Disenfranchised

A lot of very exciting and very dull and very everyday things have happened since I last shared about life as a landscaper in rural Michigan (I still get weird shivers of wtf?! And yay! When I type that). However, the thing that has burdened my mind lately as we edge closer to November is my newly-established disenfranchised status. I very proudly became a United States permanent resident in August, and carry my green card around with me everywhere. For as long as I can remember I have been infatuated with the entire cosmic universe of ‘AMERICA’. I think of it lit up like a sign on Broadway with music and opportunity and fabulousness oozing out of every pore. I’m not stupid though. I know it’s a country littered with issues and seems to be very lost and divided as it searches for a new identity in this millenium. But there is an unshakeable ‘America’ core that still shines like a beacon to me and is what makes me proud to live here and have been accepted by this nation to join its residents.

The one thing I do not have, as a green card toting individual with an Australian passport, is the right to vote. Unlike many women, I grew up with no doubt that on the day I turned 18 and officially was recognized as capable of having an opinion, I would be an enfranchised citizen and able to fill out a ballot paper expressing who I wished to govern the nation of Australia. I often worked elections, counting ballot papers and running polling booths, and aside from the bonus paycheck, I always reveled in how bloody fabulous it is that the people of Australia would line up for a half an hour or more, eat their democracy sausage and freely and peaceably and privately cast an opinion for the next set of leaders. And I was secure in the fact I could fill out that ballot paper too. In fact I was blase about it. ‘Oh whatever I’ll just fill mine out later’ I’d say while dealing with how to allow citizens so old they couldn’t get out of the car to vote in a way that didn’t destroy the validity of their ballot (a true crime against democracy).

I am now disenfranchised. The United States does not permit non-citizens to vote in elections. The mid terms are approaching, and even in my little town in northern Michigan, there are political events everyday, door knockers earnestly telling you why you should vote for their candidate, I even went to a breakfast for a judge seeking election to the Michigan State Supreme Court (a woman, with four kids, significant private practice history, who volunteers for local problem courts? My new hero basically). I met the woman running against the current incumbent for our district for the state House of Representatives, who left sales to run her family farm when her father was dying of cancer and after a few decades of revolutionizing the farming community in her area has now decided to revolutionize the representation of the people in our area. Guys I feel galvanized by the passion of the Americans around me, who are speaking out on issues and declaring change all the while extolling the virtues of this amazing place that we live – in Michigan, surrounded by vast and spectacular natural beauty of lakes, and in the United States, the land of the free. But I can’t vote. And instead of thinking maybe it gives me a chance to avoid politics and stick my head in the sand and not have an opinion, I feel so decidedly left out. I can’t participate fully in the democratic system because I am an outsider. I can’t have a tangible voice in this. No skin in the game. Sure I can share my views and opinions on Facebook or through conversations with friends and family, and I can learn everything there is to know about the system and parties and people that create the framework of the nation. But that doesn’t mean anything when November comes around, and it’s the day to vote and I just can’t do it. I was on the fence about whether I would seek American citizenship, and I’m not eligible for a few years in any case. But this has been a fascinating time of reflection for me, because if I remain living here, which I intend to do, I will not accept not being able to have the right to declare my view by way of the ballot box about the way this country that I truly love and admire will go.

There is so much to contend with when you move to a new nation, but this may be the one that has surprised me most. Message: appreciate the full, dazzling beauty of being an enfranchised citizen.

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Missing accents

I hate coming up with titles for blog posts. It gives me the same sense of anxiety as giving an email a subject line – like I don’t know yet! There are several subjects! And I don’t want to confuse anyone by which subject I pick for the subject line, as that may not be the primary, or even secondary, topic. Or, I get too prescriptive. Like today I really wanted to just write a bit about my six-month obsession with essential oils, so I typed the title ‘Essential Oils’, but then I thought I sounded a bit like someone who was an authority on essential oils. And I’m not. Also, pre-disclosure, I don’t believe essential oils have any medical benefits whatsoever. I think they smell really good, and I prefer using diffusers to candles (I used to burn candles allll the time but I did have a large fear of burning down my apartment building). So that’s why I didn’t stick with my original proscriptive title, in case somehow someone was reading this to learn about the medicinal benefits of essential oils?

Anyway, time to move on from that internal reflection. Generally I just wanted to share how much I love essential oils. They just smell so good! I have two diffusers going most of the time, one in our office and one at home. I have heard some hilarious stories of essential oil non-believers like myself having the apparently beneficial effects of oils forced upon them to their devastation. The worst transgression I heard was someone sneaking some drops of peppermint essential oil into an unsuspecting innocent’s latte when he had a cold. An untainted latte would probably have had a better impact on a cure than the oil, in my personal opinion. But I’m happy to accept that when I have horrible allergies, the cleansing smell of eucalyptus makes me happy. And I have grapefruit oil diffusing at home 100% of the time, which counteracts the horrible smell of dead animal that my adorable puppy leaves everywhere he goes (I watched him devour the skeleton of a dead cat the other day, and I haven’t forgiven him for it yet. I don’t even like cats).

I have read a lot of useful uses for essential oils, like putting drops in your dryer (to make your clothes smell pleasant) and in home-made cleaning products (which I’m not virtuous enough to have made yet, but I do enjoy thinking about what a great person I would be if I used them). All of the uses really come back, in my mind, to smelling nice. Diffusers are also wonderful for people who live in cold wintery climates (like myself, who would’ve thought!) and can’t open the windows but desperately want to get rid of that stuffy smell.

My mum also bought me a beautiful necklace that had a little stone you can tip essential oils onto and carry the ‘benefits’ (ie of smelling nice) around with you. In a tragic turn of events I lost the little stone in the first five minutes of wearing it, but those first four minutes were really nice to carry around the refreshing scent of grapefruit! Luckily the necklace is gorgeous so it works just fine without essential oils. However, I am kind of tempted to treat myself to a diffuser bracelet to sniff at random intervals, but I’ll probably just lose it and may just stick to diffusing.

Anyway, let me know if you think I’m sacrilegious for my firm non-belief in any benefits beyond scent for essential oils. But I’m sure you do agree that they smell just great, and are much less stressful than having an open flame at home.

And that’s my musings for today.

Book Update

There are hobbies, and then there is lifelong callings, and I am going to be so bold as to say that reading is a lifelong calling for everyone calling themselves a human being on this planet. Books expand your mind, and challenge your beliefs, and let you feel emotions you didn’t really know how to feel, and you can do it all in your pyjamas.

Disclosure: I am experimenting with Amazon Affiliate links, and the links you see below will take you to a page where, if you make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. If you prefer, don’t click the link and google the item separately if you’d like to purchase it. Happy reading 🙂

Since 2014 I’ve been setting a reading goal via the greatest app invention of all time, Goodreads. So far, I’ve yet to reach any of my goals. In 2014, I aimed for 50 books and got to 37. In 2015, I aimed for 20 and read about 12 (that was my first year at the law firm, so you know, I spent a lot of time haphazardly at the office or drunk at karaoke). In 2016, I aimed for 40 and hit 22, and in 2017 I aimed for 30, and hit 28. So despite never reaching my elusive goal I set for myself, I decided in 2018 to aim for 52 books. The theory was that I was moving countries, and becoming a business owner so obviously I’d have just like a tonne more time. This theory was both correct, and incorrect, but in any case, I have now devoured 33 books (hallelujah!) and wanted to do a little round up of my favourites, and a warning against some absolute travesties.

Some of the Best

The Night Circus // Erin Morgenstern

 

This was recommended to me by a fellow book loving friend, and it was absolutely incredible. I loved it so much that I’m planning for a re-read at the beginning of 2019, which is an honour only previously bestowed upon the Harry Potter series and The Girl In Times Square which I was weirdly besotted with. If you read nothing else in 2018/the rest of your life, read this one.

<a href="http://The Snow Child: A Novel“>The Snow Child // Eowyn Ivey

 

I came across this book through the part of instagram that is dedicated to people who like to read, but in a really attractive and photogenic way. The writing was like what I imagine falling into a Pensieve would be like – as though you’d fallen through into another world and could actually feel the snow falling around you. I truly felt my emotions were muffled by the expansive nothingness of snow-covered Alaska. Actually magical book.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine // Gail Honeyman

 

Honestly I kind of thought that the genre of whacky main characters who you’re initially turned off by but then come to love (see The Rosie Project) had been kind of done, so I thought everyone was being a bit OTT about this book. But Eleanor is just the best! Some of her quirks got a little tiresome, but overall this book was (weirdly considering some of the content) just delightful and completely engrossing. Great plane reading if you are trying to kill time without looking at a screen because you can’t gobble the book down fast enough.

Unmasked and Everything to Live For // Turia Pitt


Okay I’ve sandwiched two books together, but they are both autobiographical stories written by my personal hero Turia Pitt, and I loved them both for different reasons. Turia was running an ultra marathon in the Kimberley when she suffered horrific burns from a major bushfire. In each book she details her recovery, particularly her mindset towards it and how she used different mental strategies to overcome just unbelievable physical and mental pain (I can’t imagine waking up and seeing my face completely gone, most of my fingers amputated, let alone the complete and utter agony of daily changing bandages over my burnt body). And then the woman went and did an Ironman (another of my personal goals). I just love her and everything about her, so I enjoyed these books. Full disclosure, there are tonnes of self-help and personal improvement books out there, and these may not resonate with others the way they did with me, but I had some low moments after moving, and I found Turia’s no-nonsense, get up and get on with it approach to things that feel hard to really work for me. Plus, I think she’s a true hero.

Some of the Fun Ones

The Queen of Hearts // Kimmery Martin

 

This extraordinarily attractive cover was littered across beautiful reading Instagram accounts, and I subscribe to judging a book by its cover. This was basically Grey’s Anatomy in novel form, and I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it would revolutionise fiction or change your life, but it was one of those good, fun reads (god, what a know-it-all phrase) and I think worth picking up if you’re trying to re-exercise a reading muscle. Separate point, I also just love that this was written by a female doctor. Girl power.

 

The Rules of Backyard Croquet // Sunni Overend

 

Another book I picked because it was pretty. I really need to spend less time on Instagram. I loved this book mainly because I listened to it on Audible and the narrator was an Australian, and sometimes you need nothing more than to hear other people talk like you. The story itself was light and fluffy and a bit of fun. I did get frustrated with the main character after a while, like Apple, it’s been years since your conflict, bloody well move on and live your life. But when you accept the type of book you’re reading, it can be forgiven, and I had fun reading it.

 

Some of the Shockers

The Other Einstein // Marie Benedict

What an absolute waste of time. Heinous writing, extremely liberal approach to history, devastatingly awful dialogue. Do not read.

Girl, Wash Your Face // Rachel Hollis

I really wanted to like this, as I am partial to a good old self-help book. But honestly the title made no sense and the ‘discoveries’ and self-realizations were very shallow. I feel like this book encapsulates all the things I dislike about the influencer generation. I do think that if I met the author in the wild, I’d really like her and enjoy her company, but that doesn’t mean she needed to write a book.

 

The Great Alone // Kristin Hannah

I listened to this book on Audible while painting and caulking the never-ending trim and doors in the office that we built this winter. There were flashes of interesting insight into life in Alaska (and living in Northern Michigan I was like WHY MAKE IT HARDER ON YOURSELF), but the love story was just baffling and completely unbelievable. Don’t read.

There are other books on my Read shelf, but I just wanted to start with some that have stuck in my mind for good, or other, reasons. Happy reading!
 

 

The Small Business Files: The Early Days

The primary motivation for throwing in perfectly good careers (lawyer, commercial analyst) and taking off for the other side of the world for us was taking over the small business that had been in the family name for almost a hundred years. To say we were even more in over our heads than we possibly could have imagined is saying something – this year has been a baptism of fire like I never anticipated. However, we have learnt some very strange and helpful things along the way, and I had the urge to write them down.

Working with your spouse takes a special kind of patience

I married a very excellent human who beats the pants off me on every single measure of kindness, patience, generosity of spirit and exactitude, but even so, working with your spouse is a uniquely ridiculous dimension to add to your relationship. The first thing my partner said to me when I informed him of this utterly new path we were embarking on (after, of course, congratulating me and saying what a great idea it was), was a story of a former colleague who had taken off to do a similar thing, but was back within a year carrying horror stories of working with family and failing to agree (we not only work together as a married couple, but very closely with my father in law) and basically hating every second of it. I felt extremely encouraged. But we are 7 months in, and there have been moments where I’ve wanted to kill everyone, but to the credit of my husband and father in law, who are both very outstanding men, we are all still alive, and have found a way to productively and positively work together. To do this, on my part, requires internal reminders whenever I’m ready to yell that ‘everyone is doing their best to make everyone else’s life easier’. I literally repeat that to myself when I go to drive to the gym and my car is missing because it’s been taken to help a crew out on a jobsite (this happens all the time, and is my favourite example because nothing enrages me more than booking into a class and getting ready to book it down the highway only to be staring at an empty driving and questioning how the hell I got to where I am if there is no car?!) It’s a good reminder that no one is out to ruin my day. They’re just doing the best they can to make everyone’s life easier.

Productivity looks different in small business ownership

It looks like every time you are sitting there with the white noise of the impossible list of to dos threatening to drown you, picking up and doing any one thing. ANY one thing. It may be the least important thing. It may be the thing that was more efficient to do at the same time as this other thing because it’s on the way to the other thing. It may be something that doesn’t need to be done until 2020 (sometimes I write lists of plants we might need if the predicted weather stays exactly the same for the next two years, of which there is zero chance because Michigan). But it is nonetheless a thing that needs to get done, and unlike my rose-coloured-view of my life before at Big Law Firm, no one else is going to do it. There is no nice cleaner who comes in at 6 every day to vacuum the floor and wipe down my keyboard and deal with all the rank dishes left in the kitchen (god I miss that). That is our job. There’s also no nice IT team to come and fix my phone when emails aren’t working, or fix the internet when it keeps telling me the IP address doesn’t work, or the printer won’t EFFING CONNECT when someone is waiting for a plan or an invoice.

To deal with this, I now maintain a list titled ‘Things That Are Stressing Me Out’. It includes fun items like ‘fixing monthly taxes’, ‘company branding overhaul’ and ‘buy printer ink’. Whenever I feel paralysed by the white noise, I just add items to that list. If I’m feeling virtuous, sometimes I complete one or two items. Usually the least important ones. That act is often enough for me to find fifteen other things I can do quickly that will drown out the static of stress for a while.

No one does your filing

I miss my secretary so bad. First, because she was the best, coolest person I’ve ever met and I love her. Second, because she just got my shit done. If I needed help with anything, she did it, better than I could, in half the time, and freed me up to do the billable work. I am now my own secretary, and if it were up to me, I’d be fired because I am useless. I leave piles of important paperwork everywhere, and I have no consistent systems that are employed with thought and consistency. I do prefer to blame this on my fellow work mates who like to ignore my lists and workflow solutions. But it really comes down to me, and it is exhausting. Often, ‘deal with file pile’ is at the top of my ‘Things That Are Stressing Me Out List’. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that second is ‘don’t have eyelash extensions and really want them’. Anyway, just like folding the washing, this job builds up to the most impossible and scariest thing in my mind, but every time I actually do it, it takes 5 minutes and a load off. Work in progress.

Routines can’t exist

We naively thought that owning a business would mean magical things like ‘control over our own time!’ and ‘ability to set routines that suit us!’ While my days are now much more fluid than they were in my previous world, so that I can do things like go to CrossFit at 10.15 and then spend an hour at home cooking and showering and pottering and grocery shopping (because I go into the office at 6.30 with husbo), you are just as subject to the unpredictable timing of the whims of clients and colleagues as you are in any other job. The main thing you have ownership over is how you choose to deal with them. We haven’t chosen to deal with them in an orderly and routine fashion (well, I personally am a big fan of the orderly routine I devised but I’ve been kindly scoffed at), but that is in some ways a reflection of the small town approach to life. But just like a traditional job, you have to do what has to be done, it’s just different people asking/telling you what those things are, and when they want them.

Seasonal businesses are a whole different ball game

We moved to our new home right in the depth of the sad part of winter. There was a deep blanket of snow over everything we could see. The ground was frozen solid. Things don’t grow in the snow and in solid ground (fun fact). So, this is our prep season. We get ready for the onslaught of summer in northern Michigan. We buy inventory. We plan. This year we built a building! Many of these things cost money, and they cost a lot of money, and rudely, we don’t really make any money (because well, there isn’t any actual client work to do). So when the snow melts and the ground thaws, you go, and you go as hard and as fast as you humanly can, and then you go some more, until the ground freezes again, because you have a short short window in NoMi where the sun shines and you can bear to be outside.

That’s enough for now. Despite and because of all of the above, business ownership is just as rewarding as I always hoped.

 

 

Woops

Well world, I blinked and summer was OVER, the leaves are changing, the air is a little cooler and I cannot believe where we are right now. The end of the year is in sight, and we my friends are still alive!

What’ve we been up to lately? Well, for one, dealing with the metric tonne of tomatoes that my first vegetable garden has put forth. I have thrown away more perfectly good tomatoes than I care to admit, because it is physically impossible to deal with all of them. The freezer is packed to the brim with pasta sauce, cherry tomatoes, diced tomatoes, baked tomatoes and on my laziest days, whole tomatoes shoved in bags. I’ve eaten egg and tomato omelettes with kale (another bountiful garden friend) every day for months and I am DONE. All of that aside, I’m very proud of my budding green thumb. I never truly appreciated the deep sense of pride that comes from eating food you watched appear before your very eyes. The garden has also produced a petrifying number of poblano peppers (no idea what to do with them, but they are very cute looking), and the most delicious green capsicums. Those I was able to eat at the pace they grew, because I am the ultimate consumer of capsicums with every meal. My key takeaways from my first season as a vegetable grower are: visit your plants every day, tell them you’re proud of them when they give off fruit, and harvest regularly, since I felt for every one kale leaf I snapped off, another ten would shoot out the top. Bonus tip, snap kale leafs from the bottom of the plant, so that the energy keeps shooting up.

The major enemy in my veggie patch was a little bastard called the tomato hornworm. When the plants were weighed down with green tomatoes that were just not ripening, we noticed that there were leaves disappearing, looking like they’d just been munched right off. Turns out this is the classic calling card of this mean green tomato machine, and we spent several weeks hunting and squishing the disgusting things until they left my tomatoes well alone. While I was initially devastated, the tomatoes were so prolific I almost wish they had eaten a few more off so I wasn’t feeling so wasteful.

Other than the quaint life of veggie farming, I harvested a bajillion raspberries, blackberries, and black raspberries in the hottest weeks of July. Across our farm are lots of wild berry bushes, and myself and Taco the berry hunter would spend hours filling buckets with berries that I turned into cobbler or froze to later top pavlovas or make jam. I haven’t actually made the jam yet because I realized I actually don’t eat jam that much and kind of love berries in their original form too much. Taco also loves berries in their original form, and would literally snort like a pig while eating the ripe ones straight off the vine. We had some magical afternoons in the woods at the back of the farm exploring for new plants, getting prickled and dripped on and stuffing our faces. You’d almost think he was a fellow human.

We continued to learn daily the trials and tribulations of running a business. We’ve both been expanding our skillsets – me into mastering the bookkeeping and taking on permitting, and the husbo into scheduling, and both of us into mastering the plant material that makes up the idyllic northern Michigan landscapes. There is an infinite number of diseases to learn, watch for and combat, and new plant varieties that come out each season, but the magic of living in the greenscape of Petoskey is that we can watch it unfold. The leaves are starting to turn and my pumpkins are starting to ripen, so a whole new set of learning is about to take place as trimming season kicks off, and larger landscaping projects come back online after the summering crowd departs to the real world again.

And why stop there? I’m proceeding with studying for the various tests that make up passing the bar in the State of New York (who knows when that will be, but I’m hoping February 2020), and decided to bite the bullet and get certified as a personal trainer, which has always been an ambition of mine. We have wonderful plans for a two week escape to New Zealand, and to defrost in Australia in January. And if that isn’t a whirlwind high level update on the random things that make up life here, well I don’t know what is. Although I did forget to mention that I am OFFICIALLY A PERMANENT RESIDENT, and I opened a bank account and my debit card has the Disney princess castle on it.

Looking forward to sharing more regularly as fall comes up.

Today’s To Do List

  • Pick berries – the season is too short! The berries came into bloom last weekend, and already they’re starting to wane. I’ve eaten my weight in fresh raspberries that glisten in the sunshine, and Taco has discovered his favourite treat. We let him run free in the woods at the back of the tree nursery and he comes back full of sugar and stained in berry juice. It’s awesome.
  • Rip out dead redwood trees with a loader. Driving the loader still petrifies me, and I absolutely hate when I accidentally end up with both front tyres up in the air because I’ve cooked the controls and can’t dig the bloody tree out. But I no longer sob my way through the hour I spend in the machine, so that’s progress.
  • Dry basil. There’s a basil jungle happening in my veggie garden, and since the tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet, I’m stripping back the basil bushes and experimenting with drying it out to give to my sister in law, and to stock up for winter.
  • Run 10km on the wheelway. I’ve decided to run a marathon. It’s been a few years since I did a few long distance runs (at a safe plod, but still covered the distance!), so I’m working my way back up to being used to being a little bored and choofing on anyway.

What a life hey?

Phone calls

Observation of northern Michiganders in their natural habitat: most appropriate cellphone greeting is ‘Hey you wild turkey!’

Fridays at work in Northern Michigan

I drive into the farm – the clouds are starting to set in over what has been a brilliantly blue summer. I’m singing along to my Broadway musical spotify playlist because I have fantastic taste. I pull around past the first crop of trees to see my husband holding a shotgun. He’d spotted the woodchuck that lurks in the outcropping of stone bravely venturing into the open space in front of the woodbark. In a normal world, this would be an opportunity to stay away and continue to coexist peacefully by ignoring each other. In northern Michigan, your father-in-law keeps a shotgun in the truck. Husband goes on the prowl. The woodchuck wisens up and disappears. We never found the woodchuck. There is now permanently a shotgun in our office. This is my new normal.