Oct 01

Pets and Sketchy Balloons

My household has never been without pets, and while most extended health care plans won’t agree, in my world pets are family members. Except for gerbils, gerbils don’t count because those little rodents are just breeding machines. And snakes. Snakes don’t count because they require regular meals of other pets.

I do consider my cats and dog family  – even my asshole cat who always sharts on the wall beside the litter box. I’ve proudly posted Miss Kitty’s picture with one of her “kills” on Facebook because that’s one mouse who won’t have a chance to invade my house. I’ve posted pictures of the asshole cat when he’s recovering from some majorly expensive war wound so he gets his Facebook sympathy too. He gets a lot of “Oh poor baby!” but I never get any “your poor wallet” comments.

Just as every parent secretly has a favorite child, there is no doubt the dog is my favorite. Technically, Miss Kitty is his pet. And just as my real children have their quirks, so does my Louie. He’s petrified of the vacuum. He expects the last bite of whatever I might be eating even if it means pulling a half chewed bite of bagel out of my mouth because I forgot to save it for him.

2014-10-01 18.29.38It might look like an old balloon to us but even after seeing it two days in a row, Louie still thinks it’s rather sketchy.

Sep 30

Because Nobody Tell’s Marie What To Do

While I may have spent the majority of my free time with my own thoughts this year, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of stuff happening around me.

When my Gramma was around sixty, she was diagnosed with diabetes. In my Gramma’s typical way, she immediately started eating everything she shouldn’t eat. Seriously – nobody tells Marie what to do not even her doctor. Even if the advice of a doctor who can’t pass his wife in the hall unless they both turn sideways is a bit suspect.

For years we all knew what she was doing to herself. How could we not know when she delighted in waving it under my mother’s nose? Every Sunday she would tell us about every single gooey, sugary, icing laden desert she had eaten during the week prior. By supper time the tension was as thick as Gramma’s B.O., because not bathing and dressing like a bag lady was another guaranteed way to piss my mother off.

familyAt eighty-something, when she fessed up to my mom how badly she was feeling, she still wasn’t having any part of my mom going to the doctor with her. Except while privacy laws may prevent a doctor from telling you about another patients health, calling the same doctor and telling him your concerns and the symptoms you are seeing is something you can do. Which my mother did.

With the true state of affairs on the table, instead of Gramma’s “oh I’m fine” the doctor sent Gramma for a bunch of tests. The only person shocked when the diagnosis of kidney failure came back was Gramma. I don’t know what she was expecting, but most people understand that if you only eat the things you’re not supposed to eat, and never check your sugar because “it makes my finger hurt”, you’re going to wind up with some of the nastier things diabetes can do to the human body.

She didn’t speak to my mother for a week because my mom had the audacity to tell her that at 80 she was well past the age where a kidney transplant was even an option. Which was a blessing because while my mom, aunts and uncle are all good people, I’d be shocked if any of them were willing to risk their own health to give her one of their kidneys. The shit storm would have been epic, my Gramma is a hard woman who hasn’t yet figured out that you reap what you sow.

So now she goes for dialysis three times a week. In true Marie style she eats exactly what she isn’t supposed to, and the woman who could have had her beverages served to her in a shot glass before dialysis, now guzzles liquids like a sailor on shore leave because she is supposed to limit her fluid intake.

Nobody tells Marie what to do.

Sep 30

The View Through My Eyes

For five years, my all-consuming goal was to become Mrs. Polish Guy, or at least to have the same address on our driver’s licenses.

A year and a half ago, he ended things. Abruptly and with no explanation.

Three months ago I changed jobs. My dream job was still a vague notion, but at least this job was less stressful and slightly fewer hours. Instead of just arriving home at the end of some ridiculously long day and falling into bed, I had time. Time to invest in my home and family instead of The Polish Guy’s house and children.

2014-07-05 18.28.20I hung a hanger for my hose and I knew what kind of screws to buy so I could securely hang it on brick and masonry. I used the drill that I chose for myself. I cut grass with the lawnmower I purchased and assembled out of the box all on my own.

2014-07-05 14.39.00I bought a new barbecue, one that I chose instead of one that The Polish Guy thought was good enough. He said I didn’t need anything better, even though I was the one paying for it and using it.

2014-07-05 20.45.42When I got the barbecue home, I assembled it with tools I own and then I prepared meals for my family on it. Vegetables, prepared the way I like them instead of doused in beer, butter and barbecue sauce and enjoyed with my family. People who love and accept me just the way I am.

2014-07-27 21.12.24On Sundays, I spent time with my first-born, now a young adult, a homeowner and a landlord. We walked our dogs and talked and I remembered why I live where I do, even if my home is tiny and will never be featured in any magazine.

2014-08-18 01.00.17I made red pepper jelly and then I invented my own recipe for spicy yellow pepper jelly with pineapple. Family and friends like it so well I will soon need to make a third batch.

When my oldest was feeling the pinch of being a homeowner with expensive vehicle repairs, I tossed and turned for a night. Then I realized I didn’t have to worry about what anybody else thought and I did what felt right to me. I told my son he was welcome to move back home if he wanted to rent out both units of his house.

While I was doing all of those things, something really special happened. I finally stopped seeing myself through The Polish Guy’s eyes.

I remembered that I know how to get things done, that I’ve looked after myself and raised two young men while working and paying my own bills.These young men I’ve raised aren’t perfect but I like them, even when they’re being assholes. Sometimes I’m an asshole too, and when we’re all being assholes together, my stomach hurts from laughing and I might pee my pants and I remember that I built this life and it’s a good one.

I’m seeing myself through my own eyes again, and the view is worth seeing.

 

Sep 28

The Commute is a Breeze

Since September 2nd, I’ve been working at my dream job. Hopefully this will be my “forever” job, or at least the job I retire from.

The best part of my new job is the commute.

2014-09-11 20.36.59Unless I’ve got an appointment with a customer, I just walk through my kitchen while grabbing a cup of coffee, make a right and I’m there.

After four weeks of working out of my home, I’ve learned a few things and changed a few habits.

One of the most disappointing lessons was that the fantasy of working in my PJ’s is just that – a fantasy. My brain just cannot accept being bra-less while getting paid. And even though I know my customers have no idea what I’m wearing when I talk to them on the phone, the idea of sitting in my PJ’s with ratty bed-head while talking to a customer does not work for me.

The other thing I’ve learned is that doing my dishes before bed is now a must. A sink full of dirty dishes never bothered me when I could walk out the door and leave them behind for the day. Seeing that sink full of dirty dishes every time I go to the washroom or grab another cup of coffee bothers me a whole lot more than I ever dreamed it could.

I’ve even started to unload my dishwasher and put all of my clean dishes away before I start my morning commute. And I vacuum a lot – almost every day – because apparently those dog hair tumbleweeds aren’t working for me either.

And I’ve started watching TV again. Real shows instead of Storage Wars marathons. I mean don’t get me wrong, I still like watching Storage Wars but there are some more interesting shows out there. I think The Blacklist is my new can’t miss show. Something I haven’t had since before The Polish Guy, way back when hell would freeze over before I would miss an episode of House.

Sep 26

Sometimes the Toast Lands Peanut Butter Side Up

Way back at the end of June, while I was finishing up the two weeks notice I had given my employer, I saw a job posting. Not just any job posting either, but a posting for my dream job. Even though I felt I had zero chance of getting the job, and even though I was starting a new job in just a few days, I sent my resume in. Then I forgot about it, because you know, real life.

I spent my summer working in a refrigerated warehouse. Every morning – six days a week unless it was my week to have Saturday off – I bundled up in multiple layers of clothing. A long-sleeved t-shirt, followed by a long-sleeved wool t-shirt, followed by a sweater, followed by a hoodie and topped off with an insulated parka, can’t keep you warm for longer than an hour at 51 Fahrenheit, but it will keep you from being able to bend your arms. Seriously, it was so cold I was chasing the propane fork lifts around so I could warm my hands and ass up with the heat coming of the radiator.

This is where I would have a picture of a fork lift radiator, except the last time I updated my phone, it decided it was too good for my computer and they are rarely speaking to each other now. Apparently, they aren’t hooking up tonight.

Because of food safety rules, there was no such thing as having a coffee at my desk, and trying to eat a bagel, drink a coffee and smoke a cigarette in ten minutes is, well lets just say I should have stuck the bagel and coffee in a blender. Instead of bite, chew, swallow, sip, swallow and repeat, it was more bite, sip, chew, sip, swallow. Considering I don’t even like my food touching my other food on my plate, the experience was less than satisfying.

I resigned myself to being bored out of my mind, while freezing my ass off and sneaking bites of bagel out of my coat pocket, for at least another year. Hoping that I could scrape up the money to take night courses at a fast enough pace to get another job while the damn hair net wore a bald spot on my temple. I mourned pretty clothes, or hell even just seasonally appropriate clothes, and the freedom to wear my favorite necklace and bracelet.

Not the nose ring though. I figure after two years of not wearing it, that sucker probably closed right up and I try not to do things that hurt that much more than once.

Early August, out of the blue, we had a shortage of produce to pack. We went home at 4:30 and didn’t have to return until 10 am the next day. Celebrating my good fortune (while trying not to worry about how small that paycheck was gonna be) I went home and checked my email. Remember that dream job? I had a reply! He wanted to know if there was a time that would be good for a phone interview.

Still thinking I had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting this job there was no way I was going to book time off for a phone interview, so I let him know the times I would be available, including the next morning. He emailed back before the end of the evening to set up a time for the next morning.

I’ve never in my life made it past a phone interview, but somehow I made it through that one.

Thursday a week later, still on short hours, I tried not to think about the fact that I was using a weeks worth of gas to drive 3 1/2 hours each way for an interview that would probably come to nothing. I tried to not give too much weight to the fact that the interview went an 1 1/2 – he probably just felt bad that I had to drive so far. I tried not to get optimistic that he toured me through the place or that he discussed compensation in even general terms. And then I went home to wait and try not to count chickens that weren’t likely to hatch.

All day Monday, I tried not to check my phone for an email too often. Monday’s we always start at six am. Monday is also my day to work until the work is done, whatever time that might be, and the produce shortage was apparently over. When 5 o’clock came and went, I gave up on hearing the results of my interview that day. Then at 6:30 my phone vibrated to indicate a new email had come in.

I swiped my screen to read the alert, that little snippet of the email that always shows, and saw “thank you for your time”. My heart, the one I had tried so hard to keep realistic, plummeted. Needing to see the entire rejection I opened the email and just about dropped my phone.

I got the job!!!

 

This is where I would have put a picture of peanut butter toast, but instead I put this cool badge for you to click on, because a warm friendly place to hang out on the weekend is way better than a picture of peanut butter toast.

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 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?

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