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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Life Enrichment for Widows and Panda Bears



It’s no secret that I’ve been infected with cabin fever since before Christmas. Not to worry. It’s not contagious, at least not through a computer monitor. If you were sitting beside me I‘d make no such promise. But that’s irrelevant at this point in time because today my fever broke! I got to talk to people whose voices didn’t come through landlines, cables and satellites and I no longer feel like I’m the last real person left on earth. Earlier this week the Life Enrichment lecture at the senior hall got canceled because the wind chills here were twenty-something below zero. Then yesterday I got an email announcing it had been re-scheduled and the gods of snowfalls took a day off, so I got to go play in the neighborhood today. Life enrichment, here I come!

The Life Enrichment lectures are always interesting, captivating and---well---life enriching with their eclectic variety of topics. One time it might be a presentation by someone who had sailed around the world in a two-man sailboat and the next time the talk and slide show might be presented by someone who had walked across America, or who weaves, dyes and collects handmade fiber-art. This month’s lecture was presented by a guy who writes travel and history books about out-of-the-way places, festivals and small towns in Michigan. Today his talk was focused on oddities and rarities around the state and he sure made us laugh enough times to make us all go home feeling uplifted and happy. Cookies from Trader Joe's did a lot to cure my cabin fever as well. I could throw a sleeping bag under one of their display tables and happily live there for the rest of my life. I’m glad I have to travel a couple of hours to get to a Trader Joe's. If not, I’d be fat enough to sit in an off-the-midway circus tent collecting quarters from kids who've come to gawk.

One of the mysteries Mr. Rademacher talked about was an object that was found in a copper mine up north in 1801 and eventually ended up in a tiny town museum marked ‘unknown tool’. Two hundred years after it was found, a professor from Chicago came through the museum and asked if he could borrow the curious object. His wish was granted and he sent the tool to a Vikings ship museum in Norway and, yup, he was right. It was authenticated as a circa 890 AD Vikings ship building tool only used in one small, isolated place on earth. Did Gokstad Vikings ships ever sail the Great Lakes and maybe one got ship wretched near the mining area? Who put the tool down in the mine? How did a six-seven inch long, square shaped stone with one end wrapped in metal that was pegged in place survive for so many centuries without someone throwing it away? Every object tells a story and every life enrichment lecturer has an interesting object in their arsenal to act as seed for thought.

Life Enrichment. When you google the topic you’ll find a lot of stuff aimed at senior citizens like me. Some call it social-therapy. You know, get the old people out of their houses where they have opportunities for socializing and learning, for exchanging "person-centered philosophy" (is there any other kind?) and to find benchmarks to use to measure our involvement in life up against. Yadda, yadda, yadda. When I was younger we called them leisure time classes but, now, be a senior citizen taking a tai chi or quilting class or going to a lecture and you’re enriching yourself. Why can’t some people just be life-long learners without having to put a new shade of lipstick on the same pig every couple of decades?

Later this afternoon, as I do often, I went to the Atlanta Zoo panda cam site and one of the mammal keepers had written: “It's always a fun experience seeing how different animals enjoy new enrichment like snow.”  (As most of us know, Atlanta got one of their rare snowfalls this week.) The young twins were not allowed outside like the older pandas but the keepers brought them a pan of snow to play with inside their den and they took to the white stuff with enthusiasm. She said, “They were eating the snow and shoving each other’s faces in it.” When you think about it, that’s not much different than what we seniors were doing today with our enrichment. We ate it up like you’d expect people suffering with cabin fever to do and after the lecture was over we oohed and aahed over the rare and odd things we’d just heard as we milled around shoving cookies in our faces. ©

 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Fashion Police and the Voices from Beyond

There was a news anchor on TV recently who was talking about how the outfit she was wearing had busted a seam and the crew had to fix it before going on the air. “Casket ready,” she called herself, because she looked good from the front but not the back. She said there was no excuse for that. “It was a brand new dress,” after all. I shook my head, wondering why it didn’t occur to her that the outfit was too darn tight! They don’t sew those seams with steel thread and no matter how much you try, you can’t put a cup and a half of sugar into a one cup measuring cup. Most of the wardrobe malfunctions that happen with celebrities are because the fashion trends have a lot of people wearing clothing that could pass for a second layer of skin. I’m going to sound like an old Church Lady here, but when I was young if you couldn’t walk without a dress creeping up higher and higher with each step it was a like having a flashing billboard that read, “YOU NEED THE NEXT SIZE UP!” And in those days there was no such thing as forgoing wearing underwear because the seams would show under your dress, blouse or slacks. Going up a size takes care of that.

When I was in college in the early 1960’s I took several semesters of tailoring classes. (Do colleges even have full credit courses like that today in this post-Feminist Movement world?) Anyway, we took great pains in constructing clothing that fit perfectly and that meant no horizontal pucker lines could show up when you were standing up or walking. That was a big no-no then and it still is for me today although the rest of the world has left that rule back in the building with Elvis. That leaves “fashionable” woman constantly pulling at the bottom of their skin tight skirts. And nothing annoys me more when I watch an awards show or talk show on TV than seeing a woman with a skirt that is creeping dangerously close to London. Remember that old playground rhyme, “I see London, I see France. I see <Miley’s> underpants!”

When will flattering draping and tailoring that allows for easy movement come back into fashion? I hope I live long enough to see that happen, says the old lady whose all-time favorite fashion to was the shapeless hippie dresses from the ‘70s. I still have two of them hanging in the ‘vintage memory” section of my closet. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I also LOVED the tailored A-line sleeveless dresses from the prime of my life. (Think Audrey Hepburn riding her motor scooter around Paris in her narrow little dresses.) My ‘vintage memory’ section also has a skinny-Minnie, sleeveless A-line outfit. If I tried to put it on today, the seams would split or I’d get stuck in the garment like the time I tried on a pair of Spanx and it took me ten minutes to get the dang thing back off again. By the way, why do we call undergarments, “a pair of underpants” or “a pair of panties?” Why do we say we’re going shopping for a pair of blue jeans? Or is it just me that does that? A pair of socks makes sense but we don’t wear underpants in pairs---unless you’re planning to reveal your tidy-whities, then movies stars have been known to double layer their Jockeys.

Can you tell I haven’t been out of the house in more days than I can count on the fingers of one hand? I’m reduced to writing about fashion, for crying out loud. Just call me the fashion police from the frozen north. The high yesterday was two below and it‘s not much better today. The schools have been closed because bus stop wind chills are too low for the kids, and people on Facebook are talking about nothing else but the relentless snow and traffic accidents. But my cul-de-sac finally got plowed today and I thought, Oh boy! I get to go to the Life Enrichment lecture at the senior hall today! My joy was short-lived. I remembered that the senior hall is under the township umbrella and when the schools are closed for weather, activities at the hall are canceled as well. No lecture for me.

With time on my hands I decided to sort a box of cassette tapes that I found when I did the closet purging last week. (I had tucked it in the garage with a sign that read: Sort Later.) I ended up with a plastic grocery bag full of tapes to toss out---things like tapes of convention workshops lectures, stuff I’d taped off from TV years ago and speech class drill words of Don’s---and another plastic bag full of tapes to take to Goodwill. The donation bag was a mixture of books on tape I used to listen to while I was plowing snow, and tapes of music Don liked, but I don’t. I did find a couple of gems in the box which made the sorting worth a million bucks. Well, not really but what I found made my day. In the box was a cassette tape of my husband’s rich, full voice before his stroke and another tape of my dad's soft-spoken words…both deceased and both with distinctive voices that warmed my heart to listen to on such a cold winter day.  ©

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Never Ending Widows Work



One would think I’m obsessed with closet purging judging by the number of times it’s been written about it this blog. So why am here this morning writing yet another entry about closet purging? I don’t know. Maybe I have no other life going on here in the frozen tundra we call Michigan, says the woman living inside a snow globe being shaken by an over zealous entity. Actually this is just an update on my latest closet purging project and I decided it’s noteworthy in a widow’s blog because it involved a whole lot more ‘widows work’ than I expected.

Buried in deepest, darkest end of the closet I found a stash of Don’s dress clothing. I thought I had purged all of his clothing but 4-5 wool shirts from the master bedroom closet shortly after he died so image my surprise at finding 7 suits, 9 dress shirts, 18 ties, a dozen pair of blue jeans, 2 belts, 2 pair of suspenders and 7 pair of dress pants. They’d been there, untouched, since the day we moved in. Because of Don’s stroke damaged body---clinched fist, right side total paralysis---he couldn’t put a dress suit on without altering them with a lot of Velcro, so over time we morphed his dress-up look to something more causal and wheelchair friendly. I probably knew he’d never wear that stash of clothing again when it was moved from the old house to here, but I doubt I was ready to accept that fact so close on the heels of his stroke.

Slowly, I took all that clothing off their hangers and tried to remember where Don had worn what to. He looked so handsome in his forest green shirt that it was hard to part with it but it got folded carefully and with love, then I put in a box for donation. Most of the suits were hopeless out of style but someone into almost-vintage will enjoy them. It was emotional, mind work going through this stuff---the quintessential definition of 'widows work'. And it chocked me up, kept tension in the pit of my stomach the whole afternoon. But I didn’t cry. Pat me on the back, would you? There, there widow lady. You did a good job keeping your tears in check. Here's another gold star for your Widowhood Membership Card.

His ties were the hardest to pack up. I’ve always wanted to make a crazy-quilt with tie fabrics and here was my chance, my building blocks to that quilt. After a lot of hand wringing, I decided in the world of realistic expectations I’m too old to add yet another big craft project to my Bucket List and I wasn’t sure spending that much time handling fabric that Don had worn would be good for a recovering widow to do. Instead, I kept one tie---his all-time favorite Mickey Mouse tie. Mickey is hidden in one of the paisley swirls of the design and he's easy to over-look. Don got such a kick out of it when he’d be at a wedding or out to dinner and someone would finally spot the Mickey. How do you part with a memory reminder like that?

Another thing I kept was the most expensive dress shirt Don ever owned---not that he ever owned cheap dress clothing, he didn’t. He was a bit of a label worshiper/snob about some things, like his clean-up-and-go-to-town duds. I’m going to use the designer label shirt as an artist's painting shirt. Come spring I intent to rent some studio time at a new gallery near-by to see if I can get my mojo back in front of an easel. It will be like Don’s there encouraging me. He loved the artist in me and he would appreciate the humor in treating a fancy shirt in such a frivolous way. I also kept his red suspenders, thinking I could work them into one of my Red Hat Society outfits.

And how did I do purging my own clothing? Not quite as good as I would have liked but not bad either. I managed to fill two bags for donation and I packed up 10-15 items that are too small but I’m not ready to let go of yet. I’ve got more room in the closet, now, and everything in it fits me. But the down side is after taking stock I realize I don’t need anything new except for a black blazer, a pair of black dress pants and a summer dress for a wedding coming up in July. Not that the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’ has stood in the way of me buying clothing in the past. You don’t end up with 210+ things hanging in a closet because you need all that stuff. I do wish, though, that I had been as much of a label worshiper as Don was. 90% of my clothing is cheap, caregiver friendly stuff and I am pledging to myself to buy less but buy better quality in the future.

Aside from closet mining this week I’ve been dealing with out relentless winter! There are three-to-four foot tall snow drifts outside on this sunny but windy day. I can’t get to the bird feeders. And I can’t open my back door to let the dog out or to shovel his area. Every time he has to go, I have to get my winter clothes on so I can open the overhead garage door and stand there with Levi on a leash as he does his duty in the driveway. Because it gets plowed every night, Levi can actually walk out there without getting lost in the snow. I’m so sick of snow and below zero wind chills! I don’t know how pioneer prairie women survived the winters without out going stir-crazy living in a one room sod house without internet and cell phone service not to mention indoor plumbing, central heat, electricity and pedicure parlors near-by. I am so spoiled...yet I find room to complain. ©


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Closet Purging Project


before photos of my overstuffed, L-shaped closet

crazy about my Crocs


I think I’ve gone over the edge. Yesterday I was reading Bella Rum’s blog about longing to update her wardrobe and since I have lusted after the same goal since leaving my caregiver years behind, I decided to research the topic. (I’ve been such failure in this department and at purging my closet.) I truly do want to do the purge and update, but I have too many stops and starts with no finish line in sight. So for additional inspiration I found some dollar books at Amazon, downloaded them to my Kindle and began reading. I started with a book titled, Ten Steps to Declutter Your Closet. Short and sweet. Twenty-five pages of standard stuff: haul everything out of the closet, try on everything and purge the stuff that doesn’t fit, is stained or needs repairs or that you haven’t worn in the last year. One Year! I’ve got  nearly three feet worth of closet rod taken up with vintage clothing from as far back to the Kennedy administration. Clearly, I need an intervention or I’m going to have to sit down and watch a marathon of the TV show Hoarders before I can take those vintage ‘memory clothes’ to a consignment shop and be a successful purger with the rest. When I watch a Hoarders episode on Monday you can usually find me cleaning on Tuesday.

After purging the author says I need color coded hangers. All the problems in the world of fashion and closet organization can be solved with color coding. Wow, you learn something new every day. (I need an eyes-rolling icon here to go along with that statement.) What is color coded hangers going to do about my waste-not hang-ups, those habits ingrained in me from early childhood? Back then it was my job to remove zippers and buttons off from worn-out clothing to save for sewing projects and to cut the serviceable parts of a garment away from the worn-out parts to use to make doll clothes, rags or quilts? Can you believe it, I still have a doll dressed in clothe made from my mother’s wedding suit? And do I dare to admit that she kept a pair of silk and lace panties from her honeymoon in 1937 and I have them tucked away in a box of vintage linen? How bizarre is that? Oh, but are they cute! ---the palest pink handmade panties you ever saw, boy-cut style with five tiny buttons on each sides. Can you image unbuttoning those panties if you were in a hurry to pee?

Mom was a product of hard times and never wasted a thing when it came to clothing. But I didn’t grow up dirt poor without a mother and with an unstable father, like she did. I didn’t have to quit school and get farmed out to work at age nine-ten so my father could have drinking money. And I didn’t have to watch as my younger siblings were sent off to be adopted by other families the way Mom did. I know I’m not my mother but her voice rings in my head when I look at my overstuffed closet. Okay, crack out the psych books and help me figure how color coded hangers is going to erase a lifetime of feeling guilty for wasting money on clothing I don’t need, like and/or wear anymore? If I hold on to stuff in the closet, pretending one day I’ll wear it again, it’s easier in my twisted sense of logic not to feel the guilt.

The second book I bought to inspire my closet purging project I’m half way through reading. It was written by woman you might have run across on the internet. She writes a blog called the Minimalist: Living a Beautiful Life with Less Stuff. I’m actually enjoying her views on purging and organizing closets and other parts of the house. I could never live like she does with only four tumblers in the house to drink from or with the concept of only having one Buddha bowl per household member to eat all their meals from---she got rid of all her glassware and china. However, the concept of less is more is appealing and I admire her dedication to saving the planet but I would hate being her neighbor! If they do household repair projects or throw a party they borrow everything. Ya, sure you can borrow my floor scrubber. Again. So it wears out twice as fast.

In the closet Ms. Minimalist says you need to pick a base color like black, navy or brown for all your pants, skirts, jackets, purse and shoes and purge everything else. Then she goes on to talk about limiting shirts, blouses and sweaters to three color that blend together, then having an array of colorful accessories. Her color palette and mine aren't far apart but Ohmygod, she pared down her closet items to less than two dozen garments, where I have---drum roll please---210 things hanging in my closet plus thirteen pairs of shoes. The folded clothes in my closet include: ten pairs of jeans, eight nightgowns and twelve sweatshirts plus container boxes for bras, slips, underpants and Red Hat society stuff. Did I mention the boxes of clothing that doesn't fit? Where did I find room for all of Don’s clothes that got purged shortly after he died? I know, some of my 210 things were stored in boxes before his passing. I couldn’t stand looking at the empty space where his things once hung.

The third book I bought for inspiration was on how to dress for your body shape. If and when---no, WHEN I get my closet purged I will read that book before buying more things---I really do want an updated wardrobe! In the meantime I have set Valentine’s Day as the goal for completing the closet purging.

The minimalist had a great tip that I started doing yesterday and I think it will be easy to maintain. She calls it the One-a-Day Declutter. You commit to getting rid of one thing a day be it a worn out bra, a mismatched sock or whatever---even a piece of paper counts---and by the end of the year your space is 365 items lighter. I’m planning to document my One-a-Day Declutter items on my day planner because, well, I’m just a list kind of person. Yesterday I threw out an old pair of Crocs that I still wore every day even though they are so worn out they weren’t comfortable anymore. But I have a confession to make. Before throwing out my Crocs I cut off the button that holds the strap so I can repair another pair of Crocs that has a broken button. Mom would be proud. ©

Just to prove I don’t hoard in the rest of the house, here are pictures of my dining area with Levi watching the action at the bird feed and a photo of one of my two desks…the clean and orderly one where I park my lap top when not in use. If anyone who has been to my house is reading this, stop laughing because you know my library and garage are more cluttered than the parts of the house I’m sharing here.




Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Ghost is Back in the Building!



How do I get myself into these things? I got a call from a real estate agenda. It seems he got my contact information from an acquaintance/widow I sat next to at a senior hall luncheon earlier this week. She is building a condo and selling the home she and her husband lived in for 35 years. I, of course, expressed interest in the process she is going through. I asked questions to keep the conversation going and I told her that someday I want to move to a condo, too. But what did I say that led her to believe that I’d welcome a call from her real estate agent? If I was in her place, I might give someone my agenda’s contact information, but never the other way around. A salesman is a salesman, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, I talked to the guy for 10-15 minutes. Big mistake and I should have known better. I’m betting now he’ll be like a bloodhound in hot pursue of a coon even though I told the guy I’m not planning to move for a couple of years. Maybe if he calls again, I’ll tell him I have no more need to move to a smaller place because I found a boy toy to move in here. I checked out the agent’s website and one of the comments left said they appreciated that the agent prayed for their sale to go through. Really? No wonder The Big Guy doesn’t have time for bringing about world peace! He’s too busy overseeing real estate transactions!

A few hours after The Call I noticed a ‘for sale’ sign on my next door neighbor’s front lawn. Crap! I don’t have a lot of contact with those neighbors but they are friendly and their kids are respectful of the property lines. It’s a two story house with a two-level party deck that is big enough to hold all 360 members of the Mormon Tabernacle choir. What kind of neighbors will I end up with? If they start out by tearing down that hideous deck I’ll bake them a pan of brownies every week until I move from the neighborhood. I’ve hated that deck since they built it and I had a couple of 15 foot pine trees planted to prove it. All the want-a-be architect in me sees when I look at that deck is a lot of money spent foolishly. It isn’t even attached to the house! Who does that? If I had designed their deck, it would have been accessible from their upstairs bedrooms and their main floor family room. “Mind your own business, old woman” you’re saying to your monitor. Don’t get your panties in a wad. The neighbors don’t know how I feel about their white elephant.

My friends who were going to take me out for lunch this week in memory of Don’s two year sadiversary ended up canceling because their son-in-law’s father died and my friends had to do lot of babysitting surrounding his funeral---twin babies not even a year old. We got to talking on the phone about the deceased and it seems the consensus in the family is that the man threw his life away, that grief finally killed him. His wife had died ten years ago and after that his life fell apart and he never got it back together again. He lost his job, pushed his family and friends away---lost everything. He just didn’t care anymore to go on without his wife. I told my friend that the guy’s wife wouldn’t have wanted that for him and I suppose it shouldn't have shocked me that talking about this topic got me teary-eyed. My friend---the guy in the couple---and I are crying buddies. Over the past two years our conversations have often triggered one or both of us to shed a few tears. And it‘s good to have one close friend in the world who you can do that with without judgment. He’s like the son we never had.

Today was the day I was supposed to go to the movies with the Red Hatters, but I woke up this morning---on Don’s sadiversary---with the alarm clock acting screwy, flashing the time in a way it has never done in all the years I’ve had it. Even unplugging the thing and disconnecting the backup battery didn’t help. When I plugged it back in it was still flashing its two inch high red numbers. As frustration set in the first thing I thought of is that Don’s ghost is playing games with me again, like he did with my wedding ring so many months ago. “Get up sleepy head,” the flashing clock seemed to say. “Don died two years ago today and it’s time to play in the memory garden.” Then I looked outside the window and saw how hard it was snowing and before I knew it, I was e-mail the Red Hatters that something came up and I couldn’t meet them for lunch and the movie.

I know, where did my resolve and will power go? I can’t even remember the last time I avoided going someplace because the past was holding me back. I should have pushed through the tears the flashing clock brought and went off to play with the living instead of staying home to play with the dead. I never used to believe in ghosts and spirits, but isn't it a strange---and maybe even an awesome---coincidence that today of all days that clock decided it wanted to be grow up and be a flashing billboard instead of a time piece? And to add to the strangeness, why did it quit snowing within seconds of me sending the cancellation e-mail? ©


P.S. The photo up above was taken in 1973 at a 50's party and the clothes we were wearing were clothes we actually wore to our proms in the late 1950's, before we knew each other. I didn't even know this photo existed until earlier this week when a friend e-mailed it to me. I have so few photos of the two of us together and I was so excited and pleased to get this one.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Entering the Third Year of Widowhood


A year ago when I was at the end of my first year of widowhood and on the threshold of my second I wrote the following words: “I acknowledge, now, that the second year of widowhood is not going to be sunny stroll on other side of a tunnel door that I had imagined. It’s not going to be a tar pit, either, holding me in place. It’s going to be a step by step climb as I rebuild my life and find me again---the woman who is sometimes wise, sometimes silly but always wanting to honor what Don and I had together by striving towards being as upbeat and lacking in self-pity as he was. The first year I just came through, what was that all about? Most widows would answer ‘survival’ and I’d concur.”

Since in my mind I had labeled the second year of widowhood ‘the rebuilding year’ it seems fitting that I should pause as I approach the second sadiversary of Don’s passing to take stock of whether or not I accomplished anything that could be classified as success in rebuilding my life. Honestly, the answer is complicated. On one hand I certainly made (and will continue to make) a valiant effort to network my way into forming new friendships and/or developing a new way of living without Don at my side. I joined the Red Hat Society and the historical society, I started volunteering at the museum and I went into overdrive signing up for events, classes, day trips and lectures at the senior citizen hall. Winter has slowed down that effort but my master plan is still in place waiting to resume with spring. On the other hand as I took part in all those social outings, lectures, and luncheons this past year it felt more like pleasant diversions or busy work than building blocks to a contented and happy life. Where is my niche? I always knew where to find that sweet spot before Don passed away. It got lost and I haven’t found it yet. Oh, well, as I’ve often said since becoming a widow, “Fake it until you can make it!” I know of no other way to change the status quo than to keep working towards that rebuilding goal---any goal that keeps the pity parties away.

Most people would call it ‘major progress’ that in my second year I also didn’t avoid any social situations because I didn’t want to go alone, a first year bury-your-head-in-the-sand commonality amongst widows and I did my share of that in year one. I’ve gotten braver by design and determination. The hardest part, though, is when I have a good time, then come home to realize that I have no one to share my joy or excitement with. Oh, cut the whining, I can almost hear you saying, that’s why personal blogs and diaries were invented. Dear Diary, I’m so proud of myself! Today I actually had a great time at the senior luncheon.

What else can I point to and claim as a second year success as a recovering widow? Somewhere along the line, last year I quite crying over songs on the radio. This was a big issue for me in the first year and part of the second. I couldn’t get in the car and go anywhere without the Prime Country channel making the tears flow and I couldn’t force myself to change the channel either. I suspect I needed the purging of tears mixed with memories that the music brought to the surface so I could get back to enjoying my memories as just good memories minus the pain. Somewhere along last year, I also quit talking to Don’s ghost, a positive thing I’m sure the professionals would say but I still kind of miss feeling his presence in the house. It was oddly comforting. And another mark of a widow moving on? I finally claimed my husband’s La-Z-Boy as my own. (Although the dog still thinks it’s his property and I physically have to evict him from the chair on a daily basis. He’s a stubborn little bugger.)

Former broadcast journalist Jane Pauley was on TV recently talking about her new book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life and one statement in particular jumped out to me: “You don’t have to do it right the first time.” She was talking about baby boomers redefining retirement but much of what she was saying in the interview could apply to widows struggling to reinvent our lives. She talked about how it doesn’t have to be a straight line to get to your goal. Okay, point taken, Paula. I need to stop being impatient with myself when the building blocks to my future seem to be taking their sweet ass time coming together. Experimentation is necessary and good when life changes are needed. You really don’t have to get it right the first time. How could I have forgotten that?

It wasn’t necessarily true for me but I understand, now, why so many widows say the second year is harder than the first. At the end of our first year, most of us have accepted our losses and are no longer fighting against them with denial and/or avoidance. The legal and logistical stuff is in place and we say to ourselves, “This is it, this is my life now.” That can be daunting and depressing to know the status quo can’t change unless we put a lot of effort into reinventing ourselves. We need a road map to do that and have discovered that we’re in charge of drawing one for ourselves; no one’s going to do it for us. It’s been called the ‘second year slump’ and from what I’ve read in other widow blogs and have experienced firsthand this winter, it’s real. But when you think about that word---slump---it should give us hope. The widowhood recovery process can’t have a slump without a raising of spirits and/or emotional growth at the end. A slump is a temporary dipping from the trajectory, not a death-spiral nosedive.

Slump or no slump, finding myself is still on my agenda but in my coming third year out from Don’s passing I hope to take the pressure off myself---that almost desperate need to make something change or happen sooner rather than later. “Seek contentment,” yup, I picked the perfect mantra for my 2014 New Year’s Resolution and for my embarkment into my third year of widowhood. I want to learn to enjoy the experimentation without worrying about where it’s leading me. ©

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Where is my Action Adventure Doll?

I’ve always lived inside myself, meaning I often feel like I’ve got a movie running in my brain where I’m the star of the film. I guess you’d call it daydreaming your life away. Certainly as an adult with one foot planted on the scary side of the cemetery gates you’d think I’d be old enough to quit wasting so much time. But then again, if I had the discipline to write my daydreams down maybe I’d have a few short stories in the tradition of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I don’t know, maybe it’s a common human trait to imagine a more interesting and heroic life than the one you’re actually living. I’ve never asked another living soul how much time they spend in their own tailor-made world. The genre I daydream in seems to change every ten years reflecting---I presume---something missing or desired in my life. Years ago it was the romance genre and before that I was daydreaming starring roles in dance movies. (Think Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.)

Recently---meaning this Winter of Boredom on Widowhood Lane---I’ve become enamored with an unorthodox set of characters in a TV series, Burn Notice. Burn Notice had their seventh and final season last year but I just discovered the blacklisted CIA spy and his blood-thirsty ex-girlfriend who both run around Miami blowing stuff up as they use their special ops training to crush arms dealers, drug cartels, kidnappers and money laundering operations. Not exactly senior-friendly entertainment for someone who has always hated 007 type movies and action/adventure films that have more pyrotechnics than a pharmacy has pills. But as hard as it is to explain, every Wednesday and Friday night you can find me getting caught up in the Burn Notice reruns. In a review I just read of the series, I may have pin-pointed what it is that intrigues me about Michael and Fiona---“Michael brings levity to a serious situation.” There’s an undercurrent of humor to the show, not in your-face humor but nuanced in voice-tones and body language. I love nuance! It also doesn't hurt that Fiona brings a lot of the sexual tension to the series. She once started a marital arts fight with Mike because he wouldn't talk about where their relationship was going. Who hasn't wanted to do that in their dating past?

Maybe I’m thinking too deep here but I also think the reason why Burn Notice caught my attention this winter is because the characters are so mentally and physically capable of working their way out of any sticky or dangerous situation. Duh, isn’t that the premise of all action/adventure stories? The two main characters are young, physically fit, sharp as tacks, and well trained. I, on the other hand, feel for the first time in my life that I am incapable of being 100% in control of my future. I know, I know I was incredibly naïve to be believe I ever had any real control. It was just a roll of the dice, for example, that Don died before me and that I’ve had a reasonable blessed and happy life for so many years. Mostly I’m feeling physically less capable than just a few short years ago despite the fact that I just spent the morning raking snow off my roof. (Not to worry, I have a long-handled roof rake. My feet never left the ground.) The not-so-subtle difference between roof-raking today as opposed to a few years ago is that as I worked today I couldn’t help wondering how many neighbors had their fingers ready to dial 911 should the widow on the lane keel over from a heart attack. Mortality. Yes, Virginia, it is real and you’ll be taking the starring role in that film one day.

Daydreaming can be a useful tool for the creative mind. It can also be a lazy man’s tool or a way to avoid doing something you know needs to be done. Daydreaming is neither bad nor good. At least that’s the message I’m delivering to myself. And if I want to daydream that I can be as quick thinking and inventive as Michael and Fiona…well, as long as I don’t invest my last dollar into having an action-adventure Jean doll made my daydreams should remain harmless.

In the meantime my coming week is---well, looking up! No more boring stretch of time stuck at home with only my imagination to keep me company. I have plans for four social events—barring another snowstorm---to help keep my mind off from the fast approaching second sadiversary of Don’s passing. With help from the gods with a twisted sense of humor, two of those social events include going a movie and lunch. One day with the Red Hat Society and the another with the senior hall Movie and Lunch Club. What do you want to bet that both of these groups will pick The Secret life of Walter Mitty to go and see. ©

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why Am I Eating my Way Out of my Pants?


I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution about diet and exercise this year, which is something I usually do. Why? Because in the back of my mind I knew I couldn’t keep it for more than a minute and a half. I’m out of control. I've been out of control the whole month of December. I knew this for sure yesterday at the grocery store when I was thinking about the second anniversary of Don’s passing that is coming up next week and I found myself grabbing a bag of Brachs Mandarin Orange Slices. Can we all say comfort food with a capital ‘C’? I haven’t bought them since the first time I went to the grocery store after Don’s funeral but I have a long history with those candy orange slices. I can still remember sitting in my mother’s lap and her reaching into her side table drawer and giving me one of her orange slices. We kids were not allowed to touch her bag of Brachs and the only time I got a piece is when I needed to be rocked in her lap. I can know all this stuff about why certain foods become our comfort food of choice, but yesterday I was still powerless to control the longing for the feelings that go along with eating sugary orange candy. By the way, did you notice how easily I blamed my mother for what she did in the first twelve years of my life and I failed to take any responsibility for my poor food choices during the rest of my life? The mothers of the world are always at fault. It’s a fast and firm rule of life and who am I to challenge that?

I worked so hard at controlling my weight last year. I even took cooking classes for crying out loud and I walked two miles faithfully two or three times a week from spring to late fall and rode my exercise bike in the cold weather months. And now I’m right back where I started. Already I’m fearful of my biannual check-up in April if I don’t get myself back in check. I could take on my wimpy little undernourished doctor with one arm tied behind my back but he still scares the crap out of me with his soft-spoken concern. If he’d just yell at me instead I could go home and nurse my resentment with a half of pint of mint chocolate ice cream and feel like I showed him who is boss of my life. (People who arrogantly tell you not to eat this or that just drive some of us into closet eating.) Healthy-eating-for-one cooking classes are starting up again at the senior hall in February. Big sigh here. Maybe I need to sign up again since the first round of classes I took last year didn’t stick. I’m a failure. I’m sorry but sugar still tasted better than pinto beans, cabbage soup and broccoli---well, maybe not broccoli. I eat that twice a week.

In the meantime, I will work on a teeny, tiny goal of making this bag of Brachs Mandarin Orange Slices be my last bag until this time next year. I’m starting a new tradition in my life and allowing myself to fall off the Brachs' candy wagon once a year---barring catastrophic events like invaders from outer-space taking over Miami and halting production of one of my favorite TV show, Burn Notice. If the cemetery wasn’t closed for the winter I could be the widow who stands at her husband’s grave site each anniversary of his passing with a bag of candy in hand and people would wonder why I didn’t bring flowers instead. Why can’t they see that little girl inside me who needs to be rocked in her mother’s lap? Why do I still see her after all these years? ©

P.S. The photo above---one of my favorites---is of my mom and my niece, but it could have just as easily have been a photo of my mom and me. There were a whole string of rag-tag kids who got rocked in her lap and when we were too big to be rocked, we still managed to snuggle up tight in her chair. And I'll bet we all have a fondness for Brachs Mandarin Orange Slices.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Days and Widow Wishes


Years ago when my husband had a commercial snow removal business he called snowflakes pennies from heaven. If that were actually true I’d have a million dollars stacked up in my yard, on my deck and straining my roof. It’s well over two foot deep in areas that haven’t been touched by a shovel, even deeper in the drifts. We haven’t had a plow come down my street in almost a week and they say it will be a few more days before the city gets to all the side streets. The list of cancellations keeps crawling across my TV screen and it looks like the entire city is staying home with me. Even my hair salon called to cancel about two minutes before I was going to call them to do the same. Needless to say, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

The first day of our snow storm, a couple from down the street who I’ve never met before rang my doorbell. They were on the way to the grocery store and wanted to know if I needed anything. They said they hadn’t seen any activity around my house in recent days and wanted to make sure I was alright. After I thanked them for stopping and assured them that it was just a bad cold keeping me inside, they handed me a piece of paper with their phone numbers on it. They’d also been down to my mailbox and handed me several days’ worth of mail and newspapers. As they left, I couldn’t help tearing up---tears of both gratitude and sadness. I’m grateful that people do notice and keep track of me, even if I’m not aware of them doing it. Since Don passed away there have been many times when I’ve thought that I could be died for weeks before anyone would miss me.

But the neighbors stopping made me sad as well as grateful because it signals that I’m now officially old enough that others feel the need to look out for me, the elderly woman living alone on the block. It doesn’t seem like all that many years ago that Don and I were the ones looking out for the elderly people living nearby. I used to have a clock that had an inscription on its face that read: “The seeds of today are the flowers of tomorrow.” I guess those seeds we planted in the universe so many years ago when Don and I would rake leaves or shovel snow for elderly neighbors have bloomed and it’s time to tend my garden. Next summer, I decided, I need to spend more time on my front patio instead of my back deck. I need to walk the dog on my block more often instead of always going to the nature trail. I need to get to know my neighbors better. I can’t get any younger and someday a kind neighbor keeping track of me from afar could save my life.

When I was a kid snow days meant we’d get to put on our snowsuits and built snow forts in the yard or go sledding or ice skating. As teenagers my brother and I went tobogganing, ice skating and even ice fishing. In my twenties I took up downhill skiing---mostly for the social life at the lodges--and snowmobiling. When I first met Don in my late twenties he bought a snowmobile so we didn’t have to keep borrowing one from my folks. We even tried cross-country skiing. I loved, loved, loved snowmobiling especially at night when we’d go on the groomed trails through the woods around Michigan. Along the trails were places we could stop for chili, hot chocolate, etc., and we often traveled in groups of five to ten snowmobiles. Sometimes we'd turn our machines off at the top of high hill and just enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the moonlit, snowy meadow while drinking coffee from a steaming thermos.

A snowstorm, in the past, meant fun was coming close on its heels. But as Don’s snow removal business grew we could no longer burn the candle at both ends by playing and working in the snow with no time to sleep in between. Everything has its season and my season of snow related fun is now limited to good memories and maybe a horse-drawn carriage ride at the sculpture garden should I find someone to go with me. But I’ll admit that when I was at the L.L.Bean website this week and I saw some adult snow pants, for a fleeting moment I thought about buying them so I can revert back to building stuff in the snow. There are some amazing snow sculptors out there and wouldn’t it be fun to be one of them? Wouldn't that give the neighbors something to talk about! The crazy, old widow who wishes she could be a kid again. ©

* The photo above is of me, my brother and his friend, taken in 1952.



Saturday, January 4, 2014

Copycat Blogging Day



My heart be still! I finally got out of the house after being cooped up for what seemed like the entire month of December. Yesterday I went to the sculpture park and saw the display of Christmas trees decorated in the customs of 42 countries. It was a little anti-climactic seeing so much Christmas after the holidays, but an outing is an outing so I jumped at the chance. Why should a date on a calendar take away from their beauty? For some reason it did---probably because the crowds of happy people weren’t there, full of promise and holiday cheer which can be as infectious as the flu. But my niece-in-law and I could walk right up to the trees, read about the customs and play touchy-feely with the delicate decorations and that was nice. The tree that represented the U.S.A. could have been pulled right out of the 1950’s living room; it had many ornaments that I remember from the trees we had growing up. They also had a tree that presented the Native American Indian Nation plus holiday displays from non-Christian nations. Monday they take the trees down. If you dread the job of disassembling your home tree imagine the daunting task it would be to pack up 42 trees, most of which are over twenty-five feet tall!

I didn’t make a lists of resolutions this year but I do have a new goal for this blog. I want to take more photographs and share them here. With that in mind, the photo at the top is of a baby car seat blanket that I made while I was snow and ice bound last month. It’s for my great-great nephew coming into the world in April. My blog goal was inspired by a fellow widow blogger I’ve been following this year---Hi Judy!---coupled by the fact that I have a new cell phone that takes great pictures. I also recently came across another blogger who spent last year photo-documenting 365 days of gratitude. What a great idea and she’s got a book out of all her photos and the notes she wrote about the subjects she documented. I admire that she was able to stick to a project like that for an entire year. When I attempt stuff like that I usually peter out by summer. So I’m not committing to anything that intense. I’ll be happy if I can throw in some original photos from time to time.

Another widow blogger I follow is planning to cut expenses as part of her new year’s resolutions---Hi AW!---and she is tracking what she spends for a few weeks to see what she can cut and live without. Already, she’s stopped three magazine subscriptions which actually gives her an excuse to go the library to fill in the gaps. I thought of her today when I got back from the grocery store where I got sticker shock when the cashier said I racked up $185.18 for my quick trip to stock up for the coming snowstorm. Here’s what I found I could have lived without:

- $29.90 spent on yarn when I have other yarn in the house lined up for a scarf and hat project.
- $14.99 for a bird feeder when I have four in the garage I’m not using. I’m a sucker for new feeders that look easier to clean.
- $17.88 for a bag of bird feed. What have those crazy little birds ever done to earn their keep? They are eating me out of house and home!
- $3.88 for a box of Christmas cards marked down 75%. This is clearly incentive to live another year if I need to justify the expense.
- $3.99 for a pot of daffodils. Spring flowers in the winter is another one of my 'can't resist' items.
- $13.98 for D batteries for my emergency lamps. A lot of money but with a ten year shelf life I should be good until I’m not allowed to live unsupervised anymore.
- $5.98 for two scented candles. Who cares if the house smells like fresh baked cookies without the work of making them? I'm not having an open house to sell the place any time soon.
- $4.99 for two Sterno fuel cans for my fondue pot. Okay, I admit this was really, really stupid. If the power goes out I’m going to need more than just a way to heat up soup. What can I say, I’m old and I worry too much. But on the other hand, having two cans of Sterno in my 'Hopeless Chest' would make me a rich bag lady should my financial life fall apart and I end up on the streets.
- $3.29 for a white nail tip pencil. I'm not be vain about many things but I am vain about my fingernails. They are the most perfectly shaped part on my entire body. If I ever had to learn to live out of a shopping cart under a bridge, my Sally Hansen pencil would be the last primping luxury to go. And if I need even more justification for why I will always want a white pencil in my life, I could leave notes on the pavement should I aspire to be blogging bag lady.

That’s a total of $99.88 of unnecessary spending I could have cut in just one trip to the grocery store. If this widow ever needs to start cutting corners to save money, I can chop them off with an axe and not really miss those corners. Of the $85.30 remaining in actual grocery items I could have done without some of that stuff as well, like paying $6.55 for two boxes of gourmet tomato and bacon bisque when I already had three cans of soup in my pantry. Yes, you guessed it. I am truly a child of depression era parents who thinks a pantry is too scary, empty if there is a unused square inch of space. Empty space means I'm not prepared for those hard times just around the corner...or so that was the message that was drummed into me and my husband when we grew up.

Well, that’s the end of my copy-cat blogging for today. Have you copied or been tempted to copy something from another blogger, a magazine article or a friend? Fess up. ©

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Second New Year's Eve



Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve I wore out the Hallmark and LifeTime channels watching Christmas movies, my first time doing a marathon like that. (I know, I’m a gluten for punishment.) Last night, all I saw of the New Year’s Eve festivities on TV was the final 28 seconds of the ball dropping in Time Square then I turned back to a stupid Christmas movie about a three-years-out widow who found love again. Did you know that a surprising number of Christmas movies feature widows finding love again? I didn’t. Other popular themes seem to be the workaholics and the confirmed bachelors/bachelorettes who find love. Christmas, apparently for some script writers, means it’s a good time for romance. Queue the mistletoe and the people who invite their single friends home for the holidays who accidentally meet their neighbor/brother/uncle/the lonely widow who sings in choir or the single father who owns a coffee shop and you have a genre holiday movie. And I can think of at least three house swapping Christmas romance movies including the one last night. There seems to be a rule about house swapping movies that requires not one, but two couples to fall in love and at least one of the four must be widowed.

The overload of romance Christmas movies didn’t bother me---it’s Hallmark and LifeTime, after all and they do genre, formula films so I knew what I was in for---but what really got me irritated with the Christmas movies is how many costume directors don’t seem to know that snow is cold! They have couples walking along snowy streets, having snowball fights and watching tree lighting ceremonies while wearing nothing more than summer weight clothing. Hint to movie makers who grew up where it never snows: when there’s two foot of that white stuff on the ground and snow is gently falling, it’s below 32 degrees! Your actors should be wearing coats unless you show them with their teeth chattering so much they couldn’t find each other’s mouths for a romantic, winter kiss if they tried. And high heels might be sexy but they aren’t ski lodge and icy sidewalks friendly.

One widow themed Christmas movie I saw twice and on one level it intrigued me because it feathered the woman’s devoted husband who appeared as a ghost that only her teenage son could see until near the end of the film when the ghost finally appeared to his wife as well. The ghost said she couldn’t see or feel him because she was still mad about him dying and leaving her with so much debt and responsibility. Thus, he couldn’t go on to where ever it is that ghosts/spirits go. But true to genre romance films along came a white knight, aka her son’s school counselor and a widower himself, who saves her from being alone and lonely. She finally forgives her died husband allowing his ghost to pop into her life to say a final goodbye. The timeline of her finding love again so closely following her husband’s car accident and his spirit appearing in her life was totally unrealistic and silly in my opinion but it got me thinking about my experience with Don’s ghost in the house. (I wrote about here.)

At the time I thought I had a ghost in the house I vacillated between thinking there had to be a logical explanation for what was going on with my wedding ring appearing where I didn’t leave it and thinking that Don’s spirit was playing head games with me. But after all this time passing with no more ‘ring incidences’ the most logical explanation leads me to believe spirits do hang around awhile after the physical body dies. Before then, I believed spirits and ghosts fell in the realm of pure fiction. Like the teenager in the movie who felt his dad around him, I could feel Don around me until sometime this past summer when one day I woke up and couldn’t feel him close-by anymore. Even though life got lonelier after that revelation I viewed it as widowhood progress. It was like Don had decided I was standing on solid ground and I didn’t need handholding anymore.

I’m glad the holidays are over. They started out with so much promise but ended in a whimper. I didn’t manage my holiday expectations very well and that led to unnecessary disappointments. I also didn’t make any resolutions to start the New Year which, except for last year, is out of character for me. For 2013 instead of resolutions I used a one word mantra of ‘courage’ and that worked well for me. I repeated it many times over the first part of the year, to get me out of my comfort zone. For 2014 I thought about picking ‘choose your change’ as a mantra for the new year but then I decided that makes it sound like I’m expecting a whole year of transition. Instead, I going with the mantra of ‘seek contentment’ which I hope will help me keep a tighter lid on my expectations and help me to settle in, building within the social circles I established last year. I have the bones to a more satisfying life, I just need to flesh it out.

Whatever you’re goals for 2014, I hope we'll all find success in the coming months. ©