July 17, 2013

Semi-retirement can be a lot of work

As published in The Erin Advocate

I thought I was busy when I worked full time, but after sliding into semi-retirement, it seems harder than ever to accomplish the items on my to-do list.

Juggling an assortment of part-time jobs can really divide up your time and attention. I’m organized enough to always show up where I’m supposed to be, but without the discipline to schedule myself some quality leisure time.

Variety is something I’ve always wanted in my work life, but like all good things, it comes at a price.

Writing this column has given me the opportunity to meet hundreds of interesting people and tell some of Erin’s stories – though it feels like I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve just passed the five-year mark with Erin Insight, with more than 250 columns, plus a wide assortment of features, reports on Town Council and photo assignments.

I’ve also written a bunch of articles for Country Routes, the monthly supplement for rural readers published by The Advocate; and for the Sideroads magazines in both Caledon-Erin and Halton Hills, which have fancier design and nicer paper.

I would have to do a lot more than that, however, to actually earn a living as a freelance writer, and until last year I’d always had a full time job. When my employer went out of business (sorry, no money left for severance pay) it was an opportunity to branch out and try some different things.

Of course, part-time work and good wages rarely go hand in hand, but I have been able to do several part-time jobs thanks to my wife Jean, who has a good job. I expect to continue working long after she has retired, since I don’t think I could handle not working.

I did have another full-time job during the winter, but things did not work out well and I quit after a few months. Some employers want staff who can do more for less, but if the stress gets too high, it’s better to get out.

After writing several articles on organic farming, I was thinking I might enjoy a job in that field, so to speak. And sure enough, I found a classified ad in the Advocate’s employment section (it doesn’t take long to read through it) for Deerfields Nursery near Hillsburgh.

“Come enjoy a summer in the sun,” it said. So now I am working a couple of days a week for John Sutherland.

I knew it would not be an easy job. It’s intense manual labour, either outdoors or in greenhouses, and for some reason it usually seems either too cold or too hot. There’s no tractor driving, roto-tilling or spraying of chemical fertilizers or pesticides – just lots of old-fashioned hoeing, digging, seed planting, transplanting, watering, mulching, weed-pulling, raking, wheelbarrowing, harvesting and packaging.

In addition to the sunshine, there are fringe benefits, including friendly people to work with and an improved level of fitness. There are no phones to be answered, no questions from customers and no traffic noise. The view is great and the barn swallows provide constant entertainment. And while the work is manual, there’s always plenty to learn about the business.

In my spare time, I’ve also been learning a bit about the upholstery business – again, the hard way. I’ve been working occasionally for my friend Gwenda Chapman, who has been very busy re-upholstering chairs and sofas.

I’ve been ripping the old fabric and padding off the furniture, which sounds easy enough, until you realize that manufacturers use far more staples than they really need. The challenge is to learn how to use the tools get the job done with reasonable speed, without hacking up your hands.

It’s going to look great on my resumé, but to tell you the truth, I really don’t care about the whole career thing any more.

I’ll just do whatever comes along that seems interesting.