Accidental landlording & purposeful librarianship: a dispatch from the busy zone with a reminder to VOTE TUESDAY!

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Five years ago, my pal Molly and her husband Richard flew in from New York to visit her parents, “Mel” (z”l) and “Sally.” It was their first visit after M&S moved into “Old People Harvard,” the independent and assisted-living community where Mom had been living for two years.

It was a great gift to Mom (z”l). She’d moved from her community six states away, a place where she had deep roots and was both valued and valuable.  It was a courageous move on several counts: facing that Parkinson’s disease was making it impossible for her to maintain her independence and leaping into an unknown social scene.

Mel & Sally’s move wasn’t as easy as Mom’s had been. They were uncertain about how things would be. Molly had flown out to help reassure them. We met for lunch in the dining room at Old People Harvard. There, Mom was able to be the old hand, telling and kvelling to Mel & Sally about how happy she was there, how much there was to do and the truth about the adjustments she’d had – and been able – to make. It meant a great deal to her to be able to be of service, and the three of them forged a lifelong friendship.

But, back to that first post-move visit. Old People Harvard takes itself seriously when it comes to providing top-notch programming for its residents. I remember on my birthday when I called Mom to let her know I was stopping by to drop off a cupcake. She answered the phone in that whisper I knew meant she was involved in something.

“I’m in the Rubeinstein Room. Russ Feingold is talking about his new book.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll sneak in quietly.”

When I walked in, he was answering a question about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. I dropped the cupcake into her hands and cruised back to work, where I spent the rest of the day working and passing out cupcakes to people who’d been kind to me over the past year.

Okay, seriously now. Back to that first post-move visit.

Richard is a photographer for the Associated Press. Trish, the programming genius at Old People Harvard, got him to do a “show and tell” with the photos he’s taken over a 50-year span. I could fill up the rest of this post with names of famous people and events he described photographing. His stories about the pictures were as riveting as the photos themselves. I didn’t want the program to end, and I wasn’t alone.

So, cut to two years ago, when I got my dream job as a public librarian and learned that programming was part of my job. Getting Richard to come to the library and share his photos could be part of my job!?

It was, and it is, and this afternoon it is happening. So, that’s the librarianship part of this post.

In accidental landlording adventures, when a known drug dealer looked at the house next door to us seven years ago, I was all “Hell no!”

I had a little extra scratch thanks to a car accident, and used it to buy the house. It’s basically a free-standing one-bedroom apartment in a park – 731 square feet on a 60-foot lot.

I thought Mom could live in it if she wanted to, which she didn’t. One of my offspring lived there for awhile (I joked that we were running a subsidized housing program – don’t ask!). Since she moved, we’d been pretty lucky to rent it to reasonable tenants on a word-of-mouth basis.

Luck ran out when our most recent tenant stopped being sober and skipped out, leaving us with a $715 water bill and all his stuff. Yesterday, someone I’ve known for 10+ years came over to look at it.

Sweetheart and I have a boatload of work to do to get the nasty tobacco smell out of the house (smoking in the house was prohibited by his lease, but drunks aren’t big on rule-following) and get it habitable by December for a mom, a kid and a dog.

I am looking forward to having someone I know and trust and value next door.

I’m looking forward to this afternoon.

I’m especially looking forward to Tuesday, hoping fervently that enough sensible people in this country see right-wing fear tactics for what they are and vote accordingly.  Please be one of them.

 

 

 

‘Honoring Miss Pietsch’ or how a composer helped me get my house in order, featuring 1886 wallpaper

 

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Composer Edna Frida Pietsch stands in front of her house in 1904, insert is Pietsch at 8, in 1902. The awnings are in the attic, although they’re pretty worn out. (Photo from Wisconsin Women: a gifted heritage©1982, a project of the Wisconsin State Division AAUW

If anyone with a social media presence wants to see their blog stats tank, here’s my advice:

  1. Quit Facebook.

Even though my blog is my gift to me, a place where I write what I want to in order to loosen myself up to write better and more freely and not about how many readers and followers I have, I will freely cop to being a little sad at how dramatically my readership disappeared when I parted ways with Zuckerberg & Co.

But, I’m over it now. (Okay, maybe I am. Or maybe I’m just lying to myself.)

In the meantime, I have made excellent use of the time between blog posts to do something I have not been able to do since moving into my current house. With a little push from the house’s longest resident, Edna Frida Pietsch, and a lot of help from a couple of neighbors, my house has turned into a place I want to hang out in instead of run away from.

Well, the first floor, at least. Which is a lot, given that the first floor includes a kitchen, living room, parlor, dining room and a couple of porches. All presentable, all beautiful.

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The parlor – and music room

What brought on this miracle?

Two things, actually. One was our neighborhood’s annual home tour. Sweetheart and I live just outside a historic district that has hosted a home tour for the past 28 years. When he lived here with Then-wife, they were asked multiple times to open the house up for the tour, but didn’t.

I’d done the tour before. My previous house was inside the neighborhood boundaries, and there was nothing  wrong with it that a cash infusion of roughly $250,000 wouldn’t have addressed nicely. It was 2005’s “house-in-progress.”

The tour prep process resulted in a lovely, tranquil and neat first floor that stayed lovely, tranquil and neat for six months. Then, a car accident rendered me unable to do much of anything involving cleaning up after people who messed up faster behind me.

Still, it was a valuable lesson. I learned I could create and maintain order – something I had not had the chance to know about myself prior.

In the ensuing years, my decision to live in what could diplomatically be described as a pigsty was informed by my priority list.

When Sweetheart bought his house back after By-Then-Ex-wife put it up for sale, I was working full-time and in graduate school. That overlapped with helping Mom move across six states into an assisted living high-rise and then to a nursing home. Good grades, keeping my job and caring for my mother took precedence over housekeeping.

Still, the process of organizing Mom’s house while she was still there to ensure maximum safety and efficiency while she lived independently, then breaking it apart twice more for her moves showed me I had somehow mastered the art of hanging on to the right stuff without hanging on to all of it – or even too much.

There are people for whom housekeeping and clutter-repelling comes naturally. Sweetheart and I are not among them.

So, for almost 10 years, I lived in this house and whenever I had the time to look around, mostly wanted to cry and run away because there seemed no way to get it under control.

Graduating from library school in 2014 freed up time, but by then Mom was in the nursing home. My free time went there until she died.

Then, it was March of 2018, and all I had was a job. No Mom. No school. Just an upcoming neighborhood home tour focused on the arts.

And Edna Frida Pietsch, the neo-classical composer whose father and grandfather built our house. Pietsch spent either all of her life here or lived here from the time she was five – in 1899 – until she died in 1982.  She taught theory and composition at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for 35 years and composed solo, chamber and symphonic works.

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A cassette recording of Edna Frida Pietch’s “String Quartet in D Major”

Given that, there was no question that her house had to be on the tour. So, thanks to a pair of Sallys – the tour chair and the volunteer chair – we cleaned, and scrubbed, and excavated. (Good people going through rough times –intimate partner violence survivors and people living with brain disorders – will make good use of what we don’t need and won’t miss.)

I took a trip to Madison’s Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin, where Pietch’s manuscripts and recordings are housed. Library Director Jeanette Casey and her staff were wonderfully helpful. After I left, they digitized some of her music so I’d have recordings to play on Tour Day.

 

 

 

Pietsch’s portrait hangs in the Art, Music and Recreation room of The Milwaukee Public Library. Librarians there let me scan reference copies of her music. And an anthology of Wisconsin women published by the American Association of University Women featured a section on Pietsch and photo of the house from 1904.

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Edna Frida Pietsch, painted by Joan Beringer Pripps

Hands in Harmony, a local piano studio, provided three hours of live music from teachers and students, including some works by Pietsch. The house looked fabulous.

The morning of the tour, I was putting the finishing touches on a display board. An empty board was laying on the dining room table.

“Can I use this?”

Sweetheart was cocking his head at the display board, his arms wrapped around a worn-looking cardboard box he’d brought from some cluttery corner of the attic or basement.

He began laying chunks of dusty plaster on the cardboard, arranging them in lines. Some broke apart as he lifted them from the box.

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Chunks of dusty plaster

“Um….what are these?”

Which is how I found out about the second chimney sprouting a leak, causing a dining room wall to buckle. Sweetheart and Then-wife had to remove the plaster and replace it. Underneath the molding, they found the 1886 wallpaper. He’d boxed and kept it, along with a sample of the old-school jute-lined linoleum that had been under the carpet when they’d redone the floors.

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The 1886 wallpaper

We gently wiped the wallpaper with damp cloths. The plaster dust vanished, revealing a floral pattern in deep burgundy, with various shades of pink, almost silver, and gold. I thought – not for the first time – of how lucky I am to have a life partner like Sweetheart.