I Want to “Just Look”

I follow a hysterical blogger named Victoria Elizabeth Barnes who is always on the hunt for treasures and is redoing her house.  She reminds me so much of my younger self when my husband and I were buying old houses and had a great time (ha!) doing renovations.  I look back at one particular year spent without a kitchen, with two small children, washing dishes in the bathtub and it is hard to imagine how I juggled things.  Youth and the excitement of gutting your house must have made me oblivious to things that would be not so great now.  I also made some wild purchases, like when I bought a huge mirror (and not inexpensive), from a “Rocky” in Syracuse New York on Ebay!   He had purchased an old Victorian mansion and needed cash so was selling off some of the original pieces from the home.  I had to walk him through how to pack and ship it, and eventually it arrived safely.  Whew.

Mirror0002

We still like projects,  like the new barn we just built.  These projects give me an excuse to seek out treasures to use in the design/build.  It satisfies the urge to hunt for treasures.  But honestly, that urge has died down tremendously over the last decade.  This is due largely in part to the emptying of both my mother-in-law’s and my parents’ home.  That is enough to keep you from ever wanting to buy anything. Ever. Again.

This weekend is the Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza  that happens three times a year in Mt. Dora, Florida.  There are over 1500 dealers from across the country who spread their wares under acres and acres of live oak trees.  Over the years I have found some great stuff at this event.  Eventually you have enough stuff, but that doesn’t quench the antiquing thirst.  Therefore the inspiration to open a shop.   After giving up my full-time career of 20+ years to be home more with my family, I still needed a working/creative outlet.  I had purchased a small commercial building that my husband and I renovated with build-to-suit tenants…and I just happened to have 800 empty square feet with a huge display window.  I convinced my husband that I wanted to do a great display and help entice more retail to that end of the shopping community where we were located.  My initial plans were to recycle some of my antique finds and “fill in” with trips to the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta.  I was also only going to  have select days/hours, so that I could do the kid’s carpools for sports, etc..  I think we all know here what the reality was.  I got to go shop for really cool stuff that I liked, attend The Market twice a year, and fulfill a common dream of owning your own place.  The shop kind of took off, and with that came pressure to have more normal hours and so I had help come in the afternoon to spell me for after school duties.  I soon was immersed into the retail world of holidays and weekends. One of our tenants moved out so I expanded and had even more room for really great stuff. Things were sweet for about 5 years, and then the real estate bust hit Central Florida.  People stopped buying houses and accessories for them.  When one of my other tenants needed more office space, I quickly made the decision to shut down.  So we had the going out of business sale, paid off the bills, and that was that.  People still tell me they miss my shop and ask if I miss it as well.  I miss purchasing and staging the shop, but not competing with the internet and having no control over the economy.  At this stage,  I much more enjoy being the landlord and collecting rent.

Back to Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza this weekend.  Last year I found some great stuff to use in the new barn we were building.  I found tables and an unusual sink piece for my tackroom, and some great signage.  I found a really cool horse head out of teak that was way too expensive for me, but at this January’s Extravaganza I found one just like it for 1/3 of the price!  It now lives on our property on a tree stump and looks like it was carved there.

FarmSign         Horsehead

This past year we cleared out my mother’s home when she moved to a senior housing high rise.  She was on the verge of becoming a hoarder (without the dead animals and her house was clean).  She would tell you she is a “collector”. ( I must come by this hunting gene naturally).  Anyway, after dealing with all of her “stuff” and the extensive estate sale, it made me want less stuff of my own.  So when I called my antiquing buddy to see if she wanted to go to Renninger’s with me on Friday, she informed me that after spending the last month clearing out her now deceased parent’s home, she never wants to lay eyes on another old piece of anything.   I told her I was going to get in my steps on my new FitBit, by walking all of those acres and “just looking”. Right .

Trying to Keep the Glass Half Full


I have always considered myself “happy”…as in I tend to see the glass half full, not half empty.  I’m not saying I have had a perfect life, and I have my “sob” stories…but all in all, I tend to feel happy!  I loved my childhood, my family, and my life in general.  I have been blessed to not have a tendency to dwell on the unpleasant stuff.  I guess I have been able to see the “big picture” and all in all, it’s been a great ride.  I had a great career for 20+ years (then had an opportunity to enjoy a “second” career), I’ve been married over 27 years (after an early divorce…see not perfect), and I have two great young adult kids (drove me nuts at times, but don’t they all).  I also have had the ability to “go for it” when I want to pursue something new.  Now I could go and dissect each of these areas and find plenty of not so great issues, but that’s not my inclination.  I basically, feel blessed.

But… and here it comes, I have to admit…my happiness is being challenged. I read recently where someone mentioned a “sadness” had crept into their life.  All the family and friend’s difficulties and illnesses…the declining health of an aging parent bringing home the inevitableness of it all.  I had to admit, I feel “sadness” more often, and it is not that familiar to me.

There comes a time in life, I am learning, that things begin to “pile up”.  Here I am, at the Baby Boomer cusp of turning 60, and I am living out a dream of owning property where I can have horses in my life again.  I have born and raised my children. My oldest (son) has graduated with a viable degree and is working and supporting himself.  My daughter is thriving and making straight A’s at a competitive University, and is in a great relationship with a guy we love.  I am grateful and have much to be thankful for.  The counter balance, however, is that simultaneously I am witnessing the reality of evolving life.

There is the beautiful long-time acquaintance gracefully battling lung cancer, that has recurred and spread.  There is my sister-in-law (she lives on the opposite side of the country) who is juggling my failing mother-in-law (we moved her from assisted living here to where my sister-in-law lives so they could spend some last years together) and her husband who is now battling a difficult cancer. My 87 year-old mother needs increasing attention.  After my Dad’s death in 2012, we got her house sold and she moved to an independent senior high rise that she is enjoying, but she gets lonely.  On top of these scenarios, I have been watching my close friend of 30+ years, lose the life as she knew it, over the past year and a half.

In September of 2013, I noticed my friend Debbie was “forgetting” things. Every recent thing. She is newly divorced, has no adult children or living parents.  It would be her close friends and far away siblings (who live in the Northeast and are decades older) who would be trying to navigate this crisis.  After many hospital stays, and insistence on our part (after researching and forcing the doctors here to “hear” us), she was finally diagnosed with a rare form of Auto-immune encephalitis. (Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis). Her antibodies had attacked the two frontal lobes of her brain.  By a miracle, we found information on the internet, and a book  just published in 2012 chronicling the experience of a young New York Post Journalist, Susannah Cahalan, who had experienced this nightmare.  The book,  entitled “Brain on Fire” takes you through her journey.  She, with the determination of her wonderful doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar, eventually recovered.  Dr. Najjar has been trying to help spread the word of this rare and often misdiagnosed disease.

Through the help of a newly formed advocate group out of North Carolina, The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance, started by families and patients affected by autoimmune encephalitis,  we got Debbie admitted into a treatment program through Mayo Clinic.  After four, two-day trips to Mayo clinic with her, and treatment carried out here at home, her prognosis came back bleak.  Her treatment stopped the anti-body attack, but her brain’s two frontal lobes (responsible for short-term memory) would be permanently damaged by the brain swelling from the encephalitis. My friend’s Debbie’s life as she knew it is over.  Her new life consists of waking up every day with her intelligence and long-term memory intact, but “feeling fuzzy”, having to relearn through detailed notes, what has happened to her.  If you have watched the movie, 51st Dates, you get the picture.

Debbie had a successful business.  She was a youthful 62 year-old who water skied on our lake every day.  As I live two doors down, I have taken on a lot of the responsibility of helping with the  “managing” of her life. We have been unsuccessful with her allowing anyone to live with her permanently.  She is fiercely independent, she runs off any of her siblings attempts to stay with her, or have her with them.   I get a lot of the “panicky” phone calls when she forgets where her keys are, her house alarm gets set off, or she is reading her notes on her new reality.  My frequent weekend trips to the farm and horses help me to maintain a balance.  But the texts and sobbing phone calls are always within reach.

Her beach condo has been sold to give her funds to live on, as she has been unable to work for the past year and a half.  The business is now shut down.  Her house is on the market, and the courts have had to establish rules for guardianship.  Through all of this, I have had to walk her through this nightmare almost daily, and help her understand why this has happened to her.  She is a fighter, and every day wills herself to “beat” this thing.  Remember, her most recent memory is about two years ago, when she was vibrant and working.  She has to relearn every day this nightmare that has become her new life.  How this will all end up, and where she will live next is still unknown.  The saddest part for me is that she always believes, after relearning of her condition, that she will recover.

I am trying to accept the things I cannot change, be grateful for all the good stuff.  Trying to keep that glass half full.

Brain_on_Fire_Susannah_Cahalan