On Buying Orchids on Clearance

I love orchids. It’s strange because when I first started gardening, I was staunchly opposed to the idea of ornamentals. A plant should be purely functional—edible or medicinal or somehow serving a practical purpose in the garden. I soon learned that, of course, blooms and blossoms serve many purposes in the garden beyond just looking nice. They attract pollinators among other tasks.

The older I get though, the more I appreciate beauty simply for the sake of beauty. Orchids are one of those things for me that serve no purpose except delight. For years I wanted them but they proved too complicated for my brown thumb. They were also too expensive to buy experimentally…. anytime I was gifted one or splurged, it died so soon that it seemed such a waste.

At some point in the last year or so I realized that even I, expert serial killer of even the most sturdy house plants, could keep orchids alive, thriving even. I simply tuck them into my shower windowsill, which is flooded with natural light because my idea of remodeling any room is putting in as many windows as possible even if it happens to be in an inconvenient place. In their bathroom hideaway, I never need to water the orchids and the humid environment seems to mimic their tropical habitat just enough.

I have five or six lined up now. They were all rescued from the clearance section of various garden centers, sad and abandoned and without bloom. They called to me with their little yellow markdown stickers, begging to be saved and nurtured once more. I didn’t even know what colors they were when I salvaged them. But now, finally, two are blooming (a gorgeous violet and a light pink) and two more will open in a few weeks. It has been such a great exercise in patience and gratitude. I really didn’t believe that they would ever bloom but I chose to be happy with their green leaves and the fact that they were at least staying alive. Then the first little bud started to form and I allowed myself the tiniest glimmer of hope. The hope turned to faith that a bloom would come… and now here I am.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I spend a gratuitous amount of time every time I shower simply adoring their blossoms and the unexpected success of my clearance flowers. I live in a house with five guys and a male dog…. I am not sure anyone appreciates the flowers like I do, although they humor me when I come dragging my flowers out to the living room to announce, “Look, a new bud! Look how tall this one is! I have a bloom! A bloom!!!!!!” (Indeed, I think some of the household members would appreciate a less cluttered space in which to tend to their personal hygiene and also less time spent discussing my horticultural successes and failures.)

I feel like I spent the entire decade of my 20’s thinking that my life would never bloom. Even now that it has in many ways, I struggle with feeling constantly terrified that some tragedy will strike and take it all away again. What I now know in the deepest part of my heart is that even when life seems empty and like nothing is changing or growing, roots are still forming. The plant is still alive. The blooms are coming. Keep hope alive. My orchids to me are a reminder that no matter what has happened in my life—and there have been times that I have felt very much like a flower so wilted it should be in the 90% off bin—or no matter what will happen, Life has a way of somehow rescuing me and seeing me through to the other side.



The Theology of Spilled Milk

I promised myself that when I resurrected the blog, there would be no photographs. I mostly only take pictures of my kids anyway and I hate the idea of strangers looking at them on the internet. Also, blogging always makes me aspire to take beautiful photos of meals which is a real joke and means we eat all our food cold. Lastly, I am only a mediocre photographer on my very best day. So I promised myself I would spare you the photos.

This week, though, life has really tested my boundaries. Sometimes an image occurs that is so jaw-dropping, so striking, so shocking that even a pro writer like myself cannot capture it in mere words. Sometimes you just have to see it to understand.

This is how my day went today:

This is my thought process while I was putting away this week’s order of milk at my delightful retail business:

“You know Jamie, you’ve been stressed because it’s snowed all week. It’s January, Business is always going to be slow. Don’t give up hope. This is your third January, you should know the ropes by now. 2017 was your best year yet. 2018 will be better. Hang in there. Your milk order is here! The sun is shining! You are your own boss of a business you really enjoy! Why do you let it stress you out?!?”

I put away the last bottle and started to walk away, only to be stunned by the sound of many gallons of milk in glass jars tumbling out of the fridge and onto the floor, shattering in a million different directions.

A shelf had collapsed. If it weren’t for the shards of glass and pooling profit margin all over the floor, I would have also collapsed. I wanted to curl up in a ball and weep or puke or both.

To be clear, it wasn’t that much in dollars lost in the grand scheme of all the many creative ways I have found to lose money while operating a business. It was the principle of the matter. It felt so dramatic, it felt like the universe giving me an omen at the exact moment I am trying to give myself a pep talk. “Jamie, are you a moron?!” It said. “You are SO not cut out for this. Also, you need a new mop.”

I was raised in a very religious household and in some (okay, many) ways I fear it has made me superstitious as an adult. While I still value personal faith, I am very confused by some of the messaging I received as a child and young adult. When something bad happens, is it because I am on the wrong path and being punished for it/encouraged to go another way? Or is it because I am on the right path and some dark force is trying to deter me from forging ahead? Or is it simply that the shelf could not withstand the weight of the milk that I put upon it?

I wish I could say this was hyperbole, but it really isn’t. It is all compounded by the fact that I have had very specific, almost incredible experiences in my life that point me to the idea that we are all interconnected and there is some higher purpose to our existence on this planet, so I can never look at things from a strictly scientific standpoint. Some experiences in my life have simply defied logic.

But then sometimes I suppose there is just spilled milk…. I just don’t know how to tell the difference.



Stir Crazy + Vanilla

I feel like we’ve been snowed in for ages now, which is definitely 100% not true. It’s been four days or so since I left the house. Four days! I could have left at any time of course. We live on a main road and it stays pretty clear. The men folk have found an excuse to go out every day, which I always feel is some sort of weird alpha thing to prove that they can conquer slick roads. There is just no reason for me to leave. All the various extracurricular activities for my kids have been canceled. The store gets a negligible amount of business in this weather. I can stay home.

We ran out of real vanilla from baking and I sent the guys to the convenience store at the end of the road. They returned with “Imitation Butter & Nut Vanilla Flavoring.” I can’t even imagine that flavor profile, so no more baking here until we retrieve my super precious last bottle of Vanilla from the store.

There’s been an international vanilla shortage this year, thanks to some monsoons or something destroying the vanilla crop in Madagascar or Tahiti or both. I get confused on the details. I just know that all my suppliers have pulled all my products with vanilla. I hoarded my last few good bottles of extract, even when customers came in and pleaded with me because they knew we had the best vanilla. I’m down to the very last bottle and I feel a little emotional at the thought of opening it up.

I am sure I will find some decent if exorbitantly priced vanilla elsewhere. Surely. I hope so. We have two very serious vanilla requirements in our house. (1) My 11 year old makes the best chocolate chip cookies, which are essentially just butter and vanilla with a bit of flour thrown in for good measure and the perfect dusting of Very Good Salt. He’s 11 so he can’t always be convinced to make them, but when he does, I want to eat them all on my own. (2) My Dad makes French toast every Sunday morning and the ritual has become borderline religious for me. I top it with insanely good caramel and seriously divine maple syrup. I think about it all week and any good eating decisions I make the rest of the week are undoubtedly canceled out by the caloric intake associated with just this one meal.

None of these things will taste the same with mediocre vanilla. I operate a specialty food store because I love food. I’m not a gourmet chef by any stretch, but I do love real food prepared with really great ingredients. Simple dishes reach a new level when you start with quality at the base.

Sometimes I don’t know why I do what I do. I go into Kroger and see ten bazillion dollars in merchandise stacked as high as you can see and I think, “Why in the heck am I even bothering with this?” It all seems futile, but then something like a vanilla shortage comes along and it reminds me. Really great food can’t be mass produced. Big box stores will never run out of vanilla or honey or eggs or whatever and thank God really because what a dark world that would be.

On the flip side, big box stores will never be able to capture the nuances of really great seasonal food. We have the best heirloom tomatoes you will ever eat, but only a few weeks out of the year. Our egg suppliers can never meet our demand, but we have the best eggs you can eat without a flock of your own. We live for the first harvest of sorghum, the different flavor profiles of honey at different times of year…. and the best vanilla you can find, when you can find it.

I can’t say that this is a sustainable business model, but it makes my heart glad. I’ll always be a junkie for real food and seasonal delights. I love buying from small producers, people you can look in the eye and know that you are supporting their family. You would be shocked how even the smallest purchase that you make from a local farm or producer makes such a big difference on their bottom line. Just do it! You won’t regret it.




Zen & the Art of Scooping Coleslaw

I started out my day today scooping coleslaw. I have to tell you that an extraordinary amount of time in my life is spent thinking about or discussing coleslaw, which is really such an unexpected turn of events from how 12-year-old Jamie thought her life might turn out.

One day I will tell you how I found myself in these cabbage-y circumstances, but I really should leave some things to mystery for a while or you might not stick around. Suffice to say: there is coleslaw in my life, and a lot of it.

The thing about coleslaw is that it isn’t too bad when you get a cute little scoop of it on the side of your plate at your favorite BBQ joint. When that little scoop morphs into hundreds of pounds however, it becomes just plain gross. The smell of it, the sight of it. Gross.

But as we like to say around here, the coleslaw must be scooped. I have found there is something incredibly zen about scooping coleslaw. Once you get past the smell and the slime and the particular ache in your arm from the scooping action (I like to think of it as coleslaw elbow—like tennis elbow but much less sexy), you reach a higher state of being.

Okay, maybe not a higher state of being. That’s a little much. But the itch of the hair net does fade away and suddenly you find that the problem solving, creative side of your brain is activated in a way it just isn’t when you are fussing at your kids/listening to NPR/staring at your profit and loss statements and wondering where it all went wrong. (Hint: all the places that don’t involve coleslaw, that’s where.)

Today I only scooped about fifty pounds and yet by the time I was done, I had:

—composed most of this blog post in my head
—thought of ten or so more reasons not to keep blogging
—seriously contemplated the idea of writing a memoir (shouldn’t be that hard or take too long)
—decided on a new merchandise display I wanted to do for the store
—considered whether or not I should convert the store into a children’s bookstore (one that sold coleslaw of course)

Another potential business idea here is to charge people for the joy of scooping coleslaw. Like a meditative retreat of sorts, but with more cabbage. It works for u-pick farms, why not u-scoop cabbage?

Just a thought.




Snow Days & Taylor Swift

There was a time in my life when I could make bunnies in the garden into an interesting topic of written conversation. I suppose I am out of practice. I’ve written five draft posts in the last few days and they are all pretty mediocre.

But I will trudge on.

It snowed this weekend so I closed my business on Saturday. There was a time where that would have given me heart palpations over cash flow. It probably still should, but worrying about cash flow is a lot easier in year three than it was in year one. I am an old pro now. There isn’t enough cash. Ever. After so long of that fact never changing, the ulcer eventually subsides and you just learn to deal with it.

A local high school approached me about speaking to some students in a few weeks about entrepreneurship. I begged off from the speaking engagement unless they don’t find anyone else. My primary reasoning is that I spoke to the same group of kids a year or two ago and they didn’t laugh at my jokes…. I still haven’t forgiven them.

It probably isn’t their fault. I am an exceptionally bad public speaker. I hate doing it, too, but I was raised with a very Puritan work ethic. If I hate doing something, it must be good for me, so for many years I always said yes when people asked me to speak. Maybe I’ve gotten better with it over time, but most likely not. We will never know because I never invite people I know to these things. In fact, I forbid them from coming.

This particular group of kids numbered about 200, probably the biggest group I’ve spoken too. I had carefully prepared a VERY FUNNY joke about being in business that also referenced Taylor Swift. I thought it really reflected how very in touch I was with popular culture. (HA.) They were not amused, to say the least.

Since I will likely not be sharing with them all my sage counsel on being an entrepreneur, I will sum it up for you here: don’t do it, unless you just must.

I own my own business because:

—My father raised me to be fiercely independent and question those in authority.
—Bosses, I’ve found, aren’t fans of fierce independence.
—I have a 100% fail rate on job interviews. Never been hired from one, which I blame on my total lack of personality upon meeting strangers.
—I have strong opinions and no matter how hard I try, I cannot contain them in a professional setting. This has translated to many regrettable emails sent and many bridges burnt. (Please note this unfortunate habit has bled over into my personal life as well.)
—I cannot do work that is not meaningful to me on the philosophical level just to collect a paycheck.

All this has led to me creating work for myself since I cannot seem to work for others. This work I create for myself has never translated to a tremendous amount of pay and created infinitely more stress than is reasonable. I would never ever recommend this to a normal person. I discourage young people from owning their own businesses every chance that I get. Try to do anything else. Everything else. Find any other possible job that may work for you. Then and only then, when every other possible option has been exhausted, you may give yourself permission to be an entrepreneur.

The weather people say more snow is coming this week, too. Am I stressed about this? YES. What will I do about it? To quote Ms. Swift, I will deal with it the same way I deal with all potential business crises… “Shake it off, shake it off.”

(You are laughing, aren’t you?)



Second Day Doubts

Is it too early for yesterday’s optimism to be fading? Here are some glances into my inner dialogue this morning while I was driving to work:

—You quit blogging for a hundred reasons. What makes those reasons less valid now?

—You do not have time for this self-indulgent nonsense. Children to raise! Businesses to run! Sanity to maintain!

—Introverts don’t put personal stuff on the internet.

—What if (insert ten different names here) reads it and judges you?

—Is the weird high you get from writing even ethical?

—There are children starving in Africa and refugees around the world who cannot find asylum and you want to write a blog. Adorable.

—People don’t even use the word blog anymore, do they?

—Maybe if you had a theme. Or a goal. Or a plan. Even better, what if you had a pseudonym?

What if, what if, what if. I could go all day.

I’m going to write anyway.

When I met my husband (a story you are dying to hear, I’m sure), he came with a lot of stuff, including, but not limited to, a vintage rock and roll t-shirt bearing the image of Snoopy doing LSD, the ashes of a dead friend’s dog, and his grandmother’s filing cabinet. When he was moving in, I took it upon myself to sort through the contents of said filing cabinet, thinking it all just needed to be tossed out.

I was wrong about that. His grandmother was a prolific writer of letters. She kept carbon copies of many of the letters she wrote and filed them meticulously away for later reference along with the response she received. I never knew this woman, but oh how I love her and her compulsive recording of things.

My husband was what one might call a “trouble child” as a teenager and from thirteen on spent his time in boarding schools up and down the East Coast. I had known this about him but only in a really abstract way. My only information about the kinds of people who get put in boarding schools came from the Gilmore Girls, okay? My data was pretty limited.

Until I found his grandmother’s letters. This woman. She was a delight. She obviously loved her grandson. She wrote letters to anyone and everyone associated with his keeping (even his dentist). Even if she spoke with them on the phone, she went ahead and wrote a follow up letter to them to summarize their conversation in case they might have forgotten what transpired. I told you…. a delight! 

Sorting through that filing cabinet was such a joy to me. Beyond learning about my husband’s many misadventures through the eyes of this small woman who fiercely loved him, I also learned what sorts of things she was making for dinner, what she was planting in her garden, what books she was reading and what was happening in her various civic activities.

I also felt a sense of sadness because the odds are that my kids or grandkids will never stumble upon any written record of my life beyond some recipes stashed in a binder maybe. Any meaningful life communication has happened via email and messaging and I certainly have never taken the time to print those things off. Plus, let’s be honest—all the best bits I’ve deleted in rash moments of “letting the past go” (is that even really a thing?) or “freeing up storage space” or “I can’t believe I made such an egregious typographical error.”

At any rate, the buck stops here.

I will write.

I will print.

I will archive.

Some one, some day may find these things in my filing cabinet and have a good laugh… Or maybe you will find them here and have a laugh now. That’s cool, too.



On Starting Over

Recently, some old photos found their way to me. Photos from many, many years emotions ago. It seems like five lifetimes have passed since the photos were taken and also five lifetimes since I have sat down to write anything in this space. When I saw the photos, I cried… cried and cried and cried.

I cried because that moment in time is seared on my soul in a way that only grief and pain can burn. I cried because the photos contained all the tiny precious details that I couldn’t see then through the haze of my suffering. Mostly, I cried because it all turned out okay. It all turned out okay.

There are many reasons why I haven’t written in the intervening years between those photos and today. Some wounds take a very long time to heal.

But now… the desire to write anything has gotten so strong that I can no longer resist the pull to put fingers to keys. Perhaps I can write about the past with a clarity that only time and space can give. Perhaps I won’t write about the past at all. At the very least, I will write, which is something so deeply imbedded in the core of my being that I can’t believe I have let it go dormant this long.

I have committed to myself to write online mostly because it is the hardest thing for me to do. It seems weirdly foreign to me that I used to do it all the time. I really hate the idea of putting myself out there. I am plagued by insecurities. (Yes, many things in my life have changed but also many things have not.) Writing in a journal doesn’t work for me, I need to write with an audience in mind. (If a tree falls in the woods and I don’t write a blog post about it, did it really happen?)

To the eight or so people who read my blog before and might accidentally stumble upon it again—we have a lot to catch up on. So many things.

Here’s a quick summary of things that have happened to me since we last spoke:

(In no particular order)

—I tried out dating

—My sweet Momma passed away

—My Dad moved in with me

—I got married

—My kids learned to read

—I had another baby!

—I opened a retail business

—I got an Instant Pot

—I started hosting on AirBnB

—People (mostly) quit reading blogs on the Internet (I hope)

It’s hard to believe I managed to squeeze all of that into the last six or seven years. You can see why (a) I’ve been too busy to write and (b) I now feel like I have an enormous amount of creative content just waiting to be typed out.

In fact, any one of these things could be their own dedicated website or book. Here are some ideas for titles:

I tried out dating Jamie Sucks At Dating

My sweet Momma passed away Jamie Sucks At Dealing with Death, Grief, and Family Interactions

My Dad moved in with me Jamie Starts a Commune

I got married Jamie Doesn’t Have To Date Anymore

My kids learned to read Homeschooling Adventures with Jamie (Alternate Title: Be Careful What You Text)

I had another baby! Baby Adventures with Jamie (Alternate Title: I Forgot How Much Work This Was)

I opened a retail business Jamie Tries Not To Suck at Operating a Retail Business

I got an Instant Pot Jamie Feels Overwhelmed at New Technology But Tries Anyway + Recipes!

I started hosting on AirBnb Tales Of Terror From a Short Term Rental Host

People (mostly) quit reading blogs on the Internet (I hope) Jamie Feels Comfortable Writing Again

Oh…. where to begin?!?! So much ground to cover. Stay tuned.