Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Cottage Industry

Yesterday was my first day to set up my booth at the Monroe Outdoor Market. Phil built a wonderful display “kiosk” for me last week, and I was eager to see how it would work. Made of left-over kitchen cabinet doors and an old market umbrella we had used on our deck years ago, it was an answer to the market requirement that all vendors must set up under some kind of canopy over our display tables. Compact and sturdy, Phil was sure that his creation would be perfect for me. I thought so, too, and looked forward to my first day at the market.

I woke up early in order to get ready, went outside to pick fresh lettuce and herbs, and by 8:00 am, we were on our way to Monroe. When we pulled up into the vacant lot that transforms into a market every Saturday during the growing season, I was warmly greeted by old friends from last year’s market, and met a couple of newcomer vendors. It didn’t take Phil more than a couple of minutes to unload my new display kiosk, and for me to raise the umbrella. I couldn’t have been more pleased, and within another few minutes I was ready for business. Phil stayed around for a little while, but then left me there alone while he ran some Saturday morning errands.

I set out my loaves of bread, arranged my jars of jelly, and put the lettuce and herbs in a place where they would be easily seen by browsing shoppers. I had decided at the last minute to take a box of my photo note cards and a basket of my knitted and crocheted cotton dish cloths to add a little color to my booth. I set up my canvas chair, got out my crochet hook and ball of yarn, and waited to see what would happen.

Being a holiday week-end, we weren’t sure how many people would visit the market. The other vendors commented on the small amount of traffic walking through the market, but I was delighted. Most of the early birds were merely looking and visiting, checking things out, looking for fresh vegetables, of which there were few. Soon all of the early squash, new potatoes and spring greens were gone. A few people stopped by my booth to see what I had, and bought a loaf of bread or jar of jelly. Several asked me if I was going to be a regular vendor at the market - they had already bought bread for the week, but were interested in what I’d have next week. I also had inquiries on what herbs I would have, and I promised that there would be some there next week. My one pack of cilantro sold within the first hour. One shopper zeroed in on my basket of dish cloths and selected two to purchase, not blinking twice at the price. I was thrilled!

By 11:00, I had sold all but three loaves of bread and things were slowing down. It was now time to barter. I visited one of my friends who was selling home-made English muffins. She wanted to try my cracked wheat bread, so we made a trade. I also got a dozen fresh eggs and a package of fresh roast coffee in exchange for either bread or jelly.

When Phil arrived at noon, I had already taken down the umbrella and put away my left-overs, of which there were few. He helped me load my table and umbrella into the truck, and we helped the other vendors fold up their canopies. As we pulled out of the lot, I began counting my money. I discovered that it had been a good morning for me. Even though it seemed that it was a quiet morning, I had surpassed my goal of how much I wanted to make.

So, now I need to think about making more jelly, deciding what kinds of bread to bake on Friday, and getting some more cotton yarn to make more dish cloths. I also need to come up with a better way to display my photo note cards – I think they’ll sell if they are more visible. Being a market vendor certainly won’t make me rich, but it’s a delightful cottage industry, and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.

I’m already looking forward to next Saturday!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Manicure

My hair was freshly colored and highlighted, blown dry and styled, and I was ready for my big week-end in New York City at Brian’s Prom Party fundraiser for “Checking In, The Movie.” As I was getting out my money to pay my friend and stylist, Layla, for her miracle work on my hair, she suggested that I make a quick stop at a nail salon before heading back home to Social Circle. I glanced down at my hands, and knew that her idea was a good one. Layla told me the name of the owner of a nail salon, located in a nearby strip shopping center, and instructed me to tell her that Layla had referred me to her.

It had been over eight years since I’d had a professional manicure. It was when I was in Cancun for Wade’s wedding, that my sister, Molly, and I treated ourselves to a little sister-time in the resort’s beauty salon. I didn’t remember much about the procedure, except that we had a great time being pampered that day. My memories weren’t much help on this day, as I headed across the street to find the nail salon.

I found the salon easily, and upon entering, a voice from ‘way in the back called out to me, “What do you want today?” There were a few customers seated around the shop, most having something done to their feet, which looked like they were soaking in something, but I wasn’t sure who the mysterious voice belonged to. I called back to the voice that I wanted a manicure.

“Pick out a color,” the voice instructed me. I thought it came from a young woman seated at a small table at the back of the shop, but I wasn’t sure. I looked around and found rows and rows of nail polish bottles on a wall shelf close to where I was standing. I gazed at the selection, feeling very much like country come to town. I stood there for at least five minutes, trying to decide what color I wanted. The young woman in the back of the shop never moved or offered to help me, so I was stuck with making my own decision. I finally settled on a neutral shade that looked a little pearly. I thought it might go well with my navy blue sequined dress and pearl necklace that I’d be wearing to the party in New York. As I took it off the shelf, the young woman motioned for me to come back to her post.

I carried my treasured bottle of polish back to the little table, and sat down. First thing I said was that Layla had sent me there. The young Asian woman, whose face was covered except for her eyes with a hygienic mask, gave me no hint that she knew who I was talking about. I handed her the bottle of polish, and I could tell that she was smiling by the squint around her eyes. I questioned her, “Do you think this is a good color for me?” She nodded and said that yes, it was a nice color.

I placed my hands on the table, still looking at her eyes, which now scrunched up along with her forehead as she saw what she had to work with and the challenge ahead. “Go wash your hands,” she instructed me, pointing to a sink nearby. I did as I was told, and returned to the little table. Again, she looked at my hands, and with one word, summed up her thoughts, “Gardening?”

“Yes, I have been,” I answered, embarrassed by the dirt under my nails. To which she asked, “Flowers or vegetables?” As I began telling her about my spring garden, she placed one of my hands into a bowl of warm soapy water, and began working on filing the nails and digging the dirt from the other. As she worked, she asked me questions about my garden and what I was growing, making me feel a little less uncomfortable. She had a delightful voice and lovely accent, muffled by her mask, but I could tell that underneath she was a very pretty young woman. As she finished one hand, she moved the bowl for it to soak while she began working on the other hand. I relaxed, and began to enjoy the experience.

After all the fingers of both hands were cleaned and filed, and cuticles were clipped, she took each hand on at a time in hers to massage with a delightfully scented cream. I was now in heaven. Following my massage, she asked me again to go wash my hands, after which she began with the nail polish, first one hand and then the other, utilizing a small fan to quickly dry the polish on one hand while she polished the other. After two coats of polish and a finishing coat, she left me for a few minutes with my hands under the fan for everything to dry completely. When she returned, she checked my nails, confirming that they were now dry and I was finished.

I followed her to the front of the store. She took off her mask, revealing an absolutely stunning face, and told me that the cost was $10. I was taken aback for a second or two – first, by her classic Asian beauty, and then by the cost. I was expecting at least twice that amount. I happily paid her, giving her a generous tip, thanking her profusely for making my hands look elegant, apologizing again for bringing dirt from my garden with me.

As I headed toward my car, I checked out my nails, confirming that I had selected a very nice color, amazed at how pretty they looked. I also knew that it wouldn’t be another eight years before getting another manicure!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reflections On My Year of Unemployment

When I was laid off in March 2009, I welcomed my newfound freedom with a variety of emotions, countless doubts and fears about the future, and a nagging feeling that I might finally be old enough to be retired. Spring was on its way, Phil and I were planning to plant a big vegetable garden, and I welcomed the free time I now had to get ready for the summer season, pushing my negative thoughts to the back of my mind. I was ready to pick berries and fruit, make jelly, bake bread, and learn how to freeze vegetables. I also began my job search, silently hoping that nothing would come my way until after the summer harvest.

During the first few months of unemployment, I worked my way through the bitterness I felt over being let go from a job I loved, changing gears in my mind of what I needed to concentrate on, and accepting with gratitude a weekly unemployment check. I prayed a daily prayer to God that He would send me a new job that I would love as much as my previous one. I talked about reinventing myself, although I didn’t have a clue over who the new Jennie might be or what she’d look like. Secretly, I hoped that I would receive a phone call from my employer with an apology for having let me go and an invitation to come back. I imagined my answer, along with my list of conditions for returning, and pictured myself once again working on my beloved Knowledge Center Online, the internet library I had created and managed for almost five years.

I was in for a myriad of surprises. First, nobody called me, inviting me to come back to my old job. Second, my professional network which I felt would jump at the opportunity to hire someone like me with my wealth of experience wasn’t interested at all in me. And third, I discovered that age discrimination is alive and doing very well as I applied for, and was rejected from, jobs that seemed perfect for me. Was I really getting old? Was it time for me to mosey out to pasture? And, lastly, I began to enjoy my days – going for long walks with my dog, trying new recipes for baking bread, and picking up my knitting needles and crochet hooks again.

After we put our summer garden to bed for the winter, I came indoors for the coldest, wettest winter in Georgia that I can ever remember. With the long winter, I experienced a bout of mild depression, and sat on the pity potty for a few days, but decided that it was not a comfortable place to sit for very long, and concentrated on keeping on keeping on. I hunkered down at the computer, still looking for the perfect job, but also picked up a novel I had begun working on a couple of years ago, and began writing again. A friend of mine asked me if I could help her out one day a week for a month or two to help her dig out from a pile of work that she had been too busy to take care of in her business. I still prayed for that elusive job, hopeful that God would place an opportunity in my lap that would put me back into the wage-earning world. With each application I sent in and with each email that contained my resume, I believed that a new job was just around the corner.

It is now May 2010, and I am still officially unemployed. I quit asking God for a job a few months ago. Why? Because one day I discovered that God had answered my prayer with one that wasn’t at all what I expected. I am still helping out my friend one day each week, and have been a listening ear and support for her during what I think must be the most difficult year in her life. We both agree that God had a hand in putting me in her office for a very special purpose. I am also tutoring writing and English one evening a week at Georgia Perimeter College, where I help struggling young (and not-so-young) students with their writing assignments. I have taken my love for photography, which is strictly amateur, into the creation of photo note cards that I have begun selling to friends and family and giving as gifts. I also have plans to sell my knitted and crocheted baby wash cloths and kitchen dish cloths at a fall craft festival. In addition, I’ll set up my table every Saturday morning this summer at the outdoor market in Monroe to sell my home-made bread and jellies, as well as some of the surplus from our garden. My novel is in the hands of a literary agent, and I am waiting with fingers crossed that she’ll like it. My life is full, and while I am not collecting a regular paycheck, I am enjoying life more than I have in years.

What has amazed me the most during this past year is that Phil and I continue to pay our monthly bills and have enough each month to keep us from digging into our savings to any great extent. We’ve discovered that by simplifying our life, sharing and bartering with our neighbors, and opening our home to friends for hot meals and friendly hospitality, we’re doing just fine. We’ve had some challenges, but somehow each one has been resolved without throwing us into a tailspin.

I am still open to having a job plop into my lap, but only if God finds one that is perfect for me. I continue to look, since I have to in order to keep the unemployment checks coming, but they will run out eventually, and they’ll need to be replaced with income from another source. But then, Phil and I are both close to Social Security age, so maybe retirement isn’t such a bad thing, after all!

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Strange Shadow

A few days ago, Diamond and I were on our daily walk enjoying the early evening breeze and lengthening shadows. The sun was low on the horizon ahead and to the right of us, casting our elongated shadows slightly behind us, to our left.

I was gazing at the sky and deepening green on the trees lining the road, when Diamond began slightly pulling on her leash. I glanced down at her to see that she was looking back over her right shoulder. Thinking about the bicycle race we had encountered the week-end before while walking, I immediately thought that she must be looking for bicyclers coming up on us from behind. I tugged on her leash, gently scolded her, and got her back into a heel position, giving her a treat for obeying my command.

We walked on a few more steps when she looked back again. I glanced back to my left, where she was at her station beside me, about to scold her again for not behaving correctly. I was startled to see a third shadow on the road behind us. I wheeled around to see who was following us, seeing nothing but empty road. There was no one there. Diamond continued to look back, as if she could see something.
I re-checked our shadows, and the third shadow was gone. Now, I joined Diamond in looking back behind us every few steps. What could have caused the third shadow? What could Diamond see that I couldn’t?

As we continued our walk, Diamond calmed down and began paying more attention to the road ahead. My thoughts wandered to thoughts of guardian angels, ghosts, and other explanations for an additional shadow on the road with ours. I decided that something, or someone, was following us and got caught by the sunshine. When I related this event to a friend of mine, she suggested that it might have been one of my parents watching over me that afternoon.

I don’t know who or what it was, and have no good explanations. I do know what I saw, and it was, indeed, a shadow that didn’t belong to either Diamond or me. I might have thought it was all in my imagination if Diamond hadn’t been acting the way she was, looking back and putting tension on her leash as she kept turning her head to check the road behind us. I felt no fear, but instead a warm reassurance that we were not alone, and certainly not in any danger. Diamond never growled, barked, or moved into any defensive protective stances with me. Whatever it was, it simply caught her attention and curiosity, like the bicycle riders we had seen a few days earlier.

Those guardian angels need to be more careful about their shadows!