Dear Friends and Family –
I had so much to tell you about this year. I wrote pages and pages detailing every misadventure – and there were many – and was all set to dump it on you, but as I read through it, it just seemed too much a depressing litany of, I dunno, excessive whining about how the year has done me wrong instead of a balanced reflection. So I scrapped it all at the last minute. I offer you this rough pastiche of a letter instead.
You see, 2021 was, without question, the most challenging and difficult year of my life. And those challenges began right away in January and were layered on, one over the other in an endless non-stop progression – right up until the drafting of this sentence. So things that I normally do to keep my sanity in this insane world went out the window in 2021. No time for gardening, no time for the farm, no time to escape people and their incessant demands. It’s not that it was a bad year, it’s just that everything was extremely, extremely time consuming, with everyone yelling at me that they wanted things NOW!
So how best to convey the density of it all? The usual monthly recapitulation of events doesn’t really work when you have multiple plot lines coursing through the year. I suppose I could divide it all up into a master list of “Pro and Con” episodes and leave it at that, or a simple bullet list of catastrophes and challenges. At the end of the day though, the easiest thing seemed to be to create a half a dozen or so stories and let them stand on their own. If my life calms down like I hope and pray it will in 2022, I’ll revert to standard format next year (with proper photos – I promise!). But given my lack of time to craft something eloquent for the hamster treadmill of 2021, you get this:
In 2021 I was extremely busy!
Here’s what I did:
Now, if you slogged through the above, you’d more than likely agree that that should have been enough to occupy my every waking moment of 2021. There were more than enough crises, complications, and critical moments in those three events to absorb anyone’s full time attention, but then the Fates (and Keith) decided that wasn’t really enough, so they piled on the following:
- Fall down, go boom – In late January I quite stupidly ran down the stairs in stocking feet and wound up flat on my back on the bottom steps stunned and in considerable pain. Diagnosis = cracked ribs. Medical advice = don’t run down stairs in stocking feet! Especially at age 61! Also, don’t move much while your ribs heal and don’t lift anything heavy for at least two months. Needless to say this was a huge inconvenience in dealing with work and farm life. Also, the lack of activity made me enormously fat!
- Bye-Bye Condo – In the midst of all the other ridiculousness occupying my limited mental and physical bandwidth, Keith decided now was the time to sell the condo. Actually, I can’t fault his logic or timing – the market is hot, and he really hadn’t been using it since the beginning of the pandemic, instead commuting in directly from the farm. Plus, if truth be told, the upstairs neighbors letting their sink overflow and ruin the drywall and kitchen cabinets in our kitchen, might also have been the last straw as far as Keith was concerned. But…. we simply didn’t have time to clear out all the stuff and put in a new kitchen and get it ready for market. We were just too busy to cope with it all, right?? Right?? Sigh…… To his credit Keith did most of the cleaning out of a lifetime of his stuff. But when it came time to move all the big stuff we rented a U-Haul and pretended that we were still young enough to load it all ourselves. Most went into a storage locker. The rest went into the already overfilled garage on the farm (where our “hoarder chic” look is now a super-hoarder-with-severe-issues look). The new kitchen installation in the condo took a while longer (supply chain issues), but it was finally done in mid-July – just in time for the hot condo market in Alexandria to collapse. The condo sat empty for months without a nibble. It sat there, and sat there, while Keith grumbled about mortgage payments on an empty condo, until we had another explosive water episode from a different upstairs unit that this time ruined the bathroom. Another mad rush of repairs. It’s only at this writing (Dec 28th) that the condo is finally under contract. Please pray for us that nothing else happens before settlement in late January.
- Family Property Mess – It’s funny how you ‘know’ things, but they’re somehow just kept in the back of your mind and it isn’t until you’re confronted with them all of a sudden that you realize how very little you do ‘know’ about them. This came into very, very sharp focus as my brother Raymond began sorting out my mother’s estate. It was a herculean task to deal with all the ‘stuff’ that people accumulate over a lifetime, much less try and undo the Gordian knot she had made of her estate. I was grateful I didn’t have to do it, as (see above) it was already the-busiest-year-of-my-life. But that relief was rather short-lived. It turns out that I did have to deal with at least part of it. Due to bits of my father’s will that my mother couldn’t dismantle, I was actually in charge of three properties. Of course I ‘knew’ this on some level, but here it really was. I suddenly had to pay bills and taxes, collect rents, deal with a slew of repairs due to years of delayed maintenance. All on properties in 3 different states (none of which I lived in). Then I had to figure out what they were worth (in one case a near impossible task), and then sell them. To say that this occupied more time than I had available is a colossal understatement. At the end of the year, I’m still sorting it out.
- Ceres Dies – click here for long tribute to a small animal
- Real Estate Goes Beyond Bonkers – If you read last year’s letter, you knew that 2020 was the busiest year in my real estate career. It was crazy. Now take that craziness and double it. Literally, double it! (I had more under contract by June 2021 than in the whole of 2020!) The entire year did not let up. While all the increased activity was great for our bottom line, in truth we needed every single penny of it (and more) to build our house. So even when I was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t dream of taking on yet another client, I’d just gird my loins, and say “Sure! I’d be happy to help!” And so I took on more work than I ever thought humanly possible. While most people with this level of activity have a team, or at least an assistant or two, I’ve never been much of a team player and frankly wasn’t sure how long it would all last, so I just kept going solo. It was my best year ever – by a long, long shot. And I doubt very much it will ever be repeated. But in the end, I’m very grateful that it happened and I was able to make it through.
- Keith Gets Hand Surgery – Part of getting old is that you just get worn out. Physically and mentally. Entropy sucks. Keith’s job at Amtrak and as a sommelier involves constantly carrying bottles and trays around and twisting out corks and other stuff. So when he started having pain in his left hand he just kept plugging along until it got really bad. Then a visit to an orthopedist offered a solution. Apparently it’s more common than you’d think and the Dr made it sound like surgery would be a relatively easy fix. (note: key word is ‘relatively’). So naively Keith said yes. He also liked the idea of a month or two off work during recovery. Thus in early November they removed a bone in his thumb joint and sent him home. He’s been home every single day since then (every. single. day. – with me in our tiny and very cramped garage apartment). Recovery has been slower than expected and very frustrating. He’s now taking a third month off to recover, so now he won’t go back to work until February. Since he’s basically one handed, he’s dragooned me into being his sou chef for his evening dinner extravaganzas (which he spends most of the day plotting and planning). This is being presented as if it is a rare privilege. Now if there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s fussing about in the kitchen over food. Food is meant to be zapped in the microwave when you’re hungry, eaten quickly, and then the containers tossed in the garbage. It’s efficient and allows one to attend to other things that are far more pressing (and trust me, I have a lot more pressing concerns this year). If other people (i.e. Keith) find perverse pleasure in mucking about in the kitchen and dirtying lots of pots and pans, so be it – but don’t force me into doing it for you! I can think of no torture greater than to be told to grate carrots or whatever, and then to be hovered over intently and be constantly told in no uncertain terms how utterly incompetent I am, and how two year old chimpanzees could do a better job, etc, etc. I’m not sure who’s sorrier his recovery isn’t happening quicker, he or I.
- Alan gets COVID for Christmas – to cap off the year, I mean, just to make it extra special and even more insane that it already was – I, a vaccinated, boostered, and super virus paranoid, got COVID! Five days before Christmas I actually felt tired enough to go to bed early. Next morning I woke with the sniffles. Like any good hypochondriac, I immediately assumed the worse. Luckily a Dr. friend had an extra home test kit. I took it and, lo and behold, glaring pink and blue bars told me I got the ‘rona. It only lasted a few days and was just minor sniffles, but still! How could that have happened? So Keith and I missed the family Christmas gathering and stayed home. I worked on the new barn and got work done while Keith studied. It was a nice break.
So that’s been the year. Eventful, frustrating, and challenging. But I look at it this way, next year will be so much calmer (at least that’s what I keep telling myself). By the end of next year, the new house will be finished, the new barn will be all set up for my poultry, the gardens will be back to their former glory, the farm will have some sense of organization, and I can spend the rest of my days puttering in the gardens, tending to my flocks, and furnishing my house. I’ll actually be able to walk into a closet and pick out clothes without having to search through piles and boxes to get to them. We’ll actually be able to invite people over for dinner and serve them in a real dining room as opposed to a garage. And finally, we can have guests that can stay overnight. I know this is a way of life that most of you accept as your due, but for me it borders somewhat on the miraculous to imagine having a space solely dedicated to eating, much less having a spare bedroom. So at least, that’s my fantasy of what life will be like a year from now.
Of course I’m sure I’ll find something else to complain about between now and then, but the light at the end of this tunnel keeps appearing brighter and brighter, I’m feeling more and more relieved that this year is behind us and the weight of all the work, construction decisions, and family obligations is lightening.
But most importantly, I’ll finally be able, after all these years, to spend more time with you – friends and family – on my own turf! And to repay you for years and years of all the hospitality you’ve offered me in every corner of this crazy world. You can now come to my tiny corner of this crazy world and be a guest of mine. Won’t that be fun? That’s what I wish for most of all as we head into 2022.
Happy New Year!