Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gardenia, Sweet Pea and Flower Bomb

Yesterday, I went to the farm and cleaned out the soap shed. It wasn't easy. I felt a mixture of emotions. Sadness because it's closing a chapter in my life. Happiness because I remember how much fun I had creating new recipes. As I packed up my fragrance oils, I found gardenia, sweet pea and flower bomb. Fragrances I bought for my Mom and sisters. I felt excited for Redfox, she's a waitress that works with me. She came with me to pack them up because she's interested in starting a soap making business. Last week, I gave Redfox a lip balm and the last bottle of lotion I had made. I got a phone call from her after work full of praise and excitement. She said my products were the best she'd ever tried. She thought I could be a millionaire. She wanted me to bring the goats to her house and we could go into business together.

But as Sherm(a cook I worked with at the steakhouse) said, "That chapter in your book is closed now, Bay." It is almost painful to go back to the farm. It's just as painful to look at all my soaping supplies. I drove all the supplies over to Redfox's house and unloaded them. I wanted to cry as I listened to a CD I found in my soap shed I had playing in the car. I briefly told her how to make some incense and bath butter. She was like a kid in a candy shop and didn't know what project to start. She called me with some more questions later in the day. Her daughter had come home from school and they were going to be soap makers together. I was happy for them, I hope it brings Redfox joy and a sense of creativity. Redfox has been waitressing since she was 13. It's taken a toll on her, she has problems with her arms from carrying plates for so many years. She was out of work for six weeks. They had to put a cast on her arm because she was in so much pain. When I told her I'd teach her about soap making, she said, "I think you're the angel I have been waiting for." That made my eyes well up with tears of hope for her future.

There is a few reasons I am not interested in soapmaking anymore. I guess it reminds me of my past and it sometimes hurts. I also feel like I conquered soapmaking, I could whip out a batch of soap blindfolded. Finally, I am ready to start a new chapter. My passion has always been cooking. When I was six, I remember making sugar cookies all by my lonesome. I got the canisters of salt and sugar mixed up though. When I proudly took my first cookie to my sister and her face contorted like Medusa, I thought my heart would break. I didn't realize that I had made salt cookies by mistake. I threw out the salt blocks and started again. I did make some decent sugar cookies by the end of the day. I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was 16. My Dad didn't think it was the proper profession for me though. Especially after I finished chemo. He said being a chef would be to difficult, the long hours on your feet. Following your dream is never easy though, Dad. I have learned to sacrifice.

I will go this week and take the placement test to enroll in the pastry chef program in the fall. I took a sample test yesterday online and I aced the english portion. I was very lost when I got to the algebra, it looked like chinese to me. I've got some studying to do, math has never been my strength. I am confident after studying for a few hours, I'll pass the math portion just fine. There is a woman that comes into the restaurant and she's opening a bakery. She gave me her card a few months ago but I misplaced it. She came back in on Memorial Day and wrote down her information again with a "Please Call ME!". I think it would be more fulfilling to work at her bakery but I don't know if I can afford a cut in pay. Waitressing is hard work but the harder you work, the better the service and that equals better tips. I'm just not sure at this time what path I should choose but I tucked away her note and phone numbers in a safe place.

There were two men that came into the restuarant every morning around 6:30am for breakfast. They always drink coffee. Every morning, I would bring one of the guys his coffee and cream, he'd say, "Thanks so very much, Michelle. I appreciate this more than you know." I have gotten to know people not by their names but their faces and I have memorized what they drink or usually eat. One morning only one of the men came in for breakfast. I asked about his friend, the thankful friend. "Jack is in ICU, he started bleeding in his stomach and he lost so much blood. He's not doing so well." The "appreciate it more than you know" guy was sick!
It made me feel sick because I missed him that morning, his happy smiling face thankful for just a cup of coffee. I felt life was so unfair. So, after work I went and got "Jack" a get well soon card and dropped it by his work place. In the card, I wrote to him about how he always brightened my day and I would appreciate it more than he'd know if he got better soon so I could bring him some coffee. The next day, his friend came in and told me he took the card to Jack in the hospital and read it to him because he was in a coma. I have asked about Jack every time I see his friend but it's always the same, "Not so well." On Memorial his friend came in and like every other day, I asked about Jack. His faced dropped, "You didn't hear? Jack died on Friday." And for a moment, in the middle of a busy breakfast rush, I thought about how'd I'd never hear Jack's appreciating words and a few tears escaped from my eyes.

And as I look down from my ghetto porch after a difficult day, I sometimes think of Jack. Because I should just appreciate being alive. No matter what I have lost, there will be more to gain. I won't forget the man that made something so simple as a cup of coffee seem like a gift from heaven.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For the Love of Pork Rinds

Last night, I tried a new snack. We were sitting out on the porch having a drink and my neighbor, Lumpy, came outside with a bag of pork rinds. He offered J and I some out of his freshly opened bag. At first, I hesistated. Pork rinds? Aren't those fried pig skins? He said that his bag was special because they were spicy. J reached in the bag and gobbled three of them up. I didn't see him gag or foam at the mouth so I took a pork skin from Lumpy. It was light. When I bit into it, it had a nice crunch. It was airy like Cheetos but with a salty, spicy kick. I asked Lumpy if I could look at the bag. They aren't that unhealthy. 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. I was hooked, Lumpy gave me another handful. I sat and watched the hummingbirds with J, drinking a gin and soda munching on fried pig skins. You know what? I bought two bags of pork rinds today. One bag was BBQ flavored the other was hot and spicy. The bonus is that a bag of pork rinds only costs 79 cents! We'll share our bag with Lumpy tonight on the porch.

Miss Morgan is the oldest tenant living in the complex, she's 88. She's always trying to keep busy doing things outside. She loves to work. She worked for the railroad in Georgia for 35 years. Most mornings, you will find her outside raking pine straw. She has a plastic sheet that she loads up with the pine straw and drags into the woods. She only weighs about 95 pounds and I sometimes worry she'll fall while dragging her heavy loads. She's always admiring my flowers on the porch. She was especially fascinated with a planter I brought home that is stable on the railing because it has a cut out on it's base. Last week, I went to the plant farm and bought her a deck railing pot, a bag of soil and some flowers. You should have seen the joy in her eyes when I brought it to her. She was worrying herself to death about planting them. "How do I get them out of the little pots? Should I break up the roots when I pot them into the large deck pot? Should I do all the pink flowers on one side or the purple? How many times a day should I water them?" I assured her they would be fine, I picked out hardy plants that were meant for the shade on her deck. She said she was going to plant them after her nap. She put them right in front of her door and left the door open so she could keep a close eye on them.

A few hours later, I heard a knock at the door. It was Miss Morgan, "I can't open the bag of soil, I have the shakes too bad." (I think Miss Morgan has some sort of palsy. One day, she was trying to walk down the steps with a cup of water. She had spilled half before she made it down four steps because her hand was shaking so uncontrollably. I carried it down the rest of the way.) I was in the middle of cooking dinner so J offered to help. He went outside and helped Miss Morgan repot her flowers and placed them securely on the railing. Later that evening, Miss Morgan came outside with a spray bottle in hand. "I thought they could use a little refresher after their traumatic replanting experience." She gently spritzed every flower with a Cheshire cat like smile on her face. She checks on those flowers several times a day. I think they are the most loved flowers in a five mile radius.

I splurged and bought myself something a few weeks ago. I have always had a love for jade. I have always wanted a jade bracelet but all the ones I have tried on locally have been too large. I even drove to Raleigh a few months ago but the ones they had for sale at the Asian market were too large again. I searched for them online and had a hard time finding small ones still. I finally found one. It's description said, "Fit small hand only." I took a chance and ordered it. I was so excited when it finally arrived yet nervous too because jade's not cheap and I wanted to fit correctly. When I picked it up, I knew it was meant for me. Before I even tried it on, it felt right. It fits perfectly and always feels smooth and cool on my wrist. I get many compliments on it. I always am careful because it can break if I hit it too hard. J even said he is drawn to touch it. Guess who likes holding on to it the most while sitting in my lap? LuLu.

Finally, I got a card from my Dad yesterday. He didn't write about anything deep. He just told me about what was going on his is life. We are going to get together in June. He signed his card, "I Love You! Dad" Those three words and the exclamation point was a big deal for him. It meant a lot to me too.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Both Sides Now

Once upon a time there was a triathlete that lived on a farm but her life changed. Now she's a waitress living in the ghetto! I didn't know where to start this entry so "J" said, start with "Once upon a time."

I guess I'll begin with "J". Who is J? He's a wonderful man. We've been together for a couple of months. He's my age. He has beautiful hands and eye lashes. We've both been through some hard knocks in life so we understand each other well. We spend most of our time talking, laughing, cooking and loving. If all goes well, we will be going to school together in the fall. He can cook some awesome enchiladas. Nights that I had to work late, I'd find dinner ready on the little table in the apartment. He'd iron my work pants and shirt for the next day. He's thoughtful and a great companion.

I'm not working two jobs anymore. I quit the night job because it was just too draining. I didn't feel like I was living, just working. I am much happier now probably because I am more rested. I have the time to buy and tend to hanging plants for the apartment porch. I even have a hummingbird feeder. It's amazing how the little things can bring so much joy. I spend a lot of time sitting on the porch in the evenings starting at the fuchias and petunias. I'm excited when a hummingbird buzzes past my head like a F-16. I bought a baby charcoal grill. I had never cooked with charcoal before, only gas. The first time I used it, I had to eat some extra crispy chicken that wasn't too tasty because it tasted like lighter fluid. I learned to wait until the coals completely ash over. I can cook some ribs now that will have people slobbering downstairs.

So, I live in the ghetto. I'm really not kidding. When I tell people about my apartment, if they know where it's located, they say, "What?? You live in the ghetto?" I have become more street smart. I learned to deadbolt my door when I saw someone use a credit card to open a doorknob lock. A couple weeks ago, J and I went strawberry picking. We carried the flat of berries upstairs and we were going to make strawberry daquiri's. I started the blender and I heard a knock at the door. It was Mama D. with a cup in hand, "What you got going on in there?". Mama D. is a friend for life now, especially after I shared some of my homemade collard and turnip greens. She paid someone to come and braid my hair that day. There is little Lulu. Lulu is 20 months old. The other evening while sitting on the porch, the police came and arrested someone. I heard Lulu downstairs questioning, "Who dat? Who dat? Is dat the po-po?" I love Lulu. I'll call down to her and she'll look up at my apartment and say, "Hi Shell." I'll pick some pansies and petunias from my pots and tell her to catch. She'll hold her little arms in the air while I drop flowers down to her. She'll carefully collect them all and run to her Mom, "Mama, look Mama! For you Mama!" I hope that Lulu will always have pansies and petunias raining on her pretty little head.

I have started using coupons and buying Food Lion brand grocery items. J and I even hung up a clothes line on some trees behind the apartment because drying the clothes costs almost $3.00 per load. I love the smell of clothes on the line. All day at work I can smell the air outside. Someone even told me I smelled like "Snuggle" the other day. There is a clothes line phenomenon. No matter how much fabric softener I use, the towels still are crunchy. I told J that it was natures way of exfoiliating after a shower. Once, I feel asleep and forgot about the clothes on the line. I went to work early the next morning and when I got home, Mama D. had taken my clothes off the line and folded them all so they didn't get rained on.

I have learned to forgive. I called Don the other day and thanked him for helping me experience some wonderful things. Without his help, I wouldn't have got to compete in eight triathlons last year. He helped me with farming and starting my soap making business. I also wrote my Dad a letter and forgave him too. My Dad and I have had a strained relationship for several years. It doesn't matter if they forgive me. I just feel better not having bitterness and anger in my heart. I made a copy of a song by Joni Mitchell and sent it to my Dad. I am still learning and growing and I can honestly see both sides now.