Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tornados and Scary-Cat Dogs

Saturday was heart-pounding scary. Early afternoon the emergency sirens started ringing and they didn’t quit for nearly two hours. We were under a tornado warning---the get-down-in-your-basement kind of warning. I can see the siren for the entire township from my front yard so you can imagine how loud it gets. The dog is used to the five minute monthly testings of the siren but the longer it went on the more freaked out Levi got and it didn't help that I was running around gathering up emergency supplies. I wish I had thought about stuffing a pair of foam ear plugs in his ears. I have some left over from when my husband’s bi-pap machine kept me awake. I keep a duffle bag in the basement of basic emergency stuff, plus the dog’s travel cage from the days when I actually traveled is down there but the emergency weather band radio, a Colman lamp and a flasher for the dog’s collar I keep upstairs for power outages. I also threw in a bag my purse, cell phone, hearing aids, shoes (I was wearing Crocs), water bottles, a computer password list and my car keys. All the time I was gathering up stuff I had the TV on in the kitchen at full volume so I could follow the heavy rainstorm and tornado sightings as they made their way up from the southeast part of the county. I was in a direct path and it was due to hit my neighborhood at 2:45. 

At 2:30 I tried to get the dog to go down the fifteen steps to the basement but he wouldn’t do it! He’d never been down more than three steps in his entire life and he picked that time to show me his stubborn schnauzer genes. I put the leash on Levi and it’s a wonder he was still breathing or didn’t have a few broken bones after I dragged him to the basement. Once down, Levi liked it better because the siren wasn’t so loud. My little nest of supplies was in the corner of the basement but I sat on the bottom steps where I could still hear the TV and follow the tornado sightings as they tracked near-by before leaving the county. But the weather people stressed that everyone should stay in our safe places because conditions were right for other, rain-wrapped tornadoes to form within the storm still going on and you can't see those kinds of tornadoes coming at you. 

When the all clear came and the sirens stopped, Levi didn’t want to come upstairs. I pulled and pushed until I thought I’d either hang him or he’d topple me over backward. I’d get him up two steps and he’d manage to get back down one. It took forever to get him upstairs and we were both stressed out when we finally made it. He weighs 29 pounds and I can’t carry him under normal circumstances and on steps I have to hold onto the rail for dear life for me to feel safe. The next time we have to do the tornado thing, I’ve got to remember to get his seatbelt harness out of the car so I can drag him by the middle of his body rather than a leash attached to his collar. 

We were lucky in my county. No one died. There was lots of damage caused by trees getting uprooted or snapped off taking power lines down---27,000 were left without electricity, 40,000 if we include all six counties where rain, high winds and tornadoes tore through. Of the six confirmed tornadoes that struck statewide, two of them hit the metro area where I live. The closest one was only on the ground for ¾ of mile and 150 yards wide before it pull up a couple of miles short of my neighborhood---a small EF0 but still destructive. Years ago, my husband’s family farm got hit by two tornadoes ten years apart. With the last, only one wall of the house was left standing and when they cut a clothesline between a tree and what was left of the house, that wall fell in. A birthday cake sat on the kitchen table untouched by the devastation around it. 

This is the first time since my husband died that we’ve had a tornado warning so it was the first time I’ve gone to the basement in this house. We’d huddle in our hallway with quilts over our heads because I wasn’t about to leave a wheelchair bound guy all alone upstairs while I saved myself in the basement. Honestly, it unnerved me to be downstairs thinking that the rest of the house could come crashing down on top of me. And if I got trapped down there with no power causing the sump pump to stop working, I’d probably drown. Okay, the power would have to be off for a long time for that to happen but if I was writing a script for a disaster movie that’s the way it would go down. Or I’d come up from the basement to find a horse standing in the living room and no roof overhead. Remember the 1996 Helen Hunt movie, Twister, where the cow got sucked up by a tornado? That actually happened on my husband’s farm with one of their horses. They watched it go over the tree line and a few days later the local police brought it back home in a trailer. He was found a couple of miles away…dazed but otherwise unharmed.

My brush with Mother Nature was nothing compared to what’s going on with the flooding down south or the fires out west but I have a healthy respect for the power of tornadoes, so I was scared right alongside of my scary-cat dog. Next time, though, if I can’t get Levi to go downstairs when the sirens goes off I may go back to nesting in the hallway. ©

Thankfully, my neighborhood did not have any damage what so ever. But these photos were all taken in the metro area where I live. The two tornadoes that touched down were rated EF1 and EF0. The stronger one was on the other end of town.

Edited to add: I just saw a news story about 17 baby squirrels that are being cared for by a wildlife rehab place. They were all found on the ground in the tornado hit areas and are being fed dog milk formula every four hours. Most were really tiny and would not survive without their mom's.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Jim Crow Museum and Changing Times

Four years ago a black professor at Michigan’s Ferris State University put together The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia that now contains over 9,000 objects created between the 1870s and the 1960s (with a smattering of Obama hate objects thrown in). The term “Jim Crow” can be defined as a system of laws and customs that only applied to black people to keep society segregated after slavery ended. The culture of Jim Crow was often supported by violence, and the production of demeaning objects, literature and images of the black community was prolific. This museum is attempting to use those “objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.” The most disgusting object I saw on a recent visit was an 1874 jigsaw puzzle named ‘Chopped Up Niggers’ but others in my Red Hat Society chapter thought a baby bib from the Civil Rights Movement got their vote for the most disgusting object. Its embroidery read, “The only good nigger is a dead nigger.” 

Another sign that caught my attention read, ‘Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on You Here.” My dad used to tell us about a similar sign that was posted at each end of the town where he grew up in Southern Illinois. That sign read, “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on Your Black Ass” and for years I thought it was unique to that particular town. It wasn’t. There’s evidence that ‘sunset signs’ were posted in 150 towns, in 31 states during the Jim Crow era and they meant that if you were black and caught outside after dark you could expect to be met with violence. When my dad was a nine-ten year old boy he saw some of that after dark violence when he hid in the woods and watched the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross and hang a man of color.

In the months before my dad died we talked a lot about racism. It was 1999 and Tiger Woods had just won the PGA Championship that year. The ‘good old white boy club’ was finally integrated and Tiger's mark in history as the youngest man and first black man to win the Masters was sealed. Dad, a life-long golfer, was elated and proud to see Tiger’s success---that society could make so much progress in race relations in Dad's lifetime. I bought every magazine with articles about Tiger in them and read them to dad that summer. And Dad would tell me about his experiences with things like: having grown black men step off the sidewalk to let little white boys pass by, having the Klan raid and ransack houses in his Italian neighborhood, and having a sign at the coal mine where my grandfather worked that listed the pay scale by race and color---Italians were paid more than the Irish and the Irish more than the blacks with whites at the top and "black Italians" (Sicilians) at the bottom. One time Dad’s family went to pay their respects when a shopkeeper died and they were shocked to see him laid out in a KKK robe. According to Dad, it was the only time they revealed themselves. We talked about the impact it made on pushing lawmakers when the nightly news showed dogs and fire hoses being used on African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. We talked about how the lily white neighborhood where I grew up in the north was red-lined on a map to prevent people of color from getting mortgages within the red-lines.

My Red Hat chapter spent two-and-half hours at the Jim Crow museum looking at everything from sheet music, Black Sambo and Aunt Jemima figurines, postcards of Klan hangings and beatings, ash trays, black-faced fishing lures, books, records, children’s games to KKK memorabilia and a full-size hanging tree. The professor/curator said if he had his way he wouldn’t have any KKK memorabilia in the museum because he doesn’t want people to get the idea that racism was only practiced by organized groups like the KKK when it was pervasive in the general population during Jim Crow days. One thing I found interesting in the KKK display, though, was the “uniform” of the WKKK---the Women’s Ku Klux Klan. 1) I didn’t know women had their own group and handbook, and 2) their outfits didn’t include a hood as if the Klan didn’t think women were important enough to hide their identity. The curator of this museum is planning and collecting for another museum of hate memorabilia against women as they worked for nearly 100 years to get the right to vote. I hope he gets it finished while I’m still around to see it.

It was an interesting outing with eleven of my Red Hat sisters. It was also noteworthy that the one lady in our group who I had pegged as a racist (based on the e-mails from conspiracy and hate sites she forwards about Obama and “politically correctness”) said several times in the museum that she couldn’t see why certain objects would offend anyone. No one answered her and at one point she said, “I need to keep my mouth shut because I always get myself in trouble with this topic.” Sometimes it's hard for me to rationalize the differences between her online personality with the funny, likeable and bubbly impression she makes in person. She’s got a blind spot which I’m guessing is true of most people who don’t understand that perpetuating negative stereotypes IS racist, who don’t understand that it takes MORE than changing laws to lift the legacy of oppression that still influences the lives of many African Americans. Changing hearts and minds---that will take another generation if not two. Change is messy. Change doesn't move in a straight line. And while true equality is still just an altruistic goal, one day race will no longer matter. Love always wins out over hate in the broad vista views of the human race. ©

 Video about the Jim Crow Museum

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guilt Trips, Bagpipers and Milking Fish

I have a love/hate relationship with the third week in month because that when all my reoccurring social functions take place. I like doing the things I do but I’d like them more if they were spread out over the month and it makes me feel guilty leaving the dog home alone so much. I wish I could find him a day care near-by. He never pees, poops or destroys anything when he’s alone and we’re far enough away from the neighbors that, they say, they can’t hear him bark at passing rabbits. Still….

This week my busy social calendar started early---on Saturday when my Red Hat Society chapter met at a Mexican restaurant for lunch in a town about a half hour west. The place has a reputation for having wonderfully authentic food but we planned to walk over to a Celtic Festival in the park afterward so I didn’t order what I really wanted because their serving sizes are too large and I hate wasting food. At 82 degrees it was too hot to leave a take-out box in a car. So while everyone else was eating taco salads in eatable bowls and leaving half of them behind to end up in the trash, I had a hamburger. Boohoo! At least a child in a third world country won’t starve to death because I didn’t clean my plate. 

The Celtic Festival was probably similar to others across the country featuring things like: Irish road bowling, highland dancers, bagpiper and drum bands, whiskey and beer tastings, field hurling, fiddle contests, soda bread and scones stands, and men walking around wearing plaid kilts. Oh, my! Not so common, I suppose, was the parade, a carnival midway, a craft show, a pig roast and classes to teach people how to do the Irish jig. I’m a go-along-to-get-along kind of person so I tagged after my Red Hat sisters as they made their way along the craft show vendors, then I broke loose to check out some of the other stuff on my own. It occurred to me on the way home that I never said a word as I wandered off and that was rather rude and aloof on my part. The other side of my brain, however, reminded me that this was the first Red Hat walk-about we’d been on where we didn’t carpool so I wasn’t obligated to stick like Velcro to anyone. Still, I shouldn’t have wandered off and left without saying goodbye. I can’t believe I did that!

I also can’t believe that the bus driver for our senior hall bus trip on Tuesday was wearing an olive green ‘utility kilt’ and he wore it well, let me tell you. I sat next to him at lunch and found out he used to play a fiddle in an Irish band and he got hooked on the comfort of kilts. When he was out of earshot I said to one of the other guys at the table, “You’d have to have a lot of confidence to wear a kilt out and about.” He rolled his eyes and replied, “You won’t find me wearing one!” 

The day trip was to one of six state run fish hatcheries which is located near Wolf Lake which doesn’t tell you much since there are at least Three Wolf Lakes in Michigan. This time of the year their program is focused on Sturgeon but they hatch Walleye, Chinook Salmon, steelhead trout and Muskellunge in other seasons. We saw over two million fingerlings (tiny fish) waiting to grow up enough to relocate into our waters with a survival rate of only10%. We were told that’s a much higher percentage than for fish eggs hatched in the wild.

We watched a movie of workers on a boat gathering Sturgeon to harvest their eggs in the wild by giving the water an electric shock which we were assured doesn’t hurt them. The dazed fish float to the top, the workers net them in and “milk” the females for their eggs, the males for their sperm before they are released back in their natural habitat. I asked how they can tell the females from the males and the guide said, "We squeeze them and see what comes out." The eggs and sperm are mixed together in pails with a feather because they’re fragile---one ‘mating pair’ per pail and the pails are brought to the hatchery where the Sturgeon eggs undergo a year long process. The work that goes into protecting eggs and fingerlings from diseases was mind boggling. The best part of the tour was feeding the 12 to 24 inch long fish in the outdoor holding ponds. They’d swish up the water so much you’d think there were monsters down there and now I’m hungry for a fish dinner. 

Our DNR website says: “There are more than 11,000 inland lakes 5 acres in size or larger, in Michigan. According to the Michigan Historical Society, one is never more than 6 miles from an inland lake or more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes.” We also have 36,000 miles of rivers and streams. Leaving my house I can’t go in any direction without driving past a lake and that’s not even counting the one at the end of my block or the river I have to cross to get anywhere. No wonder I have a fear of sliding off an icy winter road and dying in a submerged vehicle. I carry a handy-dandy window breaking and seat belt cutting tool in my car that’s designed specifically for under water emergencies. I’m a regular little Boy Scout who has two more interesting adventures lined up this week. ©

Note: The photo up above are of fish eggs in the early stages of being hatched. Below, is an aerial of the 75 acre hatchery and that little pinkish speck in front of the middle building is a truck. The last photo is of a utility kilt exactly like the one our bus driver wore. If you don't think a guy can look sexy in a skirt/kilt you'd be wrong. He accessorized it with a rough leather belt with pouches, sandals and tight t-shirt.