And So It Begins

Today marks the last day of “normal” at my job. Tomorrow we’ll all have off to celebrate Thanksgiving, and Friday morning, bright and early, it is “The Holidays” ™.

(It’s been hinting at The Holidays ™ for awhile. The store is already starting to show signs of impending Holiday-ness, with displays of gift books and stationery and gift packs all interspersed with little evergreen branches and red bows. But it’s not really been the real deal yet.)

Bright and early Friday morning, as customers line up outside the door at the ass crack of dawn for the Black Friday gift bags, the CD player will be filled with Christmas and Winter music (because I really don’t think “Here Comes Suzy Snowflake” has anything to do with Christmas at all).

As an employee, this means being driven crazy with the music on repeat – no matter how many CDs we have, the CD player will play through the same tracks over and over and over, no matter how many times you push “randomize discs”. It means frustrated, hurried customers – thankfully made somewhat less grumpy by the fact that we sell books that look new but are priced at half or less of their cover price, as they’re gently used. People are always happy when they can get their gifts for less money than they thought they’d have to spend, especially during the holidays, when they are usually stretching their budget and credit limit to its breaking point.

To be honest, working retail sucks most of the fun of the holidays for me. It’s hard to be forcefully pleasant at the best of times, but when things are as busy as they get around Christmas, it’s even more difficult, as you don’t get a break. There’s no let-down at all really.

It’s frustrating, because normally I like this time of year (as I like all seasonally oriented holidays) – I like the slow change to the dark days, and the turnaround at the Solstice. I like the beginning of winter, and celebrating the New Year with champagne and black eyed peas. I like evergreen trees and pretty white lights – the closest it gets to snow here. I like getting presents for people, mailing cookies to my friends, and sending cards to family.

I’m usually able to let go of the crazy competitiveness and “gotta-get-it-all” attitudes, and just enjoy having an excuse to send people mail and cookies.

But working retail just sucks all the energy I have, leaving just the dregs for doing those things I look forward to.

So this year, I started early.

While I can’t make cookies early, I got all the cards addressed and most of the shopping done. Having the house ready for Thanksgiving means it’ll be just maintenance to have it ready for houseguests at Christmas as well, and maybe a New Year’s shindig. Gifts are mostly clutter-free, useful, needed (or delicious) items that I’ve been thinking about for a good long time, knowing that I won’t have to run out and just get SOMETHING for the sake of having it to unwrap.

We’ll see if all that does anything for my energy levels as The Holidays ™ wear on, but I’m hoping being prepared will help keep me from getting too Grinchy.

How does your garden grow?

(Another sort of kum-ba-ya post for this week. Apparently I’m in that kind of mood.)

Reason #1 (which is actually a few reasons):

Because it’s fun. I get to spend time outside in the sun. I get to eat fresh, fully ripened vegetables I know were grown well and healthily. I get to feed garden spiders, meet snapping turtles, and watch lizards and skinks feast on craneflies, mosquitoes, and whatever else they can catch. I can go out and pick pretty flowers for my kitchen and cook with fresh herbs. I get 30-60 minutes of sunshine and “meditation” time every few days (or every day in the summer) while I water and tend to things, time spent alone, but with purpose. Because it forces me to actively pay attention to my surroundings. Because I can easily see the results of my work, whether it’s fewer weeds, pruned plants, picked harvests, or cleared out space for new things.

Reason #2:

Because it’s never just “go to work, come home, live meaningless and repetitive life” with a garden. In fact, I’d never really thought about it that way, until I read a recent article on Cracked.com about things they never tell children about being adults. Apparently, once you become an adult, you never have “summer” again – “summer” just means more work and then weekends doing housework and then more work, with no chance to re-create yourself and take breaks to think.

There’s a certain truth to that, unless you’re a teacher (at which point summer sometimes means working two seasonal jobs to get extra income). At work, time is measured in arbitrary weeks. Those weeks change, with weekends and shifts … well, shifting every week. Time is measured in coupons and promotions, sales plans and marketing strategies. It’s measured in hours of different colored squares that tell me that this hour I have to answer the phone, but next hour I have to stand at Register 3, before I go to lunch.

When I go home, though, I look at the plants in the yard. I notice that the replanted Pentas look a little droopy and need water, but that the mulch is holding up on the new bed pretty well. I notice that the gerbera daisies seem to be thriving in the bed with the hibiscus plant, and silently cheer to FINALLY have a spot for them (and that the new one I got last week with no color indication is, in fact, PEACH. NEW COLOR YAY!). I notice that the purple coneflowers have sprouted their batch of babies for this year, taking my total plants from 6 to about 30, and that the shasta daisies out front need water. I notice that it’s time to start eating lettuce, and that the radishes are starting to look radishey. I notice that the crepe myrtles are budding out, and that a few still need to be pruned.

I notice that it’s late March.

In June, I’ll be noticing something different. I’ll be pulling out dead squash and tomato plants and starting the season of “wait and see”, giving me time to plan a fall garden and start preparing for winter.  By September, I’ll be hoping to keep a last few plants alive, thankful for the butterfly and wildflower gardens ability to tolerate heat and drought. In October, I’ll plant broccoli and winter squash.

In short, even though I go to work, and my work is “meaningless” in terms of creating that new start, creating chapters and dividing lines in my life the way school once did, I always have the garden to find that meaning. Every spring is different. Some plants will die, others will thrive. I’ll hand turn the compost and coffee grounds and dead leaves into the soil, tilling under any last vestiges of what might’ve been left over last year, and start again fresh.

The seasons are pretty spiffy like that.

Reason #3:

Because when I work in a garden, in a muddy t-shirt and stained jeans and old boots, with my hair tied up in a bandanna and enough dirt going around that I eventually end up finding it not only between my toes but behind my ears and IN MY BRA, it doesn’t matter what I look like. It doesn’t matter if I can wear a bikini and not be in a state of high anxiety the whole time. It doesn’t matter if my (body part) doesn’t conform to (unrealistic social standard).

I’m in the garden. I can spend an afternoon with a shovel and a pickaxe, a rake and a hand mattock, and bust through many square feet of 30 year neglected shrubs. I can weed and water, put down mulch, prune plants and deadhead flowers. I can carry bags of mulch and topsoil and sand and poo. I know my way around a lawnmower and a weedeater; I’ve used a chainsaw and a pole saw. I can trim bushes and cultivate baby plants into strong seedlings that will grow into fully developed plants. I can tend things as they grow. And then, after all that tending, I get flowers and vegetables and fruits to show for it.

In the garden, I’m strong, capable, and awesome, even if I have dirt in my bra. It doesn’t matter what my mental state is, if I’m having a good or a bad day, the sheer physicality of the work grounds me and evens things out.

The Earth is strong, and I gain strength from working with it.