Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Run Away From Home and Come Back Happy



In 1910 the Art Institute of Chicago established a summer artist colony near a sleepy little town along Lake Michigan. Over the next ten years many gays, including a prominent Chicago interior designer, bought summer homes near-by and thus a secret movement was born. A private gay-friendly beach was established as well as a gay friendly bar in an era when it was actually against state law to serve liquor to openly gay patrons. Fitting with the times they kept a low-profile, unbeknownst to most of the locals and tourists who flocked to the town for summer fun and sun. Don and I both spent time there in our teens and ‘20s, before we knew each other, and after we met it was our favorite place to go for a day trip. The art galleries, beach, marina, restaurants and festivals were and still are fantastic. We were not aware of the town’s “secrets” until one of the town’s residents got angry when he found out that several of the local businesses were listed in a guide for gay travelers (circa late '70s?) and one of those businesses mysteriously burned down. Things got tense over the next few months, another arson was attempted and the media picked up the story. The closeted gay community was outed. Fast forward to now and many businesses that are owned by gays fly a rainbow flag by their doors and no one walks into a gay bar by mistake.  

That was not always true, though. Not long after the story broke we had some old friends visit from out of town. The couple had gone to high school with Don and those three had a long history of playing practical jokes on each other and since they no longer lived in Michigan they were clueless regarding the recent stories about Saugatuck. One night we all decided to go over to Lake Michigan to sample the night life and Don took us to a gay bar---without telling our friends ahead of time. When we pulled into the parking lot I recognized the name of the bar from the media coverage but I got 'that look' from Don that all women know and it said: “Don’t say it!” In other words, the jokerster was back in practice. 

The place had a long staircase you had to walk down to get to the club and we were all busy watching where we were stepping in the dim light when a bunch of people broke out singing, “You’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time!” We took the only table open, smack-dab in the center of the place and as our friends were looking around, trying to make sense out of what they were seeing, a guy came over to our guy friend and said, “Would you like to dance?” Talk about a pregnant pause! It took forever for Ron to reply, “Thanks, not right now. Maybe later?” A waiter came over next, took our order and served us quickly---the four of us trying hard not to laugh as we talked about everything but where we were at, sure our every word was being monitored for mocking or insults from the "sightseers." We left after one drink and back in the car Ron said that it took him so long to answer the guy who asked him to dance because he knew he’d been pranked and he was thinking about saying "yes" as an attempt to prank Don back. Saugatuck is full of memories of all descriptions and Don was a master storyteller. Over the years, when he'd tell the story about the gay bar it often took longer to tell than the amount of time we spent inside the place.

Wednesday I got a wonderful surprise. My oldest niece and I had lunch in Saugatuck. We originally had planned to meet for lunch on the south end of town, but the night before she proposed a change in plans and I couldn’t have been more elated. We'd still meet in the same place but we'd hop on the highway headed toward Lake Michigan. It was just what I needed. For four hours we talked about family, politics, women’s history and how fast things have changed for the LGBT community nation-wide. We also had a good laugh over the fact that the restaurant at the marina where we ate lunch had liver and onions as a special. “It’s got to be a sign from Grandma!” she said. “How often do you see that on a menu?" My mom used to cook it once a week and on liver night I had to sit at the table until bedtime because I couldn’t eat it without gagging. My niece loves it and ordered it after I promised the smell wouldn’t bother me. Thankfully, it didn’t smell because I lied. For a fleeting moment I was tempted to taste her liver to see if it still makes me gag, but I was afraid my mom’s laughter would ring for the world to hear out if I didn’t spit the liver out and try to give it to the long-dead dog who parked underneath the table on liver day. That is until my brother snitched on me and the dog.  

During the outing, my niece took me to see her daughter’s house, an American Four Square, circa 1910/20, that my great-niece and her husband have gutted and are in the process of updating all the mechanics, the wiring, plumbing, plaster, etc. My niece knows that Don and I loved looking at fixer uppers and that I’d be able visualize what the place will look like after the rehab. As I stood surrounded by all the dreams in progress it brought back marvelous memories of a house Don and I had put an offer on, a brick farmhouse with a round barn that never had indoor plumbing or electricity and probably hadn’t been cleaned since the day it was built. The bathroom fixtures sat in the basement still in their late-1800’s Sears and Roebuck shipping crates. That house would have been an adventure and I sometimes wonder how restoring it would have changed the trajectory of our lives.

Running away from home on Wednesday was just what I needed. My niece and I looked backward and forward and we enjoyed both views on a beautiful sunny day. ©

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Labeling my Moods and Missteps


I’ve spent the last hour-and-something trying to put a label on how I feel, how I’ve been feeling for the past few days. Bored? Lazy? Hopeless? Depressed? I can’t put a finger on my restless mood and the longer it goes on the more frustrated I'm getting with myself. Woo-is-me! If you're looking for a happy-little-widow post pass this one by and stop back when I'm in a better mood.

BORED. Actor Viggo Mortensen was quoted in Vanity Fair as saying, “There’s no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes, Crazy, yes. But there’s no excuse for boredom, ever.” Easy for him to say. Just reading through his list of movie credits makes me tired---over thirty including Crimson Tide, G.I. Jane, Walk on the Moon, and The Lord of the Rings series. He's also an artist, poet and photographer. How does a person manage to stuff so many things into one life time? Where does that kind of energy come from? I know what he means, though. He’s saying that there’s a whole world of interesting things out there. Grab on to something, explore it, and the awe and inspiration will follow. Okay, if I’m not allowed to be bored, then am I lazy?

LAZY. I admit I waste a lot of time. I spend several hours each morning on the computer and I don’t budge from that until mid-to-late morning when I shower for my afternoon appointments, social engagements, errands or tasks around the house. I end my day the same way---my fingers on the keyboard, my ears half listening to the television. If Levi, my mighty Schnauzer, wasn’t of stubborn German descent he’d probably never get fed; I get so lost in inside my head that I forget things without him and my handy kitchen timer to keep me on track. He knows his schedule and he holds me to it: 10:00 AM outside for his morning eliminations, fresh food and water at 11:00, dental stick snack at 4:00 and walk at 7:00. I swear he tells time by the program intros coming from the television. Judge Judy? Oh, boy, it's time for a Milkbone brushing chew!  

Playwright and novelist Paul Rudnick once said, “As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” Hey, Paul, can I use that excuse for me being lazy? Most of my computer time is spent reading, researching and posting at various sites before I get around to ramble writing my blog posts late at night. If I can borrow Paul’s procrastination excuse, then ‘lazy’ is not a label I need to wear. What’s left---hopelessness? Depression?

HOPELESSNESS. When Macbeth found out the queen was dead he mumbled a passage that essentially says there is no purpose or meaning in life: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare might have been a smart guy but that doesn't make all his words sage or true. However, in this case I do wonder why I’m here, what’s my purpose? Why do I often feel like I’m just filling up time waiting for something? Jeez, I need to set my sails, shake things up. I’ve been thinking about going back to water aerobics at the YMCA or yoga at the senior hall. I don’t get enough exercise. I don’t like the weight I’ve gained since the beginning of the year and that does not add to my happiness coffer. More importantly, I have no muse which begs the question: Do I have no muse because I'm restless or am I restless because I have no muse? And why can’t I give myself the same kind of approval and praise I used to get from all the dead people in my life? Have I spent my entire life just being a Pavlovian Dog responding to conditional stimulus?

DEPRESSION. Melissa Cole (and I have no idea who she is and Google isn’t any help sorting through all the Melissa Cole’s on earth) wrote, “I feel like I’m in the ocean with big waves and small waves, just trying to keep my head above water and not drown — but the waves come and go and I’m alone without a life preserver trying to stay afloat.” I found that quote on a site that says it lists the twenty-five best descriptions of depression. And nope, I’m happy to report I don’t feel like that. I feel more like a dinghy adrift in that ocean; I can see Paradise Island on the horizon but I lost the paddle needed to help get me there. So, I’m back to square one: I'm restless without a label to explain it! It didn't help that I've had four days in a row with no place to go and nothing that needed doing except to clean the garage which I’ve been avoiding because it’s a heat stroke zone.

Thankfully today I have a haircut appointment with a 28 year old kid who gets the same memos as I do with bullet points on what topics to discuss. She may be young but we have a lot in common. And tomorrow I’m going to an ice cream social. Three cheers for hot fudge sundaes with nuts and cherries on top! Maybe I’ll luck out and someone will spill chocolate on her blouse and I’ll be able to whip a Wipe & Go out of my purse to save her day. Ding! Yup, that little bit of praise I'd get for that would have me salivating and happy. Levi and I have way too much in common. ©

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Clubs, Gatherings and Politics



After my husband died I lost my concentration for reading and it still isn’t firing on all its cylinders. Back then I belonged to a book club, dropped out and they kept my place open for a while before I told them to give it to someone on the waiting list. This week the senior hall started a brand new book club and they asked me to return. I guess they kept my name on the waiting list all this time and since there were finally twelve names on the list it was deemed time to start a second group. Our county library system has what they call ‘Book Clubs in a Bag’---so named because they pack twelve books per bag for clubs to check out, which is why the memberships are limited. The first meeting was this week and of the eleven other members in the new group I knew three by name---a mother/daughter comb from the Movie and Lunch Club and a lady from The Gatherings that I’ve been hoping to get to know better. I felt like I was out of my element, though, because most of the women could name off favorite books and authors so quickly. Me? I read a book and promptly forget most of them. There are three former teachers in the group who did a lot of across-the-table talking and I’ll bet they’ll bond with one another. Birds of a feather. 

We got our first book on Thursday. Maybe you’ve read the Friendship Bread by Darien Gee? The author has a website with over 250 recipes for Amish friendship bread and I’m having a hard time resisting making a batch of starter. But we’re having a heat wave here in Michigan, not a good time for baking. The storyline has been described like a chain letter, with the starter bread being passed along instead of a letter. (The starter recipe makes four batches and you’re supposed to bake one and pass the other three on to friends and each of them will do the same with their starter bag of dough.) I’m half way through the book and so far the author has introduced over fifty characters which is challenging my ability to keep track, and so far the book isn’t ‘grabbing’ me. If you read it, do you have an observation that I can “borrow” to make me look smart at the next book club meeting?

Also this week I went to another Gathering at the senior hall, a group for people looking for friends. We played a game where we had to write down two sentences---one true, one false. Then the facilitator read our sentences out loud and the group had to guess which sentences were which. I wrote down, “I play the piano in a jazz trio” and “I plowed snow for 17 years.” No one guessed my correct sentence which was the one about plowing snow. We learned that one woman has a glass eye from having untreated Pink Eye as a kid. Another woman had an accident pulling into a police station and she damaged four police cars before coming to a stop---no one guessed that story was true either. These games are fun!

Afterward five of us went for coffee down the block; the first time that’s happened. It was a little harder to talk without our facilitator in tow but the ladies were nice. We discussed knitting and sewing circles and other common interests like writing family histories. We made a date to do lunch after the next Gathering. Could a budding friendship/s be in the making? It’s too soon to tell but sometimes I have a panicked feeling about getting involved one-on-one with other people. I had that feeling when one of the ladies passed a paper around for us to exchange contact information. I know, I KNOW, I’ve been bellyaching about needing to make friends ever since Don died, so why the cold feet all of a sudden? If you have an explanation, clue me in. 

Glutton for punishment that I am, I had the entire Republican Convention playing in the background of my life from morning to bedtime---all four days and the after hours rehashes. And all I’m going to say about that hot mess is that Trump thinks he’s running for God. “I and I alone can fix this,” he said about everything from stopping ISIS around the world to stopping lone wolves from killing cops to fixing my neighbor’s broken garage disposal. Okay, he didn’t promise to fix the garage disposal, but it was implied when he boasted, "I will fix EVERYTHING and I will fix it fast!" The Cult of Personality has taken over the Republican Party and its nominee is a sociopath from Gotham City's dark under belly. ©

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Baby Dedications and Sunday School Drop Outs

Sunday I went to a church service and hell did not freeze over although it was touch and go there for a while. It was so cold in the sanctuary that I thought I’d turn into a Popsicle before the pastor finally wrapped up his sermon about Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. In some churches she’s St. Photini, a Great Martyr and equal-to-the-apostles and is celebrated in places like Mexico by handing out free drinks on the fourth Friday of Lint. In this Baptist church, however, she had no name and didn’t seem to be an apostle-in-the-making. He asked her for a drink. He wanted to give her a drink. His 'water' is eternal and symbolic, hers was just ordinary water. Everything I know about Photini I learned from studying art history so forgive me if what I’m about to say sounds irreverent or offensive, but if the conversation went like this pastor portrayed it then Jesus sounded like an con-man trying to trade magic beans for a steak dinner. “If you knew who I am you wouldn’t deny me a drink!” he reportedly told the nameless woman. The bottom line of the sermon was that I am going to hell forever because I don’t/won’t accept that salvation is only available through faith in Jesus as the son of God. No escape clause. I’m doomed. 

It was May 17th, 2000 the last time I’d been to a church for something other than a funeral or wedding and Easter 1968 the time before that and circa 1952 when I became a Sunday school dropout. So what was I doing in a country Baptist Church at a god-awful hour in the morning, all showered and dressed in my finest? I even bought a new necklace of black beads for the occasion. My great-nephew and his wife were getting their baby dedicated which I gather is meant to cleanse her of the Original Sins passed down from Adam. (They save baptisms until a person is old enough to understand what sin is all about.) I wanted to support the parents and see the rest of my family at the brunch afterward. The parents are the nicest kids who have been best friends and sweethearts from day one of their interest in the opposite sex. When they spoke at the service they talked about how they wanted to raise their baby in the church the way they both were and after reading the church bulletin I can see why. They offer a lot of summer fun for kids. And while I’m sure my nephew, great-nephew and their wives have no idea that I’m a heathen in the eyes of their church, I respect anyone who walks their own talk. The beaded necklace, by the way, was a good idea because the baby thought it was a teething ring. 

When my brother and I were alone I asked him when was the last time he’d been to a church service and I was shocked when he told me he’s been going a couple of times a month since spring---with his girlfriend---to different church denominations all over town to hear choirs and sermons. He said he finds it interesting and he’s “trying to figure it all out.” Growing up we didn’t go to church nor did he go in the years in between then and now. Our parents (non-church goers) sent us to Sunday school and church day camps for a few years in our pre-teen days but after we got caught spending our ‘church time’ wandering around the Indian Mounts near-by all pretense of us going to Sunday school were dropped and we were deemed old enough to decide for ourselves. We decided collecting arrow heads was more fun.

We have a bonafided church lady in the family---not the Dana Carver, Saturday Night Live kind of church lady. My cousin is truly a woman with a pure heart that pitches in and works hard for all her church’s do-good projects. She cooks for funeral lunches, goes to Bible study meetings, collects food for the poor, visits the sick, writes inspirational articles for the church bulletin, sings in the choir and never, ever says a bad word about other people or preachifies to non-believers. Like me, she was not brought up with a church family but her husband was and she took Ruth 1:16 as her own motto: “…whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

Looking at how my cousin's life turned out, I know without a doubt that I would have followed the same path if I had married right out of high school like she did. All the guys I dated back in those days were church goers and I was a chameleon. Heck, I took tennis lessons for the guy I dated before Don, golf lessons for the guy before him and skiing lessons for my first serious boyfriend. After I broke up with my 1967/68 guy, come hell or high water I finally learned to be me, the girl who took comparative religion classes in college and knew I’d never ignore my inner voice again. I hated sports and I would never join a church that requires me to agree to a doctrine that narrows the pathways to God down to one and only one. ©