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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Maintenance Month and Summer Expectations

I now officially have the cleanest gutters and downspouts on the block and it only cost me a hundred bucks. Trust me, that’s a bargain. This spring my neighbor cut down seven dead, 100 foot tall pine trees so I’m hoping my gutters will stay clean longer than in the past. The wads of yucky pine needles and maple leaves the company threw on the ground looked like bird’s nests for vultures. Having my gutters cleaned yearly---sometimes twice yearly---is a “thing” for me and I always schedule it just before the Fourth of July. Why? Because I have neighbors who are into shooting off fireworks and I’m afraid those rockets and other things that go kaboom in the night will start my house on fire. Every year, I find spent fireworks in my yard, just feet from reaching my roof. It's legal here around the holiday, so don’t bother suggesting I complain. It’s also legal to have open campfires in our back yards and two of my neighbors have them quite often. 

I officially also have the cleanest windows on the block. This week I had a company do those as well. Twenty-four windows and glass doors for $180, another bargain. It’s been five years since they’ve been professionally cleaned inside and five years since the outside has been done by anyone other than Mother Nature. The crew took the screens out, cleaned them and the window frames as well as all the glass. Two birds have died striking the windows since yesterday---the glass is that clean. Later today I’ll go to the bird supply store to get some bird strike decals. I took the old ones off for the cleaning crew because their UV reflective quality does wear out over time. And I thought I wouldn’t need them anymore, now that I don’t feed the birds at the back of my house which is where the birds did their suicide dives. The woodpeckers outside my breakfast nook window got a reprieve. Right now, I’m getting as many as seven woodpeckers at a time coming to their suet-plugs-in-a-log feeder and half of them are babies getting fed beak-to-beak by their mamas. 

The tree guy was also here this week. Can you sense of pattern here? Two of my best trees have/had a disease and this week’s treatment was the second of three needed. What a great recovery they are making, worth the $88 spent per service call. That may sound like a lot of money to spend on trees but if you’ve ever had a landscape company come in to plant mature trees you know it’s an investment worth protecting. Not to mention it costs far more than $264 to have two dead trees cut down.

Oh, the joys of home ownership! Ask me later on for that list because I still have two more maintenance contractors that need to come out for I'm done for the summer: one for carpet cleaning and one for my roof. Has anyone had any experience with low pressure washing your roof with a chemical that kills the algae (the black streaks)? It doesn’t cost much (under $300) and the guy who came out to give me a price says I don’t need a new roof at all. Oh course, the guy who came out to give me an estimate on replacing the roof ($14,400) says I do need a new one. One of the Gathering Girls, who is on her condo board said, “We looked into that wash. Don’t waste your money” but someone else I know had it done seven years ago and the black streaks haven’t come back yet. Decisions like this can drive a widow crazy. No wonder so many elderly people give up on maintenance and are living in houses that are falling down around them. 

I can’t believe June is almost over and the fun I thought I’d be having this summer doesn’t look like it’s going to materialize and there is no one else to blame but myself for setting unrealistic expectations. I had high hopes for my gaggle of new friends (aka The Gathering Girls) going to summer street fairs, outdoor music concerts and art-in-the-park shows---maybe even spend an afternoon at Lake Michigan. But after making concrete plans to go to the first outdoor event of the season three of the six of us buggered out on going because they didn’t think they could do the walking required. Another had a funeral to attend so that left just two of us. Not being able to walk a couple of small town blocks, cuts out a lot of activities we could have planned. We are all still hanging in there with our “First Monday Monthly Brunches” and lunch/dessert after the official, senior hall Gathering (for people looking for friends) and I foresee all us still going to movies if Hollywood would just cooperate and put out something worth seeing this summer. But as a group we’re going to need some fresh ideas that are lower key than the vagabonds-wandering-in-the-summer-sun stuff I had envisioned. Growing friendships is tricky business. No wonder we’re all going to a "Friendship for Dummies" group. Finding our common denominators, working around our individual foibles and family obligations is like solving a Chinese puzzle box; it's going to take a little frustration and a lot determination to get to the prize. ©

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Adventures and Misadventures in Aging

Have you ever done something and soon after you start questioning why you did it and if doing it was a sign that your mental sharpness is waning? That’s what happened to me last week when the irrigation guy was in my garage. He spotted an iron object and said, “Hey, that’s a Civil War cannon ball!” and I replied, “Yup, I know. I’d been carrying it around since I was ten.” “I could take it off your hands,” he offered and I shocked myself by saying, “Why not. Take it.” And that was the sum total of our conversation about the piece. I’ve given antiques and collectibles away to family and friends but never, ever to a total stranger and I can’t get it out of my head. Am I entering the land where old people are be easily manipulated? I’ve heard stories about elderly people getting conned out of valuable antiques but I never thought it could happen to me. Not that I was a victim of anything more than my own impulsiveness. Afterward, I thought he might think of himself as an American Picker and that was his clumsy way of expecting me to throw a price back at him. But the more I thought about it the more insulted I felt by his “take it off your hands” remark. One: I wasn’t looking for a way to get rid of it and, two, if I was, I know its value and how to use eBay to sell it.

With all my hand wringing about giving a Civil War antique away to a stranger the only thing I could come up with to explain my out-of-character action was a few weeks ago when I was sweeping the garage floor I saw the cannon ball and I thought, I should put a label on that so it doesn't get discarded as junk when I die. Maybe with that thought in the back of my mind, I was just happy someone came along who knew what it was and wanted that cannon ball with the same enthusiasm I did back when I was a kid? Still, afterward it shook my confidence and made me feel vulnerable. There have been other small changes I've noticed in my interactions with strangers that had me concerned even before this happened, a kind of need to please them. Will I start buying things from door-to-door salesman just to make them happy? At what point do I throw a lifetime of carefully cultivated caution to the winds and start inviting homeless people to crash on my couch? Is it possible to pinpoint the beginnings of dementia, of letting go of inhibitions that have worked to protect us from harm? Does that 'pinpoint' look anything like a cannon ball?

Enough of that! Yesterday was the long-awaited Conversation Day---a whole day of interaction with people I know and like, starting with a haircut from my stylist who seems to like hearing me ramble on about my misadventures. That was followed by a trip to Starbucks for a drink from their Cup-of-Kindness line and a couple of their new Sous Vides (egg white bites with bacon). For every ‘cup’ sold Starbucks is donating twenty-five cents to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the Channel Kindness project, guaranteeing a minimum check of $250,000 for the six day campaign. I’ve tried the Pink (strawberries with coconut milk) and Violet (blackberries with coconut milk) and I’m hoping to get back for the Green (malcha green tea with lemonade). No need to tell me how you don’t like their coffee; we’ve had this conversation before. Starbucks aficionados never, ever order a plain cup of coffee. Why would you when there are dozens and dozens of blended and shaken coffee and tea concoctions and flavor profiles from all over the world to try? Starbucks isn't just a coffee shop; it's an adventure park for your taste buds. If I could, I’d take all you naysayers by the hand to a Starbucks tasting party.

After Starbucks I went to the senior hall for the monthly Gathering (for people looking for friends). A new couple was there, former teachers, who after retiring had bought a sailboat and they’ve been all over the world with it. When they revealed that I wanted to be them, to be able to tell the stories they must have up their sleeves. The mauve-to-mango sunsets, the stunning pink sand beaches and the pearl white sails blowing in the winds. I used to be an artist, I know all the proper hues to describe those colorful things. The couple is new in town, downsized from two houses elsewhere. I admire them for having had the adventure of their lives but in the end their goals for the future and mine are the same: they want to be close to trusted family members as they age.

Author Mercedes Lackey, wrote, “Adventure, yeah. I guess that's what you call it when everybody comes back alive.” That means we can’t call the aging process a true adventure---it's more like a misadventure---because the one thing we know for sure is that no one gets out of this world alive. The most we can hope for is we get to keep our grey matter and marbles in place for as long as possible. And I write to help with that endeavor; it's my mental calisthenics. ©

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Broken Dog, Air Conditioner and Irrigation System

Can you believe it, the dog has been on a diet for only one month and he has already lost an impressive amount of the weight, dropping from 31.4 to 30 pounds. Three more pounds to go and he’ll be at his ideal weight. He was so cute when he sat on the scales, looking pleased and lapping up all the praise lavished on him by the technician at the vet’s office. We were there to get Levi’s teeth cleaned. I had to drop him off at 8:00 and when I called at noon to check on him he was just going into the surgery room. It ticked me off that he had to spend that much time cooling his heels in a cage. Last year he had so many teeth pulled it’s a wonder he can still eat. This time, He got to keep all the teeth still left in his mouth but they put some junk (like cement) along his gum line to help him keep the teeth he still has left. Schnauzers and other bearded breeds have a reputation for having bad teeth and gum issues. 

That day---Tuesday---on the scales was the last time I saw Levi happy and pain-free. The day after Levi’s dental procedure he was still acting like a burned out druggie. He didn’t want to move, drink, eat, pee or poop and he acted like his leg was broken only he didn’t whimper in pain when I poked around his leg and paw, looking for a reason for his reluctance to put weight on it. I could have understood it if it was the leg where they put the IV line in but it was his other front leg. I've had to keep an ACE bandage on the shaved patch where his IV line was attached because otherwise he licks it until his skin is beat red. I wish Levi could talk like Martin in the new TV series, Downward Dog. Have you seen that new summer ABC series? It’s really cute. 

Thursday I took Levi back to the vet. She checked out his joints, range of motion, shoulder, and paw and she felt around his bones and muscles. She couldn’t find anything to explain why he’s impersonating a three legged dog. Mostly he’s been sleeping, with me waking him up once in a while to try to get him to eat and drink or to carry him outside for potty breaks. By evening he finally did it all. The vet gave him some pain pills and me instructions to virtually keep waiting on him hand and foot all weekend so he stays as still as possible. The hope is that whatever is wrong with his leg will heal itself. That will be $55. Thank you very much. It's a good thing I’ve been working out at the YMCA because I can actually lift a drugged out dog. Friday (today as I write this) he barked for the first time since his saga started. Just one pathetic bark when someone came to the door but that’s progress. If he continues not to want to put weight on his leg by the time Monday rolls around I have to make an appointment for him to get x-rays. 

This has been a weird and expensive week. One day I had the air conditioning guy come out to do a routine check on the unit. I didn’t want to turn it on this year because I could look down into the housing for the outside fan and see where mice had spent the winter. I was afraid if they chewed on the wiring it could start a fire or compound any problems that damaged wiring might cause. We’ve had weather in the 90s and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to endure it without being too miserable without the AC running. That $84 base for the call turned into $210 which included topping off the Freon, the pricey part. Of course, the guy tried to talk me into their ‘membership program’ where you pay a monthly fee but your service calls are all supposedly free. I hate those programs. When you do the math you’re just paying in advance for service calls you may or may not need in any given year and you know they wouldn't offer the program if they weren't making money on them. If I was on a tight budget or had trouble saving money, maybe I’d make a different choice but I’m not and I don’t. 

Another day I had an appointment with my irrigation company. What a frustrating mess that company made out of my yard this year! My grass is burning up and one of my neighbor is getting too much benefit from my water. I’ve used the same company since the day we moved in over fifteen years ago but something has changed and the crew they’ve got working this year are not up to their usual professionalism. They had my watering times set so short a yard full of cactus would have had a hard time living out there. Before my sister-in-law moved into a nursing home she used to say she wanted to go because she didn’t want to deal with the endless chores around the house and yard anymore and I’d tell her, “At our ages all we do is make calls and write a few checks. How much trouble is that?” Fast forward a couple of years and I’m beginning to understand her point of view. I’m not there yet but having the irrigation company reschedule me three times and having me getting up at the crack of dawn twice for nothing really was a pain in the patootie.  ©