Style has never been my strong suit. I despise those people who can wear a ratty old pair of jeans with a plain t-shirt and still manage to look all put together.
Try as I might, that will never be me – in fact, I’m less ‘put’ and more ‘thrown’ together. I believe that dressing from Value Village is not in itself my downfall; I’m sure those annoying style mavens would get away with it by combining artfully conceived outfits with impeccably coiffed hair, manicured nails and flawless make-up.
Sadly, it seems, frizzy hair, cracked nails and streaked make-up are never going to be the style du jour.
As a teenager I always assumed that I would blossom, at some magical age, from a short, scruffy duckling into an elegant, sophisticated (albeit, probably still short) swan. Still waiting. Now, here I am in my fifties, dumpy, frumpy and grumpy about it .
The point I am getting to, in my usual rambling, distractible way, is that the start of the landscaping season has not helped my plight. Already my fingernails are mud encrusted; my arms are criss-crossed with spruce needle scratches, and my hair is invariable adorned with a selection of twigs.Yes, I am totally rocking the ‘dragged through a hedge backwards’ look.
So, I decided a few weeks ago that if I have to spend the season looking like a scarecrow then I was at least going to do it wearing lipstick and an awesome hat.
The hat has proven somewhat impractical as it spends most of the day snagging on branches and falling off, but despite that I’m pretty pleased with the results. It’s possible to disguise all manner of mascara smudges with a pair of sunglasses, and no-one can possibly know what my hair’s doing under that particularly fetching hat.
Plus, the advantage of being just under 5’4″ is that most people probably can’t focus on anything a great deal lower than the lipstick, so I’m golden!
How many hats can a person wear without going completely schizophrenic?
I suppose it varies according to your innate level of mental stability, but having started off a bit batty in the first place, I feel I might be nearing my natural limit: stay-at-home mum, copywriter, empty nester, tree farmer, trusty sidekick, and now student as I just started an online horticulture certificate course.
This morning’s hat was landscape labourer, which is technically a sub-hat of the trusty sidekick hat.
And so, I found myself grovelling on the cold, damp ground laying about 400 acres of grass – or sod as they like to call it here, despite the fact that I’ve tried to explain that that’s a bit rude.
For hours I kept my nose to the ground, while I unrolled, lined up and pounded down piece after piece, sure that I must be achieving something – until the occasional glance up at this deceptively large suburban yard disillusioned me and showed that in fact I seemed to be making negative progress.
To amuse myself I muttered sod jokes to myself – like calling each piece of turf a stupid sod, or telling bugs to sod off. Now that’s sophisticated humour.
By about 2.30 my arms informed me that they were finished for the day and had no intention of lifting another piece of sod – each of which, incidentally, weighs about the same as a greyhound bus. Sadly that was about an hour and a half before the rest of my body was planning to leave. Now, as the boss’s wife, I could have feigned a frightfully important errand and left, but I found I couldn’t, in any good conscience, abandon my post or my fellow landscapers, so I soldiered on. Damn that protestant work ethic!
By 3.30 the rest of my body joined in the dissention and the work ethic buggered off early for the evening. We had laid all except the fiddly bits, which the others seemed to managing quite splendidly without me, so I made my excuses and sidled off. Only half an hour early.
Perhaps, when I volunteered to help hubby with whatever he needed, whenever, I should have specified the weather conditions in which I was prepared to go outside, and the fact that I don’t expect to have to do any one task for more than half an hour at a time.
I’ve spent the summer helping hubby with his landscaping and tree nursery business and I have to say, being a tree farmer is a lot harder than you might expect.
People think they can show up out of the blue and simply drive away with a tree. Just like that. Seriously, there should be paperwork or something. Background checks. I love those trees – I water them and watch them grow; nurturing them with positive reinforcement and pruning them back in the direction of their full potential whenever they sprout waywardly. It’s a labour of love.
And, frankly, some people just don’t deserve them. Last week we played host to Mr and Mrs Never-Buy-Anything-At-Full-Price. They wanted a few trees, so we weren’t averse to talking a bit of a deal, but they walked around dickering and badgering so relentlessly that we accidentally gave them one of the trees for free; and virtually payed them for the privelege of being allowed to deliver them. So pleased were they with their pillaging skills that they went home and told all their friends, who all trooped straight over with the sole intention of harrassing us into giving away our trees, and probably our children.
We tolerated the assault for a while, but the effort of remaining composed through the onslaught was exhausting, and frankly I was forced to pretend that some of my favourite trees were sold in order to save them for more deserving families. In the end we had to fake an emergency phone call just to get them to go away.
On the flip side, the other day I had a delightful customer who was genuinely excited about exploring the trees and choosing the right one. She ended up taking two fruit trees and I’m pretty sure they couldn’t have gone to a better home. She even told me I could visit them if I wanted. Now that is someone who understands what buying a tree is all about!
I gather what we’re supposed to be doing here is running a commercial enterprise, rather than a tree adoption agency, but still … don’t talk to me about how the pathetic sticks available at the big box stores are cheaper, because if you do, you might suddenly find the price goes up and the only one available is that oddity in the back corner that looks suspiciously like a dead tree with poison ivy growing up it. .
I Got The Message – So, What Exactly Does It Mean?
Sometimes the universe seems to send messages so clear that they shouldn’t be ignored. That’s what I thought I was getting!
It all started in the spring when I decided to quit copywriting for the summer to help hubby with his landscaping/tree farming activities. The decision was ostensibly altruistic as hubby needed the assistance of a trusty sidekick and who better to fill than the role than … well, me. The real reason, however, was my frustration with copywriting and my profound belief that I have a higher purpose than writing people’s websites; one that I will discover eventually if I keep looking. I really want to make the world a happier, more beautiful place, and touting the talents of real estate agents online doesn’t seem to be fitting the bill (not that I have anything against real estate agents per se, if you are one and you need the services of a brilliant copywriter, but you get the idea).
So, with a light heart and high optimism I volunteered my services to horticulture.
But, within days I got asked to help with a huge writing project for the zoo. The zoo! One of my favourite places in the world and home to a million wonderful memories from when the children were little and we virtually lived there.
“A message from the universe”, my friend averred, and it did seem to be telling me that I shouldn’t give up copywriting after all.
UNTIL … (dah, dah, dah!), during the course of my research, I stumbled upon a page on their old site for the horticultural therapy certificate.
Yes – horticultural therapy is a thing, and it’s what I’m supposed to do!
That was the message! A message confirmed when one of hubby’s labourers declared that she was working in landscaping to get the experience necessary to become a horticultural therapist. I mean, what are the chances? Two weeks earlier I didn’t even know it was a thing.
Or at least I thought that was the message, until I found out that the zoo isn’t planning to run the course anytime soon, and the nearest place to do it is Vancouver – only you have to go for five consecutive Fridays for each of the four modules. Not super practical from Calgary. After extensive research it truly seems that, whether I’m supposed to be one or not, there is no way for me to actually train as one. So, am I back to copywriting as the message? Because if it is, I’m feeling a little let down.
Remind me – are you supposed to listen to the universe giving you messages, or are you supposed to persevere in your dreams regardless of the obstacles?
I Screamed “Give Me Some Space”. I Should Have Been Careful What I Wished For.
This post is written in response to The Weekly Writing Challenge – Playing with Space. It gives me an opportunity to stray from my usual style and discuss my Empty Nesting Project in a slightly different light.
Three years ago it hit me that life as I knew it was going to change dramatically in the near future. My children would be moving on, leaving me with a preoccupied husband and an empty house. Something had to be done, and I embarked on a quest to rediscover and reinvent myself.
Not a problem, I thought. I will throw myself into my freelance copywriting business, take up some hobbies and reconnect with old friends. The children won’t recognize this fascinating creature and it will be good for them to learn that the washing machine works for anyone.
What I wasn’t expecting was the whining and resistance I encountered with every move. I’d like to tell you it was from the children, but I was the one having trouble adjusting, not them.
Even while I broaden my horizons and try new things I find myself glued to my cellphone – just in case one of the children needs me. They don’t of course, they’re teenagers, but it always hurts my feelings a little when they manage without me.
I’m brutally aware how outdated and unemancipated it is to admit that I threw myself into the business of raising children and lost myself in the process. I have created the perfect co-dependent relationship – one where they need me to do everything for them, and I need them to need me. What’s wrong with me? Is it possible that there are others out there who can only be defined by the people they take care of?
Of course it hasn’t been all contented domesticity. I’ve had plenty of those days when I just wanted to scream and swear and lock myself in my bedroom; plenty of those days when I ended up screaming and swearing and locking myself in my bedroom.
There were so many times when I dreamed of a quiet, uncluttered house with everything put away in its allotted place and an absence of finger marks on the walls. Now that the vision is just around the corner it’s starting to look like rather a soulless place.
I worked hard to raise them to be independent and adventurous, but now that they’re spreading their wings it’s a type of bereavement. In fact, it occurs to me that the whole process has been akin to the five stages of grief:
Denial. When they’re little it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever be old enough to leave home.
Anger. I’ve been through my share of anger at having no career, no life and no end to the mess.
Bargaining. I’m not above offering pizza or chocolate almonds if only someone will spend an evening with their poor lonely mother.
Depression. I’ve tried to stay positive through all this, and my blog is my way of forcing myself to look for the funny side of life. But in the spirit of keeping it real here, I will admit that I have sometimes typed through the tears and that I do occasionally give in to feelings of hopelessness, uselessness and isolation.
Acceptance. I’m not sure I’ve reached peace yet, but I’m trying to see the Empty Nesting Project as an adventure rather than just a way to fill the endless, gaping void.
So here’s how I’m playing with the space; learning to appreciate it as it opens up before me…
I’ve joined a choir, which is officially now one of my favourite things (yes, we’re singing songs from The Sound of Music this year). I love it and while it irks me to be surrounded by people infinitely more talented than I, I find that if I sing quietly whenever the choir director walks by I can retain my place and enjoy the opportunity to sing my heart out without anyone telling me to shut up.
I’m planning to take vocal coaching and piano lessons in the hope that I will spend less time at choir cluelessly trying to mimic the harmonies coming from my neighbour. It would be lovely to understand those pages of squiggles they give us. And one of these days I’m going to sing a solo.
I’m exercising and eating well because my plans for the next 40 years involve me being active, mobile and in great shape … and I want to age like Diane Keaton.
I plan to hike across England, backpack across India and volunteer overseas. I will be an inspiration to all those over 50s wondering about throwing the meds and the muscle rub into a backpack and heading into the wilderness in search of adventure.
I’m writing fiction and articles again, and hatching plans to become a prolific and incredibly well paid travel writer.
I’m becoming more involved in my husband’s business which has brought us closer together and given us something to talk about other than how dreadful the children are.
That’s about it so far. It’s baby steps, but I’m starting to enjoy the journey. Now I just have to make sure they do all actually move out, and stay moved out!
Why is it so easy to write for strangers and so intimidating to think that someone I know might read this blog?
Proper bloggers, I’m led to believe, promote their blogs and invite people they know to read them, while, personally I’ve found anonymity to be a very comfortable place. Still, in an uncharacteristically reckless moment I decided to stop acting like a crazy person and I have linked this blog to facebook.
So, if you know me and you’re reading this for the first time, I’ll explain that it’s really just the rantings of a confused, middle aged stay-at-home Mum in the process of losing her raison d’etre. You’ll notice that I’ve given the children an odd assortment of pseudonyms – Roxy, Sunny Jim and Hoss – and I’ve refrained from using hubby’s name. I only write things I would be happy to say to their faces, but for some reason posting it on the internet almost seems … I don’t know, public. Funny that!
Check out the About Me page which, despite being about 2 years out of date, will at least explain my Empty Nesting Project.
And this seems like a good time to review how things are going…
Career – still messing around with a part-time freelance business and submitting to any excuse I can find to avoid working. I’m fairly sure my productivity would be improved by the addition of a scary boss, but on the other hand I’m probably too set in my ways to be told what to do by some jumped up middle manager (see, I’m getting annoyed just thinking about it).
Choir – awesome. I love it, but sadly it only accounts for about two hours a week. On a side note, how fabulous is it to be able to sing at the top of my voice without anyone telling me to shut up? And then twice a year I get to make my nearest and dearest come to my concert after which they are forced to feign admiration.
Hot yoga – sadly that went by the wayside when my doctor pointed out that it probably wasn’t helping the hot flashes. If I ever resume control of my hormones maybe I’ll start again.
Swimming – sadly that went by the wayside when I got really old and developed a shoulder injury. I don’t think I’m likely to get less old, but I would still like to take it up again.
Health and wellness – I confess that I am getting fatter and lazier by the day. Apparently even my pharmacist is alarmed.
In short, I still haven’t managed to define precisely who I want to be for the next 40 years (I figure after 90 it shouldn’t much matter anymore). All I’m certain of so far is that I don’t want to spend decades sitting watching Big Bang reruns; I’m leaning, instead, toward backpacking round India, volunteering overseas, owning a house in England and engaging in various other rather costly activities.
What I don’t have is a plan for is how I’m going to fund all this. Still, that’s a minor detail
Between hubby and I we have three separate businesses – aside, of course, from the business of raising three teenagers.
I earn a crust by writing marketing materials, and hubby is primarily a landscaper. However it’s no secret that I’m somewhat freaked out by his second business which has mostly involved investing every penny we have into a tree farm that is now full of trees that must be sold before they get too large to transplant. We probably have the only pension plan that’s no good if it gets too big.
You might think that the winter months, when this part of the world becomes a frozen, unlandscapeable wasteland, would provide the perfect opportunity for some active pre-selling of said trees, but unfortunately the curling on the television is more compelling.
Unfortunately once the curling ends, and the landscape season approaches, hubby will be running himself ragged dashing from home to the tree farm, 3 1/2 hours from home; trying to both sell landscaping and do landscaping. There’s not much time left for selling trees.
So, I have devised a full-proof plan which involves hubby more or less abandoning the landscaping and selling trees full time. I give up writing and become a landscape labourer, delivering and planting trees under the supervision of his more qualified assistant.
It seems like a plan which could work, and it might even save hubby from going crazy trying to run two seasonal businesses simultaneously.
I’m currently harbouring this idyllic vision of myself out in the sunshine, making the world a more beautiful place and getting skinny at the same time. My enthusiasm may wain somewhat when the wind starts to howl and the rain starts to pour as it does here until about mid July when overnight it becomes cripplingly hot and arid.
I feel as though a career move is supposed to look like a promotion and I’m not sure that marketing consultant to landscape labourer fits the bill, but I’m finding the prospect quite exciting.