You know? It’s been a year. Can we just take a moment to reflect on everything that happened in the past year?
This was by far the year I expected it to be. We entered year two of a global pandemic, where we were more isolated than we have been used to and learned more about our neighbors than we wanted to. While there were hard times since my last birthday, there were also good times. I like to focus on the good so at the very least, they outweigh the bad in my mind.
Ellie’s Desk Build
As you may know, I am a bit of a woodworker when I can find the time for it. Since we’ve been working from home and would be for the foreseeable future, about a year ago I asked Ellie if she wanted a new desk. She had been using a small Ikea desk that she and I went to Ikea to get when she was in college. She showed me what she wanted, a far too expensive desk online, and I told her I could build it for her. She must have known by now that it wouldn’t be built quickly though.
I started it in November and she had it by the end of January.
It was a very complicated build for me and I had to overcome some initial hesitations I had about trying new things to get it built. Only the drawers gave me real trouble; I think I had to rebuild one of them twice because drawers are hard. She was quite happy with the desk, once it was finally in her hands.
As you may know, I also have another website where I sell woodworking plans for the things I create. I spend a lot of time putting those plans together so they are as good as they can be. Once I completed the desk, I got to work drafting the plans for it. Shortly after I finished the plans for the desk, I saw that Instructables was running a contest for instructions on how to create furniture. I thought, what the heck, might as well give it a shot.
After a couple months of waiting, and daily judging all of the new entries against my own, the verdict came in and I won second place. Needless to say, I was ecstatic.
Sometime last year, a couple months before my last birthday, Stella started doing this thing where she would lie on the floor and start shaking. It was a very disturbing thing to witness. It seemed like muscle twitch but it kept happening and getting more and more severe. We took her into the vet, but the vet wasn’t able to do much or deduce much from tests.
Fast forward a few months, early this year, and the shaking has only become more frequent and intense. The vet suggested putting her on some pain medicine to see if it would help her. We learned that the NSAID she was given did not agree with her. She was up all night, puking all over the house and when I finally woke up and took her outside, she pooped blood. So much vomit and poop and blood. It was a very, very scary week of nursing her back to health. She spent a couple nights at the vet because we weren’t equipped to help her if she continued to be sick. She eventually did get better, and we learned our lesson.
However, she still shook. And then one day I was playing with her outside, and she just stopped using her hind leg. She must have run wrong on it and finally injured it. We called the vet to get her checked out and eventually scheduled her for surgery.
It’s funny, the Friday she tore her ACL was only a day or two before we were going to pull the trigger on a large home project. We ended up spending the money to get her healthy. The year would have been much different if we had the concurrent payments to make.
The vet hospital took her through a routine surgery to rebuild her knee. Following that, we took her through a four-month rehabilitation process to get her back to her fighting strength. It was a hard time for Ellie and me, and even harder for Stella. We also, fortunately, knew ahead of time that the typical prescription for pain would have been an NSAID, and I’m glad we didn’t need to deal with that while she couldn’t even use her leg.
She has since recovered, and is back to 125% of her leg strength.
Following the completion of Ellie’s desk build, I set about building a project for myself. I had picked up a small CNC engraver for cheap in late 2019 and I spent a lot of time learning it throughout 2020. However, I had ambitions that the small CNC couldn’t meet. I spent a long time looking for a CNC that would meet my needs. It had to fit in my small shop, meet my budget, but also be relatively large format. None of the options I found suited me. Most were far too expensive for far too little.
And then my Dad told me about plans to build one he had received in his Woodsmith magazine. Naturally, I stole the issue from him and set myself to the task of building a 2×4 foot CNC router for me to work with.
I don’t think most people know why I chose to build the CNC instead of buying it, but for me that was half the fun. I learned a lot while assembling it and making modifications to work the way I wanted it to work. It kept me busy for a long time too, somewhere around six months. And now, I have a much larger CNC to use than I could have comfortably purchased. I’m only beginning to see what I can do with it, but I know it will be some time before I outgrow it.
For the second year now, I played softball with the Overdogs on Thursday nights in the summer. The team has been around for 41 years. Some of the original players are still on the team. Most of the guys are old, and then there are a few of us younger recruits. It’s a good time, but we are terrible.
I roped a friend into joining the team this year too. It was nice to have another person I knew to commiserate with after yet another loss. He was good for an eyeroll as that one guy gave us a pep talk after we lost yet another game. He didn’t understand that this is men’s slow pitch softball, we aren’t here for glory.
But, guys. Let me tell you. We actually won a game. The last game of the season, we won it. First time in my two seasons that we won. It felt great. Ellie and my parents were there for it too!
One of the highlights of this past year, for me, was getting vaccinated against Covid-19. Not that I enjoyed it, but it helped me gain a peace of mind I hadn’t had in over a year. I finally felt comfortable being in public without having to wear a mask. I no longer needed to worry as much about who was around me and how I could get sick from them. I had, at the very least, more protection than I could have gotten on my own.
Armed with the knowledge that Ellie and I were fully vaccinated and the rest of the country was getting vaccinated too, we decided to treat ourselves to a five-year anniversary trip to Hawaii in September. We booked out flights, and then our lodging. Slowly, we found excursions and booked those and found things to see and places to eat. We were stoked.
You know what happened then? Covid-19 cases increased. Lockdowns were returning. Selfish, childish people were gathering to party together and getting sick. Our hopes of Hawaii dimmed.
Hawaii had strict requirements to enter the state. We were willing to jump through the hoops to get there. To me, the knowledge that everyone entering Hawaii had to test negative or have a vaccination, made Hawaii a safer place to visit than most.
The week before we left, the governor asked people to not visit Hawaii. Nothing official happened, but that really spooked us that our trip wouldn’t happen.
But we made it and Hawaii was even more than anything I could have imagined. It was perfect in everything we did and experienced. We snorkeled in the ocean and swan in the surf. We hiked the canyon, took a cruise around the island, and saw flying fish. We kayaked and hiked to a waterfall. We went to a luau. We ate and ate, and were at peace for the first time in two years.
Was a pandemic the best time to travel? No. Do we have regrets? No. Is there guilt? Yes. But I needed it, Ellie needed it. It was worth it and we are already saving our pennies to go back some day.
Marathon Training and Running
As I mentioned recently, I felt the urge to train for and run a marathon. Once I had the support of Ellie, knowing that she needed to be okay with my time commitment, I set out to get myself into shape. From early July to mid-November, I hardened my body to running an ever-increasing number of miles.
I learned a lot while I was training. I learned that the act of running is both boring and interesting at the same time. Your body can get really tired, but you can push through it. Our neighborhood gets pretty dark at night. There are only so many miles I can run in our neighborhood. There is only so much weight my body can lose. There is only so much food in the house, and it’s never enough for me to fuel my body.
One of my training highlights was the longest run I had to do prior to race itself. For years, when Ellie asked me what I wanted to do on a weekend, I jokingly said we should walk to Picnic point and back. This was something like ten miles from our house; something I never thought we would do. Well, when I needed a 21-mile run, guess where I went. I woke up early and jogged my way to the point and back. It was exhilarating. However, now I need to find something else to do on the weekends.
Running the marathon has been covered already. However, I want to emphasize how important this task became for me. I needed to run the marathon and I’m still not sure why. Also, I learned ever more about why Ellie is the best partner to have in this world. She, never an athlete, put up with me and my running and talking about running for four months. I’m amazed she didn’t pack up and leave. Instead, she supported me at the race even when I gave her an easy out of staying at home because watching people run by is admittedly boring. She showed up for me.
I enjoyed the training and the race so much; I have already decided that I’m going to see where I am again in July and if I’m able I’m going to start training for next year’s marathon.
Reading Books Again
As a result of running so many miles each week, I was on the road five out of seven days each week, I needed something to occupy my mind. Music gets old fast when you have so many hours to kill and podcasts are fine until they’re gone. I consume a lot when I exercise. So, I switched to audiobooks. I counted and I made my way through 19 books while training. Some were good, some were not. Either way, I’m finally “reading” again and I’m really hooked on it.
The biggest problems for me with audio books are threefold:
They’re slow. There’s a limit to what’s available. There’s a limit to the books on audiobook.
My solution to them being slow was to bump up the speed of the reading to 1.5x and I was able to soar through books. A couple books still felt slow at this pace, so I can only imagine I would have fallen over and slept while running if I had listed at the recorded pace.
There are a number of books that I still have holds on from the library, but I’m in a long queue. It’s frustrating because I was really looking forward to using a month or so to get through War and Peace finally. Maybe next year I’ll finally get to check it out and power through it.
Finally, I had to buy some books because even though the library boasts some 27,000 audiobooks, I still couldn’t find everything I wanted to read. Fortunately, I have a bunch of free Google Play money I can use to fill in the gaps when need be. Two or three books this summer came from ones I purchased. All things considered, that isn’t a bad ratio.
Something during the past year made me feel like I’m maybe a bit better at my job than I expected. Throughout the year, we’ve been going full steam at a bunch of different projects. At times, it was really draining but even so, I kept going. We did a lot of work for the State’s Covid-19 response. We helped in getting people scheduled for vaccinations. We helped in encouraging people to get vaccinated in exchange for $100. We helped and helped and helped.
I think, possibly because I finally have a boss not only advocating for me but also working to develop me professionally, I’m finally starting to get a sense of what I want to do for the rest of my working life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known I want to be a woodworker full time but I’m a bit too realistic to pursue that. No, instead I have professional goals I’m excited about. Things to strive for because they ultimately will earn me more money. I mean, what else is working about anyway?
I’m going to hit five years at my job this coming year. I’ve never been anywhere that long. It is fulfilling working for a company which impacts so many people in Wisconsin (we are a contractor for the State of Wisconsin and we develop applications, services, and websites for the State). I don’t know if this is a long-term job for me, but I know I’m happy working here doing good work for the foreseeable future.
Finally, let’s talk about goals. First, I want to talk about the goals I set for myself last year. Last year, I wanted to stretch daily. I wanted to write more. And I wanted to build more. I can honestly say, I have stretched more. It is a nightly routine and my body is better off for it. I think I have built many things this year, but I do not know if it was more. I went through a slump where I didn’t feel motivated to do much of anything in particular, but hey, I still built a CNC from scratch. Lastly, I know I didn’t write more. I tried to and I started the year off strong, but I dropped it quick. I kept a rough tally and over the past year, I’ve only sat down to write fewer than 20 times. I think, at this point, writing is what sparks my creativity and I am okay with failing at this goal because I learned from it.
For next year, I have one simple goal in addition to continuing with all my previous goals. That goal is simple, I want to be better at cleaning and keeping a neat home. I have always been a messy person, and to an extent I can live with that. But Ellie shouldn’t have to. And also, I’m tired of waking up every morning to another sink full of dishes even though we had just cleaned up the night before.
I’ve decided to set aside some time two or three times a week to clean in short bursts. I’m thinking thirty minutes twice a week, just to stay on top of things. As a kid, we used to rotate the chores we did each week and I think I’ll take a similar approach. Clean the bathroom, clean the floors, and clean the kitchen will rotate each week. General tidying will be every week. I do hope this goal doesn’t get dropped, because it is a good habit to have as I move forward in life.