If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that I’m currently working at the Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. What you may not know is that, in addition to running a small group, keeping this blog, offering writing feedback, and cooking the occasional dinner, I’m fulfilling a very specific staff role: the kitchen manager.
Other staff are filling specific roles as well: Cameron is the activities coordinator, Matt is responsible for dealing with chores, Blake is directing, and Dev is handling meds, first aid, and counseling.
I love details, spreadsheets, budgeting, and logistics, so this is pretty much the perfect job for me. And we have two awesome things this year that we didn’t have last year: A membership to the unfortunately named “BJ’s Wholesale Club” and a delivery account with Stop-N-Shop. The ability to buy in bulk is awesome, because these kids are like locusts, and the delivery account is awesome because it’s all online and the whole thing is searchable and sortable by unit price. Instead of going to the store and examining the price tags of each bottle of olive oil for the price per quart, I can run a search for olive oil and have the results sorted by those criteria. I can also sort the results by total price, fat content, carbohydrate content, relevance, protein content, caloric content, and size. It’s the kind of thing that I could go crazy over. Luckily, I don’t have time.
Last year we had a giant food budget and a lot of wasteful spending as a result. This year we have a much nicer space, but we also have a smaller food budget and seven additional students.
Here’s what a day in my life as the kitchen manager looks like:
I wake up and meander over to the larger building where most of the students are staying. I check the “Food Request List” and make note of any new requests listed in the last 24 hours. I make a judgement call about whether to purchase the things on the list. Mostly I’m considering appeal and cost effectiveness. Things on the “yes” list might include: hummus, apples, sliced cheese, brown rice, oats, and deli meat. Things on the “no” list include: almond butter (too expensive), apple juice (liquid sugar), Elijah’s beard (an actual request), poop (I don’t know what even), and fertilized eggs (yeah right, Paul).
Next I take a look at the “I used the last of the…” list and check the contents of the fridge and the breakfast nook. I realize that somehow the students have managed to eat approximately five hundred pounds of bananas, apples, nutella, and everything bagels in the time since I went to sleep the night before (this is only a slight exaggeration) and that today will need to be a grocery store day. I realize we’re out of milk in the upstairs fridge, and I head to the basement to replenish from the second refrigerator filled mostly with dinner food.
Back upstairs I realize that the sign labeled with the cryptic words “Dinner Food: DO NOT EAT” was somehow unclear and that some food that we’ll need for dinner tonight is missing, presumably eaten. That goes on the list as well.
Once the list is complete, I head to the store. I go to BJ’s first and load up on bulk items. Protein bars, cereal, milk, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, hummus, eggs, almond milk, canned beans, crushed tomatoes, flour, and bread go in the cart. By the time I get to the end the jumbo cart is completely full and I’m piling the bread on top. (A few days before the hurricane was scheduled to hit we filled a second cart totally full of bottled water.) I check out, pocket the receipt, and load the car.
Next I head to Stop-N-Shop (I only place online orders when I need a ton of stuff- today I’m just picking up some breakfast and lunch items.) and grab another cart. I buy lunch meat (we serve mostly vegetarian food but try to supply some organic, humanely raised meat for the omnivores) and then head for the bagels. I buy nine to twelve bags of bagels and pick up some more olive oil because we’re out. English muffins are on sale, so I stock up. I pick up some chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies and plan to ice them later for the group. Then I head to the produce section and buy carrots. Then I start filling the cart with bananas and apples. We need a ton of cauliflower for a dinner, so I pick up five heads and make my way to the checkout. The elderly man in front of me raises his eyebrows at my cart.
“You must really like cauliflower!”
“I have a lot of rabbits,” I tell him with a completely straight face. I’m not sure if he believes me.
When I get home I rally the troops and ask them to unload the car. They oblige eagerly, happy that I’ve come bearing food. I quickly realize that I’ve forgotten to get nutella, and there will surely be a riot if this situation isn’t rectified soon. I add it to the list for tomorrow.
I put the groceries away in a meditative state, thinking about how annoying this job can be and how much I love it. A student comes in and asks if I’ve purchased more almond milk, and I find it for her. I unload the apples and they are attacked with a vengeance. I add the receipts to my spreadsheet and calculate that if I continue spending at this rate we’ll come in under budget. Eventually I sit down to write a new blog post. We’ve come to the middle of the retreat by now, and I’m struggling to come up with additional topics, but I have one that I’m excited about for today.
Dinner is served at six thirty, and I’m not cooking today. The staff fills their plates and disappears into the lounge for staff meeting. The interruptions begin almost immediately.
“Can I come in and get my laptop?”
“I left my bag in here!”
Blake tells them to wait until we’re done, but they don’t listen.
“It’s RIGHT there!”
Finally, we resort to locking the door. I think that most of the students are curious about what goes on in the staff meetings. I’m tempted to tell you that we make lists of which students we’ll sacrifice or something similar, but in fact it’s typically a time for us to check in with each other and discuss the following day’s activities in addition to any problems that need to be addressed. When dinner is over we mingle with students and wait for the dishes to be done before gathering everyone for the all-group meeting.
The meeting is inevitably irritating, with people speaking out of turn, arguing with one another, talking amongst themselves, and broaching irrelevant topics.
It’s also really nice. It’s often the only time all day that we’re all together in the same space, and we’re packed like sardines into the living room. There’s a decidedly bright and friendly vibe in the air, and students cuddle and hang out with one another.
When the meeting adjourns we have small group meetings. Typically we check in and share our writing, soliciting critiques from one another. Tonight, Matt and I have a special surprise planned: about halfway through the meeting, he shows up with his small group to do battle in a rousing game of “Poop Smoothie.”
When we’re done there’s often partner dancing, games of Catan, or some other evening event like a poetry night or a talent show. I usually turn in around midnight, leaving the younger folks to burn the midnight (or 5am, as the case may be) oil.
I wake up the following morning thinking about my grocery list.