Reading Lessons and A Note About Gratitude

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity–beginning with a serious career adjustment. I “hit the streets” in Midtown as a sales rep for a food distribution company, and the learning curve has been massive.  Serious highs, and serious lows.  I joined our local pool board just in time for the chaos of summer and started a boxing class at the gym around the corner.  I signed up to teach “Julie’s Can and Jam” classes at a local co-op, where I’ll teach 21 and up classes on making homemade jam and the canning process.  At the same co-op, I’m re-launching some new branding for my detergent line and attempting to improve my image and marketing.  Last, but certainly not the least, I began teaching reading classes for the elderly, two nights a week.

I get overwhelmed sometimes, and then anxious about daily to-do lists left undone and the tasks of the week that I’m not sure I’m completing with the attention they deserve.  I dream about sending an order of groceries to the wrong food truck, and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about whether or not I sent the correct allergen-free pan spray to a particular account.  I stress about not knowing enough, not working hard enough or long enough, and not knowing how to ask the questions that make sense in my head.  And then I met a few people with amazing attitudes and a seriously challenging situation in life.

My “students” for evening reading classes are incredible, resilient people, who at the ages of 70-85 are looking to better themselves, and learn to read.  Their reading levels vary from Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and are quick to set goals about their future.  “Ella” told me that she throws away all her mail because she can’t read it anyway, so what’s the point? Tomorrow we’ll begin reading her mail together and making sense of it. “Wallace” told me that he’s never been read to before, and can only drive within a mile radius because he’s memorized all the street signs…beyond that mile, he wouldn’t be able to read the signs and get back home.  “Nellie” cried tonight when I read her a Bible story, because the only time she’s been read to is over the pulpit at church, and when I told her that she’d be able to write a thank you note by the end of summer, she wept openly and told me she never imagined she’d be able to master such a task.  Talk about a reality check–and a serious dose of gratitude.  I’m a month in, and they do their homework, get excited about evening class, and thank me profusely at the end, in spite of the fact that they have harder lives than I’ve ever even read about.

I know that I’m a blend of blessed and fortunate, and as stretched as I feel these days, I’m super thankful for my new batch of students who have already taught me much more about life than I’ll ever teach them about reading.  I also love that my role of teacher will never really be over.

My First Food Show–“Italian Heritage”

I worked my first food show last weekend, and while I was pretty anxious about flying to Toledo, working on a weekend with people I’d never met, and finally meeting my boss and co-workers, it was a fantastic weekend. It was overwhelming, for sure, as most people I met have worked in the food industry forever, and I have so little experience to offer. I kept thinking about my former life as a teacher and how different this all feels, and quickly realized that as long as I can talk to new people and have a sense of personality (and humor) I’d fit in just fine.

It was quite an undertaking—I rep 22 brands of product, and this particular show had a booth for every single brand, offering a variety of their products in whole form and of course, bites to taste. The set was already built when I arrived, under the theme of “Italian Heritage” so each booth was like a little café with a window and fabric-covered awning. We arranged bottles of wine and photos of the Sofo Family in the front, and attempted a fall-themed décor elsewhere, as fall clearly visited Ohio long before the Georgia heat gives up on us for the season.

We set up all day Saturday, Sunday morning, and by 2pm, we were ready to open our doors and push some product. I felt like I had a “I’M NEW!” badge on my shirt, as I tried to talk to customers about the products at my particular booth (Wayne Farms Chicken), and quickly felt confident when the third customer logged in to our portable booth computers and bought 18 cases of chicken fajita. That was followed by case counts more like 80 and even one of 150. I decided to pretend like this was my specialty, and soon found that it worked out quite nicely for everyone involved. After about 4 hours, I started to feel a bit redundant in what I was telling customers about the fried wing versus the ovenable, and then realized it’s no different than teaching the same lesson 7 times in one day.

My favorite moment was when a SOFO salesman from Lima, OH came to my booth with a serious crew of customers to taste the chicken fajita that was on special. They tasted the product, commented to each other that it was too salty and appeared ready to move on. I had flashbacks of making chicken-bacon-cheddar wraps the night before and sent them to a few booths down to try the product in a wrap application.

They walked down, found that the chicken wraps were gone (duh, they were delicious) and continued on down the aisle, dismissing our chicken and looking for the next item to sample. I knew if I could just get them to taste an application with our product, they’d buy it.

I abandoned my station, and went on a hunt for the ingredients I needed to re-create a wrap. I snatched a wrap from the original station, and then just went booth-to-booth, “borrowing” ingredients until I had something similar to what I had made the night before. I hunted down the pack of men, got them to try my creation—and long story short, they not only bought the chicken fajita, (times five stores) but we got all their chicken wing business, too. I know it sounds silly—it’s just chicken– but that was a win for me; as a girl who has only ever taught English, little old me got a chain account to switch two major products to ours.

The weekend was exhausting, and my feet looked like anemic sausages by late Sunday night, but it was an incredible experience, and I found myself feeling so invigorated by the people I met, the food we cooked, and the potential of what may come next with this industry.

In a nut shell, the weekend was one of those moments in life when I felt stretched, out of my comfort zone, and terrified that I was going to screw up, say the wrong thing, or make food that tasted terrible. The reality is, the moments that terrify me most are the ones that provide the most growth, and the hindsight is terribly satisfying.

I only wish Poppi were here to listen, laugh, and give me perspective, but telling Nicholas, Mom, and my sister, Amber, felt pretty good, too.

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I wish I had more photos, but it was such a blur of excitement and tasks, I didn’t even think about taking more pics until it was torn down!