Thoughts on Food: Part 1 – Working in it and for it

Not too long ago I took on a 2nd job. I thought I would share how that’s going. I work 20 hours a week (two 4 pm to 10 pm evening shifts after school and an 8 hour shift on Sunday) as a cashier at a large grocery store. I earn some money (about $6.75 an hour after taxes) and get a 10% discount on store brands. While I tend to spend that 2nd paycheck in the store it still means I’m spending less of the 1st paycheck there.

The store I work at is a huge flagship store setdown in the middle of a college town surrounded by forests and corn fields. The workers are diverse in age and ethnicity and in other ways as well. It is a tiring but good job and I like almost all of the people I work with and a good many of the customers too. The customers are as diverse as the workforce with a lot of international college students among them. I’ve tried to learn how to say hello and thank you in many different languages, including ASL so I can have more authentic interactions with them in the brief time we are together.

Because our store is so big we have an amazing array of food. We have a bistro, a butcher, a bakery and a deli, a sushi chef and a fine wine steward. We have gourmet cheese (like the Swiss cheese is really, actually from Switzerland) and our own Starbucks with all the macchiatos and PSL you could ever want. We have vegan, vegetarian, gluten-, high fructose corn syrup-, transfat- and GMO-free, low sodium foods and locally grown organic produce as well as exotic items like yucca root and dragon fruit.  We have cruelty free cosmetics and wild-caught salmon. We have kimchi and potstickers, empanadas and curry. We have 20 lb bags of rice and  individually packaged nibble-sized snacks. We have frosted flakes and Hohos and an entire double aisle of ice cream and three more of chips and crackers.

Food aside we are a happening sort of place, particularly on the weekends when we have live music and wine and craft beer tastings, free samples of small amounts of delicious foods, face painting and free balloon animals  (and I’m talking golden-horned, black eyed unicorns here, not little pink wiener dogs that slowly untwist as you shop).

We are a very busy store – the closest to the college campus and currently benefiting from an influx of customers from a grocery chain that recently declared bankruptcy and closed its doors.  At certain times, before a college football game, or holiday weekend, during move- in or family week the crowds are overwhelming and the pace frenetic. The work can be both physically and mentally draining – long hours standing on your feet (even with those cushy mats beneath them) and a fast, repetitive pace with the stress of timing goals hanging over your head (scan 27 items per minute from the start of the transaction to payment).

The customers are the best and worst part of the job. I love the little connections that are made and the stories shared – the chemistry professor from the university who promised to come do out reach at my high school, the young men from Hangzhou, China (which I visited last year) who were so surprised when I greeted them in Mandarin, the little old lady who buys a single carrot, banana and apple, a sliver of cheese and a can of chicken noodle soup because, as she confides each time, her children are grown and she lost her husband and she doesn’t have anyone to cook for anymore. I have my regulars – folk who shop late or early on Sunday and come through my line because I recognize them and I’m always ready to sacrifice my 27 items per minute goal to chat about how their day has gone or ask after their family or pets. There’s even an older gentleman or two who appreciate my sense of humor and come through my line to enjoy a little banter or sharing a joke.

On the flip side are the rude and unkind customers, the ones who find fault and complain about everything – the lack of parking spaces, the number of other customers, the damp counter in the bathroom, the lack of fresh golden chard… There are the customers intentionally trying to rip you off by printing the label for a less expensive bulk food item when the bag is obviously full of the premium stuff or who have peeled off the organic label on their half dozen avocados in hopes of getting 2 for $3 instead of 2 for $5. There are the ones who, even though there are no baggers present and a long line behind them, won’t lift a finger to pack their own groceries or who remember at the last minute that they forgot the cream cheese and ‘could you send someone to get it?’ and when you do they don’t like the brand the errand boy comes back with and tells you to ‘just forget it’ while mumbling under their breath about bad service. Luckily, most days, those customers are fewer than 1 in 10.

One of the downsides of the job is the additional amount of money I spend at the store.  Food shopping is a weakness of mine, linked I am sure to periods of want in childhood and more recently, so I have a tendency to stock up when there are sales. And we always have sales! I am working to cut back on that, reminding the kids of needs versus wants and not cashing my check at the store.

The other downside is how much the job eats into family and ‘me’ time which is already limited. The two days I work the evening shift I barely see the kids that I am working the 2nd job to feed and support. And I am much more tired these days. I am not sure how long I will be able to keep up this pace but with my youngest daughter needing braces and the rear suspension of the car about to come loose due to rust, I suspect it will have to be awhile longer! Continue reading

Posted in Food, Hunger, jobs, sales, shopping | Tagged | 4 Comments

Thinking of Houston

Art Sign in downtown Houston 

I have never been faced with a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey.  I’ve weathered minor, but still frightening, earthquakes in Santa Barbara, a wildfire that licked the edges of the city and flooding that closed the highway underpasses but none of these caused me anything more than anxiety or inconvenience. I’ve never had to flee my home, leaving behind possessions or pets, or risk my life getting to safety. I’ve never spent a night in a shelter surrounded by other displaced people.

So I’m not going to say that I understand what the people of Houston, and other coastal towns in Texas are going through right now.  I can’t imagine the enormity of the recovery effort that is in front of them. The clean up, repair and rebuilding will be a difficult and lengthy process as will the mourning for those lost.

I really feel for the people who have lost nearly everything. Who have lost their homes and don’t have insurance or the wherewithal to rebuild. The renters who no longer have an apartment which to return. The person who lives paycheck to paycheck and who no longer has a job because the place they work has shuttered its doors. The homeless, already displaced but pushed now even further to the edges as services are overwhelmed by those newly in need.

I do know what some of these people will go through. The difficulties they will face keeping their families together, housed and fed. The anxiety as funds diminish and needs accrue. The despair over lost dreams and derailed lives. The unending and unrelenting hardness of it all. I hope that by ending up in this situation due to a catastrophic natural disaster that has garnered the attention of the nation they have more help and resources available to them and a community to which to turn for comfort.

Posted in compassion, disaster, flood | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

To Blog or Not to Blog?

That is the question! If I were to answer just from the data in front of me (extremely long periods without a blog post) I’d have to say my response apparently is to not blog. But (gasp) data isn’t everything. When faced with the decision to pay the blog hosting fee one more year I considered pulling the plug. I have a reasonable sized audience with whom I interact on Facebook; perhaps that’s enough. Facebook, however, seems to prompt quick ‘of the moment’ posts, suitable for some topics but not for all. And not everyone is on Facebook (some days I wish I weren’t). So I went ahead and paid for another year (which also gives me time to figure out the best way to download and archive all the Boxcarkids blog posts for my kids (and theirs if they opt to have/adopt any). Their memories and perspectives of the events that played a major part in shaping their childhoods are different from mine. I hope reading the posts when they are adults will help them figure some things out.

Regardless, I still face obstacles to blogging. I don’t have as much time for the pursuit as I once did. This year I not only have my relatively new job (STEM Coach) but also another new boss and I am teaching two new classes only one in which I’ve had sufficient training. I took on a second job last spring to help cover expenses (we are slowly getting out from under medical bills but of course new ones, and new car repairs and home issues keep cropping up), working 20 hours a week as a cashier at a local grocery shop. The pay is not great – about $6.50 an hour after deductions but it helps as does the small discount on store brands. Three hungry teenagers can really put a dent in one’s food budget! And those teenagers, busy with extracurricular activities (especially my middle daughter who is a senior this year) eat into my ‘free’ time with all the requisite chauffeuring I do as the only licensed driver in the household.

So time is one issue, but another is the feeling that the blog has outlived its purpose. It was a lifeline for me when our world was cast asunder and I was on shaky ground in so many aspects of my life. It gave me purpose and connections and I felt I was a voice for the many people facing similar hardships who weren’t being seen or heard. But we’ve graduated from the slightly newsworthy family fallen from respectable heights of home ownership to living in a cramped RV. We’re now just one more poor family living in a mobile home in rural Indiana. Drive on folks, not much to see here! Our struggles aren’t particularly interesting (to me they are merely mind-numbing and frustrating) and our few ‘triumphs’ are really just getting over one more hump or through one more hoop. Yawn. Not the stuff novels are made of that’s for sure.

So whether I will continue the blog is still an open question. I do plan a series of short updates when I can get time (and the computer away from my daughter – we are now a one computer household) but I won’t promise they will occur with any regularity. I will continue those short Facebook posts so if you’re on that platform check in with me there.

Posted in blogging, jobs, teaching, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments