I do a lot of planning in the winter. It’s my routine. I spend that cold indoors season planning out projects for the spring and summer. Usually, come spring, I’m off and running.
But this year, when time came to put all those plans into action, I got sidetracked by – The 2010 Census. I applied (who couldn’t use a federal paycheck) and besides, I needed a break from my life — a life I should have been appreciating more, a life that should have had some kind of direction.
But, I was tap dancing. Garden plans were easy to work through – manual labor, in many cases, requiring little mental focus. But my writing, publishing, business goals — I just wasn’t focused.
I love being a publisher — but I’m still new at it. Meanwhile, the venues and outlets for publishers grows and grows every day: facebook, twitter, blogging, video, ebooks, photo stories, the options seem endless.
Meanwhile, I have discovered that my goals as a publisher — whatever they be — do not align with my needs as a writer. I write three regular pieces each month for Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, and I feel that is more than enough for each issue, for sure. But, there are other things I want to write about that aren’t columns, aren’t “articles.”
I started Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine so I could learn with our readers. After three years of learning and educating myself though — I’m feeling that need to do some teaching with my words. I’ve been studying culinary and healing herbs — from seed to skillet or herbal tea or tincture — and have never found many books or resources that organizes the information the way I would. I hope to soon be publishing some eFiles (white papers, special reports, ebooks – whatever you want to call them) that shares the information in a more practical way.
Frank and I have also sacrificed our travels and travel writing for our garden and our magazine. Our camping gear is dusty and disorganized, but I feel a trip coming in the next 30 days. It’s been too long, and I have my new little Olympus camera to play with. I’m sure we’re going to Audra State Park (which we’ve covered several times before because it is our ultimate favorite place) but we’ve never taken video, we’ve never blogged about it, and we’ve been away for far too long.
None of this did I realize though, until I put it on the backburner, behind the 2010 Census. I worked exactly 53 days for the census before I resigned. I was trained, trained others, and coordinated CLD 105 until all the Assignment Binders were complete. I started with 18 active crew members, and the day I left, there were four left to wrap up the details. They didn’t need me any more — and the garden did.
The moment I turned in my notice of resignation, all my other plans and projects and ideas came into focus. Just as I was beginning to think my plans for a local community market would have to wait another year — our site location was approved. Research and development I was struggling to understand jumped out at me from the pages of a new book – clear as day. Herb seeds, tossed out in the early spring and since forgotten, appear and remind me of my hopes for them, and I caught the potato bugs arrival in the garden — just in time to win the first battle.
Before the census, I had drafts and plans and projects too many to process. But upon my mental return, they are simply waiting to be brought to life.
I’m still not organized. Things have come together in my brain and not yet in my life. Paperwork, dishes, laundry, dog walking — all these things also have to be done. But the direction is so clear now. Whatever was keeping my mind in a tangle has simply — disappeared.
I can’t wait to go camping now. Four or five days away from the phone, computer, farm and garden will be a retreat that allows everything in my head to fall completely into place, and provides the rest and rejuvenation needed to tackle it all gleefully upon our return.
But, before we can go, we have to get the garden ready, sort and wash the camping gear, publish and distribute the July issue, launch the community market, and find a sitter for the chickens.
In the meantime, I have started some new projects. I’ve been beating my brain about eBooks since January, and have accomplished two of my 2010 goals: offering eSubscriptions, and offering past issues of Two-Lane Livin’ as eFiles. Seems like two fairly simple things, right? Well, I’ve been trying to figure the right way to go about it for six months. Right now, I’m putting up past issues beginning with Volume 1, Issue 1 – September 2007 issue, and I’m going to work my way to the present. So far, two issues are available, both of them no longer available in print. The eSubscriptions right now are handled through paypal and links provided by e-mail, but I’m hoping to automate this service soon.
But not until AFTER everything else.
Considering the rise in frustration and attitudes this week in my census crew, I would take a guess that we all need this holiday weekend. Of course, officials would rather we all worked but, they are willing to allow a little breathing room.
As for myself, I miss my life.
When a task demands that you be on call or available seven days a week, it is easy to neglect other things in your life. Gardens, pets, friends, family… Today, I am feeling a little resentful of the way the census has demanded my attention and time.
And frankly, no one can work seven days a week for three weeks or more and not get a little burnt out.
The government is a cold, flawed boss. Rules, regulations and policy — all of us are nothing more than temporary cogs in the wheels. No benefits, no over time, no mercy.
Of course, in my lifetime I’ve had other bosses that were the same, but I’ve also have employers who felt more like family than bosses.
Either way, there are some in my crew who look at the hay fields, and know it’s time to put up hay. Others, like me, look at their businesses and see the paperwork piling. Meanwhile, days of rain last week and hours in the field gave weeds in the garden a head start, and I wonder if I’ll ever get caught up with them, much less ahead.
Of course, the crew also includes the die-hard workers, who prefer to work on a holiday weekend, to milk the government pay for all it’s worth, or for lack of anything else to do. Meanwhile, there are those also who never really wanted to work in the first place.
Government pay is hard to find in Central West Virginia, and we are all very fortunate to be among the few chosen for these jobs. Even so, in many ways, I feel I have sold my soul for the almighty dollar. I’ve stockpiled coffee, cocoa, sugar, and other pantry staples, bought Frank two new pair of Levi’s, have set aside funds for new brakes on the GMC and a few other repairs. Our “tab” at the corner store is paid up (not that it ever gets far behind), and other than that — well, we really don’t need a whole lot.
A majority of our next year’s groceries are in the garden, or in the pantry already. No temporary job or government pay scale would purchase the bounty that our garden promises. A couple week’s pay could never benefit the farm the way a good harvest of hay will.
In many ways, I feel spoiled and lazy when I say I tire of this job. I feel, in many ways I’m “looking a gift horse in the mouth” and I don’t care. It’s odd. I’ve pretty much had a job as long as I can remember, before I was sixteen. in my life, I can remember perhaps a total of a year, or two, when I wasn’t employed. Now that I’m self employed, setting my own schedule, my own routine, I find it difficult to be at the beck and call of “a job.”
What a spoiled, spoiled creature I am.
So, even now that I am painfully aware that I am no longer enjoying my task, I cannot part from it. I am not a quitter by nature. The task isn’t finished, and I fund myself unable to separate myself until it is. It must be that West Virginia work ethic, something that only runs through about half of my crew. For those who do have the work ethic, for some, the choice must be made — to continue this temporary task for the government and risk serious set backs on the homefront and farm, or to forfeit the 40 hour paycheck in order to secure the harvest.
Which has greater value? The 40-hour paycheck or the season’s success? Which should be sacrificed? I feel confident that an urbanite’s answer would be much different than the regrets I am being offered by a crew member or two — the same regrets that sound in my mind as I frantically yank grasses from my lettuce bed, and pinch weeds from between the carrots.
Certainly, the head office in Detroit wouldn’t understand…
My crew leader training was held in Harrisville, a good hour of twisty two-lanes away. There were nine students in my class, and my Field Operations Supervisor (FOS) had been on board with the census for a while. In other words, he knew the “routine”, and talked the lingo.
It took me several days to grasp and process all the acronyms and form numbers. CLD, FOS, D308, LCO, EQ, HU, NRFU…. The letters and numbers seem to be a different language at first. I felt I needed a translator.
Of course, now I talk like that.
The first day was paperwork, and it is an overwhelming day – for both the trainer and the trainee. Trainees get folders filled with blank forms – direct deposit, oaths, employment forms, overtime policies, and nearly every form for every student has to be signed by the trainer.
I didn’t realize as a student what a rough day the first day of training is for the trainer — until I had my first day as a trainer.
Some of the trainees had worked previous phases, and didn’t have as much paperwork, but all new employees also have to be fingerprinted — twice.
Crew leader training takes four days, enumerator training takes four days. Both could be done much better in five. Fingerprint training takes four hours – - and it is a easy, easy process to understand.
However, when we began our brief session of “practice printing” I found I could not manage to get three acceptable prints in a row — much less ten. My FOS (my trainer and my supervisor) promised that we would all improve with practice.
I came home and mentioned that I would need his help to practice my fingerprinting. He immediately said no.
It appears that fingerprinting is just one of those things that I cannot master.
I’m not exactly crushed.
But it is a perfect example of the difference between understanding the theory of something, and working through the reality of it. It is often much easier to read and understand than it is to do.
This thread is common through the tapestry that is the census.
Since the day I received the call that called me aboard as a 2010 Census worker, I have been considering whether or not to blog about the experience. In fact, I thought I had made the decision not to.
There are good reasons not to publicly touch the subject. When hired, all census workers take an oath to hold personally identifiable information (PII) confidential. However, in less than three weeks, it has become obvious that the stories from this experience can be shared without breaking the oath I took, and that the stories are going to be too good not to share.
Let me begin by saying that I believe that the census is important. I encourage everyone to participate, even if you aren’t willing to answer all the questions. Answer the questions that you are comfortable with – all, or even some.
Let me also say that all the people I personally work with seem to be good people. We all want to do our best, all want to perform well.
This is the second census I have worked, and although I am no longer in contact with the people I worked with years ago, I remember them all fondly. I remember having fun. I remember that there were some frustrations, but most often, when I recall that experience of long ago, I remember it fondly.
Of course, I was just a peon in the system then. Lowest on the totem pole. I was responsible for myself, and my work.
This time around, I’m a crew leader. I’m not only responsible for my own work, but also responsible for the work of a whole district, for the work of sixteen others in my crew – a crew that is likely to grow by five within a week.
Of course, there’s a bigger picture. Our work will determine the representation our community gets. The results of our work will determine levels of federal funding that is funneled into our community for the next ten years. Our work, if done properly, will ensure that our community receives what it deserves.
I feel what we are doing is important.
However, I also have a general distrust of government – Democrat, Republican, it matters little to me. It just seems, to me, that government has ‘run amuck’.
Even so, in many ways, I feel by working and doing my best with the census, I’m performing a civic service — and the federal wages are a nice perk.
The Census is the largest workforce of the nation that comes together during peace time. The task is immense, the logistics are a nightmare, and any plan or strategy would have to be generic – in other words, not custom-created for the geography, topography or culture of West Virginia.
In other words, there’s a sound plan of approach, but…
Well, you know how it goes…..
Every American in the nation knows (or should know by now) that it is a census year. Every ten years we are counted; every ten years the opportunity for temporary federal jobs along the pay scale arrives to every nook and cranny of the country.
When I was a newspaper reporter, I often encountered groups, organizations, efforts and causes that I wanted to be a part of. I would not have discovered some of these things if not for my job. However, it was the job that prevented me from having the time to participate fully.
One of the things I enjoy most about “being my own boss” is the ability to allow my self to get involved with some of the groups and causes, to allow myself the time to learn and take action on a variety of topics that interest me. Chickens, gardens, bees, worms, CEOS club, recycling, etc.
This, in many ways, paralells the dilemma of generations of West Virginia: to tend to the farm and the community, or to take the job that helps pay the bills. How many thousands of West Virginians have left home for employment? How many long to return to a life that includes a closer relationship to the land and family and community?
Frank and I are not among the fortunate minority who can say, “We have enough money, thanks anyway.” Having worked for the census before, when this opportunity knocked again, I applied, excited to participate again. I waited, and waited, and waited with anticipation to see if I would be selected. It was something I wanted so badly, I ached. I wanted to bring out my business clothes, to paint my nails again, to have a reason to leave the farm on a more frequent basis.
And when the call came, telling me to report in, I was immediately overcome with a feeling of concern. How will the hens fend without me? Who will give them their early afternoon snack? Who will make sure the herb garden maintains its rabbit-proof status? Who will pluck the leaves from the plants before the heat of the day bakes the flavor from them? Who would take Daisy for her daily walk?
Yes, Frank can help carry the chores for the next few weeks, but it’s not like he doesn’t have his own to-do list. Fence repair, roof repair, equipment maintenance, and of course — hay.
The excitement of “having a real job” again, even if only for a temporary period of time, is tainted by the fact that my children (Daisy Dewdrop, the hens, the gardens, the magazine) will have to also live without the extreme coddling and careful attention that they really need.
How many farms and homes to we watch crumble while the owners work and live in another state to survive? How many family members to we see only for holidays, weddings and funerals? How many fields fill with scrub and brush while the former farmer puts in his eight hours elsewhere?
This is the dilemma of people throughout the world. To care for your family in person, with daily interaction — or to care for them by serving as a rat in the big race? It is the choice between serving as a caregiver or as a provider. In our culture, it is the provider of the family who makes everything else possible, the provider who provides security and stability. But it is the caretaker who provides the guidance, the encouragement, the comfort. Throughout the world parents, farmers, folks from all walks of life, do their best to serve both roles. It is the challenge that every family and every worker faces.
As long as we are able, Frank and I have chosen to be active homesteaders who publish a magazine for the long term. But for the current short term — I am again an employee.
I know some are reading this without sympathy. Some don’t realize that a successful garden, flock, harvest is a job. Though not considered “a real job,” it is, I guarantee you, hard work. It is a job that runs, not from nine to five, but from dawn to dusk. A full freezer and pantry only come if the “employees” weed, water, fertilize, protect and maintain the crop, flock or herd every single day. Potato bugs can wipe out a row of potatoes in less than two days. Chickens can dehydrate in less than four hours. Plants not watered in the cool of the morning will bake and wither in a single afternoon. A rabbit or deer can wipe out an entire herb garden in a single night. There is no fixing these after the fact. In many instances, there is no “try again” until next year. The world of nature does not have a mentality of fences and straight rows. It is a barely controllable battle for survival of the fittest, and my heirloom tomatoes may not be the fittest of the ecosystem that is our yard. Those tomatoes need my help to survive.
Those tomatoes keep us in salsa, spaghetti sauce, soup broth, pizza sauce, etc. — all winter.
The census job is a perk, the garden and farm and flock is our survival. I am excited to be a part of the census, but also fearful about being separated from our real life here at home.
We shall see how this experiment goes – if the garden survives without me checking on it throughout the day for six weeks. I hope it survives, and I hope I survive too, with “the real job” during the day and my “home jobs” in the morning and evening.
Good thing the census didn’t come during harvest season.