Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 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 double-ass ugly. Comments welcome! Jean

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Scary-Cat Widow and the Artist

 My Red Hat Society Chapter is planning a wine tasting tour next month near the top of the state, a trip that is estimated will take about twelve hours start to finish. Sounds like fun, right? I did this same trip with 100 people from the senior hall in 2012 and I’ve always loved going up to the area. The views of Lake Michigan are plentiful along the Leelanau Peninsula and the air smells so fresh and clean. So, what’s my problem with going again? I’m turning into the biggest worry-wart living on Widowhood Lane! The chapter has rented a fifteen passenger van and two women over 70 are planning on driving it. Mind you, neither one has ever driven a vehicle larger than a SUV but they aren’t worried. “I'll be fine,” one of them said, “we won’t be going in the middle of tourist season so we should be able to find parking without having to back up anywhere.” Ya, sure. I have driven a 24 foot motor home in a past life and as much as I never wanted to back up, sometimes you just can’t plan your way out of situations that require things you’d rather not do while on the road.

Twelve ladies signed up for the trip at our last tea so I need to make up my mind quick if I want push past my fear of dying alongside a highway in a cloud of red and purple hats, feathers and dresses with wine from broken bottles soaking through to my underwear. A couple of ladies are planning to buy a year’s worth of wine. Boxes of it, riding home in the non-existence extra space in van. I bought a bottle up in wine country in 2012 and I still haven’t opened it. My Italian ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves. Not that I don’t have my own indulgences. If I we were going on an ice cream tour, I’d be sitting on a cooler full of Ben and Jerry’s on the way home.

I told the ladies at tea that I have to do some math to see if I can afford to go because in addition to splitting the cost of transportation, the tour and lunch I’d also have to pay $71 of kennel fees for Levi. That was a white lie---not the kennel part, but I’d have no trouble paying for it all if I decide to go. Ohmygod, what kind of person am I turning into? Telling lies! And what happened to the woman who once happily spent an entire day in the mountains of Colorado on roads that were so narrow we had to fold in the mirrors on the truck or risk falling off the edge of the mountain to sure death? Other days out west in the boondocks we had to use come-along cables to ratchet ourselves out of the mud and we were as happy as a litter of piglets after a rainstorm. I know. I was young and in love and I trusted Don to take care of any situation and he would never, ever leave me behind. A bus load of older women? They could get half way home before they remembered to do a head count.

Speaking of spending money, I finally got to the new art studio in my adopted hometown, to ask about art classes. The guy who owns the place used to be an instructor at a near-by art school that has a international reputation for being one of the best in the U.S.A. I’m pumped up! (He also writes books.) The only hang-up is I’d have to do private lessons at $30.00 for two hours to get what I want---not a bad price, but I was hoping for more human interaction. All his group classes are just for what I call pop-up “art” classes. Classes for bridal shower or birthday party guests, etc. Two hours start to finish they copy a simple painting while they eat and drink and have a good time. It pays his overhead so I can’t fault him for that. He showed me his work and that of the other “real” artists who sell their work in the studio's show gallery. And we talked about what medium/s I should try after 50 years of being away from the world of art. We settled on Prismacolor pencils because they are “cheap” and not too messy for me to work with at home since at present I don’t have suitable studio space.

I left the studio, went directly to an art supply place and spent over $80.00 on the “cheap” stuff. I start my classes in a couple of weeks when I can move my eBay stuff out to the garage, freeing up my dining room table. In the meantime, I need to put together some of my old artwork to show the guy so he’ll have a gauge of what I once was and what I might be able to achieve again. (Knock on wood.) While down in the basement looking for stuff to take, I found a ton of oil pastels that are still good. One set of 48 pastels had the original price tag of $3.75 on the box and I’d just seen a set that size at the art supply store for over a hundred dollars. And no, I wasn’t using them to paint on the walls of caves. Although, that gives me an idea. The cost of canvas and paper is so high, now, I just might be using the walls of my house as I progress with my new trip to the land of would-be artists. ©

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Culinary Class - Thai Cooking

Last fall at an auction I won two expensive cooking lessons at a fancy place with a beautiful view of a tree lined ravine with a fast rolling river at the bottom. It seems I was one of the few people at the auction who recognized the bargain price the classes were going for. I was thrilled when I won. Last night I cashed one of the certificates in on a three hour class on Thai cooking. Let me tell you, I was a fish out of water with all the foodies in our little group as we sat on tall stools around a chef’s stainless steel topped table. But I was honest about my lack of cooking background so I’m sure my naïve questions amused my companions whose questions were far above my skill set. The chef had a sous-chef who did all the chopping and running. He was a good looking guy of---I’m guessing---Italian descent and I wanted to take him home, stand him in the corner of the kitchen to come to attention whenever I need assistance.

They started out with Pork Satay and Peanut Sauce, then they progressed with putting on a pot of Tom Kha Gai soup. While that was on the stove they made Phat Thai and ended with Sticky Rice with Mangoes for the desert round. We were munching and drinking wine the whole time---well, I wasn’t drinking, but the others were and it was fun to watch them all get buzzed while exchanging foodie stories as the night advanced. I learned two things: 1) To do Thai cooking you need to keep the following ingredients in the house: brown sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and soy sauce. And 2) Thai cooking has five flavor profiles: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy. Thai cooking is good at isolating those different profiles in the same dish so you continue to get unexpected flavor bursts as you eat. All in all, I had a great time and a to-die-for meal.

Will I ever make any of this stuff at home? No, but at least I’ll appreciate my take-out Thai more. But I probably will get some coconut milk, lemongrass paste, scallions and chicken and play around with inventing my own soup concoction. Recipes are for sissies. Or so my mother taught me by example which is probably one of the reasons why cooking freaks me out so much. It’s always an 'adventure' into the unknown.

As usual for me, I took my camera but it never made it out of my purse. The stock photo at the top is pretty close to the Phat Thai I ate last night. Oh and by the way, I sat next to a guy close to my age who was there alone, too, as were three other women. So there is no reason for  widows to fear going alone to classes like this. The only couple in the group were young and are getting married next summer. The guy I liked, the girl reminded me of a few bridezillas I dealt with back in my former life.

“It’s going to be MY wedding,” she announced at one point, “not his and he doesn’t get a say in anything.”

The rest of us were all old enough to have grandchildren and we looked at each other at that statement. If I had been drinking, too, I would have been tempted to ask the others if they wanted to place bets on how long their marriage would last with that attitude. One of the other women did say, “Marriage is an 80% 20% deal. 80% of the time you love each other and 20% of the time you want to kill each other.” 

Then I said, “I agree except the longer I was knew my husband that equation changed to 90%, 10%” and others agreed that was true for them as well.

Bridezilla piped up, “For us, its 50%, 50%.” I looked at her would-be spouse and hoped he’d could read my mind because I was telling him to run for the hills. Seriously, you shouldn’t have to work that hard at love! The only time I had to work that hard at love the relationships didn’t last. Am I just too old to remember how it is with young people or am I just making myself feel superior by thinking I can accurately read the signs when a relationship is doomed from the start? We widows do tend to have thick rose-colored lenses in our glasses when it comes to remembering our other half and our shared romantic past.

I’m saving my other class certificate for something to do with summer stir-fry or grilling. So part two to this story will be along someday. ©

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Week That Flew By

It’s been one of those weeks when I was busy all the time but at the end, there wasn’t much that stood out as being worth taking up space in my memory bank or my blog. Not being memorable can actually be a good thing because that rules out a whole host of bad things that could have happened. No funerals to attend. No falling down and going boom in the night that required a trip in an ambulance. No bills came I can’t pay. I’m still old---that hasn’t changed---but, jeez, I’m not dead and according to Marlo Thomas’ new book, It Ain’t Over…Till It’s Over, I still have plenty of time to reinvent my life and chase my dreams. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of obvious things like that.

I did have one outing this week that is worth mentioning. For our April walk-about my Red Hat Society Chapter finally made it downtown to the dinosaur exhibit. We tried to go once before but the line was too long so we went to plan B. I don’t really care about dinosaurs. As fast as the world is changing I’ll be one myself soon enough. Like yesterday when my WiFi quit working and it took me over an hour to get the darn thing working again. A seven year old probably could have done it in five minutes. But as exhibits go, it was impressive and it took us two hours to view all the animatronic dinosaurs, the feather, dung and head fossils and the full skeletons. I learned that dinosaurs are now believed to be the ancestors of modern birds, not reptiles as people in my age bracket were taught decades ago and they are still digging up dinosaurs fossils today which are in big demand on the black market. Who knew you could get millions of dollars for a pile of old bones to reconstruct? And what does one do with a dinosaur in a private home? They don’t have folklore properties like ground-up rhino horns that are erroneously believed to help a guy get a hard-on. But who decides these things? And why can’t we just supply the rhino horn buyers with a lifetime supply of Viagra and save the destruction of those butt-ugly-but-still-beautiful-at-the-same-time animals? Let those rhino buying guys wear themselves out to the point of extinction. Sometimes the simplest answer to a problem is right before our eyes.

This week I also got two phone calls on my husband’s birthday from longtime friends. It was nice to know that others still remember and miss him as much as I do. It’s weird knowing I’m now officially older than he was when he died. And my brother and sister-in-law are taking me out for dinner on Sunday to mark the occasion of both Don’s and my birthday. I won the in-law lottery with those two. About the only thing I could ever do wrong in their eyes is to shoot a polar bear. I could understand their admiration back when Don was alive…they had a big stake in me staying healthy and happy to take care of Don since they were next in line as power of attorney. But with Don no longer in the picture they still hang in there with me and not all widows can say that about their in-laws. In fact, I can say that about all of his family. I am still one of them and for that I am grateful.

Next week is move-in time for my new antique booth and this past week was devoted to getting everything ready. Thankfully, I have a good friend who will help me move in my heavy showcase. He’s like the son we never had. He’s one of these extremely busy, do-good types who spreads himself too thin and has a big family that he is devoted to. So I don’t see him more than a handful of times a year, but he calls often and has always been there to volunteer to help when I’ve needed it. In fact, this time he actually called me to tell me about this booth opening up and urged me to rent it. He’s got a booth in the same mall, so I’m hoping we’ll cross paths often as we restock. He’s a crazy, upbeat kind of person who never seems to age. Just fun to be around and don’t we all need more people like that in our lives.(Wow, who knew I'd be writing an ode to Tim today?)

I’ve got a busy but fun week ahead. Besides the move-in mall business I have a Thai cooking class on my schedule and my Movie and Lunch Club meets. Then at the end of the week I’m going to a surprise birthday party for my brother---not to worry, he doesn't owe a computer and won't see this. I can’t wait to visit my family. I haven’t seen them since last fall. (Well, except for a baby shower in January where I saw the female half.) I wish they didn’t live so far away, but they do so that just makes the times when I do see them all the sweeter. ©

Monday, April 7, 2014

Remember Back When Obama Was President?

My first week of returning to eBay auctions went well enough. I listed five items, sold four for a grand total of $282.45. With the one that didn’t sale, I had calculated the shipping wrong, so the corrected listing should sell the item this coming week. That old can photographed at the top accounted for more than half of that $282.45 and many widows---upon finding that in the garage---would have thrown it away. It makes me crazy when I hear about widows who throw out all of their husband’s garage stuff without first finding out if there was a method to his madness. And tools alone deserve a garage sale, not a trash bin. But I can only sing that song so many times before I start sounding like a broken record. Now, I only have to repeat my first auction results two more times this month to pay for the spring cleanup and bark application in the yard. Then May’s auction should pay for my wrap-around deck to get stained. My financial life this summer will be like one big Monopoly game. I advance past ‘Go’, collect $200 then I land on a piece of property that just happens to cost $200.00. Funny how that works. I want to get the house power washed, the windows professionally cleaned and few other things that didn’t get done last summer when my sump pump failed during our record setting rains and the basement got flooded. Knock on wood that this summer doesn’t bring me another “Go directly to jail,” card “do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

One of my cousins used to administer tests to determine if someone could be declared legally incompetent to live alone. Twenty-one questions---back 15 years ago---was all that stood in between old people being shipped off to a nursing home or them being able to thumb their noses at a relative who doubted their mental facilities. She used to joke that she had all the answers memorized so that she could pass the test when the bell tolled for her. In the last few years of my dad’s life, I had to take him to a geriatric psychiatrist every two months for an interview and one of those twenty-one questions competency tests. His testing was required because he was taking part in a clinical drug trial designed to slow down the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a drug that has since come to market. I think of all those times I sat and listened to him struggle to come up with the names of politicians in office whenever I’m tempted to give myself a news blackout. You’ve got to stay current when you get old! It doesn’t matter that a good share of kids under 40 can’t name a Supreme Court Justice but if you’re 75 or 80 you bet your future on knowing stuff like that.

My dad was the wisest, most compassionate man I’ve ever known. Even so, sharing care of an elderly parent in their own home isn’t easy but I am proud of the fact that my brother and I was able to do it until a couple of weeks before he died. We would have made it to the end if I hadn’t taken a nasty fall, broking my arm in three places, and I had to have surgery. Then I spent twelve weeks in a turn-buckle cast. Try picking out clothing to wear to a funeral with one of those things attached to your body. As hard as those five years of caring for my dad were, I have many treasured memories that were generated during that time frame. Like the time the doctor asked Dad who the president was and he gave the wrong answer. When the doctor corrected him, Dad replied: “My daughter tried to tell me that in the parking lot but I didn’t believe her!” Caregiver humor seems to come along when you need it the most. Kind of like the darker form of humor that comes along during the first year or two of widowhood. What got me to thinking about Dad today was my hairdresser. She is at the beginning stages of having to oversee her aging mother. If it’s true that we can judge a society by the way we treat the elderly, I think there is much to be hopeful about in America. Most of us do step up to the plate when the times comes.

Some people don’t understand why some of us faithfully tend our blogs like spring gardens that need their tender little sprouts babied along, and I think the answer to that question can be found in this quote from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: “Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic. As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books. And every day I open a volume or two, read a few lines or pages, allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head.”  I think we write blog posts to preserve the voices that speak inside our heads and the memories that seem to want to crowd each other out as time marches us toward our graves. In my case, I like to think that someday when I'm too old to remember who the president is one of my nieces will occasionally sit beside me, like a mother reading a fairytale to a five year old, and she’ll read me a few pages from my blog starting with the words, “Aunt Jean, remember back when Obama was the president and you wrote this….” ©