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 26, 2015

Movies, Entertainment and Condos

Recently my Movie and Lunch Club saw Ricki and the Flash. If you saw the trailer you may have gotten the impression that it’s a comedy. I did and that accounts, in part, for why I was disappointed in this movie starring Meryl Streep who played an aging hard-rocker singer/guitarist. She’s a fabulous actor, no doubt about it, and her singing wasn’t bad at all. But any humor in the film was all in the trailer and I had a hard time liking her character, Ricki. In her younger years Ricki had left her husband (played by Kevin Kline) with three little kids to try to make it big in the music industry. Instead of achieving that dream she ended up broke and in a 2nd rate bar band. In the meantime her three kids grew up resenting her and by the time she came back into their adult lives they each held varying degrees of ambivalence towards her. Meryl’s real-life daughter plays her on-screen daughter who, in my opinion, doesn’t hold a candle to her mother’s natural talent. Rick Springfield who plays Meryl’s younger love interest, Flash, was believable and his music was just as great as it was in the ‘80s when he was a heartthrob. I’m glad to see more and more older women---Meryl is 66 now---getting leading roles these days but that wasn’t enough to make me like this film. It was worth the price of admission but not one I’m willing to brag up. 

The local sculpture park with its new Japanese garden announced a book club discussion that I signed up for within minutes after reading about it. It involves the book, The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. The lead horticulturist in the park is going to read portions of the book, show us the plants mentioned and share insights on their importance to the story. It’s a monthly book club but they are going to start doing four books a year that relate to the art or landscape of the 158 acre park. That twist was enough to make me decide this club might be worth checking out. I’d been in a book club before but too few of the twelve people in the group actually read the books so the discussions were often lacking. The club at the park has twenty-five people and seems more structured. I’ll have to waiting until the end of September to find out if that's true. Gosh, can you believe how fast time is flying by?

The senior hall had their end-of-summer picnic today. One hundred and ten people each bringing a dish to pass so imagine the hard, cuisine choices we had to make. It was nice, though, as it always is at the hall. That fact is one of the reasons the decision to move to the other end of the county has been so hard. Since Don died, I’ve been dependent on the place for my entertainment and human contact---however shallow that contact has been. This summer I’ve been experimenting. I cut my involvement at the hall in half, to see how I’d fair. Would I feel more isolated? The answer: yes. Would I find other things to do if I move away from my social hub? Researching what’s available down in the small town where I’d like to move, I found a monthly MeetUp for people over 60, a quilter’s club, two book clubs and the sculpture park is no farther away than it is right now. Neither is the theater where my Movie and Lunch club usually meets. Plus my family would all be within a short country drive away. I want to believe the latter would get me more impromptu invitations and visits.

Coming home from my niece’s house after our vacation, I serendipitously found a condo community exactly where I want to be. I detoured through it and called a realtor about a house up for sale. (The one pictured at the top.) It’s almost creepy how many features that house has that I want and it’s in my price range, the first big hurtle. It’s a zero concept, stand alone condo/house with two bedrooms and a small den off the front door and across the street is the entrance to the condo’s dog walking trail. Along the back of the condo is protected wetlands, so the immigrating bird life would be fantastic to watch and would give more privacy than most condo communities have. I asked the realtor if they had an open house coming up, explaining that I wouldn’t want to waste his time on a private showing since I won’t be ready to buy a condo until early next spring. But he seemed like he’d be glad to show it to me anyway and I’m waiting for a call-back after he arranges something with the owner. The web listing is so spot-on perfect, I’m almost afraid to tour the house for fear I’ll do something crazy like I did when I took the car in for an oil change and came out with a brand new car. I want that house so bad but the timing is wrong. I can’t downsize that fast and I need the money downsizing is bringing if I want to stick to my plan of not having a mortgage. I keep telling myself if I found one perfect place without even looking, I can find another when I’m dead seriously looking. Day dreams are dangerous things! ©

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Widow's Vacation in Saugatuck

This woman has been on vacation! Yes, a genuine, long-overdue vacation where I packed my bags, put the dog in a kennel and took off for some R & R. I didn’t go far. My niece and I checked into a Bed and Breakfast in my favorite tourist town along Lake Michigan. I’ve been going to Saugatuck since my teens but I’ve never stayed overnight unless you count the times in my late twenties when my husband and I brought sleeping bags over to the beach and fell asleep under the stars. Those were the good old days when we were carefree and didn’t worry about getting caught with our pants down. Literally. (Raise your hand if you think I’ve shared too much information here.)

Our B & B had nine bedrooms with private baths and it was the oldest continuous use residence in town. My room had its original horsehair plaster walls and polished plank flooring with square, blacksmith-made nails and it was named after Susan B. Anthony. She stayed in the same house 136 years ago while she was in town to help organize a local Temperance Union and to give a speech on woman’s suffrage. The local newspaper of the era said “she succeeded in closing six of the fourteen saloons” and “that was a testament to her persuasiveness and organizational skills.” My niece and I tried to find a bar to have a drink in one evening and we only found two open, neither one enticing enough to draw us inside. Susan would be proud that we choose, instead, the only other business open that late---a chocolate and ice cream shop.

We packed a lot into our vacation. After a leisurely breakfast each morning, seated on miss-matched oak chairs at a long farmhouse-style table, we’d take off to do things like: walk the beach, drive the shoreline of Lake Michigan, visit a neighboring town, and browse a few antique venues. We also walked along the marina, strolled a few residential blocks with gardens you can’t truly enjoy just driving by, and we even visited the place at the shore where we spread some of Don's ashes. One night we went to a summer stock production of First Date, a musical that was so funny I had tears running down my cheeks; another night we went to an outdoor concert in the park where we perfected the fine art of people watching. One afternoon we toured a restored 1920s, twenty-five room mansion with a third floor ballroom that was built by the inventor of comptometers, the first commercially successful mechanical calculator. His story was fascinating. Where the lumber industry clear-cut the woods along the lake, he managed to restore the land, stabilizing the shifting dunes with carefully chosen vegetation and now the property is a deep woods again. I wouldn’t have thought that was even possible.

Our Meals: When we first got to town we had lunch at a store-front restaurant with Andy Warhol style murals of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean on the walls. The next day we ate at the oldest structure in the county, originally built as a hotel for traders and people in the lumber industry. I lost my ‘fish tacos virginity' at another place across from where the ferry operates. But my favorite meal of all was when we decided to have desert instead of lunch at a large pie factory-restaurant. It’s out in the boondocks---in the middle of apple orchards, wine vineyards and blueberry farms. They’d taken a page out of a near-by winery's book and had a pie sampler tray on the menu---various, warm pies served in squatty jelly jars with vanilla bean ice cream on the side. Then there was the day we had ice cream cones for lunch. Yup, I was a bad influence on my niece. But so was she on me. Did I mention her stop to purchase a couple of bottles of wine?

Saugatuck is a town with a history rooted in boat building and lumbering and it’s often called the Art Coast of Michigan because of its 100 year old, 115 acres art colony with ties to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The town is a mecca for people from Chicago who spend the summers or boat over on the weekends. A high energy town with a wintertime population of around 1,000 that swells to 3,000 in the summers. My niece and I wondered if my great-great grandfather could have lived in town during its boom town days when he was known to have made his living following the lumber industry around this part of the state. We romanticized him living in our B & B when it was a boarding house for lumberjacks or eating at the hotel where we had dinner. Using our imaginations doesn’t make it fact, though the idea could be an interesting, family genealogy ball to chase for a tenacious researcher.

However, we did get a heavy dose of family history while we were on vacation. Sorting boxes in the basement the week before our trip, I had found six cassette tapes made of my mom and dad talking---circa the early 1970s through 1984. My niece and I listened to half of them in the evenings while drinking wine and munching popcorn. It still blows my mind that tapes made thirty and forty years ago could so clearly bring my parents back into focus. At one point we laughed so hard I actually thought I’d pass out from lack of oxygen; I could feel my face turning red. I suppose you had to be there to understand the humor in hearing my folks say long good-byes to their two dogs. They were dropping them off for me to babysit while they spent the winter in Florida. My niece started prompting them to include me (their daughter) in their “good-byes” and I started prompting them to say “I love you.” The tape ended with me singing a 'lullaby' to the dogs, which reminds me I should erase that embarrassing section. 

It was a vacation filled with quality time and memorable moments with one of my favorite people in the world. I crossed a few things off my Bucket List but believe it or not, there are still things on my ‘Saugatuck To-Do List’---like take the chain ferry across the river, ride the paddle boat, visit the art colony, walk the entire length of the boardwalk and I can’t believe we forgot to go to the kitchen gadgets store! I love that place. But for the bonus point of vacationing, when I picked Levi the Mighty Schnauzer up from the kennel it was reported that he had a wonderful time playing with a puppy during the puppy's daycare/socialization sessions and taking part in group obedience classes at night where he was pronounced to be "well behaved and sweet." Levi came home as tired and happy as I did.  ©
Main Street, Saugatuck

Our Bed and Breakfast
The Susan B. Anthony Room

The Felt Mansion

The Marina
The pier in the distance, Lake Michigan. The photo at the top was taken looking in the other direction.

This is an elaborate set of brand new steps and wheelchair ramps at a county park leading down to the beach. Don would have loved it!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Widow and the Window Peeper

I was prepping vegetables for dinner when realized I had a window peeper pressing his nose up against the glass door on my sun porch. I was shocked. What the heck is that? I thought. He was tomcat big, brown and fat with an slight overbite and he was only 15 feet away. When I moved closer to the door, he didn’t move. It crossed my mind that he was a monster rat but his tail was hairy and in the moment I thought rats all have flat tails void of fur. I’m not sure if that’s true but the part that freaked me out the most---after the rat thought passed---was it wasn’t afraid of me. Is he rabid? I worried. Back and forth between my dining room and sun porch glass doors he went, like he was determine to get inside. If he had a key, he would have used it, but foam didn’t followed in his wake. Nope, not rabid. Thankfully, Levi the Mighty Schnauzer was guarding the bedroom windows so I didn’t have to deal with his and my own freaking out at the same time. 

The window peeper hung around for a four-five minutes while I scared myself over how often I leave those doors wide open. Ohmygod, if the window peeper had come by the day before, he could have walked right into the house! Finally, he found his way down the steps to the dog yard where he searched for and found a place by the gate where he squeezed through the slats to freedom. I ventured out on the deck and watched him move along the lattice work at the bottom of the deck, me standing less than three feet above him, until he disappeared under my Blue Spruce. 

I hopped on the computer and located a website with videos of various wildlife of Michigan. My window peeper was a woodchuck! I didn’t see him the rest of the day and Levi didn’t get his backyard run that night. But from a woodchuck website I learned that harassment is a good way to get them to move their dens and it recommended dogs to do the harassing. Levi will be happy when I tell him that. Also under the heading of harassing techniques is to plant garlic around the opening of its burrow or pepper the area with talcum powder or blood meal. Traps, of course, and poison bait were also mentioned. It’s possible to co-exist with a woodchuck living close-by, I read, as long as it doesn’t undermine your foundation or steps---or in my case, the Blue Spruce. I’m glad I was able to identify the window peeper and it wasn’t a monster rat. If it had been a rat, I would’ve dialed 1-800-iKILL so fast the phone would have been smoking.

The idea of killing the woodchuck just because he doesn’t pay taxes where I live isn’t in my DNA and according to what I read if I’m going to harass the critter to move out of his burrow the ideal timing is now through September. He’ll still have time to settle into new digs before winter. You also can’t harass or bait them in the winter, the website said, because the females will have a litter of babies down in the burrows and it’s inhumane to kill the adults and let the babies starve. In the spring I’d have to wait until three weeks after seeing the babies above ground before I could start harassing the happy family. I have no idea what blood meal is but talcum powder sounds less Stephen King-ish so I’ll start with that. Jeez, and I thought chipmunks are a pain-in-butt for the way the taunt the dog. Wait until he sees the window peeper up close and personal. It's almost as big as he is. Operation Harassment will begin tonight when I will let Levi inspect the burrow. I hope he marks the place with pee-mail that says, “This is your eviction notice. Get out!”

It’s interesting the wide range of opinions people have about killing wildlife. When Cecil the famous lion was killed recently it was a hot topic at a debate website where I go. My husband was a life-long hunter. I understand the science of game management to protect the health and size of the herds out in the wild. I understand the ethical differences between a hunter with honor and those without---the ones who poach or take part in canned and big game trophy hunts. In my opinion, the latter categories of 'hunters' have scum-filled testicles. Sorry, if you’re someone with a dead-head from the Serengeti hanging on your wall. I’m not impressed.

Don was a hunter with honor. He followed the laws to the letter, never took a shot that wasn’t guaranteed to be a kill-shot, and he never baited game animals. He didn’t believe in those things and his manhood-ego didn't depend on him coming home with a dead animal strapped to the hood of his truck. In the last decade of my husband going out west during hunting season, he got a bigger thrill out taking award worthy photographs of wildlife using a telegraphic lens that would have been the envy of any paparazzi. It happened to my dad in his last years of hunting, too. The older they got, the less they had the heart for bringing down an animal that was minding his own business. The older we all get the more we appreciate the frailness of life and the senselessness of not co-existing with nature. If my window peeper could talk, he'd probably say that's why he moved into a widow's yard. He knew I'd be too old and soft to have 1-800-iKILL on my speed dial. ©