Farm Life, Petunia the Pitbull

Recent Happenings

It’s been a few weeks so I should update you on the goings on in my world. First, let’s start with a little Tuna love, shall we…

Tuna Luv
Top left moving clockwise: * Tuna is enjoying the new hat Ling Ling knitted me. She actually slept with it on because she was cold and it was keeping her ears warm. * She’s diligently waiting by the stove for me to finish cooking her pancakes. * This is what I wake up to in the morning: just some tail, maybe a bit of muzzle and feet. * I made her model a new shirt. It all looks better on her.

Petunia is the best companion I could ever ask for. This winter has been rough on both of us but her especially. Walks have been few and far between due to her rather hairless nature and the freezing temps. I have a few coats for her but they don’t cover her extremities and her naked undercarriage is completely exposed. (I blame grandma Ling Ling for not knitting her that sweater I’ve been requesting.) She’s been a good sport about being cooped up though. She’s a pooper and a trooper!

I’m trying to figure out where I left off with this blog without looking back…because that would be cheating. The last time we met I was interviewing for the Programs Manager job at the animal sanctuary. Well, after two uncomfortable interviews, I was informed that I didn’t get the job. To say that I felt heartbroken, defeated, vulnerable and frustrated over the rejection was an understatement. Luckily, I had planned for such a letdown and as soon as I was informed of my fate, within minutes I had accepted the field biology position in Yellowstone. It will be double the hours, more pay and a lot more physically rigorous but the financial cushion will provide me with choices and opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I can take the money and buy a camper or start a store or who knows. Plus, it will give me two months of exciting fodder for this here blog. So you, my loyal reader, can rest assured knowing that there will be more embarrassing field stories to come.

I miss the farm terribly but my supervisor assured me that I was welcome to visit whenever I wanted. I have yet to take her up on the offer though. Strangely enough, of all the amazing animals I was lucky enough to work with, I miss one particular horse the most. They are one of the few creatures I’m completely terrified of but yes, when I close my eyes and think of that place, Beyond’s soulful eyes are what I see first. Please take a tour in April and send all my animal friends some love from me. I’ve been enjoying Erin’s Barn Briefs as they have kept me up to date on all the goings on with the animals. I would highly advise reading this blog post from her because it talks about how Hannah the sheep has been coping since Lambert’s death and also the recent restructuring of the endearingly menacing Goon Squad. Sounds like exciting times.

Latest thoughts and projects
Clockwise from top left: * A delicious bottle of wine made by my bud Justin paired with some locally handmade chocolates to celebrate the end of the interview process. It’s taken me 37 years to finally decide that I actually like chocolate. Strange, I know. * A mixed media piece that I completed using natural objects and a photograph I’ve taken. This prototype is perhaps the shape of things to come for me. * All this downsizing has got me tiny house dreaming. Maybe there is a camper in my future after all. * Just a portion of the stuff I’m getting rid of. My entire kitchen table is overflowing onto the floor with garage sale items. I can’t wait till it’s all gone because it’s driving me nuts; Messing with my feng shooie.

For the first entire week after leaving the farm all I did was sleep. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. And I’ve been eating…lots. I think I’ve gained all the weight back that I lost which is a bummer but winter pudge is not completely unwelcome. I’ll lose it all once I can get back outside anyway. The weeks following have been all about making soap (which will be addressed in my next post), finding someone to take over my lease, packing up my things, getting rid of most of my possessions, and watching Battlestar Galactica.

Trying to find someone to rent my apartment has been another eye opener for me. These are dreadfully, dark and desperate times. I’ve had folks contact me that want to squeeze their entire family into my studio apartment because that’s all they can afford; mothers living in battered women’s shelters; a woman who has a kid very sick with lead poisoning from a previous living situation; many with bad credit; one with bad credit because her husband took away her kids and she had to use credit cards to pay for a failed custody attempt; most are on public assistance; many are disabled in one way or another; one works for IBM and is terrified of being laid off like many of his former coworkers; the reality goes on and on. These are tough times my friends. Be lucky for what you have because there are people just scraping by with much less.

Today, I’m enjoying my last dregs of downtime. Tomorrow I rent a cargo van and attempt to shoehorn all my belongings into it. Then it’s off to Cortland to unpack it all. Moving completely sucks but as it stands right now, most of my furniture and probably more than half of my belongings are going either to the Salvation Army or being sold in a few upcoming garage sales. I get high off of getting rid of stuff. Each item that leaves my possession is like a tiny burden being lifted. I’ve always felt this way. Most people enjoy accumulating but I’m the exact opposite. I entered the world loathing clutter. I remember as a young child cleaning out the drawers of the dinning room hutch for enjoyment. (These cleaning sprees led me to throw away important documents such as the title for the family car. Oops!) Shopping is right up there on my list of loathings. Most of my possessions are things that were given to me instead of intentionally purchased. Someday, I hope to just own the clothes on my back and walk the world.

These are bittersweet times for me but I remain optimistic. I love this area and my nearby friends but I know that moving away means moving forward. I’ve enjoyed many years of good times in the Hudson Valley but I’m also haunted by dark times and soured friendships. There’s nothing I’d like more than to put that all behind me. So much of me wants to hold on but I’ve just got to let it all go. It’s for the best.

Enough of this serious stuff. Here’s some selfie shame:

selfie shame
Clockwise starting at top left: This was a photo that I was going to send to my mother to prove that I didn’t dress like a “hay seed” for the interview. I looked very nice but was completely unable to convey that in a selfie. * I kept trying to photograph the new hat my mother knitted for me but couldn’t figure out where the camera lense was located on my tablet so I cracked up. I still don’t know where the lense is. I’m convinced it’s invisible. * Saying goodbye to the mustaches on my bathroom mirrors. Wilford Brimley stache, I’ll miss you the most. * A decent photo of Ling Ling’s newest creation. It actually fits my head which is a minor miracle. (Still can’t find that lense so I have no idea where to look.)

Farm Life

Peacefully at rest

cowsSaturday was my last day of work and let me tell you, the weather gods were shining on me, FINALLY! It was the first nice day outside that I’d ever experienced working on the farm. Oh the irony! The last few days before that were cold and rainy. One day it was so bad that my clothes were completely soaked. To add insult to injury, after a long day of shoveling in wet gloves, I painfully discovered that I had rubbed all of the skin off my palms and was now left with a combo of abrasions and blisters. Let me tell you, the shower that night was one of the most painful I’ve ever experienced. Soap of any kind, plus warm water and blistered hands = ouchy! Try not to scream and scare the neighbors kind of ouchy.

turkeyTo put that in perspective though, I went to work on Thursday and my supervisor was so relieved/happy to see me, which always feels nice. I guess she’d forgotten when my last day was and to be honest, after each day, I don’t think anyone expects me to return the next morning. However, I’m a tough cookie and I was determined to stay until the bitter end of my two weeks, come rain or come shine. That morning, the roof of my co-worker’s (Russ & Jenn) barn had literally collapsed under the weight of the accumulating snow and ice. They run a successful horse boarding facility that houses 20+ horses, chickens, pigs, etc…(and soon a zebra!) in Saugerties. With the help of friends, farm volunteers and another CAS staff member, they were able to get all the horses and chickens out alive. No creature was harmed, luckily. So, that left me, my supervisor and the new guy to run the farm, which explains her relief when she saw me. Needless to say, we got the job done with style and our hearts went out to Russ and Jenn.

The sick thing about that entire situation was that the insurance company told them not to touch a single thing before the adjuster came to see it. Okay, that’s fine…understandable. Except the adjuster wouldn’t be there for another week! WTF!? Part of the barn was still useable at that point, it was just the 2nd story hay loft that caved in. With some snow clearing, tarps and quick repairs the ground floor could be relatively stable and usable, yet with the forecast calling for freezing rain the next few days and them not being allowed to touch anything, I’m sure the barn suffered far more damage than necessary. It makes me angry to ponder and reminds me of Katrina all over again. soapy stachesThese last few days of being a free agent have been restful. That’s basically all I’ve been doing is sleeping. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve also caught up on laundry, house cleaning, bill paying, food shopping, made an order of soapy staches, and started the next round of cold processed soap making. Yes! My first batch didn’t come out as I had planned but oh well. It’s still really nice stuff: 100% carrot juice; organic coconut milk; olive, organic coconut, castor, rice bran and avocado oils; plus titanium dioxide and activated charcoal to add a decorative element. The decorative element was a complete fail because the soap seized up on me before I could swirl the colors. I’m still soaping at too high of a temperature darn it! Like I keep saying, soap making is both an art and a science. And just when you think you’ve got the science figured out and can move on to the art, you find the entire process completely kicks your ass and you have to go back to the start (that actually rhymed quite nicely and reminds me of the Coldplay song, The Scientist). Thus, most of the bars I ended up rebatching last night with sweet orange & basil essential oils and it ended up a translucent green akin to baby poo. I had wanted to make a sweet orange soap anyways and I would’ve had to rebatch it because that’s the best way to make citrus essential oils last in cold process soap. (For some reason, citrus doesn’t have the staying power that other oils do in CP soap.) So now I have some vibrant, carrot-colored, unscented bars for the folks with sensitive skin and some nice smelling, baby-poo-green bars for those who’d like to expand their sensory experience. Either way, they’re both great soaps, they’re just not sexy to look at. Oh well. I’ll get ’em next time tiger!

cold processed soapTomorrow is my big interview for the Programs Manager position at the farm. I’m crossing my fingers and toes. I really hope I get the job but if I don’t, I have a backup plan that I’m equally satisfied with. It’s the first time I can think of that I’ve crafted such a fantastic win-win scenario.

I’ve made my peace with life and the job situation and after this I’m washing my soapy lil hands of it all. This past year I’ve come to the realization that I’m a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I’ve applied for jobs that I’m perfect for yet people don’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge that they’ve received my resume. I’ve applied for jobs that I’m both overqualified and underqualified for and have only heard the sounds of chirping crickets back. This never-ending job search has diverted my attention away from the things I want to do in life. The things I set out to do when I moved here a few years ago. Instead of being offended or wondering what is wrong with me, I have to realize that many of my brilliant friends–far more wonderful and intelligent than I–are in the same boat. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones because I’ve managed to expand the range of things I can do far beyond just what I went to school for, such as making soap. My friend Cathy forwarded me this email from a scientist with a PhD who is wondering if he’s the alone in this. Here’s what he had to say:

Last night the PBS NewsHour profiled several Ph.D. instructors who were working as adjunct faculty, receiving no benefits and surviving on teaching whatever isolated courses they could scrounge.  One young Ph.D. graduate, a single mother who genuinely loved her field, was surviving on food stamps and assistance from her family.

I would like to know if there are people here on ECOLOG who are enduring similar circumstances–who followed their dreams, put in the grueling hard work as graduate students, and are now genuinely struggling to survive in their field, or simply survive at all.  I would like to know who here on ECOLOG has been caught up in the corporate-model conversion to adjunct teaching which has become increasingly common throughout the U.S., and whether any of you feel you can continue in your chosen disciplines.

I am interested in neither condemnation nor plastic platitudes from the comfortably established, the self-satisfied and the lordly-wise.  If you feel entitled to lecture from your keyboard on how and where these people went wrong, then don’t.  I’m not looking for that, and they aren’t either.

But if you are like the young Ph.D.s profiled in the news segment–or even someone not so young, and caught up in the same circumstances–please contact me off-list, because I’d really like to hear from you.

This is the grim reality people. Never in a million years would I tell someone to go to college unless they were absolutely guaranteed a good job once they graduated. Nevertheless, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I may have to give up my beloved apartment and leave Connelly. It may or may not be in the cards and right now it’s out of my hands for the most part. If I don’t get the job, I have Yellowstone waiting for me. Andrew is coming back and we are promised double the hours and several backpacking trips! That should make for some damn fine blogging! It’s a win-win.

herford cowPeace out, peeps!

Life & Times

Feeling Thankful

2013-10-18 18.46.48
It’s a dark night of my soul here in Connelly.

Greetings! I know it’s been a while but that’s okay. Sometimes we need to step away in order to feel refreshed and reinvigorated about any and all things. I just want to start off by wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow! My life seems to have taken an unexpected turn for the worst but I know there’s still so much to be thankful for. Whenever I feel myself wallowing, I just think about the people in the Philippines who literally lost everything in Typhoon Haiyan. That snaps me back to reality and makes me realize how much I do have. Many people have more than me, some people have the same, but many more have even less. There’s no reason for me to complain.

I do, however, want to bring you up-to-date. The last time I wrote, I had injured myself at work and nearly drove over a dead boy in the road. I cringe at even bringing all of that up again but let’s start there. After that night, I never returned to my job of taking care of three wonderful folks with Alzheimer’s disease. I guess you could say it was a mutual decision. I was planning to return to work but I received a phone call from my supervisor basically telling me that if I couldn’t lift someone (who just happens to weigh the same as me) several times a day (it’s eleven times to be exact–I counted) than I am unfit for work. I performed this job for two years so it hurt more than anything to suddenly be deemed unworthy. They were like my family to me and in a strange way very much like the children I never had. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. I bathed them, clothed them, fixed their meals, woke them up and put them to bed. They were my world.

I came back from Yellowstone and secured an apartment with a one-year lease with the knowledge and reassurance that I would have my job back when I returned. However, I realized the hard way that I was only promised my job back so that I’d watch the patients and the house 24/7 for an entire week in August so my supervisor could go on her yearly vacation. No one else wanted that responsibility and my supervisor knew that I’d be willing so she ployed me back here with the promise of work. After that one week of hell (in which one of my patients had a series of mini-strokes) my hours were slowly cut back to nothing. I later came to realize that the girl that they hired over the summer had a friend who wanted my job so the new girl was feeding my supervisor a bunch of lies to get me out. Well, it worked and now I’m unemployed. To make matters worse, since I’d just gotten back from working in Yellowstone, I hadn’t been put on the books yet. So when I hurt myself on the job, there was no Workers’ Compensation to cover me and I couldn’t receive any Unemployment Benefits. Yikes! It certainly is a blessing though in many ways but I miss my patients terribly. Last night I dreamt that I visited them and we were all laughing. I was telling them how much I’ve missed them. It was bittersweet to say the least.

At first, I was completely gung-ho about my new life as a free agent. I was going to take a breather, perhaps a month off, to gather myself and then dive into finding a job. I was going to restock my soap and craft stores, create like a crazy person, and work on getting the word out about my reiki and life coaching services. I did all of these things. And I found out the hard way that getting the word out about your services is extremely costly. Advertising is ridiculously expensive and will leave you penniless. A one-month ad in a local magazine here is $400 and that’s for the smallest size with microscopic print. A weekly newspaper ad is $99 and that, once again, is for the micro-mini. This is a terrible catch 22 of small business. You’ve got a lot to offer, you’ve got a great website, but you need advertising so that people know about you. However, you don’t have the money to pay for the advertising because you don’t have any clients. My advice for others would be to get a loan. In my case, I didn’t want to go there because I already have a school loan, credit card bills, etc… I’m just not comfortable having more debt hanging over me at this juncture. Nevertheless, I made some advertising investments that in the end didn’t pay off but at least I gave it a shot. I can never tell myself that I didn’t put in 100% effort. I have no regrets and don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself in any way.

So I began to apply for jobs. I returned to Jo-Ann Fabric’s, where I used to teach sewing and quilting classes. They gave me a job as an early morning stocker for the holidays. Sounds good right? Well…no. Honesty is always the best policy in my book so when they asked me on the background check consent form if I’ve ever been convicted of a misdemeanor, I checked “yes” and told them that back in 2004 I was convicted of a DWI. (In my defense, I successfully drove through a sobriety checkpoint on my way home, I was pulling into my driveway when they stopped me for a license plate light being out, I passed the field sobriety tests, I passed two of the three field breathalyzers, and I even passed the breathalyzer at the station. They charged me using one out of the three faulty field breathalyzer tests. The judge was pissed because he knew the officers were just trying to meet their quota so he basically let me off. However, it went on my record for a time.) Now, I knew that the DWI was going to be wiped from my record after a number of years but I honestly haven’t been keeping track. It’s nothing I think about. Well, my background check came back completely clean. (Just as an aside, have you ever seen your background check? The government literally knows everywhere you’ve taken a poop. I’m not even kidding! It’s freaky!) Soon after, I received a letter and a phone call from Jo-Ann’s headquarters calling me a liar. They basically accused me a making up a DWI misdemeanor and told me that I was not employable because of it. Why the heck would I falsify something like that? It’s outrageous and I hope you’re laughing right now because I sure as shit am.

Well, I foolishly still had hope at this point. I applied for a job as a wine/hard cider maker nearby. I was completely enthused because I have a lot of wine-making experience from my 10+ years of working in Finger Lakes wineries. I knew this job was mine. The woman called me and was completely psyched about my background and invited me over to the orchard for an interview. Everything was going great until she asked me what I’ve been doing for work these past few years. I told her about Sweet Pea’s Groceries and mentioned that I was also taking care of Alzheimer’s patients. She asked why I’m no longer doing that and I said that it was too difficult to continuously lift people the same size as myself all day and that I was getting severe headaches from the strain of it. Well, big mistake. After hearing this, she informed me that she could in no way hire me unless I had a MRI and a complete physical exam beforehand. I told her that I was uninsured and my focus right now is to find a job so that I can eat, pay my rent, have heat…and get some health insurance. So I walked away from this and Jo-Ann’s wondering why the heck I even bother telling people the truth since all it does is hurt me.

Then I applied to Kohls. Holy Mother of Mary! This was an eye-opener. I was herded into a conference room with four other candidates for a group interview where they asked me questions like:

♠ “When was the last time you went out of your way for a customer?” –At which, my mind went completely blank and I had to pass while everyone else had a scripted answer. In fact, all of their answers were perfectly scripted and exactly alike. It was like something out of the Stepford Wives.

♣ “How do you know when a customer is satisfied?” –Everyone gave their scripted answer and I went the importance of making a meaningful connection route. The record skipped and everyone looked at me like I had two heads. Clearly, they knew how to play a game that I wasn’t aware existed. I always considered myself a smart person–both book smart and street smart. I have several degrees, received an ivy league education, earned my master’s, etc… This experience made me feel like a complete dummy. I didn’t realize there was a third kind of smart but there is: corporate smart, which I clearly am not.

♦ “Would you feel comfortable suggestively pushing credit card sign-ups while you’re checking customers out at the register?” –At this point I began to feel completely sick. The manager told us that the job was going to be temporary for the holidays but the people who got the most credit card sign-ups would be the ones offered permanent full-time employment. So basically, the more people you bring into debt and encourage to spend beyond their means, the further you will get. It made me feel so yucky.

Then he went on to say that the hourly wage is higher than their competitors such as JCPenny’s. Drum roll please…the wage is something like $7.16/hour. I can’t remember the exact wage because I gasped out loud before I even had a chance to stifle it. No one else even batted an eye because a few of them were making less at other stores. So after taxes, what are you taking home? Something like $5.72. Oh but wait, the extra incentive is that employees start out with a 15% discount and during the holidays it goes up to 35% on certain days. How can employees even afford to shop? Oh…you probably make them sign-up for your credit card and encourage them to go into debt. I see…

Then I applied to be a pet bather at PetSmart. I figured this would be a great fit since I’m a licensed veterinary technician. Well, the online application took at least two hours because they have to administer a GRE test. Oh yes. There’s a timed test filled with math, word and logic questions–none of which I could finish. Then there is a 12-page survey filled with questions re-worded in various ways which attempt to boil you down to a few mere traits that will either make you desirable or undesirable for employment. Here’s a sampling of the survey questions which you’re supposed to rate from strongly agree to strongly disagree: I would never do anything to embarrass this company when I’m outside of work. I would never question authority. I prefer to not be recognized for my achievements. I do not mind my work being heavily criticized by my superiors… All this to deem me worthy enough to bathe a dog. Realistically speaking, despite my tiny bit of optimism, a high schooler is more likely to be given the job over someone like me with an advanced degree and experience. My application was probably swiftly thrown in the trash. They want people who believe they have no other choice. They’re looking for a captive workforce. Tests and creepy surveys can never convey the fact that despite my background, I still NEED a job, and I would work like a dog for them (pun intended).

However, the real eye-opener came yesterday when the food stamp office called me because they saw from my HEAP application that I was in dire need of assistance. The case worker said that if I came down and dropped off some paperwork, I would be given a benefits card so that I could buy food for Thanksgiving. So I went. The office was a madhouse. It was a scene nothing short of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was jam-packed with distraught people, security officers were all over the place, the young guy next to me was taken away by a guard because he was harassing the food stamp secretary, and the secretary (a very kind older woman) was literally at the end of her rope. Her heart sank when I handed over my paperwork because she thought she was going to have to take time, that she clearly didn’t have, to copy it all. I told her to have no fear because I’d already made the copies for her. Well, she nearly cried with relief. I’m not joking. Tears began to well up in her eyes and she thanked me profusely. This nice woman was completely defeated.

I walked out of that office knowing full well and with complete certainty that I needed to see all of that. I need to go through all of this and share it all with you. Do not feel sorry for me. This is exactly where I need to be and I’ve found comfort in that. We all should fall at some point. It should be mandatory. Never have I felt more humbled. Never have I felt so grateful. Never have I been so angry with OUR situation–not my situation–OUR situation. It came full circle. People are being paid $7.16/hour-> then they’re being taxed so they probably make something like $5.72/hour-> “free” money (debt) via credit cards are being pushed on them by people who are forced into it in the name of job security-> then they have to go on public assistance in order to get medical help, pay for their heat, and feed themselves and their families. How in the heck can anyone ever get ahead? They can’t. This system is not set up for success, it perpetuates failure. It’s just corporate greed. Now, more than ever, I feel sick when I think of anyone snubbing their nose at someone on public assistance. No, we should all have to fall at least once. I can’t recommend it enough.

This experience has made me realize that Sweet Pea’s is not going to put food on my table–unless I have some desire to sell out to Colgate, raise my prices so only the few can enjoy my products, or do something similar that would compromise my values–and that is fine with me. And I don’t want to charge people for reiki services. This is something I would feel better doing free of charge. In fact, once I get a job, I would like to volunteer at the local hospice and freely offer my reiki and animal assisted therapy services. Perhaps I can help to comfortably usher the dying out of this life and on to the next. In a world that’s all about taking, I would like to tip the scales by freely giving as much as I can.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m here, at my computer, applying for jobs, still strangely hopeful even after all I’ve been through, and I’m feeling the need to share my story with you. I’m not ashamed at all. In fact, I’m proud of my ability to move through this as best I can. This is what makes a person strong and humble. These experiences build the best of characters. My tale is cautionary–it can happen to anyone and perhaps it should. No matter what though, tomorrow when you stuff yourself full of delicious goodies, stop to think of those people suffering all over the world, and be grateful for what you have. And please know, that I’m grateful for you!