Author Archives: Blaize Sun

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

What I Appreciate About My Job

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The lady was right. Sometimes working as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center is a hard job. However, I was able to come up with ten things I appreciate about the place where I work and the work I do.

#1 The booth I’m in for most of my shift is air conditioned and heated. I even have control of the thermostat Although I’m not able to set the a/c below 65 degrees, I can pretty much keep it as cool or warm as I need it in my little domain.

#2 The booth also keeps me out of direct sunlight and away from the wind, rain, dust, and bugs.

#3 Uniforms are out!

The company I work for stopped requiring uniforms days before I started working for them. I can wear almost whatever I want as long as I look neat and professional. (In reality, I typically look dirty and rumpled. Working at a gas station does not lend itself to cleanliness, and for some reason I perpetually look like I’ve slept in my clothes.)

Employees can wear pants (but not jeggings, leggings, pajama bottoms, yoga pants, or sweats) and a shirt with sleeves, even a t-shirt or sweatshirt as long as any logo on it is small. Tank tops and revealing blouses are not allowed.

I have a pair of black men’s Wrangle business-casual style pants I paid full price (!) for because when I was hired, the uniform still required black pants. While I wasn’t keen on spending $15 (plus tax!) on a pair of pants, I owned nothing suitable for work and couldn’t find anything that fit at the thrift store.

A couple of weeks later, I did find pants that fit at the thrift store. Both pairs are from the Gap, and although the inside of the waistband says “khaki,” one pair is dark blue and the other is black. I found them at the same store, but on different days. The blue pair (bought first) has a fit that is surprisingly perfect for my short, fat body; the length is exactly right! I never find pants that are the right length for me, so the fact that these are makes me think diving intervention was involved. The black pants are just the tiniest bit too long, so I fold them up a little.

The greatest thing about the pants was the price. I don’t know why, and I didn’t ask, but the fellow at the cash register only charged me $2 for the blue pair, a shirt, a belt, and a Thermos jar. Score! I love me some 50 cent pants that fit as if they were sewn with me in mind. The black pants were a little more expensive. They cost a whole dollar! Ha!

As for my shirt, I usually wear one of several long-sleeved, light, 100% cotton shirts I own. It’s fine that I wear them untucked and loose. I make sure to keep my middle-age cleavage covered.

#4 Selling cigarettes is bad enough. I’m glad I don’t have to sell alcohol. Probably more underage people try to buy alcohol than cigarettes, and I can only image what a pain in the ass it would be to cut off a drunk person from their next beer. Ugh! The fuel center offers no beverage stronger than Pepsi, and I’m grateful for that.

#5 I don’t have to clean toilets. I have to pick up litter sometimes, but—oh sweet joy!—I don’t have to deal with the body waste of strangers on the clock. Knock wood.

There are no restrooms at the fuel center, so cleaning toilets does not fall within the realm of my job description. Of course, sometimes customers think I’m hiding a restroom in the kiosk. One day I was outside cleaning, and as I approached the kiosk’s (one) door, a man strode purposefully toward me.

Can I use your restroom, he asked.

I directed him to the supermarket across the parking lot. He looked skeptical, as if perhaps I simply didn’t want to share my gas station restroom with him. I unlocked the door and disappeared into the kiosk. I’m not sure if he went into the supermarket to use the facilities or if he decided to wait until his next stop. I do know I didn’t have to clean up after his restroom visit, and I’m glad for that.

#6 I get paid every week on Thursday. How cool is that? Nothing like getting paid this week for the shifts I worked last week.

#7 People don’t tend to linger at the fuel center and try to tell me personal stories I really don’t want to hear. Nothing says “move along” like bulletproof glass and a crackling, hissing intercom system.

#8 On a similar note, customers don’t come to my house when I’m off work and ask where they can camp, how far they are from the General Sherman, or where they can fill their water bottles. When I clock out at the end of my shift, my life belongs to me.

#9 The customers at the fuel center are generally nice. Sure, there are a few grumps, but I turn up the friendly charm with those folks. My kindness may not change their lives (maybe it will!) but they won’t be able to complain to my manager that I’m rude.

Most people don’t want to cause me trouble. Most people want to pay for their fuel and get on with their lives.

#10 I get to help people. This truly is my favorite part of the job. Maybe after I’ve done it a million times I’ll hate leaving the kiosk to help people follow the directions on the screens of the pumps. For now, it’s kind of fun. I’m convinced some folks would leave without fuel if I weren’t there to walk them through the steps.

So there you have it—ten things that I actually like about my job. As long as they don’t give me a whole week of opening shifts, I might be able to tolerate the job for a while.

You Must Be New

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It was my third week working at the supermarket fuel center. It was on ok job when I didn’t have to get out of bed at 4:15 in the morning to open the place at 5:45. The job required me to do some cleaning, which wasn’t so bad, and most of the customers were neutral if not friendly. At least the grumpy ones left soon enough.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and if I heard the honk, it didn’t register as a call for help. I only realized I’d heard it when a customer who’d just left my window returned. He told me the lady at pump 9 was disabled and needed assistance.

I thanked him for letting me know and asked him to tell her I’d be there as soon as I could. It took at least five minutes to clear the line that formed as soon as I knew someone needed my help. When I got to pump 9, the woman in the driver’s seat looked anxious. She probably thought I’d forgotten about her or decided I didn’t want to leave the safety of my climate-controlled booth.

I told her I was there to help, and she gave me her rewards card and her credit card. She stayed in her car while I followed the directions on the pump’s screen. I could see her folded wheelchair stashed in the backseat. She kept the passenger window down so we could communicate, and her cute fluffy white dog stuck its head out to sniff me and look adorable.

The woman and I chitchatted while I filled the tank.

She asked the price of gas, and I told her it was $2.57, minus the amount of her reward. She told me she could get gas for $2.09 in the big city. I didn’t point out that most things are more expensive in small mountain towns.

She thanked me profusely for pumping her gas. I assured her it was no problem. I told her helping people was my favorite part of the job.

I would hate this job if I couldn’t help people, I said.

She rolled her eyes, and said, You must be new.

I know what the woman was getting at. Working with the public can really wear a person down. Certainly working with the public has worn me down. (For example, see the many posts I’ve written about my two summers working at a mercantile in a national forest.) I know clerks get discouraged and jaded. It’s happened to me. It could happen to me again, but I’m working really hard to stay positive. I do like helping people, and I want to continue to help people.

I don’t want to be nice and friendly and helpful only because I’m new. I want to be nice and friendly and helpful because I’m a good person and that’s the way I should treat all people, not just customers.

Black and Grey Water Tanks

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I thought emptying our travel trailer’s black and grey water tanks was going to be absolutely disgusting, but it’s turned out to be not such a terrible job. If you’ve had an RV for a while, you’re probably an old hand at emptying your tanks, but if you’re new to RV life, I may be able to offer you a few tips on how to do this task quickly and efficiently.

If you’re squeamish about bodily waste and gag at the thought of getting your hands dirty, wear gloves. You can pick up boxes of nitrile or vinyl gloves pretty cheap at Harbor Freight. The Wal-Mart pharmacy department and most drugstores carry latex gloves; Wal-Mart usually also has disposable gloves in the paint department. Of course, single use items have a negative environmental impact, so you can do your part for Mother Nature by wearing heavy duty, reusable kitchen gloves when you’re emptying your waste tanks. After you’ve done your dumping, store your gloves with your sewer hose so you can always find them when you need them.

Speaking of sewer hoses, longer is better. When we bought our sewer hose, The Man and I agreed 10 feet of hose would be plenty. If I had known then what I know now, I would have purchased a hose that was 15 or even 20 feet long. Our hose has never been too short, but we have had to stretch it to its limit to get it to the drain a couple of times. Sometimes it’s challenging to pull the trailer to within ten feet of a dump station drain. If we had a longer hose, The Man wouldn’t have to work quite so hard to get the trailer quite so close to where we need it to be.

While shopping for RV accessories, we saw the special, expensive RV/marine toilet paper that’s supposed to break down quickly. We contemplated buying the special toilet paper, but decided against it. We already bought the cheapest toilet paper any store offers, and The Man had read testimonies online from people who didn’t feel the need to use special toilet paper in their RV toilets. BIG MISTAKE! We ended up with toilet paper not breaking down and clogging our system. Now we do not put ANY toilet paper into our toilet. Used toilet paper gets put in a covered wastebasket next to the toilet. We line the wastebasket with a plastic bag, and when the bag is full it’s removed, tied shut, and disposed of with our other trash.

We still have not tried the special RV/marine toilet paper. After dealing with the clog, we decided not to take any more chances. From our lives as vandwellers, we were already accustomed to dealing with our own waste, so a little toilet paper in the garbage can doesn’t disgust us. Dealing with toilet paper in a garbage can is a LOT easier than dealing with a clogged black water system.

Our travel trailer has an indicator to tell us how full our black and grey water tanks are. At the touch of a button, lights indicate if our tanks are empty, ⅓ full, ⅔ full, or full. When we picked up our travel trailer, the indicator said the black water tank was ⅔ full. The fellow who serviced the trailer said he’d emptied the black water tank, but later we wondered if he’d forgotten to do so. He also told us that sometimes a piece of toilet paper stuck in the tank can trigger a sensor and tell you the tank has waste in it when it doesn’t. Because we didn’t want the extra weight of a full black water tank while traveling or the problems caused by petrified poop in the tank, we were determined to make sure the tank was empty. After using enzymes in the tank, adding 5+ gallons of water, and dumping three times within five days, our indicator finally showed the tank was empty. Yay!

However, after using the toilet only a few times, the indicator showed the tank was ⅔ full again. Weird and impossible! Coyote Sue (a veteran of a number of motorhomes and pull-behind trailers) told us that most people with older RVs don’t rely on the holding tank indicators, but instead develop an understanding of how long they can go between dumps. Coyote Sue also keeps a logbook where she writes down where she stays each night, what she likes or dislikes about the place, and when she dumps her tanks. I’ve started keeping a logbook of our own, so I can look back and see when we dumped our tanks. We know if we dumped Sunday (for example), there’s no way we’ve filled the black water tank by Wednesday, no matter what the indicator tells us.

During our endeavor to completely empty our black water tank, I discovered that enzymes are not just to solve problems, but to prevent problems too. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I stood in front of the RV toilet system enzymes display in Wal-Mart. There were at least a dozen options to choose from, including liquids and powders that had to be measured and poured, premeasured liquids in little bottles, and toss-ins which consists of powder in a membrane that breaks down to release the powder (a lot like laundry pods, I suppose).  A sign at the dump station at Rockhound State Park prohibited the dumping of formaldehyde (and a handful of other chemicals I’d never heard of), so I chose a liquid labeled “natural” and “no formaldehyde.” I also bought a measuring cup set at the Dollar Tree so we could divvy out the right amount every time and have a cup that was dedicated to only this job. (To my chagrin, The Man simply pours into the toilet the amount of enzymes he thinks we need at any given time without bothering to measure.)

Bottle of RV Digest-It holding tank treatment in foreground. Mountains and clouds in the background
This is our second bottle of RV Digest-It. This is the brand of enzymes I prefer to liquefy the solid waste in our black water tank.

After we emptied the first bottle of enzymes (I think the brand name was Thetford Campa-Chem Natural RV Holding Tank Treatment) we bought Unique Camping & Marine RV Digest-It brand at Ace Hardware. It costs us upwards of $13 per 32 fluid ounce bottle, but the instructions call for 2 ounces as the regular dose, instead of the 4 ounces per dose called for with the product I purchased at Wal-Mart. Since we use less of it, I think it’s worth spending a little more. Also, it seems to do its job, which definitely makes it worth the money.

None of the enzyme products I’ve seen say how often they should be used, so we turned to Coyote Sue for advice again. She said she adds an enzyme product (I believe she uses toss-ins) after dumping her tank, then again about a week later. She typically travels alone, so she may need to add enzymes (and dump) less often than The Man and I do.

We’re not really campground people, although we did stay in one for a week while working on the road to our property. Our campsite included hookups to electricity, water, and sewer. I’d already read about proper sewer hookup procedure, but the host at the campground reminded me of what to do. While hooked up to the sewer at a campground, keep the black water tank closed until it is ⅔ full or until you are ready to dump before leaving. If you leave the tank valve open while connected to the drain, the liquid will drain away each time it’s added to the tank and not be there to help flush out the solid waste. Your sewer hose will get clogged if you leave the black water tank open, the camp host put it delicately while wrinkling her nose. I wonder if she knew this from personal experience or from watching other campers.

Whether dumping into the sewer drain at a campsite or at a dump station, dump the black water tank first, then the grey water tanks. The grey water should be less gross than the black water and will help wash the black water grossness away. After dumping and disconnecting your sewer hose, you can use fresh water to give the hose a good rinse, making sure all waste water goes down the drain.

So there you have it: everything I’ve learned so far about maintaining an RV’s grey and black water tanks.

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer a newbie like me? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photo in this post.

Job Update

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Just a quick update on my job situation for my readers who are wondering.

I’m still working at the fuel center. I don’t much like working there, and I’m planning to give my two weeks notice as soon as I tie up some other loose ends in my life.

I may be applying for a temporary job in September or October that would keep me employed through the winter holiday season. I don’t know much about it yet, but will let you know more when I know more.

My current job keeps me too busy. When I’m not working, I am tired. I do sneak in some writing at work, so I have lots of blog posts to schedule when I get the chance to sit down with the internet.

Friends and fans have been asking my about my work life at the fuel center. I’ve written several blog posts on the topic and will be scheduling many of them for the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned to learn about my life as a fuel clerk.

I took this photo.

Running

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One of the things I hated about working in the Mercantile was dealing with unsupervised children. Even parents who were physically in the store sometimes paid no attention to their kids and simply let them run amuck. In these cases, it became my job to make sure the kids didn’t hurt themselves or the store’s merchandise. I spent a lot of time saying things like Be careful, sweetheart! or Oh! That’s breakable! while parents were paying attention to something other than their children.

One afternoon a family came into the store. The mother and father seemed to be in their early 30s. The little girls was a toddler, probably under two years old, and the boy was a little older, maybe six or seven. The dad wanted to wander around unencumbered, but the mom wasn’t having it.

Look, she told the fellow, I can’t handle both of them. You’ve got to take one.

The dad said he’d take the boy, but the mom said the boy would be easier for her to deal with and she wanted to take him. The dad seemed exasperated but agreed. I felt sorry for the little girl. It seemed both parents were rejecting her because she was too difficult. I hoped she was too little to understand what was happening.

Instead of holding the kid’s hand and leading her around the store while explaining that there would be no touching, the dad picked her up. She didn’t want to be carried and began venting her frustration by screaming. The mom and the boy walked away to browse in the store. The dad carried the freaking toddler outside.

At some point I lost track of the family. I don’t think the mom bought anything, and I didn’t notice when she and the boy left the store.

A green yurt sits in the forest. A wooden ramp leads to a wooden deck in front of the yurt.
The kids were running up and down the ramp visible on the right side of this photo.

The next time the family came to my attention, it was because the kids were running up and down the wooden ramp that went from the parking area to the Mercantile’s porch. The kids were not trotting or jogging or sauntering. They were full-on running, as if they were competing in the Kiddie Olympics. The boy was faster because he was bigger, but the tiny girl was doing her best to keep up. She was also squealing with excitement.

The children didn’t run up the ramp just once. They ran up the ramp, down the ramp, up the ramp, down the ramp. They kept running, just like the Energizer Bunny.

At the bottom of the ramp was a concrete parking pad for a vehicle carrying a passenger with a disabled access pass. I immediately imagined one of those little kids tripping, falling, and cracking a head on the concrete. Why weren’t the parents of the children as concerned about the prospect of a cracked skull as I was?

When I looked out the door, I couldn’t see either parent, and I thought the adults had wandered off and left their young athletes on our doorstep.

I bustled outside saying, Please! No running! Oh, no running please! Someone could get hurt! I was hoping to sound like a concerned elderly aunt, but I think I probably came across more like a deranged Mary Poppins.

The children’s mother was nowhere in sight. I think she’d gone to the restroom. I didn’t think I’d see the dad either, but there he was standing at the corner where the long ramp turned onto the deck in front of the store. He was messing around on his phone, but surely he knew his kids–including his tiny daughter who’d obviously learned to walk only recently–were running like maniacs. As far as I could tell, he’d done absolutely nothing to stop them.

No running please! I said again to the children, and this time the dad echoed halfheartedly, Yeah, no running.

The mom walked up about then, and I went back into the Mercantile. When the family left our porch, I whispered fiercely to the other clerk, The dad was right there! He knew they were running! He probably would have sued us if one of the kids got hurt!

I don’t understand people. There was a whole forest those kids could have run in. Whey let kids run up and down a wooden ramp with concrete at the bottom when they could have been running in the dirt?

Alright

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She walked up to the gas station kiosk in which I was working. She held her phone to her ear.

She was older than I, probably in her late 50s or maybe early 60s. Her long grey hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a tan baseball cap. She walked over from a long white passenger van which held no passengers. She’d parked the van next to the kiosk, not next to a gas pump, and left the driver’s side door open.

When she stepped up to the window, I pressed the button on the intercom so I could communicate with her through the bulletproof glass. I gave her my standard greeting.

Hi. How can I help you this morning?

She didn’t lower her phone from her ear.

I released the button on the intercom so I could hear what she had to say.

Give me a pack of Marlboro Ultra-Light 72s, she said.

I noticed the lack of the word “please” turning what could have been a request into a command. Her cell phone was still next to her ear.

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

I turned around to look at the vast array of cigarettes offered for sale. I found the Marlboros but got hung up trying to figure out which of the 30 (I’m not exaggerating!) varieties of that brand the woman actually desired. Luckily I was still in training, and my coworker knew exactly where to find what the customer wanted.

I rang up the sale. The woman was clearly over 18 (and 27 and 35 and 42)—definitely old enough to buy cigarettes—so I didn’t ask to see her ID. I bypassed entering her birth date into the register. I told her the total of the sale, which was over $9. (Cigarettes are expensive!) Her phone stayed next to her ear.

She put a ten dollar bill in the drawer through which the customers and I passed items. I slid the drawer into the kiosk and reached for her money. I got her change, which I slid out along with her receipt and the box of cigarettes.

I pressed the intercom button and said, Thank you! Have a nice day!

I let go of the intercom button in time to hear her say, Alright.

She didn’t smile, and her phone never left her ear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/search/cigarettes/.

The Practical Sabbatical: It’s Not Just About Taking a Break (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post is all about sabbaticals, why they are important, and how you can manage to take one. It was written by Catherine Workman.

A sabbatical is the act of taking an extended rest period from work. This time away can help you reboot, relax, and recharge. However, more importantly, breaking away from the mundane of daily life can help you get to know yourself, get in touch with your needs, and prioritize your physical and mental well-being. Sadly, many people forgo this life-changing vacation due to funds or fear of losing their position at work. But there is evidence to suggest that you’re doing yourself more harm than good by clocking in and out 40 or more hours each week.

Saving for a Sabbatical

Your first priority is to determine the lifestyle you’ll lead while you’re away. You might backpack across the globe, stay stateside in an RV, or cruise from every port along the coasts. This will give you a baseline of your expenses. Western and Southern Financial Group notes that your estimate should also include life insurance and smart budgeting.

If you choose to continue to work during your travels, you won’t have to save quite as much, but you’ll be missing out on the full benefit of your journey’s purpose. Another income option is to rent your home while you’re away. You can do this via VRBO, Airbnb, or through a local real estate firm that specializes in property management. If you go this route, get your house ready to ensure great reviews and, thus, more rental income. Start by removing your valuables, then clean it from top to bottom, all the while eliminating clutter and making any small repairs. Angie’s List handy online guide has more sound advice on how to prepare your rental property.

Other ways to put money aside for the adventure include funding a dedicated travel account, reducing daily expenses, skipping a few luxuries throughout the year.

How and When to Ask

If you plan to return to your job when you get back, you’ll have to give your employer plenty of advance notice. Come up with a few ways your workload could be taken care of; that way, when you approach your boss, you’ll have an answer to this question. If possible, try to plan your leave to correspond with the completion of a major project, and offer to be flexible if it runs over by a few weeks or months. By doing so, you can help your employer avoid a panic-mode “no” when you’re finally set to head out. Even if you discuss your plans in person, write a leave-of-absence letter and copy both your immediate supervisors and the HR department.

The New Retirement

Taking a “pretirement” now isn’t the same as taking a long trip after retirement. You leave with the intentions of returning to work at some point, and the time away can actually be good for your career. Leaving work gives you a chance to evaluate what you’re doing and what you want to do differently when you return. Former Cisco Systems Chief of Staff Mary Ann Higgs says her sabbatical helped her identify and process her accomplishments and disappointments.

Just as important as rest is that you can use your time off to reach your personal fitness goals. A healthy sabbatical can give you a chance to learn yoga, trek through the mountains, or swim in seas you’ve never seen. Even if you don’t plan to exercise your way across the entire globe, you can still stay fit while you’re on the road.

The thought of leaving all you’ve worked for can be intimidating. However, wealth is not as valuable as wellness. Sometimes, it pays to take a leap of faith into the unknown and unexplored. But before you, get your finances in order, plan to prioritize your health, and, if you want to return to work, leave on a high note and with the well-wishes of your employer.

Catherine Workman believes we should all leave our comfort zones once in a while. She travels to boost her physical and mental health.

Image via Pixabay

Helen’s Little Lending Library in Phoenix, AZ

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I was in Phoenix visiting Nolagirl in November 2017. She knows I love Little Free Libraries, so she suggested we visit the ones we could find in town. I thought it sounded like a fun excursion, so I readily agreed.  I’d visited Little Free Libraries in Los Gatos, CA , Mesa, AZ, and Santa Fe and Taos, NM and was really excited to see more of these awesome manifestations of gift economy.

For folks who don’t know, the Little Free Library website says

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

The first Little Free Library (LFL) we visited that day was on 28th Street. Nolagirl said she passed it all the time.

A wooden box on a pole is designed to look like a small house with a peaked roof. The box is painted a deep blue and has lavender trim.
I love the color scheme of Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

When we approached the LFL on 28th Street, the first thing I noticed was the great color scheme. I love the dark blue main color, especially with the lavender accents. I also like the four little windows that let you look into the library and the door that swings open to offer access to the books.

The next thing I noticed about this LFL is that it is “official.” There is a charter number (44511) on the left hand side of the sign that comes from the Little Free Library organization. Having a charter number means this LFL is registered with the Little Free Library organization and should pop up on the organization’s internet map of LFL locations. The LFL organizations says other benefits of registering a Little Free Library include

receiving a steward’s packet of tips and advice,…access to a private Facebook support group, and more.

Before I started writing this post, I had another look at the photos I took of this library. When I looked at the photos, I realized this LFL has its own name. It’s not just some generic Little Free Library. It’s “Helen’s Little Lending Library.” This realization leads me to ask many questions. Who is Helen? Yes, she’s probably the library steward, the person who maintains this LFL, but who is she really? Why did she decide to start a LFL? What’s her favorite part of having one? Also, how does a Little Free Library get its very own unique name? Does it cost extra to name your LFL?

The door to the Little Free Library is open, and there are two rows of trade paperback books available.
These were the books offered the day I visited Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

There were several books to choose from in Helen’s Little Lending Library, but nothing I really wanted to read, so I left them all behind. I also left behind a couple of books I had to donate. I felt good about being a contributor. After all, we can’t expect Helen to do all the work to keep this Little Free Library going. I was glad to help.

I took the photos in this post.

Frying Pan (Part 2)

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Blog bonus day! Today I’ll tell the rest of the story of my experience at a very strange interview for a job at a souvenir shop. As the saga continues, I’m about to get the details regarding the drug test I have to take.

You’ll have to pass a drug test, the manager told me, which I already knew from my friend who worked nearby. Can you pass one today? she asked in a lowered voice. I told her I could.

She handed me a thick stack of papers. In the stack I’d find the company handbook and forms to sign saying I accepted the cash register policy as well as the other policies in the handbook. There were other forms to sign granting permission for the drug test and the background check. She left me at the lunch counter to sign the forms.

Reading the company handbook made me privy to more policies.  Any employee parking too close to the store would be fired. Employees’ purses, backpacks, and lunch bags had to be made from clear plastic. If I lost my nametag, I’d be charged $25. If I lost my timecard, I’d be charged $25. If I forgot to punch in or out, I’d be docked 60 minute of pay. If I quit before I’d worked there 90 days, I’d be charged for my drug test and background check.

I’d never had an employer charge me for a lost nametag or time card, and a $25 fee seemed excessive. Also, losing an hour’s pay for not punching in or out seemed like a harsh way to teach a lesson. I wondered if these policies were even legal. Who were these people I was considering signing on with?

The manager came back, and I had a few questions for her. What hours was the store open? How much did the job pay?

Her answers gave me hope.

The store was typically open from 10am to 6pm; occasionally it was open a couple of hours later. She thought new hires started at $11 an hour, but she’d have to double check.

I gritted my teeth and thought I could deal with some weirdness for $11 an hour and a schedule that didn’t require a 4am wake up.

The manager wanted to know when I could start if I passed the drug test and the background check. She said an employee had quit and the store needed a new worker right away. I told her the new schedule for my current job had just come out, and I’d want to give notice and work the days I was expected there. The schedule was only for a week, so essentially I’d give five days notice. I also offered to come in to the souvenir shop for training a couple hours on the days I would be working at the fuel station.  I figured getting some training in before I started working at the souvenir shop full time would give me a head start when I was actually on the schedule.

The manager had a urine specimen cup in her hand. I’ve only been drug tested for work a couple of times—once for a temp job and once when I was trying to get hired for a work-at-home job with U-Haul. (I got the temp job, but was not hired by U-Haul because the internet was too slow where I was staying.) In both cases, I was sent to a business that specialized in urinalysis. I was handed a cup upon arrival and was sent to a bathroom stall where I provided my sample. The whole process was quite professional.

Now the manager handed me the cup and ushered me into the employees’ restroom. I carried my (small) purse in with me. The manager left me alone in the dark, damp room. If I’d need to provide a clean sample from someone who didn’t use drugs, I had ample opportunity.

The sample cup was unlike any I’d ever seen. It had some kind of protrusion on it, almost as tall as the cup and maybe 1½ inches wide. I think the protrusion was what showed the results of the test.

I peed in the cup, no problem. I wiped off the cup with toilet paper. I set it on the sink while I washed my hands and adjusted my clothing. Then I stood and stared at the container of urine. The manager hadn’t told me exactly what to do with it.

 In medical offices, there is sometimes a small metal door in the wall. The patient opens the little door and leaves the sample behind the door. A medical professional can open the door on the other side of the box and retrieve the sample when it is convenient. There was no small metal door in any of the restroom’s walls.

When I’ve given samples for jobs or drug studies, a professional wearing latex gloves had been just outside the door of the stall, ready to take the sample as soon as I walked out. But what to do today? Should I leave the sample in the restroom? Should I carry it out to the manager? I felt awkward in my uncertainty.

I decided to take the sample with me. I poked my head out of the restroom door. The manager was not standing there waiting for me. I walked over to the lunch counter. The manager was not waiting for me there either.

The young woman (perhaps still a teenager) working at the lunch counter indicated a napkin on the counter. She said to leave it there, the young woman said, so I set my cup of urine down a few feet from where tourists were enjoying hot dogs and Frito pies and milkshakes. Gross! I don’t know much about health codes, but setting a cup of urine on a lunch counter where people are eating has got to be against at least one of them.

When the manager returned, she peered at my urine sample, pulled up a photo on her phone, and compared my sample to the photo. Wait! What? The manager of the souvenir shop would by analyzing my urine? She would be the one to determine if I was drug-free? Was she trained for this?

This interview was growing increasingly weird.

The manager said this was going to take a while. Did I want to wait?

I really didn’t, so I said I thought I’d head out.

She said she’d call the company’s secretary and give her the information for my background check, but the results might not be ready until Monday since it was already almost 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon. She said if I hadn’t heard from her by Monday afternoon, I should call to check in.

I left feeling really weird about the entire situation. The manager talked as if I were already hired, but I still had the results of the drug test and background check hanging over my head. Was I in or was I out? I suppose I was officially in limbo.  

I spent the entire weekend going back and forth about the job. On the one hand, $11 an hour was more than I was currently earning, but on the other hand, I didn’t agree with having to cover drawer shortages that I didn’t cause. On yet another hand, the hours at the souvenir shop were much better than what I was currently working, but on the other hand (how many hands was I dealing with here?) there were the policies about being charged for losing things. Was I about to jump out of the frying pan and right into the fire?

On Monday afternoon, I called the manager of the souvenir shop. She hadn’t heard back about the background check, so she couldn’t offer me the job. She asked again when I could start if I was offered the job, and I again told her I felt like I needed to finish out the week I was already scheduled for.

The owner of the company is really on me to hire someone who can start immediately, she told me. Everyone I’ve tried to hire wants to give two weeks notice, she complained.

I felt she was pressuring me to walk out on my current job. I didn’t want to walk out for a number of reasons. First, I thought it was unethical to leave everyone working in the fuel center in a lurch. Second, I didn’t want to burn my bridges. The company I was working for is a huge corporation with stores across the country. Walking out without notice would probably mean I could never get a job with the corporation again. Third, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work for the souvenir people.

I’m sure the owner doesn’t like it when his employees quit without giving two weeks notice, I told the manager. Surely he can understand people wanting to give notice.

It happens all the time, the manager sighed, referring to people quitting without notice.

I wondered if because it happened to him all the time, the owner of the business had come to think of this behavior as normal. I also wondered why his employees walked out without notice all the time.

The manager and I agreed I’d check in the next day, but the conversation with her didn’t leave me feeling good. I discussed the situation with The Man and my sibling.  The conclusions I reached? I didn’t appreciate being pressured to do something I thought was not right. If the manager and owner of the company thought I was a good fit for their team and a good investment, they should be willing to wait five days for me. I did not feel good about several of the company policies. I decided I didn’t want to work in the souvenir shop after all.

I chose to text the manager. I didn’t really want to talk to her again. I didn’t want to discuss the situation or my concerns. I just wanted to be done.

Here’s what I texted to her: I understand your need to fill the position immediately. Since I am unable to do that, I am withdrawing my application. Thanks.

Several hours later she responded, I’m sorry to hear that, but thanks for applying.

It looked like I was staying in the frying pan for a while longer.

Frying Pan (Part 1)

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This story of a job interview gone weird turned out to be a long one, so I’ll only tell half the story today. I’ll make tomorrow a blog post bonus day and tell the rest of the story then.

After a couple months in town, I needed a job. I applied online at a dozen chain supermarkets, drug stores, and low-end department stores. I also handed my resume to a half dozen locally-owned businesses. Most of the local places weren’t even hiring, but took my resume anyway.

A large bear carved from wood sits next to a wooden chair and holds a sign that says "welcome."
I worked a seasonal job in this mercantile housed in a yurt.

My resume was not very impressive. In the last ten years, I’d only worked seasonal jobs for two companies. Sometimes I included my house and pet sitting experience on applications, but it’s not like I have a business; even my self-employment is casual. I worried my resume wouldn’t get my foot in the door, but didn’t know how to better my chances of getting an interview.

I got an email form a corporate supermarket. I was instructed to call a phone number, which I did. I had a pre-screening phone interview with a very friendly woman from the corporate human resources department. She told me the only job available at the local store was in the fuel center (aka gas station). I told her I’d take the job. I figured working in a gas station couldn’t be much different from working inside the main store. My conversation with the human resources lady went well, and she approved me for an interview in the local store.

An assistant manager conducted the in-person interview while the local human resources lady sat in. He told me the job would be part-time with no guaranteed number of hours each week. It was the only job offer I’d had, so I took it.

I got four days of training; other workers told me that was a lot more than most people got. My first five days of work started at 5:45 in the morning, which meant I had to get out of bed around 4am so I’d have time to dress, eat, and brush my teeth (all at my early morning snail’s pace) and then make the 40 minute drive to my workplace. It was not an easy work week.

The job turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. By the third day, I wanted out of there.

One of the places where I’d applied during my job search was a souvenir shop in the historic district. A friend of mine worked nearby and told me the manager was always hiring because of high employee turnover. My friend chalked it up to the fact that employees had to pass a drug test, but I wondered what else might be going on. Maybe the shop wasn’t such a great place to work. Despite my mild misgivings, when I decided I didn’t like working at the gas station, I called the manager of the souvenir shop to check in.

Can you come in Friday morning for an interview? the manager asked me right away.

I told her I had to work Friday morning but got off at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Can you come in at one? she asked.

I laughed a little and told her it would take me some time to get from my job to her shop. I wondered if she thought I’d teleport to her place, but kept my little joke to myself. I told her I could be there at 1:30.

On Friday my replacement was late, so I was late starting my task of getting merchandise from the main store to replace the items we’d sold at the fuel center. It was my first time doing the task alone, so it took longer than expected. Instead of getting off at 1pm, I didn’t punch out until 1:15. I hurried to my truck and changed out of my work clothes and into a skirt, nice shirt, and my red cowgirl boots. I looked nice but a bit frazzled.

 The interview was conducted not in an office or a break room, but out in the open in the store. There was an old-fashioned lunch counter in the store, where I perched on a little turquoise-colored stool while the manager stood on the other side of the counter. While the manager talked to me, a worker served hotdogs and Frito pies and milkshakes to customers sitting a few feet away.

It wasn’t an interview in the traditional sense. The manager didn’t ask me questions about my goals or my work experience or my strengths and weaknesses or what I could contribute to the team. Instead, she listed the things I needed to know about working in the store.

  • Wear comfortable shoes because there was no sitting down.
  • My significant other was not allowed to hang out in the store for hours at a time.
  • The store was open 365 days a year. It did not close for Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving.
  • Workers did not get a lunch break. Workers were paid for the entire time they were at work, but no one took an hour or half an hour off for lunch. No one was allowed to leave the store for lunch. All eating was done in the store, between helping customers.
  • I’d have to be able to count money. I don’t know what they’re teaching at the high school, the manager said, but kids these days couldn’t count money.
  • There was always something to do at the store. If there were no customers, there was something to clean or t-shirts to fold.
  • The door to the store was open during business hours, even in the heat and even in a blizzard. I should dress accordingly.
  • If my cash register was short, I had to replace the missing money. If two people were on the register and the drawer came up short, each person put in half of the missing money.

Some of the policies were par for the course (most businesses don’t allow employees to sit during a shift and of course I’d have to know how to count money when working in a store), but others really surprised me. No lunch break and no leaving the store? Was I signing up for indentured servitude?

The short drawer policy really stopped me in my tracks. I’d never worked anywhere that required drawer shortages to be covered from the workers’ pockets. If drawer shortages got to be a recurring problem, a worker might get reprimanded or even fired, but no employer had ever stated replacement of missing money as a policy. Actually, I could understand being held accountable for my own cash register mistakes, but I wasn’t too keen on having to pay half of someone else’s mistakes (or thievery). Other places where I’ve worked had cashiers sign on and off the register so if someone was careless or stealing there was a hope of figuring out who was the responsible party.  This pay-out-of-pocket policy was a huge red flag to me, but I disliked my current job enough to sit there and continue to listen to what the manager had to say.

Stay tuned. The story will continue tomorrow with the strangest drug test circumstances I’ve ever encountered.

I took the photo in this post.