Big Year

Last night was the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year or the longest night of the year depending on your perspective. It’s an interesting thing from an astrological point of view as well as a philosophical one. It can get a person to thinking…

One year. A lot can happen in one year. Or not.

When I was a kid, a year seemed like forever. Nothing ever seemed to happen, and I was constantly hoping and waiting for time to pass so I could get to the good stuff. You know, to grow tall enough to go on the scary rides at the fair…that kind of good stuff.

I can remember my Dad on New Year’s Day sitting with a yellow legal pad and calculating what he had spent the previous year on booze, guns and dogs. I think the tally must have been satisfactory, because he kept at it, year after year. As a kid, I didn’t understand it. But as an adult, I get it. He liked booze, guns and dogs. That was his thing.

This year I am turning 50, so I think it’s a safe bet to say that I am settled into my own skin. If I were to sit down with a yellow legal pad of my own it would be to tally my own spending on books, yoga and plane tickets. Hey, to each his own, right? We all have our thing.

This year was a Big Year.

I had an inkling it would be a busy year, but it turned out to be bigger than anticipated. That’s how Big Year’s roll. They have a mind of their own.

I purchased a historic building February 1st. That was all according to plan. In hindsight, I was a bit naïve regarding the time it takes to get approval from the city to demolish and rebuild such a building. Lucky for me, I hired the right architect and builder. They got it done.

April 1st was demo day! The process of gutting the building began. In just a few days, the entire space was gutted down to the brick walls and wood beam ceiling. One hundred years of “improvements” like two drop ceilings, plaster and lathe covered by ancient wall paper, covered by 70’s paneling… all gone. Poof!

Lesson #1: It’s easier to destroy something than to build it.

The rest of Spring and early Summer was spent working at my old office during the day. On weekends and evenings, I was fixing up the apartment above the Shoppe. I was doing the work myself because I had maxed out my budget downstairs. Downstairs got the professional treatment, upstairs was DIY all the way.

We had a big dumpster parked right outside so that really helped. I ripped out the old carpeting, cutting it into sizes that I could roll and drag down the stairs and lift over the edge of the dumpster myself. Two layers of old carpeting in the hallway! And it looked like the under layer was possibly of what looked like horse hair. Seriously old stuff. Probably full of carcinogens. Let’s not think about that. I did wear a mask most of the time.

The builder guys saw the effort, and I think I earned some street cred. All that work makes you use muscles you never knew existed and you lose a few pounds. My jeans kept getting dirtier and dirtier and looser and looser. It’s from all the bending over to pry things up… Plumber’s crack is a real thing!

My jeans were falling off. I could be walking up and down the stairs and if I wasn’t careful, they would fall to my knees. I got some striped suspenders like Mork from Ork. They worked pretty good. I am sure the builder guys thought I was nuts, but they didn’t say anything. They accepted me.

Things were rolling right along. It was a tight schedule. April – July for the build out. I had to be out of both my old office and my old residence by July 31st. I was killing myself upstairs. There were times when I would work on the apartment, hauling bucket after bucket of old linoleum tiles, plaster and lathe bits and pieces… I would get home so exhausted that I would fall onto the couch and be too tired to make something to eat. For those of you who know me, I love to cook. So, if I am too tired to cook- that’s super tired! I ate a lot of sandwiches.

In June, my staff took me aside and told me they were worried about me. I needed help. One of my opticians had arranged for her brother to help me with the painting of the apartment. Initially, I kind of resisted. But the fact of the matter was… I needed help.

There was too much work to be done. Plus, the ceilings upstairs are 14 ft high and I am afraid of heights. I was climbing the ladder and painting the ceiling, but it was stressful for me. Professional painters aren’t afraid of heights. I watched while he climbed the ladder with ease. We listened to music and painted. Sometimes he would bring me a double cheeseburger for a snack. It was delicious.

Lesson #2: Sometimes you need help. Let people help you.

Life can’t be all work and no play. One Friday afternoon in late June I heard there were some last-minute tickets released for the James Taylor/Bonnie Raitt show the next night. I love Bonnie Raitt and JT is no slouch either. I raced home and looked for tickets.

I took two tickets with best available seats. They ended up being quite close to front and center. Apparently, they were tickets reserved for the band. What a great stroke of luck! I asked a friend of mine to go and she said, “Sure!” That’s a good friend! No hesitation, no reservations. My kind of gal. We had a blast. I love live music. Sometimes, I forget about that.

Jill and Sue small

Before you knew it- it was July. On Friday the 6th, I got a call. My Mom had fallen and broken her hip and bumped her head. She was being transported to a bigger hospital about 45 minutes from her house and 20 minutes from mine.

I met her at the hospital and waited while they got her settled into her hospital bed. It was hard for me to see how much pain she was in when they had to move her. Her first words to me were, “Well, I’ve really gone and done it this time!” Whew. Mom’s hip might be broken but her spirit was not.

We spent the evening together. She kept trying to get rid of me so that I could go paint the apartment. When she figured out that I wasn’t leaving, we settled into our respective bed and chair and just hung out. We didn’t talk too much. We were just hanging… together. Finally, it was time for bed and Mom told me to skedaddle.

My Mom passed away two days later. She was 90.

When people pass away suddenly, it’s shocking. Mom was one of those Mom’s… special. She had an interesting life and enjoyed most of it, I think. She really had a way about her. I like to think of her as being a steel rod wrapped in velvet. She came across as soft and reassuring, and she was … but if/when it was necessary, she was willing and able to wield the rod.

I like to think that I am more like a willow branch. I can bend and bend… but when I snap back… it will leave a mark. Don’t fucking push me.

That was then and this is now

I found my way back here somehow

Push me to the limit

Maybe I may bend

But I know where I’m not going

I will not be broken

I will not be broken

I will not be

Someone other than who I am

I will fight to make my stand

Cause what is livin’ if I can’t live free

What is freedom if I can’t be me

Bonnie Raitt

We had to figure out what kind of funeral to hold. We were all feeling fragile, so we had a small, private service with about 20 close friends. Friends from both the past and the present. They all showed. It was lovely. There were lots of tears but also a lot of laughter and joy. One of my dearest friends told me, “I’m having a blast at your Mom’s funeral!” Mom would have been pleased.

A friend at the funeral made a comment that stuck with me. He said, “When people die slowly, we pray for them to pass so that they will no longer be suffering.” I nodded. This was so true. Dying slowly is the worst.

Then he said, “But when people die quickly, somehow we feel like we were somehow cheated out of something. What we really should feel is relief that our loved one didn’t suffer and be willing to suffer for them so that they don’t have to…” Truth. Amen. You helped me. Thank you.

Everyone knew I was on a tight schedule with the building/apartment. I had arranged for the office move first July 23 followed by my residential move a week later July 30th. That would leave me one day to clean my old apartment. Then my former landlord (who is also a dear friend) asked if I could be finished on the 30th as the new tenants needed to be out of their place by the 31st. I agreed. Why not?

Mom’s passing kind of threw a wrench into the plan. I had professional movers for the big expensive equipment, but I needed help with my personal stuff and getting rid of junk from the office. There was a lot of junk that need to be taken to the dump.

My builder arranged for two strong guys and a truck and trailer to be available to me.

I spent an entire day riding in the middle of a huge truck between two young, strong guys going back and forth to the dump, in and out of old buildings and scary basements, upstairs to my apartment… everywhere. They busted their humps for me and we got it done. I think that was the most fun I had all summer. We had the windows down and were singing to the radio. It was great.

Lesson #3: See Lesson #2.

The apartment was really coming along. The carpet was removed, and I had painstakingly removed the linoleum squares in the kitchen. The kind with black sticky tar paper on the back. A friend who is a master craftsman for restoring old buildings had told me a little trick to get rid of that black tar paper. You use Downy fabric softener. You basically paint on the Downy (be generous) and then cover it with plastic. Come back a day or two later and you scrape it off.

Before 9

If you happened to notice that there was a shortage of Downy in the Oshkosh area this summer, it was me. I bought a shit ton of the stuff and soaked/scraped it down to the wood. It took a couple of weeks.

When I had the wood free of the yucky stuff, I had a wood floor guy come over to look at the floors. He told me that it was pine and it was too soft to refinish. I was devastated. I had another wood floor guy come over and look. He told me it was pine and too soft to refinish – he could do it, but it would not turn out the way I wanted it to look. Argghh!

Lesson #4: Sometimes things don’t work out.

It was a bummer that I spent all that time and effort and money on Downy fabric softener. Damn it! But, instead of putting more money into a futile project, I finally listened to the two experts.

I had a floating fake wood floor put in the living room, dining room and kitchen. I carpeted the bedroom and my office. It wasn’t my first choice, but it turned out great. Ironically, the fake wood floor holds up better to scratching than the real deal. I moved a bunch of stuff around by myself and am sure I would have put a bunch of scratches in the real wood floor. The fake stuff wears like iron.

The floors and carpeting were finished the day before the movers came. I was holding my breath. Moving day for the apartment was bright and sunny. We got the move completed and I was out on time! My landlord was so happy that I was out of my old apartment that he told me not to worry about cleaning the place. Yay! It wasn’t that dirty, but still one less chore was one less chore.

I moved into the apartment. The kitchen renovation wasn’t complete, so I did not have any running water in the kitchen. I had a refrigerator and a microwave. I did have a working bathroom. I didn’t like the idea of washing food items in the bathroom, so I had some plastic bins that I would load up my dirty dishes and haul them down the stairs, out the building and down some more stairs into the basement.

I set up a nifty little dishwashing station using the utility sink in the basement. I did that from July 30th to November 20th. We also hadn’t completed the setup for the laundry and I had no appliances yet, so I was also having to go to the laundry mat. Trust me, three or four months of no kitchen sink and no laundry makes a person appreciate having those things! The laundry mat is a very interesting place and deserves a blog story of its own.

Lesson #5: Appreciate small things.

The months just kept flying by. The new office is a success. I enjoy practicing in the new space and my patients like it too. I went to a conference in Asheville, NC in November. I hadn’t had a real vacation for a long time, so I took an entire week off and drove down.

Blue Ridge

I hadn’t taken a long road trip by myself for 20 years when I used to drive back and forth to Oregon. I went to Mount Rushmore by myself more than once. That place is very fascinating.

Anyways, nowadays a solo road trip seems a bit more daunting. I never used to worry about human trafficking or getting robbed or any other bad things… I just did pretty much whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I guess getting older makes you worry more. I decided that I would just be careful, try not to do anything stupid, and if anybody decided to mess with me, I would go down hard.

Years ago, one of my bosses told me that if I was ever being taken- never let them get you into a car. Make them kill you right there. I channeled those words of wisdoms and proceeded about my road trip. Nothing bad happened.

Lesson #6: Be prepared.

Lesson #7: Over analysis lead to paralysis.

A month or so after we moved the office into the new building, an old friend stopped by for a tour. He is a successful business person and someone I trust and respect. He congratulated me on the project.

When I told him that in hindsight, I don’t know if I would have done the project if I had known how much hard work it would be, he laughed. He said that is why he preferred to just do things instead of thinking about doing things. It’s better to just do it-otherwise you will talk yourself out it. Plus, sometimes you just need to go for it.

This time, everything turned out. That hasn’t always been the case. I have made a few bad choices over the years and have the scars to show it. Still, it’s worth it. You don’t know if you don’t try. Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from failure. It prepares you for the next time.

I told my builder to give me 5 more years and then we can do it again! Overall, the experience was positive.

It was a year of big decisions, big emotions and big changes.

Today, while sitting writing this story there is a part of me that desires 2019 to be a little year. A year to relax and read… and cook and bake…and go golfing and boating. That sounds nice, right?

Then I think about it a little more. Okay maybe a little year is a little too little… how about a medium year? Let’s add in some travel. I have a plane ticket for each month of Jan, Feb, and March. That sounds more like it. I will have to jot it down on my yellow legal pad. Haha!

We never really know if it’s going to be a little year, a medium year or a big year. Whatever happens, I feel a bit more prepared for whatever comes my way.


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