Category Archives: aprons

11 June

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Before you know it June is half unspooled, your husband writing report cards and packing up his second grade classroom for the summer, the bean plants stretching up their poles and the toddler nearly three, baby no more, unfurled into an articulate, opinionated boy who will leap from heights twice his own and lobby you to buy carrots. Your new tattoo is peeling and settling in to the skin of your arm, and you’ll be 32 in a few days. Yesterday you and Lainie burned some scraps of paper in the firepit outside, toasting each other with small sips of bourbon in the midday sun. You both received word this week that you’d succeeded at something large, but it’s a twisting road from this success to a life where your aprons are relics, and the bills still need to get paid, and this makes you both feel very tired. so you had a ceremony, and the smoke swirled up into the sunlight, and it cleared both your heads. Run a fingertip now over a small scar on your palm from the day you hoed the garden without gloves, a blister that did not survive the subsequent 9 hour shift at the pub lugging kegs and trays up and down the weathered wooden floorboards. It’s healed now, but the outlines are still tangible. take stock of these things, laying in bed with a book of Richard Hugo poems and a mug of lukewarm espresso, savoring the fact that you’re up a good hour before the boy who will want cuddling, toast, and blues clues, in that order. And just now he pads in, rubbing his eyes in his too short fire truck pajamas, hair grown into his eyes again, having worn all night the new garden gloves his grandma sent him yesterday. He settles in next to you to read his own book, demanding a pillow that is not cold and a share of the blanket. List Today’s tasks: grocery store, bank to deposit the weekend tips, oven dehydrating the kale crop, Reseeding the 12 hills of squash ripped out due to powdery mildew, Decoding the draft book contract. Housekeeping emails for the meditation class I am coordinating, and through it all, Motherhood.

“I walk this past with you, ghost in any field/ of good crops, certain I remember everything wrong./ if not, why is this road lined thick with fern/ and why do I feel no shame kicking the loose gravel home?” – Richard Hugo, “White Center”

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Filed under aprons, basic goodness, blue collar, Family, Garden, gratitude, love, motherhood, oceans and mountains, stories

on making soup from what you have.

Cooking for a family isn’t quite the thrilling experiment that cooking for a partner or a group of friends used to be. You have less money, less time, and a more critical audience than you ever did before.  I find its hard to try new recipes when they invariably necessitate a trip to the store, and I’m bound and determined to cook with whole foods and the ingredients I already have laying around.  A few months ago a friend asked me for a soup recipe, and I had to admit I didn’t have a recipe…

just a method.
here it is.

1. Begin, always, with onions.

1. Begin, always, with onions.

2. Be fearless with your spices, and buy them in bulk so they are fresh and cheap.

2. Be fearless with your spices, and buy them in bulk so they are fresh and cheap.

3. Grow at least one of your ingredients yourself. it feels good to harvest into your cookpot.If you can’t, make it a point to buy direct from a farmer every now and then.  Look for a local farmer @ your farmers market who doesn’t advertise as organic, & ask them if they use pesticides. Many, like Whistling Train Farm who sell @ almost every Seattle Farmers Market, grow without chemicals but cannot afford the organic certification— their veggies are more affordable than the ones labelled “organic.”

3. Grow at least one of your ingredients yourself. it feels good to harvest into your cookpot.
If you can’t, make it a point to buy direct from a farmer every now and then. Look for a local farmer @ your farmers market who doesn’t advertise as organic, & ask them if they use pesticides. Many, like Whistling Train Farm who sell @ almost every Seattle Farmers Market, grow without chemicals but cannot afford the organic certification— their veggies are more affordable than the ones labelled “organic.”

4. Cook with your nose and your sense of color. Both should delight you. If they don’t, add more of something that does.Use things from your fridge that are wilting or nearing expiration. Waste not want not.

4. Cook with your nose and your sense of color. Both should delight you. If they don’t, add more of something that does.
Use things from your fridge that are wilting or nearing expiration. Waste not want not.

5. you will almost never go wrong by adding more garlic or more greens.

5. you will almost never go wrong by adding more garlic or more greens.

6. Chickpeas or red lentils will give a protein boost, add heartiness, and scarcely impact the flavor.

6. Chickpeas or red lentils will give a protein boost, add heartiness, and scarcely impact the flavor.

7. At least 2 of these items go into almost everything I make. (apple cider vinegar, braggs liquid aminos, tahini, miso paste, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, nutritional yeast)

7. At least 2 of these items go into almost everything I make. (apple cider vinegar, braggs liquid aminos, tahini, miso paste, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, nutritional yeast)

8. Make your kitchen (or at least a corner of it) into a place you find lovely.

8. Make your kitchen (or at least a corner of it) into a place you find lovely.

10. A library of inspiring cookbooks just in case.

9. A library of inspiring cookbooks just in case.

10. take notes on your successes

10. take notes on your successes

11. Figure out what your cooking music is (mine is Gillian Welch) and keep in mind that a good apron never hurts.

11. Figure out what your cooking music is (mine is Gillian Welch) and keep in mind that a good apron never hurts.

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Filed under aprons, basic goodness, Family, Food, Garden, Ordinary, Vegan Recipes, wendell berry, winter garden

Everyone is Careening, she pointed out

careen: [From French (en) carène, (on) the keel,  see kar- in Indo-European roots.] 

 To lean to one side, as a ship sailing in the wind.

—–

Everyone is Careening,

she pointed out

and it was precisely the right word.

overworked and underslept and sorting through a whole slough of

philosophies

on child rearing and relationships and gender and equality and economies

Saturn is looping back around

to the place in the Milky Way it occupied

when we were all ushered into these lives,

we dialed rotary phones as children

encountered sex in the teenage years of HIV

and attained legal drinking age as the ashes of September 11 settled

now we are making our way into our Thirties

with our smartphones and our student loans

and our conviction that Capitalism is pretty violent

and we are in Bed

with it

whether we like it or not

our friends are going ex-pat in droves

and the planets are doing that thing they do

and we are getting married

and attaining graduate degrees

and divorcing

and bringing up kids

and making art

and thinking about where our food comes from

and walking away from mortgages

and kicking habits

and lobbying senators

and angling for book contracts

and still slinging food,

and trying to cobble together an updated version

of the Beatnik Dream

We are trying to meditate more

We would like to see some changes

we eschew “establishment”  morals

but we are becoming our own establishment

even as we seek to change the one we have been given

we are looking for bliss and also sustainability

we understand it could all end tomorrow

but if it don’t, there’s going to be a real shortage of

clean water

and so we polish our post-apocalpytic skillsets

and make it up as we go.

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Filed under 11 September 2001, Americana, aprons, art, basic goodness, Change

Fellow Waitresses

They are part of our equipment
indispensible as our aprons,
our pens,
our expensive well-made work clogs
and our smiles (mostly real, but often feigned);

:the wrist braces
the tiger balm
the icy hot patches
the band-aids
the ankle braces
and knee braces
and the kingsized bottles of ibuprofen

we share these supplies,
and others
freely with each other whenever someone is in need
we have all been there.

Once, during a busy summer waitressing shift,
I balanced an entire table’s worth of dishes
atop a hard-shell wrist brace,
and waited for the patrons to decide on a dessert.
They insisted I not go away, they simply had to order right then
And while two debated between the sundae and the pie,
one patron asked:
“what’d you do to your wrist?”
“This,” I replied, hefting the plates
by way of indication
and it was clear
he did not quite understand.

We don’t have insurance, generally,*
so we pay the chiropractor, the accupuncturist, the emergency room
out of pocket
and we come to work sick and injured
because we can’t afford not to

We understand this is part of the job
the way my father and his highway department coworkers
understand the danger of speeding cars and distracted drivers

We do what we have to to make a living,
we accept the risks, and do our best to take care.
But when damage is done
we slip through the cracks
invisible to the rest of society
invisible, sometimes, to the very people we serve.

A few weeks ago, one of my father’s coworkers was pinned by a car
while fixing a pedestrian crossing signal.
they took his leg.
Highway workers are killed on the job as often as cops,
but the news cameras rarely show up for their funerals.

I know a woman who waitressed with a broken bone in her foot for months
I knew a woman in her fifties who’d been serving all her life,
and who smoked pot to deal with the chronic pain;
when she spoke up about unfair treatment,
her bosses made her take a random drug test
and sent her home without a job
I know of a waitress with cancer, and a five year old son
it takes a lot of 15% gratuities to cover chemo.
I have known a lot of waitresses.
I have hundreds of stories in my apron pockets
and somehow “Union” is a dirty word
people my age do not say it
people in my industry do not say it

it was not always this way,

and i’ll tell you what

Fellow Waitresses;
Fellow Workers;
I may have a bunch of college degrees,
but my collar is blue,
and i’ve got a Little Red Songbook around here somewhere.

* * * * *

*Full disclosure. I now have health care through my husband’s employer (my infant son and I are insured for the low price of 700$+/month). I also work for what is hands down the fairest, most supportive restaurant I’ve ever encountered in 12 years in the industry. That being said, my experience still leads me to conclude blue-collar workers are getting SCREWED in America. People my age (I’m 30) have little to no concept of the importance or potential power of unions. The Reagan era wrote labor history out of the textbooks, big business and corrupt union leadership gave worker organization a bad name, and right-wing politicians are dismantling the gains of the labor movement bit by bit. Time to think about what Labor Day really means. A lot more than BBQs.

Ever heard of the Seattle Waitress Union Local 240? Headquartered on 2nd Ave downtown, they were once called “the red-hottest unionists in Seattle” by the Seattle Union Record. “Formed on March 23, 1900 by Alice Lord. This all white union was one of the first women’s unions to be chartered by the American Federation of Labor. Under the direction of Alice Lord, the Seattle Waitress’ Union is accredited with establishing the 8 hour work day and 6 hour work week for all female servers. The Seattle Waitress’ Union was also successful in their fight for a state sanctioned minimum wage.” Kept people of color out, which is no good, (pretty standard for unions/suffrage movements at the time), but damn they raised some hell (and wages). And we’ve never heard of them. “Before organizing the girls were compelled to work all the way from ten to fifteen hours per day for from $3 to $6 per week, but now thanks to organization, we are never called upon to work more than ten hours and receive in compensation thereof $8.50 to $10 per week.” (From the Waitress Union newsletter in 1902)

Here’s a little more on Miz Alice Lord:

and some more good hellraising waitress stories.

Check out UNITE HERE Local 8’s website to learn about labor struggles affecting fo and beverage and hospitality workers in Seattle.

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Filed under aprons, blue collar, Change, Labor, Ordinary, poetry, waitressing

"All good comes to them that waitress."

I wait tables for a living.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a whole pile of black aprons, rolled in cylinders and tied with their own strings.
When I unroll one before a shift, I fill the pockets with ballpoint pens, a soft-shelled order book I’ve been using for six years (in its pockets: snapshots of Ryan and Assata and my liquor and food handlers permits), and a stack of coasters. Used to throw in a wine-key too, but I mostly serve beers these days.

Also in my pocket: an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree. (Yes, I keep the degrees in my metaphorical pocket). When customers get chatty and want to know what I went to college for, I tell them American Studies. I let them consider that for a moment, then deliver my punchline. “Which is why I’ll be your waitress tonight.”

They love that one.

I first put on an apron the summer I turned 19. Fresh from my first year at Evergreen State College, I showed up at Crater Lake National Park for a summer job in the gift shop a few hours after a server had quit in the dining room. That night, I was wearing my first apron and shadowing a server in the midst of a terrifying fine-dining dinner rush. I learned the ropes quickly enough and spent the summer as a Breakfast/Lunch server. I walked to work from the employee dorms at 5:30 every morning, along the rim of the volcanic crater as the sun rose over the 6-mile wide lake, a view I was lucky enough to enjoy all morning through the dining room windows. I spent my off-hours backpacking with dear friends, sitting around campfires, soaking in hotsprings, driving hours off-mountain to buy beer and swim in nearby lakes.

Weirdly enough, given that I’d always defined myself by my academic success, I began to take pride in my new identity: a Decent Waitress vagabond-type who was most at home in the mountains and on the road. I took it back to college that fall, and lived off the tips I’d made that summer for the academic year. The following June, Crater Lake alum Erin and I struck out for Mt. Rainier National Park, where fellow Paradise Lodge Dining Room servers quickly pigeonholed us as the “hippie waitresses.” We did two summers slinging food on the mountain, got ourselves written up a few times for insubordinance, began to shy away from the hippie label (it is ahistorical after all), embarked on a few wild early-20s adventures, and finished our respective BA degrees.

Eyeing the job market, we dug out our aprons again.
Erin waited her way from Eugene to Philly to the Oregon Coast. I schlepped my basket of aprons around the PNW, slinging Thai, Italian, and Mediterranean food. Eyed the GRE and a stack of graduate school applications uneasily for a few years, then finally dove in and scored a 2-year fellowship to study history at Utah State University.

As I neared the completion of my degree, I realized I’d had enough of academia, for the time being, and opted not to apply to PhD programs. I returned to the northwest, found a dear old house in a hilltop neighborhood with Ryan, who still had a year of graduate school in front of him, and pulled out my aprons again. Logged many hours as a cocktail waitress in a bar with some good beers and some good people and some wretched drunks. Made enough money to keep us above the water, help finance a month for us to backpack around Guatemala, and see us through the following summer. At which time: I gave notice without regrets, and we set out on a month-long road trip around the western states.

Returning to Seattle that fall, Ryan offered to support us financially for a year, so I could finish overhauling and expanding my master’s thesis into a book-length manuscript. When money became too tight in the spring, I found a waitressing job in a matter of days, at a solid local establishment with good product, a conscientious business model, and a stellar crew. I walk to work; I clear 20 to 50 dollars an hour, depending on business, I have a highly flexible schedule, and plenty of time to write (if I practice some discipline).

I’ve met some of my dearest friends via “the business.” One of them, Chrysta, would eventually introduce me to Ryan. A vivacious and extraordinary clothing and fashion designer, she’s been supporting her art with her aprons for years; while she’s very close to putting the aprons away for good, as Erin has, she embodies a reality I’ve encountered time and again in the restaurant industry. Your server isn’t “just a waiter”—there’s an excellent chance he’s an accomplished painter [T.S. Pew], a singular musician [Michael, Ebon!], or she’s a stunning photographer [Gretchen], or writer or gifted journalist [Erin]. Sara waited her way into the Art Institute: now she’s an associate at a successful Seattle design firm. Your server may well be a mom supporting her children, or a traveler who’s served food in 6 countries and 22 states who’d just as soon see the sun set over a new landscape a few times a year.

Servers witness moments most people miss. 5 years ago, I walked up to a table set for two where a single, middle-aged woman was sitting. There was an envelope on both plates, and a bouquet wrapped in paper in the center of the table. “Is it a special night?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied, “its my anniversary.” I asked her if I could bring her a glass of wine while she waited for her husband to arrive. She told me she would take the wine, but that he wouldn’t be coming; he’d died the week before, and she was honoring the reservation they had made. I remember every detail. The almost undetectable quiver in her voice. The two glasses of Ravenswood Red Zinfandel. The corner table she sat at, facing the door. The Blackened Salmon Caeser. I told the chef her story, and he comped her meal. When I told her there was no bill, she clasped my hands in hers, with tears in her eyes, and said “God Bless you.” She couldn’t have been more than 45. They had two daughters, she told me.

One woman took an interest in my background as I waited on her, and when I told her quietly I was quitting soon to go back to school, she tucked a fifty into my hand. When I cleared the table, there was a note scrawled on a napkin. “enjoy your new life.”

I’ve reached through raw, painful marital disputes to refill water glasses, and seen parents smack and shake their children when they thought no one was looking. I overheard a tiny woman wearing too many diamonds tell her friends that her husband upped her allowance five thousand dollars that month, since she’d dropped her weight to 115 pounds. I’ve watched teenage girls excuse themselves to the bathroom for longer than necessary and return to the table furtively wiping their mouths. I’ve scanned the faces of their parents for some sign of concern, and found none. I’ve heard rednecks joke about someone killing Obama while clearing their plates, and been groped by business-types while my hands were full of empty glassware.
I’ve walked home after a 5 hour shift with enough cash for the carpayment, wrangled weeks off in mere moments, and served hundreds of birthday desserts and thousands of really lovely meals.

Its a mixed bag. And while I am striving to create a career for myself based on writing, rather than serving, I do not regret a moment of my ongoing overeducated waitressing career.

Last winter, an exceptional journalist named Kathy Helms passed along a gem that someone passed on to her years ago.

“All good comes to them that waitress”

I’ve tucked it into that metaphorical pocket along with those college degrees.
So much good has already come my way, and the horizon is filled with unfolding stories.

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Filed under aprons, artists, Crater Lake, designers, Education, Mt. Rainier National Park, musicians, photographers, Waitress