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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day in Widow Land



I have mentioned the term 'Memorial Day' in twenty-four blog entries. I know this because the ‘search this blog’ feature mysterious started working again and since I’m a statistics kind of person, I’m happy about that. Though, honestly, sometimes I wonder why I still bother to reread past posts in an effort to take my widowhood temperature, comparing earlier versions of myself to how I feel in the present. My first Memorial Day without Don, for example, was all about the disgraceful way his newly set tombstone looked. The ground hadn’t been leveled out or reseeded and dirt was all over the stone which was (and still is) set too low in the ground in my opinion. I went home that first Memorial Day and got some tools and water, went back and did what I could to clean it up. Over my second Memorial Day I had a broken bone in my arm and couldn’t drive to the cemetery so I made a memorial corner in my yard. Don loved dogwood trees so I had one planted, then I put his life-sized tin chickens near-by and buried some of his ashes in what I now call Don's Corner. (I was a regular Johnny Appleseed spreading his ashes across state.) Last winter one of his chickens made its get-away during a wind storm and I was about to put ‘lost chicken’ posters up around the neighborhood when I found him down the block.

With my third Memorial Day weekend without Don I was still searching for a new tradition I’d adopt for the first long weekend of the summer. I couldn’t do what we did as a couple for many years which was to either take off on a mini trip along Lake Michigan or gather with his family at a cottage they no longer own. I still miss seeing all of my in-laws. It’s not that they don’t include me in holiday parties anymore like some widows experience but rather they don’t have them as often now that the oldest members in a family are dying off. Last year one of my sister-in-law’s was beside herself when she learned her kids had planned a family reunion but they neglected to ask the oldest member of the family. If you’re not on Facebook apparently in this century you don’t get invitations. The moral of that story is that if you don’t keep up with technology you’re headed to the Valley of Dinosaur Bones and one day all our paper invitations and greeting cards kept in scrapbooks will end up in a museum, relics of a time when everyone could still read cursive.

This year, my fifth Memorial Day since Don’s passing, I could write exactly what I wrote last year: “I went to the cemetery on Saturday and had a talk with Don. I told him that I think of him often and that I’m doing okay even though he took a piece of me with him when he left.” Again, I took tools and water and cleaned up the stone. I can’t believe how fast sod takes it over. After I’m dead or can’t do it anymore all traces of us will get reclaimed by nature. I thought of that as I dug a deep ditch all the way around the stone, deep enough to swallow up a lawn mower wheel. I hope the cemetery sexton swears every time he comes near the grave. Nothing passive aggressive about me and the fact that I hate their flower policy. The only “legal” place you can put flowers is in an urn placed on top of the tombstone which I refuse to do. Instead I will glue a fresh Snoopy trinket on the corner of the stone each year. That and cleaning the stone has become my tradition by default. 

This year Don has a new neighbor in the cemetery, a veteran of the Korean War whose grave-site looks deplorable except for the American flag that was dutifully placed by the Boy Scouts. The gentlemen died in February and they still haven’t removed the casket spray of dead flowers and sand covers more than half the stone. As I stood looking at it, I thought about cleaning off the stone myself and hauling the dead flowers to the trash container. Then I remembered reading a widow’s blog about how mad she was when she went to the cemetery to clean up her husband’s stone and discovered someone else had already done it. She suspected it was his first wife’s doing and she was ready to start WWIII over it.

The cemetery that holds my husband's granite is just a few blocks from the Main Street of a small tourist town and I headed there after my widow's duties were done. Ice cream cures everything so I grabbed a rocky road filled waffle cone and sat in the park overlooking the damn. Little girls where doing cartwheels in the bandstand. Bikers, joggers and dog walkers were passing by on the nature trail. Fishermen in waist-high waders were doing their thing in the water and canoers were being picked up by the bus that takes them and the canoes back up the river. Life goes on and while Memorial Day Year Five had an air of sad acceptance, no tears fell. And as Martha Stewart would say, "That's a good thing." ©

NOTE: The photo at the top is of part of the park near the cemetery. There is a memorial red brick with Don's name on it visible in the distance, left side, bought with money that came in sympathy cards. I was on the other side of the river up by the dam but these two halves of the park are connected by a wonderful area for walking and sitting that spans across the top of the dam. Click to enlarge photo.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What Else Can Go Wrong?


This was supposed to be an easy week but it didn’t turn out that way. The only thing I had scheduled was a trip to my brother’s house, a haircut and a Gathering at the senior hall (which was even more fun than the launching of their first Gathering a month ago). Then on Tuesday I took a trip to the basement to check on things. Things were not good! Water was spraying out of a pipe, looking like the ‘rain’ setting on a shower head. Water was on the floor in an eight foot square area underneath the 'shower' and along the outside wall was a river thirty foot long by three foot wide. I check the basement once a week (when I remember) so who knows how long the problem was going on. I called my plumbing service and they came out three hours later. In the meantime I was having a panic attack and it never even occurred to me to do the first thing the plumber did when he came down the steps. He grabbed an empty 30 gallon plastic storage container I had near-by and put it under the 'shower.' I did trace the leaking line back across the basement to a turn-off valve near the hot water heater but it wouldn’t budge. I can’t open jars either.

The plumber had to drain the hot water heater to get the water out of the hot water recirculation line (the villain in this story) and it was hour before he got the leaking joint cut out and replaced. And since he was here I asked him if he’d have time to fix an outside faucet that I can't turn off or on without a pair of pliers. He did and you would not believe the massive ball of pollen that came out of that came out of that fitting? No wonder it didn't work. Next up was turning the water back on that comes in from the street and getting all the air bled out of the faucets. The shower sprayer in my master bath failed the test and no water would come through. An easy fix for a tall guy with tools. The filter screen had gotten clogged up with junk and since he was already standing in my shower I asked him to check out the mixer in the faucet. Lately it’s been going from cold to the hottest setting with no middle ground and it was actually on my ‘to do list’ to call a plumber to fix it. The whole episode cost $228.22 and an attack of the nerves. On the good side, if this had happened over the coming holiday weekend the bill would have been double. My dad would be proud that I found that silver lining here.

But that wasn’t the end of it of the water saga. The plumber said the standing water should disappear overnight. It didn’t which told me the cement was thoroughly saturated and I was worried about mold starting if it took too long to dry out. I called Tim, the-son-I-wish-I-had, and he brought out a wet/dry vacuum and sucked up the standing water. He’s a good friend but I still have to pay him for things like this---$50 in this case. He owns a small clean up business and he can’t afford to turn down other work to work for free for friends. Though occasionally we barter. Once I traded an 1880s set of ornate cast iron legs off an old factory machine for several hours of his time. He made a table for his kitchen out of them. (He’s got an industrial themed kitchen…lots of stainless steel and industrial ‘wire cage’ light fixtures.) My husband would have loved seeing what became of those legs. After his stroke they were a huge bone of contention when we downsized. No amount of talking would get him to agree to put them in our auction, so Tim brought them to our new house where they sat in a corner for fourteen years. 

Don would have also loved knowing that one of his favorite art prints is now framed and hanging on my brother’s living room wall. As my brother said, “It just makes the room” and he's right. He’s never had a good eye for hanging things on walls. Everything was always the wrong size or shape for the wall or hung at the wrong height and that bugs me whenever I see that in any house. But until five/six years ago he's had a wife, so I couldn’t suggest rehanging stuff without maybe causing tension. I’m glad, this time, he asked for my input in his redecorating project. It was fun.

And last but certainly not least, this week I got invaded by huge black flies. Upstairs and down. Dozens of them. The first day I killed over thirty before I lost count. The next day Tim vacuum up dozens in the basement and the third day I bought fly paper for the basement, a two pack of longer handled fly swatters than the one I had and an outdoor trap to hang by my back door, near the dog’s pen. I still can’t figure out how they all got inside. I’ve never had that happen in my life. It’s possible they came in when the plumber was going back and forth to his truck with all the doors left open. I hope so because the other possibility is that one fly laid eggs somewhere inside and I can expect another 100-500 more to hatch. I’ve been carrying a fly swatter every time I walk across the house and today I've only killed four or five. Hopefully, the worse is over. ©

NOTE: The photo above is of the print I gave my brother before it was triple matted and framed. It's probably 3 1/2 by 5 foot.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Politics and Dead Husbands


Spoiler Alert: Republican hardliners may want to skip reading this post because I am so sick of Donald Trump that I'm about to spit nails! His personal attacks on everyone and anyone is making the country look bad overseas. I’m sick of him focusing on scandals and conspiracy theories from twenty-five years ago or standing in front of the NRA and promising to get rid of gun free zones. (I guess he forgot that he tweeted out his support for President Obama's call for reasonable gun control after the Newtown, CT massacre.) I’m sick of the Republicans who were victims of Trump's scorched earth, take no prisoners campaign style who are now falling in line to help get him elected. This is the party of family values? With the exception of Watergate, what Trump is doing goes beyond the lowest low either party has gone in modern campaigning and I don’t know if I can take another five months of his daily, drama queen stupidity!

Why isn’t Trump shoring up his knowledge base on topics that presidents have to deal with daily? From all accounts he’s not taking much interest in the national security briefings he’s now entitled to get as a potential president. Does he think he can govern by twitter feed insults and making outlandish claims? The world is a complicated and nuanced place and Trump is fixated on sex scandals and murder conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s suicide that have been dispelled years ago. Bill Clinton’s impeachment and acquittal cost the American tax payers 79.3 million dollars plus four and a half years of our lives. Haven’t we payed enough for that dark period in political witch hunting? After independent prosecutor Ken Starr’s Report---which was 2,600 pages prepared for the House Judiciary Committee---of depositions and investigations on all things Clinton related from Whitewater to Paula Jones, all they could impeach him for was perjury for lying about getting a blowjob from Monica Lewinsky. Yet Trump is throwing out conspiracy theories from that period in history as if there are solid facts to back them up. Newsflash Mr. Trump: If Ken Starr couldn’t find an arsenal of smoking guns then they don’t exist and never did! 

The person I feel the most sorry for in this whole thing is Monica Lewinsky. She was young---in her twenties---when she was labeled the “victim of sexual abuse” but in a 2002 HBO documentary she said that her affair with Bill was “a mutual relationship.” She told how it was her second affair with a married man and how she’s since been objectified by the public. And I’m guessing after the way Linda Tripp befriended her and secretly recorded conversations about her affair with Bill that she’s had a hard time trusting anyone. I can’t imagine living her life, the shame that comes from the whole world knowing about her lowest point. Would any of us want to be forever judged by something we did when we were young and foolish? Yet she seems to have found a way to channel her life experiences into something to help others with her anti-bullying TED talk and association with anti-bullying organizations. She claims to be the first person to have experienced online bullying and probably she’s right. If not the first, she’s certainly the best known. 

I've developed a love-hate relationship with politics this year. My husband and I loved to follow and talk about politics and lately he’s been living in my head. We were political junkies with similar views and together we could check our reactions against each other, laugh or project what would happen next. I miss that more and more as the political process marches forward. Ya, it's easy to say, “Just step off the bus to Crazyville” and once in a while, I do just that---take a break, breathe deeply before getting back into the fray. But if there was ever an election that we can't ignore, this is the one because this election is about more than just the presidency. It’s also about the person who will likely pick five Supreme Court Justices and that will leave a very long legacy. Can we trust that responsibility to a man who said he'd appoint to head up the Department of Education a guy who believes that the pyramids were built for grain storage, not tombs for kings? The thought of Trump making those Supreme Court appointments sends shivers up my spine. 

Believe it or not, I rarely talk politics in my off line life. With the exception of two people no one else knows that politics occupies a vast territory in my head. Nor do I blog about politics very often but I can honestly say that THIS time it’s actually widowhood related. I had to write the above in detail so others can better understand how being a widow, how not having a sounding board anymore, can leave gaping holes in our lives. Our gaping holes might be in different places and of different sizes, but most of us have them. One of my gaping holes just happens to be tied to the elections. ©

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Red Hats, Camels and Parakeets, Oh My!


It’s been decades since I’ve turned off my alarm clock and fell back to sleep but that’s what I did on Wednesday. An hour and a half later I still didn’t want to get out of bed but I had to pee and when that happens you either get up and take care of business or you might as well check yourself into a nursing home. I was still coonhound tired but I dragged myself out of bed, thankful that I still had plenty of time to get ready to meet the Red Hat ladies for lunch. They’d been on a thrift shop crawl all morning but I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t be up to that after the busy week I’ve had so meeting for lunch was a compromise. The topic of conversation at the restaurant mostly related to the diets everyone seemed to be on but me and I sat there enjoying my deep fried fish sandwich with the high carb bun and chips while others ate bun-less burgers or salads. After lunch I went with the group to a consignment clothing store near-by where several of the ladies found items to buy. Leaving there, the ladies decided they needed ice cream and headed to a build-your-own-sundae place and I went home. Don’t read anything like self-control into my decision not to tag along. It was on their way back to where they carpooled and it would have taken me ten miles out of my way. But I did feel vindicated for being the odd man out ordering an unhealthy lunch.

The next day I missed the travelogue about traveling across America by train but it turned out not to be my fault. I showed up at the right day and time listed on the flyer that I had taken with me, thankfully, so I called the woman who put these things on. She apologized up one side and down the other because one of their earliest fliers had the wrong time listed. They discovered the error a half hour after setting them out but had no idea who had picked up fliers with the wrong information. As bad as I felt about missing that particular presentation I was glad that I didn’t make an old person mistake. I pride myself on being an organized person and it would have been demoralizing if I had screwed up. Do others look for those hints that one’s aging brain is not keeping all the balls of a busy life in the air? A missed appointment, a lost set of keys, burning the oatmeal. What next, we forget where we live or where we took off and left our underpants while shopping for groceries?

I was on a roll for missing planned outings. The next day my brother called and wanted to stop by on his way through town. He has a cottage up north and lives down in the next county. I was supposed to go to my Movie and Lunch Club but I don’t get to see him very often so I canceled the movie date and just met the group for lunch afterward. The general consistence was that Money Monster with Julie Roberts and George Clooney was worth the price of admission. I love both of them but the film wasn’t one I’d pick for myself so it all worked out. My brother fixed my broken doorbell and I showed him the stuff I bought at a scrapbooking store to use in the large shadow box full of vintage photos I’m going to redo at his house next week.

Saturday I went on an outing with eight of my Red Hat Society sisters. All I knew about our planned destination was we were carpooling first out to breakfast and then to “a farm at lambing time.” The farm is 45 miles north of town and much to my surprise they had reindeer, camels, a zebra, peacocks, wallaby, lemurs, emus, lambs, pigs, goats, deer from South America, various caged birds, a farmer’s market, gift shop and an ice cream parlor. Admission was free but vending machines dispensing feed to give to the animals were everywhere. I felt both sad and intrigued at the same time. Sad to see so many animals in less than ideal enclosures and intrigued to see my first camels up close and personal. The only animals that weren’t in enclosures were the peacocks and we got to see one of the males display his tail plumage trying to entice a female to mate while she played hard to get the entire time we wandered around the farm.

I was totally enchanted by a 25’ x 35’ cage full of colorful parakeets---I’m guessing a couple of hundred. You could buy sticks that were covered in bird seed and go inside with the birds. If you had a stick (and you weren’t allowed inside unless you bought one) your arm would quickly get covered with 15 to 20 birds trying to get their turn at the seed. It reminded me of a scene in a children’s animated movie. If you stayed outside looking in as soon as you started talking birds would gather close on the wire mess to listen. I loved those parakeets! They were the highlight of the day for me. My mom had parakeets when I was growing up and memories of her were an extra bonus I brought home from the outing. ©

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Busy LIttle Widow



I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on Sunday. Snow was coming down fast and furious and I could barely see the pine trees twenty-five outside my kitchen windows. Everything was blanketed in white and I learned later from the news that the last time it snowed here this late in May was in 1953. It didn’t last long or stick around for more than a few hours but it stayed cold and got even colder inside the house when someone hit a power pole, knocking out our electricity for the next five hours. On the good side, I had just put the outage app on my new smart phone so I was kept well informed which cuts the stress level that comes with the unknown. I put a sweater on the dog, gloves on me, burrowed myself under a blanket and spent the time reading Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride. The movie was ten times better. I won’t have a bit of trouble donating the book to the senior hall where it will get sold for a quarter a zillion times over. I couldn’t find a single sentence in the book that I wanted to mark to savor later unless it’s the one that gave the book its title: “His voice, even now, follows me everywhere on this longest of rides, this thing called life.” I do like looking for those lines that sums up what a title means to an author. The line was delivered by an elderly man talking about his father---the lessons he taught---and I could identify with that as a daughter and a widow both. 

Mammogram day came and went this week and I learned something about implants. I don’t have them, by the way, but I wanted to know how they do a mammogram with ladies that do. The technician said they have to do two sets. One with the implants riding in their normal place and a second set where the technician has to pull the implants off to the side so they can get good shots of the breast tissue. “Ouch,” I said, “that sounds painful!” and she replied that they don’t feel a thing because all the nerve endings are cut inside when the implants are put in place. So now I’m in the waiting pattern where you don’t know if you’ll get the call-back because the radiologist wants more images or you’ll get the post card that everything is normal. I usually get the call-back because I have scar tissue from decades old biopsies.

After getting the mammogram I had some time to kill before I was due at the senior hall for a lecture about the local zoo’s 125 year history so I stopped for lunch at the Guy-Land Cafeteria. I like to people watch there while pretending I’m John Steinbeck writing my version of Travels With Charlie. He was taking a trip across America with his dog when he wrote that book and it describes the people he met along the way, capturing all their regional mannerisms and foibles. Unfortunately, my travels are confined to a 75 mile radius and the Guy-Land Cafeteria, that day, only held on a collection guys who were far from eye candy. Some had potbellies. Some were bald. And some sported both potbellies and bald heads. One old gentleman who didn’t fit in those pigeonholes was so pasty white he looked like he belonged down the block at the funeral home. Only one guy caught my eye in a he’s-cute-for-an-old-dude way. I loved his Santa Claus glasses and his easy smile. So what if he was wearing navy suspenders to hold up his mom jeans. I was wearing orthopedic shoes and I needed a manicure. We all can't be Brad and Angelina. 

At the “zoo lecture” we heard about the first animal they had on exhibit, a bear who loved its beer and got excited when he’d hear the beer wagon coming down the cobblestone street for its daily stop that kept the animal thoroughly happy and drunk for many years. We learned how early zoos were “encyclopedia zoos”---striving to have one of everything---but today they have fewer animals but try to keep them in family groups with the goal of preserving the species through breeding programs of animals that may not survive in the wild due to their natural habitats being encroached and poached and interbreeding weakening the lines as a result. By the way, one of the Chimps in the photo above is diabetic and is trained to pee on a stick each morning followed by presenting an arm for an insulin shot and a sweet treat. 

The next day I had to go back to the dermatologist to have the cancerous moles dug out deeper than he did on biopsy day---and just when the dime-sized holes were healing up. I’ve got to go back in two weeks to get the stitches out. Moles are troublesome and expensive little buggers!

I'm so over scheduled this week that by Saturday night I'll feel like I’ve worked a full time job. Still to come: a travelogue, lunch out with the Red Hat Society, a field trip to a lamb farm, my Movie and lunch Club and the dog’s date with the vet after which he gets to go shopping at Chow Hound. ©