Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Girl's Best Friend

Diamonds just don't really do it for me. I mean, I guess if some guy I really really liked, who I would commit to spending the rest of my life with, offered me one, I wouldn't turn it down, but I would hope that in that case he would be my best friend (and fulfill a few other roles, too), and the the gem I was wearing on my hand would be a sign of that friendship, but not the fulfillment of it.

Neither of those things are forthcoming anytime soon, though, so right now I'm encroaching on man's best friend territory, and getting a dog. Since, you know, I only have one job anymore, and I no longer have to count hours and be gone for twelve a day. The trustees of New Church (which I'm going to have to come up with another nickname for pretty soon, I think) have even said I can bring my canine to work with me if I want. I do want, although I think there will need to be a few weeks' adjustment period before I do something like that.

Oscar is a black cockapoo who is enough cocker to remind me (and my mom) of the cocker I grew up with, which might be why I decided on him and the shelter promoting him, even though he has to be shipped to me from Arkansas and I didn't get to meet him first and his adoption "donation" is one of the higher ones. I stole the photo from the internet before they took his profile off because of my having committed to adopting him.

His original name was (still kind of is, I guess), "Bounty," but that reminds my dad of paper towels, and me of British chocolate bars. The Milk Guy is at least cultured enough to be reminded of a book. I settled on renaming him "Oscar" because for some reason I was thinking of Desiree, a historical novel I had read as a teen and from which I had gleaned many names I found romantic. Oscar was the son of the heroine, and became the crown prince of Sweden. I didn't think Oscar was romantic at all at the time, and I still don't, but I like it because it's unusual. Plus, my dog is fuzzy like a Sesame Street monster, and Oscar is my favourite one. I have toyed with the possibility of other names, but Oscar is the only one that seems to work for me. I suppose this means it's a good thing I have no children, because they would probably all end up with unfortunate names which I would be compelled to name them, for interest's sake.

I'm currently on vacation, visiting Dave, Sister-in-Lu, and the World's Cutest Niece, but after I've been back home a week, Oscar will arrive in Connecticut from Arkansas, and I will drive down and pick him up and take him home. I sent in my "donation" last night, so I can now honestly say I have a dog. I'm nervous. I keep dreaming about badly-behaved puppies. But I'm also excited. And I can't wait to get home and go shopping for dog treats and a dog bed and stuff.

The only thing about all the developments in the last few weeks is that now? The entire author blurb on the back of my book is a lie. Maybe it doesn't matter, though, since the book no longer remotely ranks as a top seller in CFP's children's fiction . . .

Monday, May 25, 2009

Heads Up

The article I wrote about the Asian Longhorned Beetle last year for New England Condominium magazine is now up on their site. Check it out if you want more info.

Also, I generally try to boycott the Wal-Mart company, but I just learned they're donating a significant sum of money to help the Worcester Tree Initiative replace our trees. It's so confusing when the "bad guys" act like the "good guys." (I'm pretty sure some people feel this way about Starbucks. Don't tell me I'm inconsistent. I struggle with that enough.) Although it makes me feel a whole lot better about shopping at Sam's Club with the membership I got through New Church . . .

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Permission to Go

It's no secret around here that I have been wanting to leave Starbucks for a while, and in recent posts I've described a little bit of why. But I have to confess that, for good reasons or bad, my attitude about the place has been pretty foul for most of the last couple of years.

This has bothered me sometimes. I tend to take kind of seriously the injunction about doing "whatever I do . . . all for the glory of God," so the fact that, sometimes almost against my will, I have found myself quite actively hating going into work and having very little patience with customers and often with colleagues, doesn't make me too happy. At the same time, I have also found myself occasionally resenting that injunction; it would be so much easier to just relax into my terrible mood and silence my conscience about it.

Within the last few months or so, instead of my conscience's getting quieter, it's been getting louder, and I've been wrestling with what it means to disagree (sometimes strongly) with whomever is in authority over me, while at the same time respecting the authority and even encouraging my coworkers to do the same, even when it would be easier and probably immediately more fun to gripe or criticise or gossip.

I didn't really figure out how to do that.

But one weekend I found myself telling different groups of friends, "I don't think God's going to let me leave Starbucks until my attitude shapes up." The following week something happened that made me really angry. I went to work promising myself that I wouldn't talk about anyone behind their backs, but as soon as I got there I started doing it, I was so mad. I felt pretty guilty even while I was doing that, but it was kind of like scratching poison ivy--you know it's a really bad idea and it's only going to make it worse, but right that second the itch is way worse than the threat of an even worse one.

Then the person I was mad at came in. "God," I prayed. "This has got to turn around. And obviously I can't do it, 'cause I've just spent this entire shift so far doing what I know I shouldn't be." I took a deep breath and began to talk to the person I was mad at. The interaction started out kind of tense and unfriendly, but then suddenly we were listening to each other. And then suddenly we were working together. And then suddenly we had a solution. It was really pretty astonishing. After that, my attitude began to improve vastly, and although I was still really hoping for an out from Starbucks, at least I wasn't quite so angry anymore.

About two weeks later, Pastor Ron called me on my day off. "Jennifer?" he asked. "How would you like to quit Starbucks?" The church council at New Church had voted to take me on full time. On June 1st, I will be full-time Christian Education Director there. I'm so excited! But I'm also highly aware that I'm going to need Someone to keep a rein on my attitude and my interactions. Fortunately, I just found out that He can.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Last Starbucks Shift

At 2.06pm on May 20th, 2009 (that's today in case you weren't paying attention), I punched out at Starbucks for the last time. Technically I'm still employed there until the end of the month, so at least theoretically I should still be able to get a free pound of coffee next week. I'll keep you posted.

It was a strange day.

When I punched in, I thought (and said), "Hey! This is the last time I'm punching in for a shift at Starbucks!" Som said, "Imagine if fireworks went off or something." They didn't and I hadn't thought of that, but it seemed, when she said it, that it would have been appropriate had some done so.

Then I requested to be able to take the trash out . . . because I like to.

Then we got a rush for a couple of hours that left us totally occupied and I'm fairly certain filled up every square foot of our tiny store with people. The odd thing was that all our current regulars came in, but so did all these people who used to be regulars back in the old days when Frank was a manager. It was as if some subliminal and telepathic signal had been sent out and they all came back to say goodbye or something . . . which I realise makes me sound incredibly full of myself, but seriously--it happened all day long, even when the rush had ended.

It was pretty cool, and though I have no regrets about leaving, I realised again that I do have some really great memories. Also, I sat on the wall for the actual last time at lunchtime.

This kind of attitude, though? I won't miss at all . . .

"Pearls Before Swine" cartoon, May 17th 2009, by Stephan Pastis.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sitting on the Wall

Today I sat on the wall by the bank, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the cars on tarmac and the beeping of the drive-up ATMs. "This," I thought, "may well be the last time I ever do this."

When the weather's warm enough, I sit on the wall during my breaks and soak up vitamin D. I could sit in our outside cafe, but it's small and there's no way to get away from the customers. I daresay I look really weird sitting on that wall by myself and without a cigarette, but I have never cared. Today might have been the first time I've gone out there this year because the spring has mostly been cold, but it might also be the last time, unless I go out tomorrow, because tomorrow is the day I work my Last Starbucks Shift.

Sometimes I take a break from writing here because there's nothing going on. Other times it's because everything's going on and I don't know how to talk about all of it, or it isn't time to yet, or something. And then I have to try to catch up. I'm going to try to do that. For now, though, suffice it to say that on Saturday I gave my notice at Starbucks and on Thursday I go on vacation, so tomorrow is effectively the end.

I'm so glad.

The company isn't what it was, and the store isn't what it was, and I'm probably not who I was either, back in 2004 when I thought I was going to work there for six months and then try to open a coffee shop of my own. The staff has changed zillions of times, as of last week we're on our third manager, and apart from Jerry (who doesn't really count, because he left and came back), I'm the person who has been with this store the longest.

"Oh!" say the Customers-That-I-Like, that I've told about my departure, looking perplexed at whether to be happy for me or disappointed for . . . themselves, I guess? "I'll miss you!" I say I'll miss them, too, and I suspect I will, but it feels kind of weird to say it and it probably isn't true in the traditional sense anyway. Most of them are only in my life on the opposite side of a specific counter in a specific location, and once I'm not on that side of that counter in that place, I don't know that I would even have a context in which to miss them. They, on the other hand, will keep going there and I will not be on the "right" side of the counter. (If I get in line to buy a pastry, some Regular will always say, "Hey! You're on the wrong side!")

I don't have the idealism about Starbucks in particular or even coffee shops in general that I used to have, and right now I'm kind of tired of the business (though there is a coffee shop I like to visit on my days off), and tired of the stress and tired of the petty freak-outs (mine, and customers', and my colleagues') and tired of stupid, arbitrary rules that make things more difficult and not any more sanitary, for example.

But sitting on the wall kind of took me back, and I really do have some great memories of that place, and I have friends I wouldn't trade for anything and so . . . maybe I feel a little nostalgic after all.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


So remember that fabulous mattress I bought last summer? The one that made my bed look like a contender for the bed in the Princess and the Pea? Well, like the princess in that story, turns out this mattress has been ruining my sleep. And my back. I'm hoping this story will have a happy ending. It's not shaping up that way yet.

The first three months of the mattress were great, and when I had my surgery and needed all sorts of pillows and stuff to keep me from moving around in my sleep, I thought it was wonderful. Plus, I was in so much pain for other reasons that I didn't notice the growing dent in the pillowtop. After I started to really heal, though, I noticed that I was waking up with back pain again. Given that this was why I had replaced the mattress in the first place, this didn't seem too good. But it wasn't bad back pain. Maybe I was making it up?

After Christmas I moved to the downstairs guest bedroom so I wouldn't have to heat the whole house, and I slept delightfully well on the mattress down there for three months. By the time I moved back upstairs, the dented mattress had un-dented itself, and I managed to sleep well on it for a week or so, and then the dent reappeared and the pain came back. I was definitely not imagining it. One morning I woke up with a crick in my neck so bad that it gave me a near-migraine, and Thursday at midnight I woke up with a charlie horse in, of all places, the front of my leg, next to my shin-bone. It was excruciating. Also--that is a very difficult muscle to stretch out, I discovered. I crawled out of bed and tried flexing my foot, but it could barely move. So I tried massaging it, and was hit with such a sharp stabbing pain and overwhelming wave of nausea that I gave up and climbed back in bed. Not that I wanted to be there.

Today I finally succeeded in convincing Sleepy's, the illustrious company from whom I bought this piece of nightly torture, to send out an inspector at some point, but it turns out that they do not honour warrantees for back problems, only for manufacturing defects. The first customer service person I talked to tried to talk me into saying that there wasn't a dent (which I must have actually said, because I tend to cower in situations like this--but that was foolish, because it made things difficult for me later on) and that really I just wanted a new mattress.

Well, I do want a new mattress. I do think this one is defective, but the fact is that even if it isn't, I want a mattress--that does not have a pillowtop--that is just a normal mattress--that doesn't make me afraid to go to bed at night--that doesn't leave me crippled the next day. And I don't think I should have to buy a brand-new mattress myself (even at a discount) when the one provided for me (at the suggestion of the sales people whose diagnostic computer swears up and down that I need a soft, cushiony bed; I don't think so!), defective or not, has been causing me pain that could require extra expenditures on my part at a chiropractor's or something. I don't really care what is or isn't wrong with the mattress. I haven't had it a year, and I think I should be given a credit regardless.

But customer service does what they're told, and Sleepy's just wants to sell mattresses, and so that dent better still be in the bed when the inspector comes . . . sometime within the next month. Because until I get something better, I'm sleeping in the guest room.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Sometimes I muse about cartoons. They're such a weird art-form, where there's a picture of this thing that doesn't look anything like the real thing it represents, but somehow our brains go through some kind of instant, subconscious process, and everybody agrees that Mickey Mouse is a mouse--even though I promise you I have never seen a mouse that looked like him. I don't know whether we get socialized to do this, or if there's some other intrinsic human factor that causes this to happen, but anyway, sometimes I marvel about it.

This phenomenon or ability is all well and good--probably helpful, even, in most situations. But sometimes it leaves you a little misinformed, when you're in a situation where you don't know what the real thing looks like. For example, the World's-Cutest-Niece-Hannah has a book in which a cartoon horse and a cartoon duck appear on the same page, but the cartoons are so stylised that she thinks, based on the other duck drawings she's seen, that the horse is a duck.

Then yesterday Sister-in-Law-Lu (who one day I might just call "Sister-in-Lu") sent us some more Hannah stories:
We went to the zoo on Saturday for the first time since Hannah was a wee little thing. She was stunned by all the children, and it took her awhile to even notice the animals. But then, maybe while we were looking at the exotic sheep, something clicked, and she started to get interested. The big tortoises were especially intriguing, prompting Hannah to say her new word of the week: turtle. And then there were the bears, which completely rocked Hannah's world. At first she looked confused when we called the grizzly "bear." But then she processed it, and she started saying it too. After we got home, Hannah had a new interest in her "real" bear (as opposed to teddy bear) books-ones she didn't used to care about-like the Eric Carle illustrations ("Brown bear, brown bear." "Polar bear, polar bear.") and "Bear snores on." She also got really excited about Ebenezer, the sprawling brown bear who sits on her dresser.
This story, in combination with another blog I was reading yesterday, reminded me of the wonder that sometimes happens--dare I say should happen--when one stumbles into the reality of God.

It seems like we can grow up hearing about God, and even believing in God, but sometimes all we really have in our heads is some kind of cartoon-y version which might be sort of okay if we had a basis of reality to work from first, but ends up getting us really off track if we don't. Some books (like the ones in Hannah's library with bears in them)--or preachers or teachers or blogs or television shows or . . . whatever . . . present a more realistic picture of things than others. You can end up with the "God as indulgent parent" caricature in your head, or the "God as sadistic, brimstone-hurling monster" one, and neither one do justice to who God really is.

And then you have an experience where God shows up for you personally, and someone points it out to you, and you can be either terrified and run away ("Bears! Augh!") or you can be properly awestruck ("Oh! This is what a bear is! I had no idea!"). And then you can be drawn to the books and the people who were best able to show you what God looked like in the first place.