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, April 22, 2017

Memory and Brain Farts

Have you ever run into someone who seems to have a luminous aura, like they know stuff the rest of us don’t? If a person is pairing their I’m-at-peace-and-you’re-not look with a Mona Lisa smile they don’t even have to talk. I’d like to develop that quality…not because I know stuff that others don’t---no way is that true---but I’d like to develop that look to cover up the fact that my language skills are waning. It’s alarming when I open up my mouth and the wrong words come rolling out. For example, I was sitting in the doctor’s office this week and four or five times I spoke using the wrong-but-similar words, like someone who needs hearing aids will hear ‘feet’ instead of ‘street’ or ‘cat’ instead of ‘fat.’ I corrected myself on the spot and hopefully I caught all of my brain farts but the more often things like that happen the more timid I get about talking in public. I figured I wasn’t having a TIA or the doctor and his wanna-be doctor-in-tow would have said, “Hey, lady, we need to get you to the ER. STAT!” At one point I made a joke about my tongue not working right but just between you and me, I knew better. I was having bona-fided brain farts right in the middle of my Medicare Wellness Exam.

What’s worse than these “brain farts” or malapropisms is when someone asks me a simple question like, “What have you been doing to keep busy?” and my mind goes blank. That happened twice this past week. Once at the butterfly exhibit when my niece’s daughter-in-law---who says she has trouble making small talk---asked me that question and couldn’t come up with one single example from my busy schedule. It was such an awkward moment! I felt badly for her. I felt badly for me. She was trying to make small talk and I couldn’t hold up my end. Then again when I got my teeth cleaned yesterday, the hygienist asked me what I’ve been doing lately. She’s used to me rattling off a string of stuff but all I could come up with was a fancy lunch down at the culinary college and that took place several weeks ago. What happened to all the stuff I’ve been doing since then? Where the heck did the Memory Fairy dump those events? I'm guessing in a dark corner of my brain that won’t be accessible until someone asks me if I want gravy on my mash potatoes.

It’s not enough that we have to worry about joints that need replacing, eyelids that need lifting for better vision, moles that grow in strange places and nipples that point toward the floor we also have to worry about losing our marbles! At least I do. That cluster of brain cells that stands guard over my memories is being a cranky child, intent on embarrassing me when I least expect it. I think it would be a good idea for me to go to one of those retreats where silence is required, assuming they have mirrors available. I could work on looking luminously radiant from a spirit within and pretend I still remember me. Remember me! I do need to remember me, more specifically that I’ve never had a good memory for the places I’ve been. Case in point: Back in the ‘80s while on our way Out West my husband stopped at a restaurant that I absolutely loved---the décor, the menu, the view---and when I expressed my joy at finding such a wonderful place he said, “It wasn’t hard. You loved it the last two times we were here.” My bad memory for the places we’d been before was notorious but when you’re young quirky personality ticks like that are no big deal. But when your hair turns gray your memory ticks turn into telling lies on your Medicare Wellness questionnaire. “Nope, nani, nah, nda, nahi, no way do I forget stuff, Doc! Who told you that?”

When I turn the page on my day planner putting April in the past, my over-booked life will be behind me until October when I’ll do it to myself all over again. No more getting up at six or seven and falling asleep before my head hits the pillow at midnight. No more living by a schedule that would put the White House Director of Scheduling and Advance to shame---yes, that’s a real thing. No more waking up in the morning and before getting out of bed saying something like: If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium. I’m hoping my brain farts are just a symptom of exhaustion, of trying to do too and not from having my gray matter cluttered up with too much junk like obscure romantic comedies featuring American tourists in Europe. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could clean out our brains like we do our computers---save this, delete that, reformat the space and send the whole kitten kaboodle off to a geek when it needs fine tuning. ©

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Doctor Happy and the Bunnies and Butterflies

Easter Sunday was noisy here in Levi-the-Mighty-Schnauzer Land where he spent the entire afternoon in voyeur mode watching and barking at four rabbits trying to mate in the back yard. The lady rabbit/s were playing hard-to-get. Every so often I’d let Levi out on the deck and when the rabbits ran by he’d bark and they’d freeze in place like plastic toys on a cake. It was probably the only rest they got all afternoon, it was a regular rodeo back there. I can’t tell the bucks from the does, so in three weeks we could have one, two or three new mom’s making nests in the neighborhood. Most years I get one under my pine trees just 6-7 feet from the dog’s pen. Crazy momma. She’ll sleep in that nest all night long even when Levi goes out to pee and to bark at her from the other side of his white picket fence. In the daytime she’ll leave the babies on their own so she doesn’t draw the attention of predators. I always have to make sure my lawn care guy doesn’t disturb the nest when he puts down the new Pacific Northwest pine needle mulch in May. I know what you’re thinking: Who buys pine needles to put under their pine trees? I’ll try to remember to take a photo when he’s done. It looks so much better than bark mulch under those three trees and along my near-by cattail bog.  

For Easter dinner I grilled a steak, steamed some asparagus and had strawberry shortcake and, yes, Levi got a little plate of his own of everything. He especially likes strawberries and when I make protein shakes in the mornings, he’ll come running to the kitchen when he hears the blender where he knows he’ll get a few bites of whatever fruit I’m using that day. I expected my big Easter dinner to show up on the scales Monday morning. It didn’t. I’m saving the traditional Easter ham I bought for later in the week because I didn’t want the salt to show up at the doctor’s office in the form of a higher blood pressure reading and added water retention. 

My bi-annual appointment with my internist was Tuesday. The doctor was pleased. I was pleased. Even his young, tag-along student doctor was…well, he couldn’t have cared less. I think he was bored with this old lady with no real problems to solve. I did get permission to go faster on the treadmill as long as I don’t let my heart rate get over 135 on my Fitbit---like I could actually go faster than the 1.35 miles in 30 minutes that I’m already doing. I was glad the doctor thinks doing the treadmill a half hour 2-3 times a week is ideal, that I don’t need to walk longer, just a tad faster, if I can work up to it, using my heart rate as my guide. He also said that strength training and exercise is more important at my age than at any other time in our lives. 

The day before Easter I got to spend time with eleven members of my family---me being the oldest person there and the youngest one is just a few months old. We met at our local sculpture garden to see the Butterflies are Blooming exhibit in the tropical conservatory. We were there all morning and the baby woke up just once to nurse but otherwise slept contentedly in one of those baby slings that keeps babies close to their mother’s stomach and chest. Why did it take so long for those slings to get popular in modern society? Indigenous people all over the world have been using them since way back when the earth was still thought to be flat. The two, two year olds with us took quite an interest in the butterflies. It was fun watching their faces light up and it was heart-warming when Little O held my hand for the first time. Until now, he’s been standoffish to me, the little girl is just the opposite. I don’t know how to interact with children anymore like I did back when my nieces and nephew were young, but I don’t see these kids often enough to re-learn. Big sigh of regret here.

I started going to the butterfly exhibit after my husband died as a life-affirming pilgrimage around all of my April sadiversaries, then last year when my youngest niece heard that I was going she wanted to meet me there. Five of us went last year and that grew to eleven this year. I’m hoping we’ve started a tradition that will last a while. The park is huge with lots of things for kids to do as they grow older. For me, I don’t think I’ll ever lose my fascination of seeing thousands of butterflies all in one place and I still haven’t gone after dark to one of their butterflies and flashlights events. The exhibit has the power to slow us down to pay closer attention to our environment---the sun patterns through the foliage, the kaleidoscope of colored flowers that draws the butterflies to land and the warmth of the conservatory that previews what’s to come outside as April creeps forward into May. And of course, the amazing and mysterious cycle of chrysalises and cocoons that turn into beautiful creatures that live for such a short time but while they’re here they do their work in making sure their species continues. Life affirming. Oh, yes! ©

My great-great nephew and niece. I don't like to post pictures of kids without their parent's permission---adults either---but since no one can see their faces here, I'm making an exception. In the one up above Little O is taking a close-up look at a butterfly and the photo below was taken in the children's garden at the sculpture park.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jump Ropes, Book Club and Flowers

Next week is my bi-annual appointment with my internist and it’s been the driving force in making me go to the YMCA to help me lose the weight I gained recently. When I saw him last fall I was up five pounds since spring, then I added another four over the holidays and I knew he wouldn’t ignore that kind of weight gain two appointments in a row. Well, guess what! He’ll never know. I’m back to the same weight I was a year ago. He might even praise me for the five (really nine) pound loss and I will light up like a jar of lightning bugs on a warm summer night. It’s not that he’s a tyrant of a doctor, quite the opposite. He’s so nice that I hated the idea of disappointing him with a broken promise. I have a ton more to lose so I’ll try to ride the Diet & Exercise train for as long as I can. Picture me with “Iowa Blackie,” the wandering hobo poet---him with his paper and pens and me with a set of dumbbells.

Going to the gym is fertile ground for people watching and maybe that will keep me going, like Blackie writing about the people he met as he rode the rails across the country. For example, I haven’t seen people jumping ropes since grade school but they're a common sight at the Y. The ropes they use aren’t like the clothes lines we used back in the good old days. They come in different materials: plastic beaded, "licorice" whips, clothe, vinyl cords, cables, leather and with lights embedded---$5.00 to $80.00. You pick a rope by the surface where you’re going to jump and the speed you want to do it at. Lighted ropes are for night but they would be good in public places. Those wire-thin cable jump ropes are so hard to see when in action that I didn’t even realize that’s what people were doing the first few times I saw them used at the gym. I thought they were just jumping up and down. Online there are plenty of directions for how to jump rope and for picking the right length rope. (With one foot standing on it, you lift the handles and they shouldn’t go past your armpits.) How did we ever manage to learn how to jump rope before the internet? 

A good jump rope workout, according to what I’ve read, is ten minutes which burns 135 calories. How depressing is that? A scoop of vanilla ice cream is 137 calories. You’d have to jump two hours for a banana split. Still, I wanted to try. How hard can it be? I thought, remembering my days on the playground where we 'Double Dutch' jumped. (Two girls twirled two ropes while two other girls jumped in unison.) Fast forward sixty-five years to this week when I tried jumping rope again and I couldn’t propel myself up in the air more than a half inch off the floor! I was glad no one was around to see my feeble attempts. And I felt ashamed of myself for laughing in my head at Boxer Boy, a kid in his early twenties at the gym who wears a baggy hoodie with the hood pulled up over his head and so close around his face that no one could ever pick him out in a lineup. He couldn’t keep the rope going more than six-seven times before missing the rhythm. He’d alternate his jumping attempts with shadow boxing using five pound dumbbells and he must have been boxing with a pretend comic book character because his verbal sound effects echoed around the strength training room, “Wham!” “Bam!” “Pow!” 

This week my book club met and we discussed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. With 531 pages, at first I dreaded reading it but it was easily polished off in a week because it was so good I couldn’t put it down. It was set during WWII when the Nazis occupy France. The two main characters were: 1) A blind French girl whose family took part in the Resistance by broadcasting coded messages to the Allies, and 2) a German boy who had a talent for working with the new-back-then radio technology and he was assigned to a unit that tracked down where the radio transmissions were coming from so they could be destroyed. Half the group didn’t finish the book but we still had an interesting discussion void any of the disagreements we’ve had with a few other books. And for the bonus round, I got a chocolate rabbit from the facilitator of the book club for having an April birthday. Even when I try to avoid them, temptations keep finding me!

I came home from book club to find a bouquet of flowers on my porch from my oldest niece. She is so thoughtful and loving, not just to me but to everyone. The arrangement has miniature pussy willows in it and I’m hoping I can root them to plant outside. We had them in our yard and at our cottage when I was growing up and if there is such a thing as comfort flowers (like comfort foods) pussy willows, lily of the valley and lilacs would be mine. All and all, the week ended so much better than it started and it’s not over yet. Friday I’m having lunch with friends I’ve known for nearly fifty years. They’re in town from out of state and I always feel honored when I’m included on their list of people to see while they’re here. ©

World Champions with Jump Ropes