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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Widow With a Bad Memory and a Full Day Planner


I’ve been so busy this week and yet I can hardly remember what I’ve been doing.  One thing I do recall is that this week brought with it the best quesadilla I’ve ever had in my entire life and on the same day that I saw one of the biggest, waste-of-money movies of my life. I could live on the Fajita Republic’s chicken and lime quesadillas and I nearly had to because I was so busy I didn’t have time to go to the grocery store. I ran out of everything except oatmeal, bananas, lemon ice tea mix and pickle relish and that’s what I lived on for three days. (See why that ‘doggie box’ came in handy!) I’d like to see the HGTV Chopped cooking show offer up that combination in one of their mystery baskets. Today I finally went grocery shopping and came home with a receipt that reached from the tip of my fingers to my elbow listing things that are too mundane to share.

The highlight of yesterday, I do remember, was having an electrician/nephew-in-law come to the house to install five new smoke detectors. I am now the proud owner of smoke detectors with lithium power cell batteries in them that don’t have to be changed for ten whole years and the piece de résistance of the deal is that they are no longer hard-wired together. As a widow with bad bones and an aversion to standing on ladders, it’s a huge deal that I no longer have to go through the twice a year ordeal of finding someone to help me do the despicable job of changing batteries on the ceiling. This last time---that prompted the new installation---a friend and I spent two whole hours trying to get the stupid old detectors to quit beeping after the new batteries were installed and that included getting online to find a troubleshooting website and calling the fire department for advice. We finally took them all down from the ceiling, took the batteries out and even then they each had to give out one final wail of disapproval. I was ready to bury them in the back yard. My sweet nephew-in-law wouldn’t let me pay him but did request a batch of cookies. Oh, great. I haven’t made cookies in fifty years. I wonder how many I’ll have to bake before I make a batch worthy of bringing over to his house. Thankfully, he wants peanut butter cookies “like his grandmother used to make” and I seem to remember they are quite easy to do.

This past week I also volunteered to help do spring cleaning at the senior hall. I won’t be doing that again. I had forgotten how much the smell of bleach bothers my asthma and breathing. It’s been years since I’ve had it in the house. I half expected I’d be making a trip to ER that night, but by morning I was fine again. The senior hall director would like everyone who goes there to volunteer twice a year to help with something and I’m getting my second work commitment done next week when I’ll help set up and serve refreshments at an enrichment lecture about South Africa. I’m really not good with serving people but I can fake anything for a couple of hours. They will never guess I never went to the Nancy Reagan School of Charm and Decorum.

e-Bay researching, listing and closing auctions and finding stock for my mall booth took up the better share of two days this week and probably will continue to do so until fall when I’ll wind both activities down. It’s a lot of work but I’m good at it and it’s kind of fun at the same time. So far, it’s not as emotionally taxing this year to see Don’s stuff go up for sale as it was last summer so that’s a plus. And I know he’d be happy with the judgments I’ve been making. For example, I have a one inch can cap up for auction right now that has 78 watchers on it so tonight I’m expecting a bidding war on something that most people---including my heirs---would throw out. It belongs on a can that goes for upwards of $2,000. Some guy with a cap-less can will be really happy when the auction is over and he can upgrade his can’s value and its coolness factor. If you happened to have watched American Pickers this week and saw Frank pay $3,500 for a rusty can you’ll understand how much fun it can be to make a crazy collector guy happy. Tonight I’m also testing putting some of Don's collector guide books up for auction. I would love to be able to make room in the library for all my how-to crafting, cooking and quilting books. I have not been able to lay claim to that room in the house yet...it still belongs to the dog and Don.

This is how my world turned this week and as a country song I heard today said, “Busy doesn’t mean I’m happy but I’m happy I’ve got something to do.”  Well, that not exactly what the song said but I lost the scrap of paper I wrote the line down on, so this paraphrasing will have to do for now. ©

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Classes, Old Men and Movies


The dog is a nut case. My lawn care guy was here earlier this week and he put fresh bark down in the yard including in the dog pen. Ever since Levi has been diligently covering up his poop with bark in the same way that a cat does with kitty litter in a cat pan. So now I have to stand guard to pick it up immediately after he’s completed his “duty” and before he gets a chance to play cat imposter. I don’t want poop germs to get a chance to jump ship to where he can bring them into the house. Crazy dog!

This week I restocked my mall booth and did some e-Bay shipping and listing. And I went to a retirees’ union meeting. I haven’t been to one since last fall and I like to go once in a while to keep up on changes and issues involving our healthcare benefits and pensions. It’s also nice, as a woman, to see so many aging men in one place. (95% of those in attendance are male.) Not that I’m looking but with the Red Hat Society and senior hall activities, where 95% of those taking part are female, it’s sometimes hard to remember that men in my age bracket actually do exist. I also like being around people who knew Don both before and after his stroke because that automatically translates into a message about all the stuff that I went through in recent years. We all want to be understood in this world but telling the story of how we got from point A to point B on Widowhood Lane is not acceptable conversation on so many levels. New people in our lives really don’t want to be reminded of the fragile mortality of humans, for one thing, and it’s hard to exchange getting-to-know-each-other chit-chat when you have to gloss over so much of your personal history. At least it is for me and I wonder if that's true for other widows as well. Widowhood is one of those huge benchmarks like getting divorced or disabled. You can say those benchmark words and everyone knows what they mean BUT each of us has a different level of pain that goes with the process and few people want to know the details.

I also took a one and half hour class this week on how to crochet. (I have to be careful how I spell that word because most of the time it comes out of my dyslexia head as ‘crotch.’ “A crotch class? Did I read that right?") Anyway, off and on throughout my life I’ve tried to learn to crochet. Within the first twenty minutes of the class I FINALLY figured out what was causing 80% of my issues with the craft. That night I went home and worked on my first ever dishcloth. Not that I have a burning desire to make dishcloths but it’s a good way to practice keeping my tension smooth which was my biggest hang up. I never would have figured it out on my own that you have to push each loop all the way up to the fattest part of the hook to keep the stitches all the same. After the dishcloth I want to graduate to making flapper style hats with cabbage roses on the side.

I wish I could teach classes of some kind. I paid $25.00 for this crochet class, as did three other ladies. Earning $100 for an hour and a half class sure would supplement your income. While I was taking this class another one was going on for learning how to knit and they had eight people in that class. There are lots of ways to sublimate your income if you’re creative. The woman who taught my crochet class teaches in three different locations around town and she can set her hours to suit hers and the students’ schedules. The art professor who will teach my soon-to-start art classes charges $30.00 for private classes and $20 for group classes that pack in 10 to 12 people at a time.

Tomorrow I’m going with my senior hall Movie and Lunch club to see The Grand Budapest Hotel directly after eating at Fajita Republic, a new Mexican restaurant in town. I’m not sure how that combination is going to work out in that order, but I don’t see me volunteering for the planning committee. So I will cheerfully accept the decisions of those kind souls who do the planning for a group when it is impossible to make everyone happy, every time. ©

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Butterfly Exhibits, Exhibitionists and Facebook

 
One of my young relatives likes to post comments about her workplace on Facebook. And yesterday I found my hypocritical side while reading one of them. As I read it I was thinking that she could get herself in trouble by letting her co-workers have access to her train-of-thought and then it hit me. Why you damn fool! I admonished myself, your blog is a hundred times more detailed than her two or three daily lines! What makes me think my blog can’t get me into the same kinds of trouble I’m worried about her getting into? Just because I’m older doesn’t mean I can’t inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or throw down the gauntlet to a war of words I hadn’t intended to do. I may be older but that doesn’t automatically make me any wiser when I write for public consumption.

Like her, I used to be a hard worker with long hours and when I think back to the diaries I kept back when I was her age they are filled with those few moments during my days when my co-workers and I would have a little unauthorized fun behind the boss’ back. And whine about long hours and hard work? I did that too. Whine about my boss? Ditto. So I’m putting myself in the penalty box for forgetting that hypocrisy isn’t a flattering look for an old broad like me to wear.

Monday I went to a showing of 40 prints and drawings done by sculptors. Many of these art pieces were the preliminary drawings to the sculptures residing outside in the park. (See the photo above. It's a huge place covering many acres.) The show was held in a gallery near the annual Butterflies in Bloom exhibit that I’ve been going to since Don passed away, to honor all my April sadiversaries. I didn’t know what to expect since I had over-heard a couple of women talking about how the drawings should not have been shown in public, let alone in conjunction with an exhibit that draws so many children into the sculpture park. “Why, one of the drawings had a woman contorted in such a way that her ‘ya-ya’ was showing!” I had a pretty good idea what her ‘ya-ya’ was but I was visualizing a scene in an episode of Sex and the City---the one where Charlotte poses for an artist who was doing a series of vagina paintings. The gallery opening in Sex and the City was full of huge canvases of bigger than life, primary colored vaginas hanging all over the walls and the Sex and the City girls were trying to figure out which one was Charlotte’s.  

As I wandered the gallery at the sculpture park I kept wondering if the “offensive drawing” had been taken down. Most of the nudes I was seeing were quickie sketches, abstracts or light studies and far from titillating or in-your-face obscene---in my arty-farty opinion. Then I found it, a pencil drawing and it made me laugh right out loud at its understated presence. If I hadn’t been looking for a ‘ya-ya’---don’t you love that crazy euphemism---I would have missed it. 

After the seeing the prints and drawing I spent an hour in the conservatory with the butterflies. I had worn a red blouse that seemed to please the Common Morpho which are anything but common with their iridescent blue, flashing wings. They have a three inch wing spread and as soon as I walking into the tropical setting, several Common Morphos set their flight paths towards me and within a foot from landing on my blouse they saw the error of their ways and pulled upward, away from the “flower” that wasn’t. Around and around the conservatory they’d go, always reacting the same way to my blouse when they came near. I was a Common Morpho magnet the whole time I was there. If you happened to see my last year’s post about the Common Morpho you might recall I have a special bond with this subspecies of butterflies. In my twisted widow’s mind I associate them with Don’s spirit soaring. This year, it was like they were saying to me, “You’re back! We missed you!” I miss you, too, Don. It's good to see you so foot loose and fancy free from the broken body of your last twelve years on earth.  ©


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pass-Around Widows, Easter Traditions and Other Stuff

 
For a week now my urine smells like fried chicken and I haven’t eaten any in months. But every time I pee lately I want to go to KFC. At first I thought I’d finally contracted some dreaded disease that only effects widows who don’t eat enough fried foods but a quick internet search leaves me believing I either have a urinary tract infection or Maple Syrup Urine Disease. (Yes, that’s a real disease. I’m not making that up for your amusement.) I’m voting for the UTI. MSUD is an inherited disorder and growing up, I don’t recall anyone talking about maple syrup as they came out of the bathroom. Not to worry, tomorrow I’m going to the dentist which means I have to take a heavy round of antibiotics so the germs from cleaning my teeth don’t settle in my artificial knee joints and I’m hoping some of those antibiotics find their way into my bladder. If not, I’ll have to go pee in a cup at the lab and hope they don’t leave it out in the elements this time. Last year when I had a UTI they accidentally froze my specimen and I had to go back and do the pee-in-a-cup trick all over again. I hate that trick. There are some things guys are just better equipped at doing and this is one of them.

My nieces threw a surprise 75th birthday party for my older brother a few days ago. (He canceled the one he and his girlfriend were going to throw together.) It was so good to see everyone in the family except my brand new great-great nephew and his parents who live out of state. My brother was thoroughly surprised and everyone loved the photo book I made and had printed at Blurb. It’s going to be a good summer for family get-togethers---two showers and a wedding invitation are already filed in the pages of my day planner and I’m working on a cousin’s get-together at the cottage where I spent all the summers of my youth.

Easter was good, too. The night before I got a call from my niece-in law asking me to join her huge family for dinner out in the boondocks. It was her mother’s first Easter without her husband and I think the invitation had something to do with that, but she was fine---seemed to be holding herself together pretty well and enjoying herself with all her kids and grandchildren around. Most of the adults in attendance and I have crossed paths for 42 years of going to weddings, showers and funerals so I didn’t feel entirely out of place.  At one point in the afternoon five of her grandsons packed their babies up in their strollers, grabbed a beer or wine cooler and off they all went for a walk around the lake while we women folk sat in a sun circle talking. If someone 40-50 years age would have told me how much attitudes about fatherhood joys and duties would change I wouldn’t have believed it. But I think all the hands-on stuff is good for guys, their families and society. Why should women get all the fun and bonding time with their kids? Time to share, ladies.

As fellow blogger Belle Rum over at Cul-de-Sac-Chronicles recently wrote: “We make traditions and we keep them for years. Then things change. Kids grow up and move to another city, loved ones die and we are left to celebrate even when it doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate.” My own family’s holiday traditions fell apart years ago when my mom died, new ones were born, then reborn again and again---the last time to fit my husband’s disabilities. (Wheelchairs limit your invitation venues big time.) This is my third Easter without Don and new traditions have not yet been established, so I was grateful to grab a little holiday spirit, even if vicariously through someone else’s family. These past few years since Don died I’ve been the elderly aunt passed around on the holidays, never quite belonging anywhere yet never quite an outcast or third wheel either. Life is full of mystery and sometimes I wish mine was like a book and I could sneak a peek at the last chapter to see if holiday traditions ever find me again. Or is this it, the new normal for me? Am I now officially living in the land Pass-Around Widows, never knowing from one holiday to another where we’ll be next? ©

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Scaredy-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 35-40 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….” ©

Sunday, April 6, 2014

So, What’s Widowhood REALLY Like?



Don’t you just hate it when you can’t fall asleep? Every once in a while I’ll have a night (or two or three in a row) where every fear or fright from the past, present and future makes it presence in my brain and no matter how many tricks I use to try to clear my mind so I can asleep, they don’t work. Last night I was up wandering the house several times with only the soft glow of a nightlight in every room to keep me company. First it was three o’clock in the morning, then four, and earlier I’d ready tried meditation, mindless games of solitaire, counting sheep (there were 200 in the bedroom when I gave up), making warm milk, and raiding the refrigerator. Thank goodness I made sugar-free chocolate pudding earlier in the day.

At one point in the night I concluded that I’m profoundly lonely. Yes, Virginia, a widow can look like she’s doing all the right things to go on with her life but looks don’t always tell the whole story. I can take care of business of living like every other person on earth. I can go to one social event after another and make small talk with the best of them but that doesn’t stop the emptiness of knowing that everyone who knew me inside and out is dead. Everyone who loved me unconditionally is dead---well, except for the dog but he’s a schnauzer and they are not known for having affectionate personalities. Levi is no exception. If I want to hold him, he has a three minute rule, and then he’s off making the rounds of the windows. Varmint patrol---searching for birds, rabbits, cats and squirrels that might attack the house---is his life and no widow’s woes are going to stand in the way of his destiny and sworn duty as the Dog of the House.

The rational side of me knows there are other people besides the dog who care about me and my well-being---a brother, nieces, a nephew, in-laws and a few life-long friends but their lives are busy and full and we only see each other in the rhythm assigned by the gods of family and friends to those types of relationships. But rational thought does not rule a sleepless night and then there is Facebook. Like a voyeur at a window you get to see firsthand how crazy busy and/or happy your Facebook contacts are and if the stars are lined up just right that can make you feel even lonelier than you were before tacking your happy little notes at the bottom of their postings. I have one niece who refuses to use Facebook and guess what, she’s the one person who will text or call me for no reason at all. If the math works, you must condemn social media and pronoun it guilty of being bad for one-on-one human contact.

At the culinary college luncheon I went to last week there was a classy looking woman at my table who’d been widowed about the same time that I was and she was happily chatting up her “significant other” a guy who apparently takes her to a LOT of nice places and loves to cook for her. On my left was another woman who’d been divorced for several decades and still seems to be carrying around a lot of anger about it. The other three women sharing the table were all in various stages of widowhood. Sisters in Arms, all acting happy and companionable as we traded small talk. Small talk. I get so tired of small talk. I want a REAL conversation someday. Even in the last twelve years of my husband’s life when his language was limited to a couple of dozen words I could actually have better, in-depth conversations with him than with all the people I’ve met since his passing. And that came from decades of knowing how he thought. I could literally put words in his mouth for him to verify or reject.

What’s it going to take to make me happy again? Not fake happy like so many of us widows pretend to be when we’re out and about trying to form new friendship or are interacting with family and friends. Real happiness that helps you sleep at night and wake up in the morning knowing that you are loved and will be missed when you are gone? Of course we all know that happiness has to come from within, you can’t hang your well-being on another person. It’s a hard and fast rule written in stone and as old as the other rules written on stone tablets. And a rule that is hard to swallow in the middle of a long, sleepless night. ©

Friday, April 4, 2014

Back In The Saddle Again


It’s been a busy week that took me all over the place including a trip to my internist for my biannual appointment. He pronounced me five pounds up from when I last saw him. I already knew that, of course, and was ready with a promise that I’m starting Weight Watchers and walking this weekend. Lecture averted and he’s expecting follow-up e-mails. He knows me well. I do better when accountability is part of the equation.

The senior citizen’s hall has a lot of outings spring through fall and I’m starting to catch on about the mystery trips they sponsor. They go to places you don’t think are interesting until after you’ve been there. The mystery tour I went to today was to a large medical research institute that has 314 scientists and their support staff who are all working on finding cures and treatments for various cancers and neuro-degenerative diseases. Plus they have a wing with research labs they lease out to universities adding more people working in the building. When I thought about scientists working on cures I pictured a dedicated loner here and there spread out across the country, all locked in a cramped lab totally void of human contact. The institute I toured was spacious with hallways large enough to host parties and lots of glass walls, serene areas, a symposium hall and ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ beer nights in the cafeteria. And young! When did people doing such important work get so young? It also cracked me up that in the cafeteria every chair was close enough to a bank of floor plugs to power a lap top. I’ve never seen so many floor plugs all in one place in my life.

Also this week I went on a tour of a four year culinary arts college. I’ve been there before and I would go again. The tours always end the same way: with a classy meal at their high-style restaurant where the students serve in starched uniforms and the desert cart holds picture-perfect and decadent offerings. My entrée choice was, “apple cider ginger braised pork shoulder with toasted kamut raisin pilaf, broccoli, crisp bacon, topped with tomato chimichurri, crunchy bread flute and ‘oeuf sur le plat’” but I debated between that and the, “beef tenderloin ribbons 'Straccetti-style' scorched in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary and served on Roman-style gnocchi, pizziola sauce and glazed asparagus.” I wonder if the students have to take a class on how to write menus. You need a translator to understand everything. The soup they served was cauliflower but it had a lot of tiny and uncommon ingredients that had us all talking and asking questions. All and all it was a great way to spend a rainy day.

Since last fall when I moved out my antique booth in a near-by town I’ve been keeping an eye out to find another booth closer to home and smaller. This week I rented a 2’ x 8’ space in a mall where the place has more of a mid-century vide than true antiques which suits me just fine because I’ll be able to sell a wider range of things than in my old booth. With another summer of e-Baying and mall sales I should finally be downsized enough to make me happy and positioned better to move, should something interesting pop up. The only ‘if’ in the equation is the mall is new and unknown but it’s on an extremely busy intersection so I’m betting on that. Plus the rent is cheap and the lease is short so I can call it summer entertainment if I don’t sell well there. I move in the middle of April.

I love being around other collectors. When I walk into antique malls, I feel an instant camaraderie. It’s hard to explain but after signing the lease, I felt a calm come over me, like I’d found myself again. As much as I’ve been around the women at the senior hall and the Red Hat Society, I don’t feel like I fit in all that well. They’re all lovely people, don’t get me wrong. But collectors, for one thing, don’t spend much time talking about their grandkids, churches and trips aboard. It’s more, “Where did you ever find that?” and “What do you know about this------?” And they understand the thrill of finding something like another square fruit jar with an embossed cross-hatched pattern. (I use them for canisters.) Yup, I feel like I’m back in the saddle again! Now, if summer would get to Michigan I could be happy again. ©

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Widow Woes



"It's strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man's mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you've seen, or something you've heard, or the sight of an old familiar face."
Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows

I don’t like April anymore. It used to be one of my favorite months. Don and I were both born in April, we were married in April and my parents celebrated their wedding anniversaries in April. But my mom also died on Easter Day in April and most of Don’s ashes were interred in April. April sucks when it comes to memory triggering days that drag me kicking and screaming back to the land of sadness. And with the turn of a calendar page today, I’m back to listening to my inner voice that keeps nagging to adopt another dog. Ya, like that would give me the companionship missing in my life and be a smart thing to do at my age. My life already seems to be more complicated than I can take right now without adding another living thing into the mix. Heck, Sunday I was even thinking my house plants need to run away from home before I kill them. I don’t want to be held responsible should they feel neglected. I wish I could find good homes for four of the ten plants because lately I’ve been planning their demise---maybe put them outside for the summer and “forget” to bring them in before the first frost. But without their photosynthesis cycle to turn the carbon dioxide in the house into oxygen my house would probably become my own death trap. And one of those plants is 55 years old! How much longer can it live if it runs its natural course? See what I mean, my life is too complicated.

You should see my dining room table. It’s covered with priority mail boxes filled with stuff I have listed on e-Bay. For several years April 1st has been kick off day to start e-Bay back up again---I don’t like doing it in the winter. But this year the weather isn’t cooperating and the garage is too cold to work out there where I usually do my e-Bay sales. It drives me crazy to have the clutter in the house but it also drives me crazy to lose a month of selling time, should I wait for spring to come to Michigan. I have a three stall garage that is also longer than most---a wheelchair van accessible design---so I have plenty of room out there to work.

While in the process of trashing my dining room table I got a call from the real estate agent who got my phone number from an acquaintance from the senior hall. He had called before and I told I wasn’t ready to move. This time he wanted to know if I’d gotten the material he sent me on how to have a garage sale and he said he would “help me with one if I needed it.” What a laugh. If I wanted garage sale prices for specialized stuff I don’t need a stranger to help me. I told the guy the person who gave him my phone number jumped the gun, I’m not ready to move and I won’t be until they build a senior condo community on the other end of town. “Is the community aspect that important to you?” he asked. “Yes,” I told him. What’s the point of moving if I don’t get what is missing in my life in exchange for all the trouble? I thought. “You friend wanted to get rid of the responsibility of keeping up a yard. I know that’s important as you get older and I can find you a nice condo near-by,” he replied. What responsibility? I make one phone call and write one check in the spring. But I didn’t say that. I hate pushy people who tempt you into being rude. I may be old but I haven’t crossed the Rude Bridge yet…at least not on a regular bases where I’d have to own the character trait.

I’m in a bad mood today, can you tell? Stay tuned I have some fun things to do the rest of the week so I should be back to my bouncy, optimistic self the next time I write. ©