V. A. P.

V.A.P     (Volunteerism Always Pays)

I can’t take credit for the title as, long ago, it was a program Wal*Mart offered.  If you were to put in 40 hours at a qualified 501(c)(3) corporation, Wal*Mart would present them a check for $200.   I had used it twice beginning in 2003 and 2004 for the Milwaukee County Historical Society when I staffed the reception desk and pay desk at the craft fair as well as once for the Milwaukee Public Museum when I was a docent in the Pioneer House (now closed due to lack of fire code renovations).

My desire to volunteer started in my childhood years.  I wasn’t the kind to sell lemonade or help out at garage sales.  Although we did organize a quick car wash one time so that we could get some money for the soda machine at the Laundromat.  Maybe I was in 4th or 5th grade at the time.  The Greenfield Library had a summer reading program for young children.  They were looking for kids to help run special events.  I rode my bike up to the library, so proud, because first I was going alone…. I knew the way (straight out my back patio and upForest Home Avenue), and I was going to be in the library when it was closed; before anyone else was coming in.  How exciting and special.  My job was to count the number of people that came in for the event.  I was given some type of clicker thing and then I had to hand out coloring book pages to the kids when they were all seated. 

When I interned at the White House we were to complete two voluteer outings.  I chose to help out at a food kitchen for the homeless.  I loved it becaue I had food service expeience as a prep cook so I was really useful to them.  It made me feel good to be a favorite temporary employee to the regular workers.  To get into the story of how I lost my watch in a pot of raw fish is too long to get into now.  The 2nd job I took was to help the local USO chapter stuff care packages for the soldiers.  We had huge assembly lines and each person had one item to put into a pouch.  Ours was bathroom items.  I want to do more with the USO, but in Milwaukee they don’t have extensive weekend hours except for special events. 

I love to volunteer and hopefully for all the right reasons.  I do like to help people, and that feels good.  However, I also approach volunteering from another perspective.  It’s a chance to try a job that you might not be very good at, but want to do, thus you couldn’t make a living at it.  I want to make a difference (a little recognition is nice) and see the results.

Now that I’m a college graduate, but not looking to change careers just yet, I figured the best way to put my degree to work would be to find some type of vocation in my chosen field.  History is a hard field to break into unless you also have the credentials to teach or run a museum.  The importance of networking was always compelled by college instructors, as without it, we were never going to get anywhere.  So I began to ask around City Hall if anyone knew of any place looking for help. I wasn’t getting a response…. Not even from the Office of Historic Preservation.  I really really wanted the position offered at the Milwaukee Public Library. They needed volunteers for archiving newspaper clippings.  I KNOW it was a job that I could do, but they wouldn’t let me help because “it would take years and years of working before you could work alone the weekends”.  Not even with the good word from the City Archivist could I get it.   I won’t give up hope though. 

I started searching online to find volunteer opportunities.  It is also a tiring process because sometimes the list is so large that it is almost impossible to figure out where you want to go and what you will do when you get there. WashingtonCountyhad a nice set up where you could select your interests.  It just happened that everything I wanted to do was an hour drive north west.  I picked out a few jobs: Sewer (storm drain) stenciling, Building the Ice Age Trail, farm work.  Anyone who has spent any length of time with me has at some time heard me go on and on about how I’ve always wanted to be a farmer and how much I love cows and animals so I really hoped that this would work out for me, but I didn’t want to limit myself. 

I have the gear to stencil the environmental messages on the storm drains, but haven’t yet begun that project.  I don’t think it is organized very well.  They didn’t really give me a set location to go to, and I’m afraid that I’ll get arrested for graffiti or hit by a car.  Besides that the weather is getting too cold for it.  I need a partner for this one.

I have one last opportunity this year to help construct a new vein of the Ice Age trail.  I didn’t help last time because I had a bridal shower to go to. Here we would do a lot of brush clearing, etc to carve out a path. 

Next I went to look around one farm called Blue Lotus.  To call it a farm is an abstract use of the term.  Unless because it had a barn it qualifies, but it didn’t provide a home to any animals nor did they grow anything.  It was more of a nature retreat place for the cognitively challenged, at risk youth, seniors, etc.  The volunteers provide a service similar to land custodian to be there in case any guest needed assistance to make sure everything was running smoothly.  It had a nice man made lake, a nature trail, an in ground pool, recreation center and of course the barn.  The barn was really neat, but then I’m a push over for any kind of barn.  It was actually partitioned off into 3 sections.  I decided that this just wasn’t the place for me to work.  I’m not always good with people, which is why I wanted to be with the animals and plants. 

The second farm is where I ended up and the reason why now I call myself a weekend farmer.  This is an organic farm called Wellspring and is run solely by 2 women- one in her late 50s and the other my age- and any volunteers they can get.  I was really really nervous because of my lack of experience. I stressed that I grew up in an apartment and had never even mowed grass before, but they didn’t care.   Libby, the lady my age was super nice and made me feel comfortable.  It’s my nature not to be very open or to simply shrink and shy away from participating in many things.  Maybe I’m growing up or something, but I just kept talking almost non stop.  I wonder if that was the secret that I was missing all these years.  Besides talking I did do a lot of working.


My very first day on the farm I was to start clearing the growth of brush and weeds from under the apple trees.  I had a quick introduction to how to use the grim reaper type scythe  and then I was left alone to do it.  It was really hot that first day.  The leaves on the trees didn’t do much to shade me from the noon sun.  I’m not a celestial worshiper and hate being outside in the heat, but I didn’t let it deter me.  I tried to turn it into a positive and told myself it was healthy for me to get Vitamin D from the sun and to be sweating was to lose weight.  I stopped a few times to cool down when I was feeling queasy (and to take these pictures).  In about an hour’s time I had one side of the orchard cleared out.  They weren’t expecting me to do so much.  What is nice is that they do provide a variety of things to do.  Next I helped Libby pick up apples that had fallen from the trees on a different side of the farm.  It was shadier and slow paced, offering more time for conversation as we sorted the rotten apples into a separate bucket from the good ones. 

I decided to ask Libby the one thing that I had always wondered- does she find people like me crazy who want to do this kind of work for free?  I don’t recall getting a concrete yes or no answer from her, but she did indicate that she thought everyone should have the opportunity to spend time, if not on a farm, then in nature because it was good for the soul.  Some people preferred to help the beauty of nature (that’s me) while others simply use it for pleasure.  Then we talked about how she had told her family that she wanted to become a career volunteer.  I got the feeling she wasn’t making more than minimum wage on the farm from the owner. So halfway though this story I can tell you that I’m not crazy for wanting to volunteer my time.

We took the over ripe apples to the chicken coop, and that’s where I got acquainted with Floppy.  Floppy is a chicken who is lucky enough to have the only name in the flock and whose crown no longer stands up.  I held Floppy for a while before going back to work, and thankfully she didn’t squirm away nor peck my face as she kept getting closer and closer.  The reflection in my sunglasses must have intrigued her.

Next we took some pruning sheers and loppers to the back end of the farm.  A natural path needed to be cut back and cleared some so that it could be used this fall for a Hayride during the harvest fest.  It wasn’t too strenuous as we were just cutting branches to make sure they wouldn’t whack any guest in the face that was riding on the wagon.


My first 4 hours went by really fast.  As a reward for my work I was sent along my way with an arm load of produce.  I had enough apples for me to make an apple coffee cake and multi colored tomatoes which I used in a seasonal pasta salad.

The next week Libby was gone for the day, but Mary Ann had several things lined up.  I worked 6 hours and didn’t get much of a break.  The one reprieve I had was from the sun.  There was a steady rain that morning so I sat on the porch with a crate of grapes.  I pulled them off the stems and then helped make grape juice.

The hard work for the day would be clearing out around their 4 compost piles.  They were becoming too overgrown to access.  Beyond, not having done this kind of work before, I’m also not familiar with the physical appearance of the vegetables so I’m always afraid to chop anything down for fear that it is the wrong thing.  Libby seemed to be nonchalant about it because it’ll just grow back next year.  I also didn’t know the etiquette of food sprouting from a compost pile such as the gourds and beans I came upon.  After, that was done; Mary Ann helped me to grab some hay to build new walls around the piles.  It reminded me of Big Bird’s nest on Sesame Street. 


Then it was back to the orchard for more apple picking before my day would end.  This time I was sent home with a container full of cream of bean soup. 

I haven’t been back a 3rd time yet because my calendar has been busy, but I told them as long as they wanted me to come back I would.  I still have that feeling inside that I’m not doing a good job and that they are just saying it to be nice.  I’m really good when someone points and says do this and that, and I try to take the initiative to do it competently with a minuscule amount of questions, but I’m still afraid that I’m doing it wrong.







It’s My Life, and I’m Taking Over Now

Well I haven’t written anything on my blog in quite some time and that’s not exactly how I had hoped this would go, but oh well.  Life happens.  Like when you go on vacation and are so anxious to transmit back home all the wonderful things that are happening in an exciting travel blog! But the internet reception is spotty on the computer and non existent on the phone.  So that opportunity passed by, but hopefully I can post some pictures and summarize some events from my vacation in the next week or so.  This one, also a timely topic, hopefully hasn’t passed too far into the “who cares anymore.”    

In the meantime, I have done a little life re-arrangement that I feel could use some explanation or at least closure.  After 15 years of being a Wal*Mart employee….. I quit.  A lot of people pass it off as being an easy decision, long overdue or just plain no big deal.  But in reality, when you break it down, I have spent just under half of my life there.  I certainly wouldn’t refer it to a second home, but as a regular location in my life routine it became familiar and comfortable, part of what I do and would be a void when it wasn’t there anymore.    

Life at Wal*Mart hasn’t always been good and currently it was at a really really low point.  Even before my approved leave of absence this summer, I had had more than what I could tolerate of the store and everything associated with it.  I felt under appreciated, used, fearful of my job, and did not put forth the effort capable from the type of employee that I knew I was.  I became more easily agitated with less patience for “little things.” I had an expectation of how things should go and this wasn’t happening.  I would come home from work angry and feeling sick every week.  I would dread going to Wal*mart and want to pop anyone in the face who said, “Thank God it’s Friday; I’m so ready for the weekend!”  I’ve never had that feeling of TGIF because ever since I was 18 years old I have spent 95% of my weekends working at Wal*Mart.  (Someone pointed out that I couldn’t have spent EVERY weekend at Wal*mart since I was out of town for my internship for 3 months so I feel the need to clarify). 

People assumed that once I graduated college that it would be an automatic that I would leave Wal*mart, as if it were paying my bills.  At 16 hours a week, it wasn’t paying any bills except maybe gas for the truck.  Graduation did play a big part in my decision.  Finally, I didn’t have to stress about homework deadlines or run to the library after work til all hours of the night to work on projects.  I felt a sort of freedom and I wanted to break away for good, but next I picked up another internship at the Braille Library doing transcription work.  That didn’t go as well as I had planned.  I didn’t like to feel that I was failing at something, but the truth is, I was.  It was during this time, that I realized I didn’t want to go back to Wal*mart and began tossing around the idea of quitting.  I wanted to start doing what I wanted to do.  This was further confirmed during my most awesome vacation. 

Despite all my gripes and irritation, I was still unsure up to the point of where even when I was dialing the phone to call the personnel office, whether I was making the right decision.  I wasn’t trying to be talked out of it, but I wanted one more chance to run it past someone who might be able to change my mind.  That didn’t happen though.  Everything was taken care of over the phone.  I was sitting at my desk at my full time job and after sending three text messages regarding what I had done.  I wanted to cry and almost started until co-workers started to trickle into my work space with other things to do besides sit at my desk and cry.  Several times, thinking about it, I would tear up.

Two days later when my mom came home from work she told me something that really made me cry.  She had asked my department manager if he was aware that I wasn’t coming back.  He said he knew, and made some very kind remarks.  I strived for and I felt I had something to prove in my department.  So to hear that from my manager meant so much.  I cried and cried and cried (alone in bed where no one could see) that night (and that wasn’t even enough!) because in my mind, I wasn’t working for Wal*Mart- I was working for him and that’s all that mattered.

I started to do some deep thinking because I knew it had to be more than just me being an emotional girl, and I feared that if I was that upset, I probably didn’t make the right choice.  I tried talking it out so much and couldn’t really put into words how I felt.  I came up with something that I feel could be possible explanation.  It’s not easy to self-analyze yourself, (but it sure is cheaper).  Friends and co-workers would say that I quit because of the lack of help in the store and the extra pressure associated with it.  I think if I had been confiding in Frasier Crane instead of a friend and co-woker, this is the resolution we would have come to.  To make it easier, I’ve written it up as a dialogue.

Frasier: Why do you think it bothers you so much that you quit your job?

M.E.: The store has changed so much and wasn’t being run like it used to.  They don’t schedule enough people to help customers and stock shelves.  All the work is heaped on a few people.   But despite that, I won’t deny that I liked what I did at work.  The people and things I was surrounded with.

Frasier: Why do you mention the “things” you were around?  Do you consider yourself a material person?

M.E.: No, I mean I really liked the department I was in.

Frasier: Why did you like it or what was it about it that you liked so much?

M.E.: It was mainly camping and hunting and outdoor accessories.

Frasier: I see.  So you are a lover of the outdoors, much like my dad

M.E.: Yea and my dad too.  He loved hunting and fishing. 

Frasier: So naturally, because your dad did, you do as well?

M.E.: I guess so. 

Frasier: Do you do a lot of hunting and fishing yourself?

M.E.: Not as much as I’d like to.  I’m always working weekends so I don’t get the chance to.  I try to go camping at least once a year.

Frasier: Did you and your dad spend a lot of time doing those things during your childhood?

M.E.: We would go fishing when I was little or go up to my grandpa’s cabin.  I miss that.  Once my parents divorced I started working two jobs….. three sometimes when I was with the Brewers.  And then I also started going to school as well so there wasn’t much time for any recreation or anything really.  I’ve tried, but I get so busy.

Frasier:  So to compensate for that you surrounded yourself with the things that brought back those memories to you.  For instance a fishing lure or compass, you could hold that item and be transported back to happier times. 

M.E.: I never thought about it that way.

Frasier:  Let me tell you what I think.  I think the reason that you are having trouble separating from Wal*Mart now is because it brings to the surface feelings of your father being absent from your life.  So you filled that void with your job at Wal*Mart and now that is also being taken away, albeit by your choice.  In a way it’s almost like going through another divorce.  I know it sounds strange to think you are divorcing department store merchandise, but maybe a better analogy would be a person on a diet giving up comfort food.  Only your comfort food was sporting goods equipment.

M.E.: Do you really think that’s it?

Frasier: I do.  I’m sure there are other mitigating factors involved such as maybe not seeing as many as your friends as before.  I think as time goes on, and you find there is so much more out there waiting for you to do, your separation will become easier for you.

M.E.: Thanks, Frasier.

Frasier: You’re welcome. 

I have only been back to Wal*Mart 2 maybe 3 times since then.  I feel too embarrassed to go back inside.  I don’t want to see anyone because I feel uncomfortable. It’s not like I was fired; I quit.  I feel bad because I did sort of do it the coward’s way by not facing management and just calling in my resignation over the phone.  I’ve also angered and hurt some co-workers.   I haven’t seen Dave since I left and I know he’s mad at me.  There are a lot of people I’ll miss there. 

There is an up side to this story, but it will have to be saved for a future posting.  “What I Am Doing to Occupy My Free Time on the Weekends”  Stay Tuned….


Basement Archives- Part 1

I haven’t quite lived in my new home for a year yet, and still I have a basement full of archival material.  To me, it’s easier to sort through “archival material” instead telling myself that I have to unpack boxes of   junk that I haven’t looked at in years, and probably didn’t remember I had.  So far I’ve recovered several drawings I had done during a beginners program, my teenage journals, numerous cross-stitch kits that have barely enough thread on them to even bring recognition to the pattern, old bills, a half a box of trinkets, school work, loose photographs, rocks from places I’ve been to…. and the list goes on and on. I would welcome any suggestions in the comment section below of what I can do to hold all my vacation destination souvenirs such as brochures, postcards, patches and tickets, etc. I hate to just keep them loose in a bag. 

One big problem I have is papers so I bought a filing cabinet.  I’m told at work that I have great organizational skills and everyone comes to me when they need to find something.  I thought I’d try to recreate that at home, and it’s not quite that easy so far.  I don’t usually file newspapers at work.  In fact, I’ve had to start a box just for over-sized papers that don’t fit into a filing cabinet.  

While doing a quick sort of papers, I came across a group, folded in half, that actually made me cover my mouth and gasp.  It’s something that I had absolutely, completely forgot about.  Yet, despite the nature of these items, (as you see below) they actually are quite pleasant memories.  Even when life wasn’t always going in positive directions, Wal*Mart was at one time fun place to be.

One evening shift I was working, I had discovered this signed taped to a pole in the middle of the aisle in the Toy Department.  Initially mortified as I snatched it down before anyone could see it, I realized in doing so that just like pulling gray hairs, when one sign came down, another one popped up. 

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The original tape is still on them, but there’s no date on these documents.  I estimate them to be circa 2004 based on Bob Uecker’s comment.  Despite their mean nature, they actually put me in a better mood back then, as they did this evening when I rediscovered them.  They served their purpose to bring a smile to my face so I was correct in saving them for future use.  I stopped my rummaging through boxes, and sat and recalled a bunch of memories of my Wal*Mart associates, even thought the memories aren’t all on paper, like this.  Everyone’s moved on and nothing more remains for me except for the memories.  You can’t compare present day Wal*Mart to it, you can’t go back to it, and you can’t re-create it in the future so I am going to hold on to these papers as a keepsake.    

However, what file would I deposit these papers in?

Oh yea, “S” for smile.