Jul 02

Overcoming chronic procrastination – minus the nap.

I am a procrastinator. I’m so damn good at procrastinating, my household is a disorganized mess. Sure, I can run the vacuum around the middle of the rooms, but there’s still always that pile of “stuff” tucked away in corners and under things. I’m tired of it. I’ve been tired of it for over a year now, but with the hours I was working my opportunities to try to deal with the mess were slim to none.

Last week I started a new job. I’m still in the same industry – vegetable packaging – but the job is less stressful and best of all, I have two or three days each week where no matter how late the packhouse runs, I’m done at five. Once the other girl is back from vacation, I also get every other Saturday off. So now I’ve got time and since time, like money, can only be spent once, I want to spend my time wisely and start digging myself out of this mess.

On the Sunday just passed, I started with the garbage at my front door. I don’t have a garage, so during the week (s) all of my garbage gets stored beside the entrance to my home. Combine garbage men who throw away my garbage can lids with two neighborhood cat ladies, possums, squirrels, birds and me being a lazy ass and the result is rather gross. I really should have snapped a before picture so that no matter how messy your house might be, you could tell yourself at least it isn’t as bad as mine.

The worst part of being a chronic procrastinator is that when you try to do anything, there ends up being three or four bazillion other things you have to do before you can accomplish that one goal you wanted to achieve. Normally once I’ve hit the third obstacle in my path I decide I need a nap and that’s the end of getting something, or even anything, actually done.

On Sunday, the first thing I needed to do was buy a new garbage can – one with a lid. I researched my options online while fucking around on Facebook and then I went to town. I bought the biggest can I could that the garbage men would still pick up, paid my $65 and headed home with it. Then I grabbed the ripped open garbage bag (I think that was my cat) off of the deck and re-bagged it, followed by the accumulated (as in I would not have been surprised to see Christmas wrapping paper in there) garbage from the other three lidless garbage cans.

Once the first one was empty, I took it to the back of the house (the only place I have a working outdoor faucet since I left my hose hooked up to the front one many winters ago and froze the faucet) and encountered the brand new hose nozzle trauma. After wrestling it out of the packaging (honestly, why do they make it so hard to get things opened?) I hooked it up to the hose. I turned on the water and set the nozzle to jet, and discovered that “reduced flow” has hit even hose nozzles. Seriously, I can piss harder than the jet setting on that nozzle.

Distraction number one identified, I headed for my tools to see if I could turn it into a full flow nozzle. Which is where I encountered distraction number two – my shed. Actually, my shed and the stack of tires in it. Full sized Jeep tires. I have never owned a Jeep or Jeep tires, but apparently Asshat #1 is making free with my storage space. Usually that would be another cue to go take a nap, but I reminded myself it took six years to get to this point so it won’t all get cleaned up in one day – and then ran up town again for a new hose nozzle.

big shot

Seriously – it actually works!

Once I was back home, I scrubbed out every can (with my for real jet nozzle) and then the deck got hosed down to deal with the soggy bread crusts my effing cat pulled out of that ripped open garbage bag.

Since I recently read this article that said  we need to replace “to do” lists with “done” lists….

It might not look like a big deal, but it took me all damn day.

It might not look like a big deal, but it took me all damn day.

The next night, I even fixed my flip-flop while recycling a bread tag.

Go ahead and laugh - it works!

Go ahead and laugh – it works!

So that counts as two things on the “done” list.

Come back tomorrow (or the next day or maybe the one after that) to find out why I hate my barbecue and how I felt about being called out by my ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend for calling him a cheap asshole on Facebook.

Jun 20

Finally, a job change.

Today is my last day on nights, or at least it will be at my current job. After months of job hunting, desperation had me taking a new approach to job hunting. Basically I threw my as many copies of my resume out there as I could – I even applied for jobs while hiding in the washroom at my current job. With a smart phone, you can twitter on the shitter and job hunt too.

Finally, one of those resumes hit pay dirt. Sure, I had to take a pay cut – a dollar an hour less, which I’ll get back retroactively once I complete my probation period – and give up benefits, but hopefully this one will be a better fit. If nothing else, at least at this job I will have every third Saturday off.

No more supervising people working, I’ll have my own work to do. Something I’ve learned I need this past two years.

We’ll see what this chapter brings, hopefully it’s a long interesting one.

May 17

Me and My Big Fat Mouth

This week I discovered that following a local politician on twitter and having them follow you back is kind of cool. It’s not so cool when you realize one of your more recent tweets was speculating whether or not seeing your coworkers walking around scratching their crotches all day was an indication of crabs. My mother and I got a laugh out of my embarrassment though, so at least there’s that.

That was pretty much the only high point of my week. Once again, my employer flipped my work hours around. Monday I was on days (which really means working from dark to dark) and then for the rest of the week I went in for afternoons, never knowing if I’d be flipped back to days the next day or not. Friday night was my last night shift and Saturday I flipped back to days, all perfectly legal since there are no rules regarding rest periods for anyone classed as an agricultural worker. Let’s not forget that the Saturday is never the half days they suggested when I took this job either. Most of the Saturdays I’ve worked have been at minimum 8-5, more often they’re six to six or later. Yet the CEO’s daughter and nephew get Saturdays off – and are late to work most days.

Which explains why I still buy a lottery ticket every damn weekend even though I know I’ve got a better chance of getting hit by lightning than I do winning anything.

Thursday I found out that someone in the office had a brilliant idea of starting a “Wellness Committee” in order to promote a healthy workplace. Considering the number of times I’ve been required to work fourteen hour days and seventy to eighty hour weeks, I kind of flipped my lid. Over the past two years I cannot count the number of times I’ve purchased healthy food only to get slammed with tomatoes (which I rarely eat now) and tons of hours while it all rots in my fridge.

Some people may have the energy to work from 6am to 10pm or later and still fix a healthy meal, myself not so much. Generally I cook some pasta throw in a can of sauce grate some cheese over it and eat double what I should before falling into bed and passing out, and that’s at the beginning of the week. Closer to mid-week I might resort to running to the corner store on my “supper” break and buying a family sized bag of chips to call dinner.

After a week of the same, Sunday’s generally find me lying around in bed, alternating between napping and reading with the emphasis heavy on napping. There’s no such thing as sitting down to a meal and then taking the dog for a stroll in this house anymore. It’s safe to say no good would come of me volunteering to join the Wellness Committee, so I’m going to pass on that one.

By Friday I had lost all ability to keep a lid on my temper or my tongue, so when my manager first chastised me because my new shipper/receiver is still learning and hasn’t got the nicest handwriting, and then had the audacity to ask me if I felt like I was getting a better handle on the floor now that I don’t have to do any paper work or check punches I informed him that I felt fine on the floor but it was a damn long boring day. He looked confused when I said it, clearly he couldn’t understand how could I find it boring to walk around reminding people to do their jobs for fourteen hours.

Given the fact that any time I try to get our staff to adhere to specs on what they pack, my co-supervisor feels I’m contradicting him and then sulks for a few days paperwork was my only stimulation. Any form of fraternizing with the employees is strongly discouraged, so there’s little to no friendly conversation to brighten the day. I miss customer service, I miss the stimulation of trying to get a box of plant cuttings through customs and CFIA so it would reach the customer before it was a moldy rotten mess. Up until the last year of my previous job, I always felt I was doing a good job and was often told I was. In this one, all I ever seem to get is emails letting me know I’ve messed up something or other. So yeah, it’s boring. Brain numbing, never-ending boring.

I really do need to polish up my resume and step up my job hunting efforts. It would be good to change jobs before my big fat mouth lands me on the unemployment line.

 

May 08

Dear Mr. Trudeau

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

I’ve read of your concern that the number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW’s) in the Windsor region has doubled despite the high rate of unemployment in this area. Given that government has a history of ignoring real problems and instead fixing programs that do work, rendering them FUBARed, I am concerned about your concern.

Let’s start with a geography lesson. In the North West corner of what we who live here prefer to call Essex County, is Windsor. Windsor is all about manufacturing and the automotive industry. There may be some TFW’s in Windsor, but the vast majority are in the South East corner of Essex County. Primarily, Leamington and Kingsville. This area, the area where I live and work, is dominated by agriculture and the greenhouse industry – mainly large-scale vegetable producers.

Due in part to various government policies, Windsor’s manufacturing sector is in decline if it isn’t already dead. In Kingsville and Leamington, the story is a little different. Greenhouses keep going up and hydroponic vegetable producers are creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and business owners who supply that industry. Windsor is a 45 minute drive from Leamington, but there’s more than distance between the manufacturing sector and the agricultural sector.

Here we need to discuss Ontario Labour Law. The Employment Standards Act protects all Ontario workers – with certain exemptions. Agricultural workers at minimum, are exempt from the rules concerning hours of work and rest periods – in other words, agricultural workers work until the work is done no matter how long that takes. When you look at traditional farming, these exemptions make sense. Farmers are at the mercy of mother nature and planting or harvesting schedules. When you step into a large-scale greenhouse operation it stops making sense, however that argument is for a different day and a different level of government. This argument is about why the greenhouse industry and the Windsor/Essex County region need the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.

Now that we’ve covered some background, let me tell you about my job. I am a supervisor in a tomato pack house. The facility I work for produces and packages almost 12 million kilograms of tomatoes each year. Between myself and another supervisor, we are responsible for anywhere from 40-60 workers. Those workers are a mix of Canadians, Permanent Residents, TFW’s from Jamaica and Mexico, and temporary workers. Our facility is quite modern, and there is some automation. Automated lines that bring the product to the workers, machinery that labels the product, even equipment to palletize the packaged tomatoes. Yet for all that, we still are often required to work fourteen hour days. We always work six days a week, occasionally seven, and working upwards of seventy hours a week does happen – more often than I would like.

20131224_134742 -Imagine yourself being required to make a woman stand at this workstation for fourteen hours and then telling her she has to do it again tomorrow and the next day too.

Jobs in the greenhouse industry start at minimum wage, but it is probably one of the last industries in Canada where a high school drop out can get a job and if they’re ambitious and willing to work hard, still have an opportunity to advance. Yet every time I need to fill a position higher than general labour I have very few existing Canadian workers who are promotable. Any Canadian workers who would be capable of expanded responsibilities move on as quickly as they can.

In terms of productivity, there is a marked difference between my TFW’s and my Locals (Canadian workers). Even the slowest of my Jamaican staff can easily package 200 clamshells of tomatoes per hour. My top workers are upwards of 300. Yet the best of my local workers will rarely reach 200 pieces per hour. Certainly we can argue that the temporary foreign worker is motivated by fear, I have no doubt that to a certain extent they are, but the difference in productivity really comes down to one thing – experience. The TFW comes back year after year for eight months of every year. The local worker rarely lasts long enough to make it through their 90 day probationary period.

To Canadians, jobs in the greenhouse industry are jobs of last resort. To a Temporary Foreign Worker, jobs in the greenhouse industry are a dream of a better future, if not for themselves then at least for their children. That fundamental difference in thinking is the main reason I prefer working with offshore labour.

Often the greenhouse industry comes under fire for hiring offshore labour. I would argue that many if not all of the critics, have little to no knowledge of the industry itself. Certainly I doubt that many have stopped to consider how many businesses in our area are fueled by the greenhouse industry. Those businesses create jobs and those better paying non-agricultural jobs that employ only Canadians, probably would not exist if these men and women from Mexico and the Caribbean didn’t dream of a better life.

So please before you criticize the large number of TFW’s in our region, take some time to learn about the industry that hires them. Better yet, understand that these so-called “low skilled” workers could easily find year round employment in jobs that Canadians simply don’t want and won’t do, and turn your focus to removing the barriers that prevent these hard-working men and women from becoming permanent residents of Canada. Because if there’s any part of this equation that is grossly unfair, it would be the part where we have men and women spending eight months of every year in a foreign country, helping to produce the food that we eat with our families while they are separated from theirs.

 

May 07

Am I Just A Fraud?

In my early twenties I left behind any lingering notoriety from my rebellious teenaged years by moving from one small town to another small town. Over twenty years later I recognize the odd familiar face but I know very few people by name. During my adult years relationships have come and gone and I’ve changed jobs a couple of times so now there are some people I know well enough to call acquaintances along with a couple I call friends. It’s a life that works for me.

Average in height, a bit above average in weight, average brown hair, I’m average in every way. I don’t mind. I like being able to slip through grocery shopping without socializing, free to observe others as I pass by unnoticed. I relish obscurity and do as little as possible to draw attention to myself. It’s my comfort zone, slipping through life anonymously blending with the background.

Unless he’s standing in a crowd of basketball players, an attractive six-foot six man is going to draw attention. An attractive six-foot six black man in a mainly white community will never be anonymous. Sometimes the attention is just benign curiosity, as humans our brains hardwired to make note of exceptions. Other times the attention isn’t benign because bigotry and racism still exist, often hiding in plain sight.

For months he’s been trying to make me see this truth while telling me he’s not sure I’m strong enough. Not understanding the thought behind the words, I kept missing the point. It felt like an accusation and I continued to defend myself, even when I didn’t know what I was defending myself against. Then came that unexpected positive pregnancy test and I understood what he’d been trying to say all along.

I’ve always considered myself a liberal thinker, people love who they love and who are we to judge? But when the plus sign appeared in that little window, it hit home. Supporting people’s right to love who they love, whether a same-sex couple or a bi-racial couple is easy. Being one of those couples isn’t.  Amongst family and friends our differences won’t or shouldn’t matter, but people do not live their entire lives behind closed doors. In a small white town where many can still remember  the existence of sundown laws the possibility of censure does exist.

Discovering how deep my concern is over the opinions of strangers is an embarrassing truth. I feel as if I am so much less than I thought I was. Still squirming under the bright light of truth, I’m left to wonder – can I live what I say I believe or am I just a fraud?

May 06

A Nose is Just A Nose

Why do you always make yourself look so serious in pictures?

What do you mean?

In every picture you look stern and angry, it doesn’t look like you.

Because I don’t smile?

He points to his nose and tells me he doesn’t like the way it looks when he smiles in pictures. Well shaped full lips with straight strong white teeth, he has an easy grin that always make me feel a flash of happiness, no matter what else is happening in my day. Masculine eyebrows over warm brown eyes with eyelashes many women would envy. To me his nose is a part of the whole and the whole has always pleased my eye.

He presses a finger against his nose and makes a squishing sound, implying that his nose is a lump of putty. It’s a masculine nose for a masculine face. No bumps or humps, the bridge is not prominent but it is unbroken. His nose is wide but straight, the only visible flaw a faint dark line across one nostril, probably left over from some long forgotten scratch. It doesn’t look like putty and I’m still confused by his dislike of his nose.

While indicating the flare of his nostrils he complains that it’s flat and wide like a bell pepper. I vaguely remember hearing the expression in the context of an insult once. I thought it was rude then and I still do.

Familiar with the way my own perceptions distort the image reflected in my mirror, I think of the years of angst caused by acne prone skin and all the times I’ve wished for tighter pores. Logic tells me that nobody is looking at my skin through the magnification of my mirror and time, along with my inability to see up close without glasses, has taught me to be kinder to myself.

I look at his hands, perfectly proportioned to a man who is six and a half feet tall and wears a size fourteen boot. Even his baby finger would never fit in my nostril.

If your nose were any different, your finger wouldn’t fit. Then what would you do if it got itchy or you needed to pick it?

He laughed the way I hoped he would, because a nose is just a nose and only serves the owner. A smile is a shared experience, and when he smiles, I smile with him.

 

May 03

Brahm’s Lullaby

“Vanessa?”

The ultrasound technician called my name before I’d had time to start reading my Kindle book. My bladder felt full but without the addition of residual cramping from the miscarriage I was far more comfortable today than I was last week. Physically at least.

She led me back into the quiet dimly lit room and started asking her questions.

“Are you having any problems?”

I wondered what problems she could mean, the problems had all taken place last week so I answered no.

“How many pregnancies have you had?”

For nineteen years the answer was always two, so I stumbled a bit with the word three.

“How many deliveries?”

The answer to this question hasn’t changed, a miscarriage doesn’t count as a delivery – two.

She continued to rub her wand across my abdomen, finding that one spot that still feels tender and bruised.

“Would you be willing to do a trans-vaginal ultrasound today?”

A week ago, I made it clear that I wasn’t willing. Those parts of my body already felt battered, I wanted to curl up and protect them from any further trauma or invasion. This week I was if not eager, at least willing to see the need. I told her if it needed to be done then it needed to be done. She finished what she was doing and then told me to go empty my bladder and come back.

Once I was back in the room, she instructed me to get naked from the waist down and handed me a sheet and left. I did as requested and laid back. Then I heard Brahm’s Lullaby over the PA system – somewhere else in the hospital a baby had just been born. Which does count as a delivery.

I cried until I heard the technician coming back and then hastily wiped my face. She did what she needed to do and let me know the doctor would have the results in a couple of days. Last week there was a flurry of activity that confirmed right away what I feared and deep down knew was true even before I met with my doctor – I had miscarried. This week there was a calmness to the experience, everything was routine.

The technician left, I got dressed and went for the blood work to make sure my levels of pregnancy hormones are falling as they should. From there I went on to buy dog food and cat food where I received a text from him asking how things had gone. I told him that while they didn’t tell me anything – that’s the doctor’s job – the calmness led me to believe that, physically at least, I was fine.

 

 

May 02

Dancing the Dance

Even when we were each involved elsewhere there was always an awareness between us. With the clarity of hindsight I can recall sly innuendos and off-hand comments from others. As hard as we were trying to fool ourselves, not everybody was buying it. They could see we were already dancing the dance.

Constantly drawn to each other we would casually flirt, I convinced myself there was no meaning to it. Over time we became friends but the attraction was still there, shimmering under the surface of casual conversation and sidelong glances. Then we were both unattached. Late night phone calls deepened the friendship even as we still circled warily around each other, that initial phase of every relationship that almost resembles two fighters searching out each others weaknesses. Attraction pulling me to him, fear of involvement pushing me away.

Eventually, attraction became stronger than fear and friendship became intimacy. Each step from awareness through flirting and friendship to being a couple so easy, I wondered why we had ever tried to avoid what seemed inevitable. Except then it got hard. He always understood the thoughts that sometimes get lost in my words, often knowing me better than I know myself. Sometimes, his observations were so accurate I would squirm under the harsh light of truth. He worried from the beginning that I wasn’t up for the challenge of every day reality. Denial only works for so long, he was right to worry.

Now we’re back to warily circling each other, trying to make the uneasy transition backwards to just friendship. Awareness still there, now we’re drawn to each other by shared memories along with attraction. We know the simple pleasure of playing together and squabbling while preparing meals. We know the easy intimacy of snuggling on the sofa watching a movie and the endless conversation where neither of us runs out of things to say. We’ve experienced what could be.

I’ve stopped denying those harsh truths he uncovered, instead hoping to move past them because the music is still playing and we’re still dancing the dance.

Apr 30

Unexpected Loss

On Sunday, while I was grocery shopping I came across a couple that I used to know. Him better than her because he was a friend of an ex, she had only been in the picture for a short time before I was out of it. Walking around the grocery store seeing pregnant women while a poorly positioned pad reminded me with every step that I was no longer eight weeks pregnant, I was still too raw for casual conversation with almost strangers. I ducked when I saw them before they saw me.

Then I came across them again, only this time they saw me before I could duck. The woman, who I hadn’t seen in over a year, lit up with recognition and came bouncing over to me.

“How’s it going?”

I flashed over the past two weeks. The unwelcome and completely unexpected positive pregnancy test. The father and I who had mistakenly believed that our easy transition from casual flirting to real friendship would just as easily transition to intimacy. Our still uneasy struggle to find our way back to a friendship neither of us wanted to lose.

The cancelled hysterectomy that I had spent the past year trying to get. The late hours at work that kept me from going to see my mom so I could tell her what was happening. Then a week later the spotting that became bleeding and pain that was somehow worse than giving birth twenty years ago.

Seeing my doctor and the bruise on the inside of my arm from blood work to see where my hormone levels were at. The ultrasound and hearing the words “no viable fetus” later at the visit with my doctor. The follow-up blood work and ultrasound still to come this week to make sure everything is gone.

Grieving with the father over the phone the night before. He had been out of the country when I found out, by the time he was back everything was over. The guilt I felt for even telling him about a baby that was already gone. Nobody else knew about it, I could have spared him those feelings of loss except I wanted somebody to know and grieve with me. I never did tell my mother.

But this was just a woman I had met a handful of times over a year ago, so the only thing I could say was  “It’s going.”

Apr 23

Working Nights

With 65 acres of greenhouse, my workplace produces over 26,000,000 pounds of tomatoes per year. Three weeks ago fifty acres of new crop came on with a bang and we went from eight-hour workdays to fourteen hour workdays. After two years of the same, the blow back from employees was immediate. So we had a meeting and management concluded that we needed two shifts.

Now, instead of two supervisors on the floor, my co-supervisor works the day shift and I work the afternoons. We’ve arranged our schedules to allow for some overlap, but from the moment I swipe that badge across the punch clock, there is barely time to breathe. My first concern on arriving is to order any packaging supplies that we need. Clamshells, labels, cardboard for boxes, pallets for shipping – the volume we consume each day is immense. I also have to determine what has actually arrived and what hasn’t so I can resolve any issues. In between, I read emails and answer questions. Generally at least one of those emails will contain some sort of reminder of something I either did not do, or did incorrectly.

Around a quarter to five, my night crew starts to arrive. There is a flurry of activity as I sign them in and hand out the swipe badge they will use for the shift and then stand by the punch clock to make sure each one is properly punched in for the night. First break is at 7 pm and I am constantly on the move until then.

I don’t know the exact dimensions of our packing shed, but I have no trouble imagining that with the machinery removed there would be room for a commercial airplane in that space. The river of tomatoes arrives at one end and this is where I check on our progress. It’s never enough, because there are always still more tomatoes to come into the warehouse for packaging. Up the stairs for a quick stop in the office to start printing today’s date on yet another roll of bottom labels – the ones the clerk scans at the grocery store.

Down the stairs to walk the line and check on the line workers. Those ladies with their ever busy hands, a clamshell on the scale as they juggle different sized tomatoes to reach the target weight. A quick stop to demonstrate – take out three small ones, put in two medium – the green LED’s on the scale light up and busy hands reach for the next empty clamshell. A longer stop at the end of the line, I find out how the evening is going for the line leader.

Next stop is the shipping end of the warehouse to check on the progress of the shipper/receiver. New to the job, we dropped him in at the deep end when we decided on two shifts while our other shipper/receiver was on vacation. He requires more attention than a fully trained employee would, hints and tips to help him improve his work flow along with continuous monitoring of his paperwork which is definitely not his strength.

I retrace my steps for another round. During the night I lose track of how many times I walk the length of the warehouse. My knees after countless trips up and down the stairs scream at me. At midnight, I stand at the punch clock again supervising as people swipe out, collecting badges and signing them out. Inventory is counted, waste is weighed and dumped. Finally the night is over.

 

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