers alike caused me to walk away from yet another dead-end job.

Then, I went to the Kitchen.  My bills were piling up and for a while I resorted to selling plasma at clinics around town just to make ends meet, but eventually it just wasn’t enough.  Against my better judgment, I agreed to take a sort of under-the-table job at a small-town restaurant where I worked as a waitress for tips only – no wage.  I was lucky to make $50 at the end of a ten-hour day but the other waitresses and I had been lucky.  Those in the kitchen were only paid $3/hr under the table – $30 per day.  The owner was a mean, hateful man who used the Bible to cover his filthy trail of lies and deceit.  I was looking for another job anywhere and everywhere when he cornered me behind the bar and proceeded to yell at me in front of God and everyone about the things I had done and how I was “trashy” and “stupid”.  I left there sobbing and afraid.

I left the kitchen and went straight to another restaurant across town and – still sobbing and distraught – begged the owner, a favorite customer of mine, for a job.  She heard my story and hired me on the spot.  It was a risky move for her because, while she paid her waitresses a bit more than minimum wage, her restaurant was struggling and she really couldn’t afford another waitress.  I was so grateful that she would take a chance on me like that and I promised that I would not let her down.  While I was not her pet, per say, I was her most trusted employee.  Soon after I was hired, she tried to give me hours and responsibility wherever she could.  With no experience to speak of, she had me cook some, prep more, bake cakes, do dishes, keep inventory, make bank deposits, and more.  She gave me back the confidence that was destroyed during my time in the Kitchen.  She cared for me greatly and was sad to see me go when I decided to move to Florida.  I felt bad leaving her the way I did but she was truly glad that I had found myself and would be making a life for myself somewhere.  She hated to see me struggle financially just because I depended on her struggling business to support myself.

This brings me to where I am now.  I am working three jobs:  two as a waitress, one doing commercial cleaning.  He-Man is still a cook but he loves his job now and is more than thankful to be rid of the BBQ place just off the interstate.  He worked there for two and a half years for minimum wage with not so much as a “keep up the good work”.  Now, he is being evaluated for his second raise in the three months that he has been at his new job and could not be more proud of himself.  We do the cleaning together, working as a team for his uncle’s business.  Although we work long, hard hours, we can’t help but feel blessed because we know we didn’t have these kinds of opportunities in Tennessee.

I’ve worked some pretty bad jobs, but I’ve also given up some pretty good ones out of stupidity.  I’m older and wiser now and I hope to keep myself from making the same mistakes again.  I have shown myself that I am stronger and more capable than I ever imagined.  They say that you reap what you sow and I am so proud to say that I am definitely reaping the benefits of all my hard work.

Claire

A New Life

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Where do I even begin?

I’ve been gone from WordPress for about three months and let me tell you – I’ve been BUSY!  When I last posted, I mentioned that we would be visiting Central Florida for He-Man’s birthday.  We made it successfully and during the week that we were vacationing, we both came across job opportunities that far surpassed anything that had been made available to us in West Tennessee.  Since you can probably guess where this is going, I’ll just come out and say it: We are now living in Central Florida.

Crazy, I know.  In the last three months, we have busted some booty trying to save up enough money to get into our own place and I’m pleased to say that we have been blessed with a beautiful little house in a small town not unlike the one we left behind.  It has everything we wanted and more – PLUS we’re paying less than we would with an apartment in the city and now I have a lake view in the country.  Isn’t it wonderful?!

I do greatly miss the life I left behind.  After all, it’s all I’ve known for all of my twenty years.  Since I’ve been in Florida, I have missed the birth of two new cousins, the marriage of another, and the high school graduation of my baby sister.  I’ve only been back to Tennessee once since we decided to stay here and He-Man didn’t come with me.  I quit my dead-end job, called one of my best friends to ride down with me, gathered up the pets, and drove the 808 miles to my new home with only what would fit into every nook and cranny of a ’98 Honda Civic (which isn’t much, just so you know).  It is a drive that I will never, ever make again if I have anything to say about it.

We have started completely over with nothing.  We left our furniture, clothes, and relationships behind us.  I am now working three jobs at about 60hrs per week and He-Man matches those hours with only two jobs.  While it is a lot of hard work, we are doing quite well for ourselves and have even found ourselves in a new tax bracket.  That’s not bad for two, virtually uneducated twenty-somethings, even if I do say so myself.

There are several other things that I do need to update on here, such as the resolution of the Great Cake Debacle of 2014, but they will be saved for another post.  In the mean time, I will keep hoping that while I was gone, I had not been forgotten by my few, lovely readers.

Take care,
Claire

Valentine’s Day in Retrospect

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Let me just throw this out there:  He-Man showed out!

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 I mean, I did have to leave out the sale paper with the necklace circled, the after-tax price calculated, AND remind him that the paper had not been laying under his face so conspicuously for no reason, but he pulled through.  Then he surprised me with flowers.  There was a semi-torrential downpour laying siege to this little corner of nowhere when I heard a knock at the door.  Angel, of course, brought it upon herself to try to take this unknown interloper down.  When I finally got her penned up – still barking – in the bedroom, I was able to let this soggy little man into my house.  It was the local florist.

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Now, before you all go judging me on the clutter and candy in the background, allow me to inform you that I am packing five days in advance to go to Tampa for He-Man’s birthday.  ‘Cause I’m sweet like that.  And I guess that’s why I ended up with flowers.  I have had a long, disappointing string of relationships over the last few years but I can honestly say that the last year with He-Man has been time well-wasted.  I say wasted only because we both agree that we should be doing a little more with our lives, but I digress.  We have had time to get to know one another on an everyday, in-your-face level and I love it.  I also love him.  He is so sweet, thoughtful, caring, and all the other mushy stuff that people say about “the one”.  He is also capable of leaving me speechless with a note that came with the flowers:

Claire, I love you so much!  I could never picture a day without you, sweetheart.  Sunshine or rain, every day with you is a blessing.  Love, Your He-Man.

…..!!!

The part that really got me was that he actually signed it “Your He-Man” because he is trying to support my attempts at blogging in leu of a real social life since waiting tables makes me hate people. His support means everything to me and I know that I have it no matter what.

This has been the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had – hands down – and I even spent the later part of it in the ER being treated for a moderate laceration on my finger.  I tried going for the gold in can-opening and failed miserably, but that’s another story for another day.  The stupid Russian judge low-balled me anyway.  Until next time, I will be basking in the glory that is He-Man and, for those of you who have stayed with me this long, thanks for reading.

Claire

All I Could do Was Gesture For Them to Switch

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clairejohnston94:

A favorite post from one of my favorite blogs! I read the posts in my half-cigarette breaks (because lets face it, when you only have 10min to smoke, pee, and steal food, no one gets their full nicotine fix) and it helps get me through the shift… Enjoy this all-too-common occurrence.

Originally posted on Break Room Stories:

A couple orders food together. Man gets a plain hamburger and the female gets a hamburger ketchup only. They call me back to the table and the man says he ordered it plain but got ketchup and the girl says she wanted ketchup but got a hamburger plain. I still don’t know if they were trolling but all I could do was gesture for them to switch hamburgers as I was dumbfounded.

-Kelly

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PSA: I am no longer afraid of fondant.

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That’s right, folks!  I have conquered my fear once and for all.  I don’t suppose that it was much of a fear, now that I think about it.  After all, who in their right mind could live in fear of something as delicious as fondant?!

Still, this sticky, white icing that comes in the form of dough is something that has stymied my baking for almost two years.  The first time I tried to make it, my confidence got the best of me.  I had just finished up the “perfect” batch of the sweet stuff and was about to transfer it to my cake when it sloughed off the rolling pin and on to the floor.  I was heartbroken and I couldn’t imagine what I had done wrong.  I followed all the steps, you know, and it was from that day forward that I lived in fear of having to use fondant.

Until today.  Today I decided to come to terms with this rather irrational intimidation so that the ghost-fondant of my past will not come to haunt me when I make He-Man and Nam-Eh’s birthday cake.  I chose to do some extra homework this go-around and I found some wonderful resources that I would like to share with you.

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This is an old-fashioned applesauce cake which was covered in home-made buttercream icing and topped off with some not-so-scary marshmallow fondant.  Click on the aforementioned components to see where I figured out how to make them.  I must commend the maker of the marshmallow fondant tutorial.  Not only did she make it look very easy from start to finish, but she is also has tutorials for some of the coolest gluten-free food I’ve ever seen! (Seriously, you’ve got to see her recipe for a cauliflower pizza crust!)

By this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why is this a PSA? This is just rambling about some stupid cake and irrational fear if icing,” to which I answer: because you should be afraid.  Now that I have wrestled one of my demons, there is nothing to stop me from attempting more and more recipes that call for fondant.  Not to mention the fact that I still have TONS of fondant and buttercream waiting for me in the fridge.  Does anyone have a suggestion for what I should try next?  Does anyone have any irrational baking fears?

Until next time,
Claire – Fondant Slayer

BMO: A Cake Walk

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He-Man’s birthday is coming up (yay!) and to celebrate we are going to his hometown of Tampa.  As you may or may not know, He-Man and his twin, who we shall call Nam-Eh, have quite a thing for Adventure Time.  You could imagine my surprise when I found the link to this cake floating around on Pinterest.  “It’s perfect!” I thought.  While in Tampa, we will be having a little get together for the reciprocals and I have been charged with making the cake, among other things.  At first, I was all gung-ho about trying this out, but now I’m getting a little nervous.  I have a basic plan of action, though, if anyone would like to look it over for flaws.  After all, everything works well in theory.

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First of all, I will not be making tie-dye rainbow layers.  I will have six layers of cake in solid colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  Between the layers and under the fondant, He-Man has requested that the icing be chocolate, since we “have to” have white cake to add food coloring to.  Next, I will cover the stack of cake in a layer of fondant, which scares the bajeezus out of me.  I don’t have a good working relationship with fondant.  I hate it and it hates me back.  I will start with a large blob of white fondant, reserve about 1/10th of it, and color the rest with this lovely teal.  The reserved bit will be colored a softer teal, black, yellow, green, and red respectively.  These little pieces will be attached to the outer layer of fondant with royal icing.  Legs and hands will be formed out of the remaining, darker teal.

It’s all good in theory, right?  I do have a few questions that I would like to ask to anyone who has the least bit of baking experience.

1) Do you think that I should use wooden dowels to help stabilize the cake?  The idea has crossed my mind but I can’t say for sure whether or not it will be necessary until I get the cake into the air.  It shouldn’t be more than about 8”-10” tall, but the icing between the layers might cause it to be slippery.

2) What is your recipe for fondant?  There are possibilities all over Pinterest but I want something tried-and-true that I can’t mess up.  If you have a favorite method for making fondant, please don’t keep it a secret from me!

3) Should I keep it in the refrigerator?  I want to make it the night before so that if anything goes wrong last-minute, I will have the time to fix it before the party.  The question is, will putting it in the refrigerator for 18-24hrs cause the fondant to dry out and crack?

If you can help me out, please do!  The trip is still a ways away and I will have pictures of the finished product up as soon as I have something to show but I am a planner.  Please help me get my game plan together now so that I can save myself some scrambling and anxiety later.

Thanks in advance,
Claire

2014 Garden Wishlist

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This crazy, tentative list is my basic plan for how to tackle the garden this year.  It is much better than last year’s plan because of the simple fact that there was no plan last year.  At all.  I went to the greenhouse, picked out some things that looked nice, and stuck them in the ground.  This year, however, there will be order!  Or at least as much order as you can ever expect from me.  Below is a list of plants and a number.  This number either refers to a) the number of that type of plant I wish to have or b) the number of containers I wish to have filled with them.  Keep in mind before you judge me that the goal here is to begin self-sufficiency over the next year.  While it might sound like a lot for a backyard garden, it should, ideally, provide for three people for 365 days.

Tomatoes – 15a
Corn – 100a
Straight-neck yellow squash – 8a
Okra – 20a
Green beans – 20a
Zucchini – 4a
Potatoes – 10b
Onions – 10b
Garlic – 5b
Bell peppers – 6a
Pumpkins – 4b
Watermelon – 4b
Blueberries – 2a
Strawberries – 2 bundles, as they are sold
Pinto beans – 20a
Asparagus – 10a
Peppermint – 1b
Spearmint – 1b
Spinach – 10a
Cucumber – 2a
Basil – 1a
Chives – 1a
Dill – 1a
Oregano – 1a
Parsley – 1a
Thyme – 1a
Aloe – 1a

As you can see, there is a lot of work to be done before I even begin to plant.  I would like to think that I can handle this vast and lengthy list of plants with only my minimal experience and yet-to-have-purchased almanac to guide me.  This list is not really going to be part of the ledger I hope to keep of garden production.  Some things may not make it into fruition and other things may be added to the list later on.  Rest assured, photographic evidence of this mammoth undertaking will arise as soon as I have something to show for myself.  Truth be told, I will be proud of myself if I even get to do half of this stuff, as it will still be an improvement over last year’s garden.  If anyone out there has any suggestions regarding any of the aforementioned plants, I am all ears!

Until then,
Claire