By: Alaine Dickman
Intro: The opportunity to blog for work or a dedicated cause has not been presented to me in jobs I’ve had prior to Conservation Corps and delightfully this was an easy idea to act on… initially.
But one thing I perceive to be awkward about blogs or journals is using “I”.
I don’t enjoy sharing sacred thoughts or feelings, and opinions are filtered. I’d rather not do “me talk”. But, hello. Here I am, feeling enabled and aiming to feel liberated, to be communicative, to live on the raw side.
My less conventional updates will be shared twice a month, for better or worse.
3 cups of oatmeal
2 cups of blueberries
7-8 bananas, ripeness not guaranteed
3 tablespoons of chia seeds
2 cartons of strawberries
4 hard boiled eggs
4 homemade bran muffins
2 cups of cottage cheese
5 protein shakes
1 chicken thigh
1 chicken leg
1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
1 bunch of kale
1 bunch of spinach
2 cups of quinoa
2 cups of farro
2 cups of black beans
1.5 cups of walnuts
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
Several palms full of fresh and dried herbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small, crucial bag of harvest cheddar sun chips
That just about describes the sum of what I consume in a work week with the Corps. The routine is sinking in and settling with it is something new and foreign, to me: Peace.
In 2010 I was hired for my first job and first customer service position since leaving my hometown for college in 2009. The arrangement was made by a friend of my boyfriend at that time, managing the store, needing an extra body to throw scents and textures at shoppers during the Holiday season at Lush Handmade Cosmetics in Macy’s at the Southdale Mall. My hours were short and I wasn’t concerned with going hungry; I adapted to a skeleton diet during my first year as a poor college student.
College diet… Rice and beans, potatoes, bread, apples and bananas. Soups and deli salads from the Macy’s Market Deli on the lowest level. Coffee and tea and cereal.
My temporary position at Lush expired the following February and I moved in as a crew member at Chipotle across the street from the mall. Leaps and bounds, I know. But I learn quickly, I work hard and I usually find myself fitting nicely into my pursuits, grand or insignificant. A one-and-a-half-hour commute on two buses from Downtown St. Paul to the Mall of America to the York Ave Chipotle, boarding at 5:30 AM to make my 7:00 AM shift, into three hurried hours of prep. (Some of my fellow crew members at that time surely believed I took too seriously to that job; my station was complete when set with a timer while I peeled, washed and chopped five pound bags of purple onions. I needed to know I was moving forward.) The team took a break 30 minutes before open with first dibs to the entire menu. Chipotle burritos and bowls moved in as a second breakfast, and chips starred as my insatiable, snacky companion throughout the day.
Chipotle burritos. bowls, salads and chips. fountain soda, apples and bananas, Caribou coffee, Caribou sweet breads and scones, pasta, cereal and granola bars.
Apple Inc., more customer service, succeeded Chipotle. (Phew!) Two weeks of training and onto the floor. Apart from customers assuming upon entering the store that all employees are happy, robotic geniuses, this job is the most normal job I have had. Six to eight hour shifts, regular and appropriate breaks, in a break room. But I was back in a mall. And I rarely packed a lunch. The Macy’s deli was reintroduced to my wallet, Caribou was as well, and occasionally I’d eat a fat slice of pizza or just make my dining decision based on the size of the lines in the food court. (I once had a margarita on my lunch break, too…) At home I was cooking more but only on my days off. Summer weekend mornings I woke with a splash of water on my face, slipped into my beloved chacos and wandered freely to the farmer’s market. I marched home weighed down by greens and veggies, enough to feed four and at least one succulent plant from my favorite vendor whose wide brimmed hat is decorated with a feather longer than my arm.
MALL FOOD, Caribou, apples and bananas, pasta, homemade pizza, salad, roasted veggies, margaritas, cereal, homemade guacamole and pico de gallo. And, MALL FOOD.
I made my way back to restaurants after Apple. The Buttered Tin opened its doors for the first time in June 2013 two blocks away from my apartment and I needed to be a part of it. I became the Tin’s first hostess and not two years later I was managing the restaurant-bakery. I ate and drank The Buttered Tin for 3 years.
The Buttered Tin menu, all that is savory and sweet.
The following gig, another management position, with Brasa Premium Rotisserie…
Rotisserie chicken, chips and guacamole, too much beer.
I’ll assume I did not breeze through those two job descriptions too quickly, though to be certain they’re covered: Approximately 12 hour shifts, little to no breaks, eat and drink the stress away, away, awaaayyyy.
Reassuring myself that I am moving forward and climbing in life is becoming… well, we’ve all seen a turtle stuck on its back. Though I fight it I am not immune to measuring and criticizing myself based on my peers’ possessions and pictures painted on social media, style of clothes, shoes, hair and makeup, dieting and the quest for the sickest beach bod… vacations or just eating out and enjoying $10 cocktails casually several nights a week. Working in customer service or hospitality strengthens those pressures and will hold you down even before you’re completely in the door. You might experience with more intensity that your book is being judged by its cover (nor am I immune to clichés), and shape, and how often it smiles. You might experience stress manifesting in foreign ways and lifting one, maybe four pints of beer to your face the second the minute hand hits the hour. You might make it home after 14 hours, too exhausted for anything but brushing your teeth, setting your alarm and pulling the sheets over your face, because you can’t figure out why you care so much about something that maybe shouldn’t matter at all.
I am creeping up on two months in with the Corps. The hours are not particularly shorter. I get home after 12 hours still, around 6:10 PM worn with achy feet and cranky knees. But I head straight to the kitchen to clean out my lunch bag, fling it in the freezer and begin making my breakfast for the morning and my lunch for the next day, with ease. Eye lids are heavy but the exhaustion is satisfying and resentment is absent.
1. freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.
It is during the making of my meals that I most spend time in reflection, in a clean kitchen with a mind full of fresh information, a refrigerator of fresh ingredients, burners on, herbs sprinkling the counter tops: What skills I have picked up as a trainee, student or resource; how my crew interacts while working, solving problems, during coffee breaks and at departure each day; What I did for the world and my immediate community and what I’ll do again tomorrow. The word “purpose” comes to mind carried by optimism rather than doubt.
That toxic environment I described earlier is no longer in command or feeding lies or guiding poor decisions. It would take quite some time to describe in full the change I have and am experiencing but I have decided that finally it is a step forward and up (despite what my bank account has reflected as of late)…
And this first post, this public exposure, is my reminder to feast myself on peaceful thoughts and stimulating purpose while I am in my kitchen, peacefully preparing the healthiest of feasts I have fed myself yet.