posts tagged with 'work'

raising the stakes

When I started gardening I scoffed at the stakes offered for sale at the hardware store. Close to ten dollars for a length of wood? Ridiculous! I just used all kinds of things I scavenged here and there: branches, broken tool handles, marking stakes picked up from parking lots in the spring, old hockey sticks... Then later I came into possession of a bundle of proper garden stakes and I realized that they were actually pretty good. They're cedar, so they last, and they're cut with attention to the grain so they stay straight year after year. I had eight—so I've been using them by choice for all my staking needs. For the tomatoes especially. This spring one of them broke for the first time, from rot, and at the same time garden expansion meant I needed more, so I was forced to consider if I needed to actually buy some for myself.

Maybe I will one day. But for now I've found another solution, one that I can't believe I never used before. See, I have some power tools, and also lots of old lumber, and it takes maybe 45 seconds to turn six feet of old pressure-treated decking into two or three top-quality professional-looking stakes. A run through the circular saw to strip a one-by-one length, then zip zip on the miter saw at a 45° angle for a little point. I made some yesterday to stake up the corn which, unexpectedly, mostly blew down in a violent thunderstorm the other night. Not all the stalks broke. I don't know how long my new homemade stakes will last, but they look pretty nice now and even if they do fail to go the distance I've got plenty of wood to make some new ones next season!

holy week

I had kind of a tough Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we had somebody "Zoom Bomb" our church service—a ridiculous name for the kind of dumb prank that's unfortunately entirely commonplace on the internet. But lots of people on Zoom now aren't used to the internet, so they reacted very strongly to the intrusion. Besides making everybody on the church staff do more work as we struggled to plan a safer service for Easter, it also prompted lots more people to question whether they, or anyone, should be using Zoom at all. That question is very troubling to me for lots of reasons, the most salient being that I need to keep using Zoom myself, and I need other people to use it too, or else I might go crazy. So that made for a stressful week. Then on Saturday morning one of our chickens got taken by a fox or a coyote or something... we didn't see, but we noticed her missing a little later and we noticed lots of feathers all over the yard. I'm not always hit super hard when one of the hens dies, but this one was tough. I was feeling pretty sad to begin with, which obviously played a part. And then too in this pandemic time we were glad to always have plenty of eggs, including lots to give away to friends and neighbors; being down one hen won't cut the output too much, but with things as they are I still wish we had nine hens laying instead of eight.

Then despite all that, Easter was lovely. Maybe I'll write about that tomorrow.

I made some things

When we started social distancing I felt like I had all the time in the world. Just think of everything I was going to get done around the house and in the garden! But actually it turns out that I still have to do my job, and help lead our homeschool group, and keep in touch with my friends... and all those things are more complicated now. Since I care about them, though, I'm hanging in there and trying to make them work by making more work for myself. Like in my job as a Kids Church pastor. How do I pastor kids when I can't see them? I started out by just putting my weekly stories online, which added maybe three minutes of work to what I was already doing anyway. Then when I got a little experience on Zoom I realized I could do Zoom meetings on Sunday mornings; the first of those was this past Sunday. That took some prep. But I was also thinking about the kids who couldn't do videoconferencing... how could I make the story engaging to them? So I made a video version. And since there's no way I can get through a six minute story without a mistake or an interruption I had to do multiple takes, and edit them together. It took about five hours overall. Take a look and tell me if you think it was worth it!

At the same time, I mentioned to the homeschool group that I was thinking of doing something around poetry with the boys for April (which is National Poetry Month, of course!). I may have used the word "curriculum" and offered to share it with them. When there was some interest I actually had to come up with something concrete for them to look at! Here that is. I have three daily activities done so far... the other 19 will come pretty easily, right?

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found poetry at the office

I work at a church, and when I'm there I make my lunch in the Ministry Center kitchen. Since lots of people share the space, there are labels everywhere to show where you can find plates and bowls, serving utensils, pitchers (and so you can put them away). There are also more pointed notes. Every time I use the sink I'm newly delighted to read the three line poem printed beside it in all-caps label font, each line on its own little sticker:

Do not leave dishes in the dish drainer

Dry them

And put them away

It has a certain William Carlos Williams feel, don't you think? My favorite thing is that (as indicated by contextual clues) each line was added separately, later than the line above it. It's not the most frustratedly direct of the signs in that kitchen, but it's certainly the most delightful!

(Naturally, there are always dishes in the dish drainer. But never mine!)

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potluck competition

We had a church retreat this past weekend—well, some people in the church had a retreat. I took care of the elementary kids, which is to say two of my own three children plus about 25 more. Of course, I had lots of help and it was lots of fun, but it was also pretty tiring. On our way home we stopped at my parents' house for dinner with them and my brother. We got home around 8:15. Less than twelve hours later I had to leave to set up for my the regular Sunday kids program, with the added effort of unloading and putting away all the materials I brought out for the kids to use at the hotel. So you can see why I was struggling to find something appropriate to prepare for the potluck lunch I was invited to.

I didn't really think about it until yesterday morning, and then for a while I was about ready to just give up and go in there pleading exhaustion and overwhelmedness. But then all the other people who were going had been at the retreat too, and also I'm actually pretty competitive when it comes to food prep, so bringing nothing felt pretty bad. Then in the shower I had a brainstorm: I was going to have over an hour between the end of Kids Church and the lunch. If I mixed up some cookie dough at home, I could bring it in and stick it in the fridge at church—then I'd be able to wow people with fresh-baked cookies coming out of the oven just in time for dessert. Who would be able to top that?!

As it happened, people appreciated the warm cookies a great deal. But they were just one small part of a wonderful lunch that included salad fresh from someone's garden and rice and beans with peach salsa made from someone else's home-grown peaches—all served on a beautifully set table with name cards and wildflowers and artistically-strewn stones and peach pits (it looked cool, really!). So I couldn't stand out. Never mind, I'm happy just to have done my part!

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hard labor

We celebrated Labor Day today by doing some work. School starts here in Bedford tomorrow, and even though that doesn't have to mean anything for us I figure we can kick off our not-school year at the same time. The main reason for that is, with the other kids around all the time over the summer the boys and I don't get any time to do projects together; now that I don't have any competition I want to make the most of my time with them. So today we cleaned up the room that we variously call the playroom or the school room, depending on mood and time of day. It was hard work. Our boys have a life that includes many comforts and even luxuries, but one thing they're missing in our smallish house is a place to store their own stuff. Lots of it ends up on their desks, to the point that none of them—nor me either!—would have been able to find room for even a single piece of paper, should we have wanted to do some work. But not any more! Now all four desk spaces are a clean sweep from end to end. Plus the shelves are organized too!

In the afternoon I went into work to put together the classroom spaces for my Kids Church program. We met over the summer and everything was beautiful, but while we had a couple weeks off the floor and the rugs got cleaned, so everything was entirely disarranged. Before I had a chance to put it right the charter school we share our space with started up for the year, so I wasn't able to get into the classrooms during the week. So I had to labor on Labor Day. Three hours of work brought all kinds of improvement; it's still not totally ready to go, but it's a lot closer! And the boys were with Grandma and Grandpa all afternoon while Leah and I worked, so that was kind of like a holiday anyhow... especially since they also fed us dinner!

I don't know if we'll make it to the bus stop tomorrow morning, but I certainly feel ready for the new school year in all the ways it touches my family. Happy Labor Day!

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holy week, unholy work

Today was Maundy Thursday, which means we're into the meat of Holy Week now—the part where the days have names (though I heard the term "Spy Wednesday" for the first time yesterday, so that's a thing too). Leah and I aren't entering into the contemplative heart of the season, because we're being totally destroyed by stress.

Leah's stress has nothing to do with the liturgical calendar; she's just absorbed in a couple big projects at work, in preparation for a conference next week. It means ten-hour days, and lots of brain-space taken up by work thoughts 24 hours a day (at least she works on writing about the Bible... that's kind of holy, right?).

In my case, it totally makes sense that I'm busy this season. That's what happens when you work for a church—even a non-liturgical church like ours. Well, I say "non-liturgical"; but now we've got a couple of Episcopalians in charge of the families program—me being one of them of course—so Good Friday and even Maundy Thursday events are happening annually. Today was my job. We had a little over 40 people for a pot-luck with communion and foot-washing, so I think it was a success... but for one thing: very few adults were willing to be part of the foot washing! Leah says it's because they saw it as a kids' event. Maybe. I think they need to pay more attention to John's gospel. Oh well, there were plenty of kids who knew what to do.

kids at church washing an adult's feet

the best part of Holy Week not counting Easter

Now that that's over with, my stress levels will drop by at least 50%. For Easter proper, my only role is making sure everyone has enough food and seeing that the trash is taken out. True, calling donut shops to try and order 15 dozen for Sunday morning is a terrifying experience, but at least it doesn't last long (for the record: so far, no luck). I can't promise that I'll be ready to have a transcendent spiritual experience come Sunday, but I think at least I won't have a nervous breakdown before then. Then Monday is Patriots Day. Tuesday? Tuesday I'll finally relax.

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job satisfaction?

Working in the public schools has a lot to say for it. I really enjoy getting to spend time with a diverse population of kids, and even though I'm often not a fan of the big-picture pedagogical model—and lots of the implementation too—it's nevertheless always a thrill to do the actual teaching and see the kids making progress. But still: it's kind of a struggle. Very rarely while teaching have I felt... let's say "comfortable". Not lazy and complacent, but relaxed and energized and excited about doing real work. I always would have rather been at home.

But due to various changes in our schedule, both Leah and I find ourselves working in jobs that are, so far at least, actually that kind of rewarding. And it leaves us spending some serious time out of the house.

Serious time for us, at least; I suppose normal folks consider nine-hour work days—that's nine hours counting commuting time—to be pretty commonplace. But finding myself engrossed in a delightful, meaningful task this afternoon I stuck around in Cambridge until almost 4:30 to finish it up. And Leah didn't leave work until after 5:00 yesterday (good thing I had it all under control).

Lijah still isn't sleeping, but with the holiday craziness out of the way we're starting to find a reasonable schedule and the sanity that comes with it. The house is getting cleaned regularly, the kids are getting fun outings, and Leah and even have some time to talk with each other (ok, so that's only when we're doing the dishes—but it's something!). And there's time for work, too... who would have thought?!

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transition period

Circumstances have recently led to an end, temporary or more, of my substituting career. I closed out my year in the public schools on Monday, and I was looking forward to getting one last chance to spend time with a school population that I know pretty well: I've spent at least a couple days a week working in the one particular school for six years. On Monday I was in the library.

While I did get to say hi to lots of kids in the halls, and share books with three first grade classes and a kindergarten, for the most part my services were needed to keep the work of the library going. The not-being-with-kids kind of work, like changing books' spine labels and pulling collections of Caldecott winners. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when I showed up to be confronted with a list of seven or eight significant tasks... "and if you finish those, there's always shelf reading!"

I knew I wouldn't finish (though I think I acquitted myself pretty well for a non-professional!). In that, it was a lot like the rest of my life: both at home and in my new role at the church I feel like every day brings a near-endless array of things to accomplish. I've even taken to keeping to-do lists—by no means typical behavior for me! On the positive side, it's nice not to be bored or to be casting around for something to work on; but on the other hand, having all but the most transitory sense of accomplishment denied me is a little frustrating.

But that's the way of things these days. Almost-Christmas time. And while I was a little disappointed not to get more kid time Monday—I like subbing because I like teaching kids—there are lots of advantages to our new schedule too. Like more time with my own boys, and the farm-school co-op! I just need to enroll some more students... know anyone who might be interested.

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chickens are too easy

Everyone should have chickens. As I tell anyone who asks (and some people who don't) they're a lot less work than a dog and need less room than you expect. And you get eggs, and the simple enjoyment of watching hens do their thing: a delightful mix of silly, beautiful, and dinosaur-like deadly. But this morning, as I ventured out into the cold rain to fill their food and water and give them some new straw bedding, I wished they were a little more work.

Not for very long, of course! This time of year is when the number of necessary trips out to the coop doubles to two, as I need to bring in the waterer overnight to keep it from freezing solid; and since I need to put the water out first thing in the morning, it also enforces a time-line on a chore that in warmer days I could do whenever I felt like it. (Yes, I also let the hens out in nice weather, and sometimes visit them just to hang out, but in the summer I don't have to.) So I'm more aware now than I was a week ago of my responsibilities to the flock.

But there's something valuable about having those sorts of responsibilities to take care of before you get going on the rest of your day. Sure, I actually need to leave home to work—to sully my hands in the business of commerce, if you will—but when I spend a few minutes pitching hay before I leave it puts the workday world into perspective: an interval in the middle of real life, rather than all there is. I suppose it doesn't need to be agriculture: you could probably get the same effect with a morning run or bike-ride, or by putting in some time on a musical instrument, or by baking something. Anything that's your own work rather than the paying job you happen to have fallen into.

And I say that as someone who likes his job, and doesn't even work that hard anyways! Today I wasn't even going to work: as I watched the hens in the rain I was looking forward to a hard day of "homeschooling" and riding the T all over the city with Harvey and Zion (more about that later!). But the chickens were still wonderfully grounding, and for a little while I wished they were enough work to give me that sort of feeling every morning.

Leah, maybe we should get goats!

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