We picked the destination over burgers at Red Robin over a year ago. We knew we wanted culture, beauty, adventure and decided South America was the place. It wasn't until February that we started seriously planning and the second Saturday in May that we all met in the JFK airport with our backpacks and and hiking boots. Our unplanned plan was this: fly into Buenos Aires and spend a few days with Christy's Argentinian med school friends, then rent a car and roadtrip south until we reached Ushuaia, the end of the world. We'd cross from the ocean to the Andes, see the countryside, the mountains, trek in Patagonia, and finally see the southernmost city in the world - part of the Antarctic region. At the end of the 2.5 weeks, we had traveled over 4000 miles south, and I had taken over 1700 photos (yes I am a hobbyist photographer). So for that reason, I'm going to split this trip by region.
This one is Buenos Aires: the two whirlwind days we spent admiring architecture, history, culture, colors, food. So many street market sweets to try, and fresh empanadas or milanesas every place you look. Juan & Marla, our hosts, invited their friends and family to an asada for us - a four hour evening affair of slow cooking every meat imaginable on an outdoor grill, with cheese-stuffed portobellos, bites of crusty bread, tossed mixed greens, glasses of Argentinian malbec. You know you are in South America when "dinner" starts at 9p and goes well past midnight, but I will say the meat was likely the most delicious I've ever had and the sense of family was warm and enveloping. Why do we rush through life when the things we value - family, community, and I'll add faith - are right around us? This country may have it figured out.
Earlier in the year, a few God-orchestrated conversations led me to buy tickets to Jamaica. There was a Harvest Call trip scheduled for the beginning of May; which, while it wasn't the best time for me to be away from work, was the type of work I should and would like to be doing. So I went.
And it was like balm for my heart. The conversation, the purpose, the life-changing work that is going on there, the connections and reconnections - it had been almost four years since my last trip, the possibilities. Our group was especially neat. God brought the group together from diverse backgrounds - ages - hometowns - purposes, yet linked our hearts with a common interest. It was all brothers, and I brought the age range down a good decade, but we had several in their 30s and more in their 60s. After an airport layover and three hour bumpy van ride, we were sharing stories and hearts and good-natured teasing.
I won't write about all of the work going on, but if you are interested in reading more: https://www.deafcancoffee.com/. Deaf Can Coffee is a social enterprise with the mission of affirming the identity and talents of deaf individuals as part of the larger community. It was inspiring to hear Carlyle share the story of how the boys Bible study group at CCCD took a trip to visit a deaf coffee farmer and then decided to try roasting their own coffee, to show that they can - can work, can achieve, can communicate, can love, can live ... they have no lack. Carlyle went through the CCCD program and now is the manager at Deaf Can Coffee, working with Blake & Tashi Widmer to run the business. The coffee venture is a not-for-profit founded as an outreach of Harvest Call Jamaica.
View of the Jamaican Deaf Village - within steps of here are the first coffee plants that will later provide beans for Deaf Can Coffee.
Beautiful & delicious coffee drinks made at Deaf Can Coffee.
Learning about the roasting process, which is much more involved than you would think.
And then all too soon, I was flying back to the States. But with a broadened perspective and a more settled role to play with this work. There were certainly parts of my soul wrestling as I boarded the plane home, but I knew that for this stage in my life, it was the right thing. I've made commitments that I want to keep, and every day am learning lessons that I know God is setting aside for the future path I will walk. So until then, I will just trust. And return home.
It has been a really special Easter this year. The weight of the sacrifice and the immeasurable value of God's grace have hit me this year unlike they ever have before. I may have fallen prey to thinking that I don't need God's help all that often, that I have a enough strong faith that will get me through anything. And then this year.
Within the first three weeks at the plant, my fellow supervisors took bets on when I would "break". I was too positive, too clean to last. At some point, they believed, it would all get to me and I would begin swearing and going home to drink. I laughed it off and said they didn't know me, that I would walk out of here in a year without having cracked. Put my name on the wall, I joked, I'm going to do it. Inwardly, I didn't think it would be that hard - I know who I am, and this environment won't change that.
Eight months in and it is ONLY by God's grace that I have upheld that. I have never felt more humbled. It's a battle to be exposed to the language and conversation but not let it in, and often I have to tell myself to take a breath and then answer. For me, language is a nonnegotiable, and pretty cut-and-dry: it is easy for others to see how I'm doing. But what does it mean to "break"? This was the comment that put me most on the defensive. No, I WILL not break, I will not lose the optimism and focus, integrity and will to achieve that I brought here. But these last few months have forced me to reevaluate. Some days I am holding on to my motivation by shreds. And though others may not see, I have been broken, broken to realize that it is only God holding me up. There is no "intrinsic motivation", no "career goals" at play, it is all grace and the belief that God has me here learning lessons for a future only He knows. And wow. Where in the world would I be without Him?! His power is awesome. We were having storms on Good Friday, and during evening services lightning and thunder punctuated each thought. I had goosebumps as it was so evident God was in the room with us. And despite His tremendous power, He loves US and gives us constant help.
A month ago, one of the older maintenance men told me he is impressed with the way I carry myself and speak to people around here. "You a church-going girl?" he asked me. "I could tell." I think our lives should make it obvious, I said. He said It's nice to see others with that perspective. Another operator always tells me he is "on his way to a better day". There aren't many of us, but we can recognize each other in the fight and keep headed on, smiling and looking to Jesus - confident that He is with us each step of the day.
1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Tori and the Rassis visiting me at the plant - showing these guys the ice cream life!
(Quinton was a little unsure of me in my hard hat. Btw, he can now say my name ... "Yena", he calls me)
Because I'm gearing up for a trip to Argentina, I have been taking every opportunity to get outside. And it has been the best month and a half of exploring I've had yet. Yes, work has probably been the toughest ever but I've filled my weekend hours with new places, God + me time, strengthening friendships, my face toward the sunshine, and lots of miles.
At the beginning of April I went to Buford Mountain Conservation Area to break in my hiking boots. For six hours I only saw 8 people. It was my first extended hike alone (don't worry, I told people where I was going) and it was a great experience. Don't get me wrong, I love hiking with people but in this remote part of Missouri and on my off-sleep-schedule it can be hard to make work. I had a Saturday free and my heart set on this hike, so I made it happen. Learned a lot of things. God walks with us and when we feel like giving up, He is there with the help we need. There is only one path, and it is narrow, and not always the easiest route. But stray even a little bit and you will not make it home. Much of our walk needs to be just trusting Him that this is the way. Then at times He gives us a clear marker that yes, this is the trail or to turn this way. Aren't we so glad for those moments?! Hold to those, you will doubt later. Sometimes it is painful. Tiring. But the strength it builds and the beauty we get to enjoy and the communion with God make it worth it. I had blisters and sore muscles for a week and didn't even mind ... great reminders of those miles on the mountain and the gorgeous sunset drive back downstate.
I've broken out the roller blades and tried some trails near church, explored a quiet lake in Chaffee that the maintenance men at work told me about, hiked Castlewood State Park with Tori &Hannah, rented paddleboards one Sunday after church with Hannah. Summer is coming. Paddleboarding in April is something I never would have thought possible! Bought a bike rack and took my bike up to the Katy Trail where Tiera and I spent an 80 degree day biking west. Fifty miles wasn't the target I was shooting for but I may have underestimated the effect of gravel and a hard bike seat... :) That day was wonderful, stopping for sodas or BBQ sandwiches or to enjoy some reprieve under the trees. And of course, gab time with my dear sis now that we aren't a plane ride apart.
I think I underestimate the worth of endorphins, and Vitamin D (night shift teaching me this), and to some extent, the power of meditation. Just being with God. Listening. Hearing Him. Sharing. All the good things that come with a little outside time.
I feel like I've aged years since I've been here. The information I am privy to, and the decisions I need to make, are beyond what I imagined. Often I am baffled that a place like this exists. This is real life for many. I have someone who has been living out of a car for the past month. Another who's children were involved in a high speed police chase and now taken into custody. I know who is pregnant and trying to hide it because they need to work. Two weeks ago, my line's 24-year-old mechanic died in a tornado while everyone at the plant sheltered in place.
And then the business changes, decisions that I know are coming in the next month, two, and six that will impact lives. The choices I must make to keep my lines competitive and performing. Knowing that the words that come of out my mouth, the suggestions I bring forward, the behavior corrections I give, the way I run shift meetings ... they all impact the floor more than a little. It is a very public position.
It is hard not to take it all home with me. I cried for days after the tornado. It is hard not to wonder why things happen. In a very rough environment, he was about the only guy who didn't use foul language, one person I didn't have to be on edge with, knew I wouldn't be surprised with inappropriate comments or jokes. But I can feel callouses building on my heart. I cannot always accommodate personal situations. I try, and sometimes it feels to my detriment that I want to be able to solve people's problems. I can't. It's a lesson that hurts to learn, but I cannot solve all the problems. Only He can.
Flying in over St. Louis last Friday night
Encouragement I've found recently from these songs ...
"And this is harder than we dreamed, but I believe that's what the promise is for." Yes. Life is hard. But our promise to God, and more importantly, His commitment to us, is stronger than any adversity. It will keep us bound with Him despite winds pulling us in every other direction.
"The stones inside your hand might be small ... but watch the giants fall." Remember that giants mean nothing with God. He can win through the underdog. Just watch Him fight for you.
"If unknown roads lead away from home, give me loving arms, away from harm." God's arms surround me and will keep me safe, no matter where I am.
The first weekend of February Lydi came to visit and a whole weekend of just the girls couldn't have come at a better time. We met Saturday morning at the Nashville airport and immediately went to a busy brunch place for crepes, coffee, and a hour of catching up on life. Then we "planned" our unplanned day of exploring Nashville. First to step inside the Ryman, an old-church-converted-performance-venue, then to wander Nashville's main street and boot shops and candy stores. The day was brisk but blue and after a few hours of exploring, we rented bikes and did a few miles along the waterfront trail leading out and around the side of Nashville.
Could not have asked for better weather or a better friend to spend it with. There is something about a friend you share so much history with, you have a million memories of invites and singings and sleepovers and dress up nights, you can reminisce about the 'old days' and how things used to be, you can talk about the years it has been since you repented two weeks apart and how life has changed since then.
the beautiful Ryman Auditorium
the perfect day for bike share
the highly recommended (and delish)... HattieB's hot chicken
Sunday morning we drove to St. Louis for church and afterwards went out for gourmet burgers & homemade shakes with Tori and Hannah. And then we were down to just Monday morning, which came foggy and gray. We went out for a late brunch and then walked the Arch before heading to the airport for her flight out and my drive south to the plant.
Learning a lot these days at work, tough lessons about people and me and life. So.. very thankful for great friends who become the bright spot in my long weeks! Also, given my environment I could always use more girl talk :)
a foggy Monday in St. Louis
banana + walnut french toast + chai
last shot before the airport
Last weekend Allison and Lauren came to visit and even though it was cold, we saw the city and did a lot. We met downtown at the Arch though couldn't go to the top since the tram is down until March.
Then skating at Forest Park ... I haven't been ice skating in ages but it was a blast and very festive. The rink had an outdoor fire pit and Christmas lights and we skated late afternoon until the sun went down.
After dinner on The Hill, we went stopped at Ted Drewes ... which I am amazed is still open but apparently frozen custard is just as popular locally in 10 degree whether as in 60s.
It was delicious though. I had a mocha, hazlenut, and caramel blend and as long as you eat it inside your warm car it's well worth it.
The City Museum was also quite the experience. Next time we should probably plan ahead and wear stretchier skirts and forgo the heeled boots. Shockingly, the clothes made it out intact despite several underground tunnels and a ten story slide. This is where adults come to be kids and it is completely acceptable. Also, a serious workout.
God is watching out for me as always, giving me great friends who come visit and be the fellowship that I miss living where I do. Nothing but thankful.
The last weekend in October I had some dear friends come visit. There are those people you don't need a lot of time with and Adrienne is one of them... It took only one week in Haiti for me to know I've found a friend that will last a lifetime. Kim, Adrienne, Tori, and I did a bit of everything that weekend: ice cream tasting I brought home from the plant, Trail of Tears State Park, the Kimmswick Apple Butter Festival, BBQ out in St. Louis. And because we are such kindred spirits, Adrienne brought her Nikon along and we spent the day playing around with different shots and settings (disclosure: yes, some of the photos below are hers). That is almost my perfect day. It doesn't take much to make me happy.
Trail of Tears State Park
The apple butter gets stirred constantly for two days straight
These are a St. Louis staple and we had to try ... they are delicious but you do not want to know how many sticks of butter are in them
Homemade root beer
And now she is engaged and I am so glad we had the weekend together.
Fall has flown by and it amazes me that I've already lived here for three months. My life mostly revolves around the plant, where I spend 90% of my waking hours, but on the weekends I have fit in a few excursions to check out this new state with old and new friends.
My first weekend here was a food festival in St. Louis. Tori and I went to check it out and had a blast trying BBQ, fresh tacos, squeezed lemonade, and homemade ice cream from various tents. It was a fun welcome to Missouri culture as well - the accents, the food, the amount of denim, the friendliness, the funny antics at the cooking show booths. Tori and I are the two single sisters in St. Louis - she just moved here this summer - and I am glad to have her around to do things like this with.
A few weekends later, when I had started working nights and never saw the sun anymore, I texted her with plans for a Saturday hike. I was hoping for some fall colors and Vitamin D, and the five mile hike on the Lewis and Clark river trail was perfect. Just before the river, we came across an old tree with a sharpie hanging from it, hundreds of flat rocks underneath with messages and names on them. It was neat to see and of course we had to add our own to it.
One weekend I babysat the Rassi kids while their parents were away. Friday night we read lots of books and played games, Saturday I tried to get everyone to sleep in as late as possible but you know how that goes. We decided to get out of the house and go to the zoo .... looking back, that may have been a bit ambitious but it was a fun couple hours. Pushing the three of them in a double stroller was a great arm workout too! When Quinton napped that afternoon, Ashton, Morgan and I made fall-themed covered pretzels and I tried not to notice the amount of sprinkles and M&Ms going on the floor.
I went home for Thanksgiving ... a trip that only my sisters knew about. Shockingly we pulled it off and my parents were completely surprised. Tiera had been planning her trip home for months so it was great we could all be together. We went to Belknap hot springs for a cozy two days of flannel and card games and the old times with six of us in the suburban.
Another weekend, Tori came with me to Hobby Lobby to satisfy my urge to decorate for the holidays. I got some pine boughs and silver berries and later that night made a wreath for my front door. This is where I love Pinterest for getting budget-friendly ideas. A few candles, greens on the windowsill, and Christmas Pandora go a long way towards making these single-digit days feel warmer inside.
Let's see, what else. Work will always be busy. My lines have been trialing new products, getting new operators up to speed, and dealing with the challenges of running complex products on older machines. One night we were trying to run cookies&cream, but the oreo cookie mix was a little too thick to be pumped into the ice cream. I was on the production floor helping the operator and we blew three hoses, exploding oreo and ice cream twenty feet high - onto the ceiling, the neighboring freezer, all over the line, and even me. Even after wiping the ice cream from my safety glasses and the side of my face, I had oreo on my hard hat and splattered down the front of my uniform .. which of course the other operators and supervisors thought was great.
As the sole female supervisor, and new to town, and well, being me, I am constantly teased by my fellow supervisors. Anything I say or don't say provides great amusement to the group, who are always trying to prank my computer or make some crack about my age/lack of TV/Missouri hometown/food choices/etc. I am learning tons though ... about deer hunting and how it is possible to have a conversation about meat for two hours. (Don't worry, also learning a lot about people management, as in, how hard it is. And about manufacturing and this side of the supply chain.)
St. Louis church is great, Tori and I have served lunch twice and we just had our Christmas program. I'm getting used to the drive but going through my CDs rather quickly. I try to call family on at least one direction of the drive for something different, and I've learned the best places to stop along the way for gas and groceries. Every Sunday on my way home, I pass a billboard for a seed company that reads "the proof is in the harvest". It makes me think. About my life and the fruit I am showing. I can see how the new and uncomfortable situations I face are making me grow, teaching me lessons for today and the future; and I continue to pray for grace that I may be a bright and unchanging light to those around me this year.
Add a hard hat, hair net, radio, earplugs, and steel-toed shoes and this is me at work. Plus my uniforms actually say my name now. I'm still having fun but learning how tough manufacturing is.
Yes, this is like working in Willy Wonka's factory - magical, full of chocolate machines, churning ice cream, and fudge fountains - just add 700 workers and a whole lot of stainless steel machinery.
I am a production supervisor, meaning I am responsible for several production lines to ensure we hit attainment, which is the number of cases we have agreed with corporate to produce and which they have sold to our customers. I am specifically over the two Magnum bar lines, but in manufacturing lines quickly get blurred - I support the 7 other novelty ice cream lines as well, and help out with packaged ice cream and Talenti when they need it. My night crews need the most support right now so I am working nights, and my work "day" can consist of anything from doing quality inspections on lines ready for startup to providing performance feedback to my crews to solving operator arguments to planning how to reduce material waste. Add in some sarcasm and hilarity from my fellow supervisors, at least one event of ice cream mix going all over the floor, several hours of unplanned downtime, potentially the power going out, and a morning staff meeting to painfully recount all that happened on night shift and you have my day. It gets exciting real fast.
There are also some mishaps as I learn the machinery ... last night while doing a quality inspection, I needed to pull a strainer to inspect if any nuts from the ice cream mix had gotten caught. The seal was pretty tight so I couldn't crack the pipe to relieve any pressure, and my tug pulled the whole strainer out ... along with gallons and gallons of water all over me. Soaked uniforms are no fun, I was glad for supervisor access to a hidden dryer upstairs. (But better water than the dairy bath a maintenance guy got last week when the ice cream pump failed!)
The supervisors and leads I work with are a ton of fun too. I was warned my first week not to leave my computer unlocked, which is a hard task when you are called to the line for a sudden breakdown. I learned how serious to take this when a few days later I found a smirking reply from one of my coworkers to an email "I" had sent, detailing how cute I found him and that he should take me out sometime! The office found it hilarious as of course many of them were bcc'ed on the note. I've been hit with caution tape on my computer, paper stuffed in my shoes, new screensavers, altered auto-correct, and a few other emails sent from my account. With jokes, commiserating, and the occasional shared jar of caramel pieces from one of the ice cream lines, the hours usually pass pretty quick.
Here is my list so far of what Missouri is like.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.