Sunday, 13 August 2006

Clotheslines, summer time rainbows and smiles

I love to see the rainbow swags as I look across the row of backyards. Bright fluttery yellow tops, blue jean streamers, flickers of pastel coloured panties, randomly scattered blues, greens, blacks and reds, bold expanses of floral sheets...

To see that we are all the same, we all wear clothing, cover ourselves when we sleep, dry ourselves when we are wet. The people who live their lives inside these clothes may all look different but their lines of washing pinned out to dry in the fresh air are all so familiar.

I am so happy when I am pegging up the clothes. I stand back to look at my efforts and see the unpretentiousness of the display. I feel as if I am somehow connecting the sky to myself. The sun's fire and air's winds flow through these fibres just as the water has. I then must be the missing element - earth.

It is sad that there are still neighbourhoods with actual regulations preventing people to set up an outdoor clothes drying line. I am astounded that this thinking is still prevailing while we are having to seriously assess when and why we burn our resources for power. The air is still free. And we had to wash and dry our clothing long before there were dryers to help.

A big back yard is certainly not required for this soul feeding endeavour. I have strung clothing up to dry across a balcony, on a single post with arms folding out like an upside down umbrella (this was in a tiny back yard and was removable), across my laundry room, over the bath tub, and on a folding rack. My Grandma had clothes line strung across her kitchen to dry the diapers she washed in a large pot on the stove.

I grew up in NYC and the washing lines were strung from the window of one apartment building to a building across the way, or to a telephone pole. These many layers of lines criss-crossed our view as high the buildings themselves. Summer or winter, we flung the windows open and pushed the squealing lines out to the rhythm of "arms length push, click, click, arms length push, click, click, until the void was filled." Just as one window pushed out, not far away another pulled in, "squeak, squeak". The symphony punctuated by the random snaps of the clothes springs and the distant tap-tap of a dropped clothes pin as it bounced down to the ground.

Some days there was time to call out distant conversations across the yards and alleyways but often we busily hung out our banners and quickly pulled them back in again. Children loved to send packages to friends across the way: homework, dolls, toys, letters, messages.

In the winter, the wet clothes were still sent out to flap and flutter in the air. This was a magical time because when they were pulled back in they were usually frozen hard: pants and towels could stand on their own, and when they thawed to softness they were merely damp. Towels could be so soft when they were whipped dry on a windy day, oh, but if not, they were scratchy and so rough.

Drying clothes on the line is one of the pleasures of summer for me, my time at home in the winter is not long enough during daylight hours to manage drying my clothes on the outside line - one of the costs of going out to work I guess. I really do appreciate it when I can "hang out", just as I also appreciate pulling a warm soft towel from the dryer on a cold winter's night or putting a still warm pair of socks on my frozen toes.

Some laundry line ponderings (please respond and share yours):

The sun will bleach whites pure white again.

Hang tops from their bottoms and bottoms from their tops.

...or the opposing belief that clothes should be hung in the same direction they are worn...

Wooden or plastic pegs, with springs or without?

Should you join 2 items with a single peg, or separate each piece?

Do you use pulleys or walk along the line to fill it?

How long is your line? (I have 2 lines of just over 50 feet long, enough for full 3 loads of laundry)

Friday, 11 August 2006

How I ended up answering the phones.....

Firstly I must apologize for not replying to the comment posted - it has been a busy week and I have not dropped in here myself... but this does lead me to follow the bread crumb trail back to where I started.

It is always interesting to me when someone's story unrolls itself, how they arrived "here" from "there". For me the jumps from job to job over the last 30 odd years were made always with the aim of more money and better hours - except for my current position. I really like working for the company I am at and quite happily pursued the job so that I could mix my life experiences, interests, be challenged by a variety of responsibilities and interact with people: roughly translated I get to tell people what they should do because now I am she who
But of course it was not always this way. Just like most young people my first income was earned by babysitting, walking the neighbour's dog and then waitressing. Off to University, left University as I was feeling uncommited to any specific career direction, followed the maxim... go west young woman, go west.

I had a stint as a teller at a Credit Union, had a baby and decided that a stay at home mom/apartment building manager was a better lifestyle choice. That worked for a while until I realized I was chained tightly to the building and someone was always going to be P'd Off at me no matter when I went for a walk or did not answer the phone. Besides it was time to move back east again.

So, Stay at Home Mom was a great choice, supported by loving husband, coffee shop counter girl and selling hand made sewn items worked for a while; left the coffee shop (somehow Mom-Wife combo was not in sync with the bartender style intimacy of listening to a counter full of life stories), then it was a Toys R US world for me for a while.

That spot wore thin after hearing the "sorry, we can't give you a merit raise since you started out as an excellent employee and there is no way to show how we have helped you to improve" speech and so back home to play Mommy to my 3 darlings I went. Besides I was still just treading that minimum wage income level. If I was going to sacrifice home and hearth I really needed to get paid enough to make it worth the while. I am much better at "making do", sewing and being the domestic godess than earning a taxable pay cheque. And so the basis for all the cooking and kitchen experience. We lived the "from scratch" life. I have never even bought instant mashed potatoes, always had a full cupboard of baking supplies, another 2 filled with pots and pans and a large cupboard dedicated to spices (see where the path is leading now...) .

I probably would have done great during the Depression; make do, reuse, recycle, renew was how I contributed to the family financial plan.

Life has its way of happening without asking permission for its changing ways and back off to look for a paid position I had to go. With the benefit of governmental - find you a paycheque -cheap labourforce - you have to have a job - subsidy programmes I stopped in for 3 years or so as an Administrative Assistant to a Senior's Recreation Centre. This was a fun place to be. Most of the members were very busy, very active people really enjoying the Third Age of their life.

This was the same place where the 93 year old woman felt she needed to apologize when she called for a cab to take her home (after she walked 4 miles to get to the centre and then swam for an hour and a half every day). The emphasis was certainly on active here. They put pretty well anyone under 40 to shame. Here is where I was able to polish my group leading/teaching skills. All those hours crafting dolls, sewing and otherwise making gifts by hand over the last 15 years were the basis for running the Craft Group and special Workshops. We made kitschy gift stuff, decorative fluff, some great sock monkeys, fabric covered just about everything and cutesy-grandmotherly holiday motifs for every possible celebratory day of the year.

Here is where I sucked up as much collective wisdom from the long-experienced quilters as possible. I finally figured out that my employers were never going to let me out of the government subsidized peek above minimum wage that placed me there so, heavy -hearted about leaving such a warm and encouraging atmosphere I decided that really, since I had to go to work I had better start earning more money for it.

A friend had his own computer graphics design business and sorely needed an office administrator. I offered to work 6 months for free, 20 hours a week to learn the current computer skills, software programmes, office practices, and build a resume worth looking at past my name and address. I always believed that a lot of real work in this world is done by people for no pay anyway. Win Win for both of us. After that he actually paid me to keep on showing up.
But more hours were needed, stability. So off the call centre, bilingual hat in hand, up to date computer skills and there I am, Customer Service Representative to the roadside assistance industry. Yep, call 1-800 I need a tow because... and I will help you. And now at least I was earning double the minimum wage. 24/7 service does put a cramp in family life so eventually I worked my way into Travel Planning (helping you plan your road routings and sightseeing family drives) and then Travel Planning Production (Designing and updating regional tourist brochures, managing information, obtaining literature, preparing packaging, training route planners etc.) until I hit the wage ceiling there.

We did have a great set-up. My cohort and I worked out that a 4-day week can be switched off every 2nd week so that you could really have a 4 day weekend twice a month and still work 36 hours a week. Company was not so pleased that we were happy in our little corner of employee land and decided : NO MORE. Then, raise time again, the talk about "you have the highest possible reccomendation from supervisor right up to the director, Could not get any better rankings or comments but... sorry you already earn more than we want to pay anyone in this department "so, yes, no matter how hard you work there will be no up, flip side is you can do pretty well nothing and you won't lose any money either.

Leaving here was tricky. I was courted off to another company, accepted the job, completed the physical, the signed the paperwork, gave my notice and was "outta here". Not so fast lady. As we headed out to my "good bye luncheon" the HR person called to say that a new president had taken over the day previous, froze all hiring and cancelled my job, just like that, so sorry but no place to come to here now. AAHHH!!

I told my supervisor, asked if I could have my job back and they were so happy I was not leaving that we had a celebratory luncheon anyway. My heart was lost though. I was ready to move on and I knew there was more money and other jobs out there, and so began the most serious job quest I ever undertook.

I applied for anything and everything that appealled to me and for nothing that I was uninterested in. I made it to over a dozen "one of the top 2 possible choices" interviews, including airline hostess, office manager, etc. Along the same time I was doing the home cooking Home Party Sales home based business thing.

One night I figured there would be no loss in sending cold resumes by fax to companies that I wanted to work for just because the company interested me. So I faxed off a resumé to Spice World and, shock of shocks, received a call the very next day. They just so happened to be in need of someone with pretty close to my specific set of skills and abilities and so, luck be a lady, 2 interviews in and I am now temp'ing as the Administrative Assistant to the VP of Finance. Lucky for me that a couple of the employees had babies and car accidents and so forth.
So here it was that I met wonderful people, a caring company, with real value and pride in the company's product and people. Everyone is respected, pretty well everyone knows everyone here and even the President chats with the maintenance crew. I really liked it, pretty good pay, good hours, and mostly very nice people. Alas time passed and after 18 months there were no other ways to stretch the temp contract out any more.

Off I go again.. this time as Executive Secretary to a lab that services the Gold Mining Industry. Promises, promises and it was really like hell. It was hard for me to beleive that in this day and age people could be treated so inconsiderately and disrespected, and in a small office too. Finally I could take the tyrant no longer. I sent off an email to Spice World letting them know I would still be interested if anything ever came up again.

Imagine the shock on my family's faces when a call came one dinner time. I said yes, I would be available to take a 2 week temporay position (at Spice World). This of course means I was going to quit the full time permanent job at hell for a 2 week temporary spot in Spice World but I needed it. The tyrant had succeeded in demoralizing me and I really was feeling inept. My friends were worrying.

I really think Spice World was the place for me, 2 weeks ran to 6 weeks, and a permanent spot as Receptionist opened, well worth taking just to stay there. I was earning more than at hell and double what I left behind at Travel Planning so I really could feed my family and leave my eyes open when I went to the bank machine. Poor honey at home did not have to have it all on his shoulders now.

..and so, being there, watching and waiting, when this spot- Consumer Response Representative opened .I really, really wanted it. I love helping people, I love making food work, I have spent over 30 years in the kitchen doing heavy-duty time, I can be creative, organised, smile, helpful and be in a good place while doing it. I really appreciate the blessings I have here. Many are not so lucky, ever.
(Sorry you asked now Paula?)

Friday, 4 August 2006

amusements from the phone line

My days are spent answering the 1-800 line, very silly questions, befuddled cooks, bittersweet attempts and some downright ridiculous requests.
- the young man calling to ask if there was an amount of food colouring that would be toxic. Seems that he had bet his buddies $50 that if you drink enough of a food colour you would pee out that colour. He lost the $50. [ FYI: 10,000 28 mL bottles in 24 hours would be the toxicity level for a 150 lb person.]
- people who are upset that I am telling them to discard the 14 year old pouch of gravy mix because they think it still may be good and they could use it sometime. [As if over 14 years you would have found the occasion to use it if you really wanted to.]
-the young kids who call to find out exactly how much alcohol there is in vanilla extract and is it really a cheap/easy way to get drunk. [artificial extracts are about 8.5 to 9.5% alcohol; the pure vanilla extract can be almost 35% alcohol, and that is not a cheap drunk.]
-the lady that wanted to return a few bottles of spice that she no longer thought she needed. She was upset that the grocery store would not take them back. ...and why would I not help her or take them back myself [maybe because they were 3 years old, were bought in another country and she found them cleaning out her dead sister's kitchen cupboard!]
-and then there are those sweet older men who want to know how to make a roast with all the trimings, pot of chili, spaghetti sauce, etc which they have not had since their wife passed away and they miss her (her cooking?) so much and want to try to make what she used to. [These ones always get me.]
- Or the Moms who call because their 2 year old painted the white cat purple with food colouring and the cat now seems very high-strung and upset. [wonder why???]
-Or the man who opened the pouch of spaghetti sauce seasoning mix and was upset that when he dumped it out there was no pasta and tomato sauce, his wife used to buy this and she had a pot of sauce and pasta ready after she opened it up.
-and the lady who called me (in a furious state) to find out where 1 cup of her berries went, she measured out 4 cups of berries, 1 1/2 cups of sugar and stirred it up together but now she only had 3 cups of jam.. and "just where did that missing cup of berries go?" [I swear I did not take it, I was 500 miles away and at the other end of the phone line.]

Some work days are so crazy......