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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From Strength Training to Childhood Memories



It’s been a long haul, my commitment at the YMCA. Five months is the longest I’ve ever stuck to an exercise program. The difference being I was working with a personal trainer this time who kept changing up the workouts and I felt like I had something to prove after getting rejected from taking her "Move it To Lose it" class for not being strong enough. I freely admit my heart wasn’t into the workouts this past month and I wanted badly to be off her strength building train. Exercise is time consuming! Sure, I could have dropped out, not scheduled anymore appointments with Julie but keeping a blog helped drive me to see it through to the end of my paid-up sessions so I could write about her final evaluation on what I’ve accomplished. If I wasn’t a blogger, I’d have gone back to being like a toad burrowing under a log by day and coming out for dinner in the cool of night.

Practical differences strength training made in my life: I’m able to walk up and down stairs one foot after another instead of always leading with my right. I no longer have to seek out the handicapped bathroom stalls. Much improved posture. Improved balance. I can pick up the dog, all 29 pounds of him and easily stoop to do things close to the floor. I’m able to do my own pedicures again. I'm less fearful of falling. But the biggest change of all is I no longer feel physically fragile. 

From my trainer’s evaluation: I only lost 10.75 pounds which sucks but Julie says that I’ve actually lost 13.75 pounds of actual fat because I gained 3 pounds of muscle mass---they have a fancy scales that can tell the difference between lean mass, water mass and fat mass. I also gained two pounds of water mass, probably water retention from the heat, so using ‘gym math’ you could say I lost 15.75 pounds. You could say it but I won’t. I also lost a total of 20.75 inches added together from the nine places that were measured, my waist being the biggest loser with 4.5 inches. She was thrilled that "all my hard work paid off." I was surprised. She says I need to---get this---eat 300 more calories a day to lose weight faster. (I track my calories in and calories burned on my Fitbit.) On the test for upper body strength I can now officially pull 100 pounds fourteen times in one minute and for lower body strength I can do thirty-one wall squats in a minute. And those two achievements might come in handy if I want to get a job baling hay back in the 1950s when they actually used manual labor to stack those bales on wagons.

This week is the beginning of my unscheduled---or I should say my lightly scheduled summer. There was just one other thing on my day planner this week besides the above mentioned ‘date’ with Julie and I’ll write about my appointment with my bone doctor next time. I’m thinking about signing up for a cardio drumming class at a nutrition store now that I’ll have more time. I’ve been wanting to try it and few people know (or care) that I spent time in my youth taking drum lessons only I didn’t have a drum at home so I practiced by sitting on the floor and banging on the hardwood floor. My mother was a saint. Or maybe she had a good set of ear plugs, I don't know which. I also took saxophone lessons and lessons on the Hawaiian guitar, the latter of which I stuck with the longest. My brother took lessons on the accordion for quite a few years while I was jumping around from instrument to instrument. He got pretty good at it and we both played on a “stage” a couple of times. It wasn’t a big deal in hindsight. It was at a yearly Christmas party at my dad’s CIO union hall and other kids of its members took part in the talent show as well. I loved that union hall. I did my first political volunteering there working a phone bank on Election Day to help get out the vote.

What I remember most about being on that stage in front of 200+ people is the plush, forest green velvet dress I wore two years in a row. To this day, my younger cousin reminds me often about how much she loved getting my hand-me-down clothing. We were both sad when we out grew that velvet dress. It wasn’t that I had a great wardrobe back in those days---what my mom didn’t make came from Sears & Roebuck’s. It was the fact that my cousin’s dad drank up so much of his paychecks that they didn't have a lot. My mom frequently slipped her sister cash from her own grocery allowance so my cousins could eat. He was a mean, abusive drunk but despite it all (or maybe because of it) his only daughter grew into a wonderful, caring human being. She is truly a woman with a pure heart who works hard for her church, who would help anyone in need. My cousin’s formative years were obviously harder than mine but she married one of the sweetest, most supportive guys on earth. And they have so many loving grandchildren that she’ll never have to worry about dying alone and lonely. Sometimes the yin and yang of the universe can only be seen with a mind's eye overview that comes from our own longevity but one thing is for sure: German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was right when he coined the phrase, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” ©

Photo at the top: That’s me playing my Hawaiian guitar at the Christmas party and I’m wearing the velvet dress.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Maintenance Month and Summer Expectations



I now officially have the cleanest gutters and downspouts on the block and it only cost me a hundred bucks. Trust me, that’s a bargain. This spring my neighbor cut down seven dead, 100 foot tall pine trees so I’m hoping my gutters will stay clean longer than in the past. The wads of yucky pine needles and maple leaves the company threw on the ground looked like bird’s nests for vultures. Having my gutters cleaned yearly---sometimes twice yearly---is a “thing” for me and I always schedule it just before the Fourth of July. Why? Because I have neighbors who are into shooting off fireworks and I’m afraid those rockets and other things that go kaboom in the night will start my house on fire. Every year, I find spent fireworks in my yard, just feet from reaching my roof. It's legal here around the holiday, so don’t bother suggesting I complain. It’s also legal to have open campfires in our back yards and two of my neighbors have them quite often. 

I officially also have the cleanest windows on the block. This week I had a company do those as well. Twenty-four windows and glass doors for $180, another bargain. It’s been five years since they’ve been professionally cleaned inside and five years since the outside has been done by anyone other than Mother Nature. The crew took the screens out, cleaned them and the window frames as well as all the glass. Two birds have died striking the windows since yesterday---the glass is that clean. Later today I’ll go to the bird supply store to get some bird strike decals. I took the old ones off for the cleaning crew because their UV reflective quality does wear out over time. And I thought I wouldn’t need them anymore, now that I don’t feed the birds at the back of my house which is where the birds did their suicide dives. The woodpeckers outside my breakfast nook window got a reprieve. Right now, I’m getting as many as seven woodpeckers at a time coming to their suet-plugs-in-a-log feeder and half of them are babies getting fed beak-to-beak by their mamas. 

The tree guy was also here this week. Can you sense of pattern here? Two of my best trees have/had a disease and this week’s treatment was the second of three needed. What a great recovery they are making, worth the $88 spent per service call. That may sound like a lot of money to spend on trees but if you’ve ever had a landscape company come in to plant mature trees you know it’s an investment worth protecting. Not to mention it costs far more than $264 to have two dead trees cut down.

Oh, the joys of home ownership! Ask me later on for that list because I still have two more maintenance contractors that need to come out for I'm done for the summer: one for carpet cleaning and one for my roof. Has anyone had any experience with low pressure washing your roof with a chemical that kills the algae (the black streaks)? It doesn’t cost much (under $300) and the guy who came out to give me a price says I don’t need a new roof at all. Oh course, the guy who came out to give me an estimate on replacing the roof ($14,400) says I do need a new one. One of the Gathering Girls, who is on her condo board said, “We looked into that wash. Don’t waste your money” but someone else I know had it done seven years ago and the black streaks haven’t come back yet. Decisions like this can drive a widow crazy. No wonder so many elderly people give up on maintenance and are living in houses that are falling down around them. 

I can’t believe June is almost over and the fun I thought I’d be having this summer doesn’t look like it’s going to materialize and there is no one else to blame but myself for setting unrealistic expectations. I had high hopes for my gaggle of new friends (aka The Gathering Girls) going to summer street fairs, outdoor music concerts and art-in-the-park shows---maybe even spend an afternoon at Lake Michigan. But after making concrete plans to go to the first outdoor event of the season three of the six of us buggered out on going because they didn’t think they could do the walking required. Another had a funeral to attend so that left just two of us. Not being able to walk a couple of small town blocks, cuts out a lot of activities we could have planned. We are all still hanging in there with our “First Monday Monthly Brunches” and lunch/dessert after the official, senior hall Gathering (for people looking for friends) and I foresee all us still going to movies if Hollywood would just cooperate and put out something worth seeing this summer. But as a group we’re going to need some fresh ideas that are lower key than the vagabonds-wandering-in-the-summer-sun stuff I had envisioned. Growing friendships is tricky business. No wonder we’re all going to a "Friendship for Dummies" group. Finding our common denominators, working around our individual foibles and family obligations is like solving a Chinese puzzle box; it's going to take a little frustration and a lot determination to get to the prize. ©


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Adventures and Misadventures in Aging



Have you ever done something and soon after you start questioning why you did it and if doing it was a sign that your mental sharpness is waning? That’s what happened to me last week when the irrigation guy was in my garage. He spotted an iron object and said, “Hey, that’s a Civil War cannon ball!” and I replied, “Yup, I know. I’d been carrying it around since I was ten.” “I could take it off your hands,” he offered and I shocked myself by saying, “Why not. Take it.” And that was the sum total of our conversation about the piece. I’ve given antiques and collectibles away to family and friends but never, ever to a total stranger and I can’t get it out of my head. Am I entering the land where old people are be easily manipulated? I’ve heard stories about elderly people getting conned out of valuable antiques but I never thought it could happen to me. Not that I was a victim of anything more than my own impulsiveness. Afterward, I thought he might think of himself as an American Picker and that was his clumsy way of expecting me to throw a price back at him. But the more I thought about it the more insulted I felt by his “take it off your hands” remark. One: I wasn’t looking for a way to get rid of it and, two, if I was, I know its value and how to use eBay to sell it.

With all my hand wringing about giving a Civil War antique away to a stranger the only thing I could come up with to explain my out-of-character action was a few weeks ago when I was sweeping the garage floor I saw the cannon ball and I thought, I should put a label on that so it doesn't get discarded as junk when I die. Maybe with that thought in the back of my mind, I was just happy someone came along who knew what it was and wanted that cannon ball with the same enthusiasm I did back when I was a kid? Still, afterward it shook my confidence and made me feel vulnerable. There have been other small changes I've noticed in my interactions with strangers that had me concerned even before this happened, a kind of need to please them. Will I start buying things from door-to-door salesman just to make them happy? At what point do I throw a lifetime of carefully cultivated caution to the winds and start inviting homeless people to crash on my couch? Is it possible to pinpoint the beginnings of dementia, of letting go of inhibitions that have worked to protect us from harm? Does that 'pinpoint' look anything like a cannon ball?

Enough of that! Yesterday was the long-awaited Conversation Day---a whole day of interaction with people I know and like, starting with a haircut from my stylist who seems to like hearing me ramble on about my misadventures. That was followed by a trip to Starbucks for a drink from their Cup-of-Kindness line and a couple of their new Sous Vides (egg white bites with bacon). For every ‘cup’ sold Starbucks is donating twenty-five cents to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the Channel Kindness project, guaranteeing a minimum check of $250,000 for the six day campaign. I’ve tried the Pink (strawberries with coconut milk) and Violet (blackberries with coconut milk) and I’m hoping to get back for the Green (malcha green tea with lemonade). No need to tell me how you don’t like their coffee; we’ve had this conversation before. Starbucks aficionados never, ever order a plain cup of coffee. Why would you when there are dozens and dozens of blended and shaken coffee and tea concoctions and flavor profiles from all over the world to try? Starbucks isn't just a coffee shop; it's an adventure park for your taste buds. If I could, I’d take all you naysayers by the hand to a Starbucks tasting party.

After Starbucks I went to the senior hall for the monthly Gathering (for people looking for friends). A new couple was there, former teachers, who after retiring had bought a sailboat and they’ve been all over the world with it. When they revealed that I wanted to be them, to be able to tell the stories they must have up their sleeves. The mauve-to-mango sunsets, the stunning pink sand beaches and the pearl white sails blowing in the winds. I used to be an artist, I know all the proper hues to describe those colorful things. The couple is new in town, downsized from two houses elsewhere. I admire them for having had the adventure of their lives but in the end their goals for the future and mine are the same: they want to be close to trusted family members as they age.

Author Mercedes Lackey, wrote, “Adventure, yeah. I guess that's what you call it when everybody comes back alive.” That means we can’t call the aging process a true adventure---it's more like a misadventure---because the one thing we know for sure is that no one gets out of this world alive. The most we can hope for is we get to keep our grey matter and marbles in place for as long as possible. And I write to help with that endeavor; it's my mental calisthenics. ©