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, March 22, 2017

Dogs, Downsizing and Cooking Class

Levi is an amazing dog. He adapts well to my schedule no matter how crazy it gets. When I leave the house I might get a dirty look once in a while when I kiss his forehead and say, “Be a good boy and don’t let any rabbits get in the house” but the dirty look goes away when I bribe with a Milk-Bone Trail Mix treat that he often gets with the goodbye kiss. He loves that trail mix. He’ll cooperate with anything you ask him to do if you use the magic word, “Treat.” Sometimes when he won’t come inside when I call his name I’ll use the magic word and he’ll make a beeline to the door. (More than a few times I've gotten the sense that I’ve been conned.) That beeline ends near the pantry where he’ll position his little butt smack dab in the middle of the doorway between the kitchen and the living room so I can’t pass by until he gets his promised trail mix treat.

The long awaited rotisserie Chicken class that I signed up for back on January 3rd finally took place this week. It wasn’t about how to cook them but rather what we can do with the store bought variety. The chef who taught the cooking class started by showing us how to break down the chicken and many of us we’re impressed by how easy she snapped the legs and thighs off with a simple trick of turning the chicken upside down first then pulling upward on that legs, both at the same time. (Or was it downward? I can't remember!) Next she flipped it over and cut down the center of the breast and since she was wearing plastic gloves it only took her seconds to have all the meat picked clean off the bones. When I do it I have to wash my hands a million times and I decided buying a box of those disposal gloves would be worth it, since rotisserie chicken is a staple around here. She talked about making her own chicken stock and chicken soup before she demonstrated making Chicken Shepherds’ Pie, Chicken Enchiladas and Chicken Salad on Croissants---all three of which we got to eat. I doubt I’d ever make the first two but they were good, and freezable recipes for four, but the class did inspire me to get more creative with my chicken salads.

The monthly Gathering (for people looking for friends) took place this week, too. I could go to this senior hall activity once a week and not get tired of playing the getting-to-know each other games the facilitator comes up with. Afterward six of us went to a near-by Tim Horton’s where they seem to have a knack for hiring the most inept employees but that works well for us because we can sit and gab for over an hour without the pressure of taking up a table in a busy place. Often we’re the only ones there.

We talked a lot about downsizing and how hard it is to find family members who want our good china, crystal and silverware---or even to sell it. Microwaves and dishwashers have single-handedly (or is it double-handedly?) ended the era of fancy plate settings. Young marriage minded couples no longer registered for crystal goblets, paper-thin butter plates and silver encrusted teaspoons in carefully picked out patterns that, back in our day, we knew we’d own a lifetime. Now, brides and grooms want either plain white or black ceramic or bright colored Fiesta ware that clashes with many of the foods that will be served on them. Hint: If you invite me over for dinner don’t give me strawberry shortcake in an orange bowl unless you’re prepared for me to upchuck on your table. Na, I wouldn’t actually do that but I’d sure write about it behind your back. A girl’s got to get her blog fodder wherever she can. I really do hate orange, though, and the thought of eating off that color does turn my stomach. There's no end to my first world complaints, is there.

We Gathering Girls brought our day planners to Tim Horton’s so we could schedule a get-together away from the senior hall. In two weeks we’re meeting for lunch and then we're going to a near-by consignment mall that sells a little bit of everything---crafts, up-cycled stuff and antiques. One of the Gathering Girls has a new booth in the mall and just hearing her talk about it brings back good feelings of the days when I had booths in antique malls. It can be a lot of fun but it's also a lot of work. I have to keep remembering the latter part lest I put my name on a waiting list to rent a stall. Let’s hope the practical side of my brain keeps overruling the dreamer side. The kinds of things I have left to sell needs a bigger market like eBay than a neighborhood mall. I did so much downsizing in the first three summers after Don died that I’m having trouble working myself up to jumping back into the game.

I want so much out of the coming summer: a skinnier and stronger body, less and newer clothing in my closet, more time spent bonding and hanging out with the Gathering Girls, and downsizing more stuff that no longer makes sense to own. So little time, so much to do and none of my summer goals are easily accomplished not to mention I’ve got to get through all the spring yard and house cleaning and maintenance that comes first. ©
I found this googling the word, 'downsizing' and thought it was too cute not to share.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eagle Nests and Old People Nests

Occasionally my senior hall offers tours of independent and assisted living facilities. Wednesday I hopped on the bus with twenty-four others and off we went to two new places on the other end of town. One fed us lunch and the other served us coffee and the best peanut butter cookies I’ve had since my mom used to make them. Both of these places are the type that steps you up to increased care when you reach a certain point and we learned a lot about those trigger points. One was when you require a two person assist to make transfers. I never would have thought to ask the 'triggers point' question but it’s an important one because the cost of your room about doubles when they step you up. I’ve toured five places like this, but this time we had a guy who came with us who owns a business that specializes in in-home care and assisted living placement. There are a lot of placement specialists around---even national chains that do it---but I never knew much about them. He says they get $2,500 for every client they place, paid for by the facilities and all facilities pay the exact same amount to all the placement specialists in town.

At first, one of these places seemed kind of creepy with all its high tech surveillance gadgets. Each resident wears a watch-like gadget that automatically unlocked AND locks your apartment door, tracks your every move by GPS and gives you a way to talk directly to the staff, and them to you. But the creepy part is they also have motion detectors in your apartments (the units were cute, by the way) and those motion detectors spend two weeks learning your habits---like how many times you pee and how long it takes you to do it, what time you get up and go to bed---then after that if you break your pattern someone will check on you. The staff all wears a red “tag” that electronically logs where they go and how long they stay with each resident and those logs can be reviewed by families. I jokingly asked them if the microwave in your unit is eavesdropping and we were assured that the only listening device is on your arm. Like that’s a big comfort! We talked about this ‘big brother’ kind of care on the bus afterward and at first glance it creeped most of us out but as we talked and compared it to other assisted living places where lights are flashing and call bells are going off in the halls, this place felt less institutional, more homey, and we soften our views on these high tech babysitters.

I am nowhere near needing or wanting to move to an independent or assisted living home but Mr. Specialist says that’s the best time to check them out and make decisions so families aren’t making decisions like that in an emergency situation. He also has resources to calculate if you have enough money to go to places like this compared to in-home care. That “resource calculation” service is free and I'm going to make an appointment with him for that. It will be helpful to know how long my assets would last if/when I need care. Can I afford to redecorate now? Take a trip? The assisted living places we saw this week cost $4,000 a month and doubles if they have to step you up. He said the lowest priced place in town is $1,500 a month and I know it to be a Medicaid dive. When you get through talking to him about your finances, he can tell you the price range you need to stay in and he gives you a list of places in that range. He’ll even drive you around to see them, if you want. I’m thinking whatever he has to say it will be fuel to keep me on my self-imposed, Spring of Getting Physically Fit program. Two person assist transfers? Heck, we all need to make sure we don't need a one person assist if we want to age in place!

This week I also went to a fascinating and funny senior hall lecture about bald eagles. It was delivered by a woman who lives on a pond where a couple of eagles nested for five years and raised fifteen baby eagles, many of which were banded as babies by researchers who climbed up to the nest to take blood samples and weigh the fuss balls and take the cutest baby pictures. The lecturer had wonderful photos and she made you fall in love with the personalities of the nesting mamma and poppa eagles. She wrote poems about the eagles, funny poems that where illustrated with slides. One was about ice fishermen who have their fish snatched by the eagles if they don’t hide them as soon as they reel them in. Others purposely threw their catches on top of the ice just to get a close up view of the eagles diving in for the steal. What a thrill that would be!

I had three options for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, one with the Red Hat Society girls for lunch out in the boondocks for a traditional, boiled Irish dinner. I called to cancel that because of an impending storm that was supposed to include ice, snow and rain. Another was to go with the Movie and Lunch Club but I had no interest is seeing The Beauty and the Beast so I e-mailed my regrets. Then at the eagle lecturer some friends invited me to tag along with them to an Irish Pub close to where I live. I figured I could get in and out before the storm hit but this morning that got canceled, too. I am SO sick of winter and spring playing chase-and-flee tag with our lives! ©

Stock photos, our lecturer was not online.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Tuna Cans and Work Outs at the YMCA

Monday morning I was back at the YMCA after not going for three days in a row. It was hard to get my muscles warmed up again and that treadmill and I were barely on speaking terms, but I put in my time. I‘m not a person who loves (or who has ever liked) physical activity. Playing on the playground when I was a kid didn’t even call my name. Recess? Can’t I stay inside and finger paint? Please! Nope, for me exercise has always been more like punishment for eating my way to a bigger dress size. And don’t be deceived by the stack of VCR tapes in the house with names like Disco Sweat with Richard Simmons, Dancin’ Grannies and Dance Away to Fitness. No one plays them here where Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is King of the World.

The idea, when I signed up for the Y, was to lose the weight I gained over the winter and I vowed not to buy any new clothes until I’d achieved that. But I broke that vow early-on because I wanted to fit in at the gym. I’m embarrassed to admit how many workout pants and shirts I’ve brought home from the store only to return them. The pants are skin tight by design and the tops are light weight and with the right back lighting they’re practically see-through! So until I find the right gym gear I'll keep wearing my Boxer Joe lounge pants and old t-shirts and I continue observing what the others wear. What I learned is that the guys get to be super comfortable in baggy shorts or sweats and t-shirts and roughly 75% of the woman wear the exercise outfits sold in the stores---even a 20-something woman I’m guessing is wearing a size 5X. As for body types at the gym, I’ve seen them all. I like to think of the range of sizes and weights as the “befores” and “afters.” I’m in the before group, of course, who are just starting a program and with a lot of work like the afters are doing I can become one of them. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m also not the oldest person I see at the gym. Side note: if a woman in my peer age group is looking for a man, the YMCA is the place to be! By hanging around the senior hall so much, which is 90% woman, I’ve kind of forgotten that there are old guys still alive. At the gym that 90/10 ratio is reversed. 

Now that I’ve lost enough weight to keep my doctor from having a hissy-fit I needed a new goal. Not that I still don’t have a ton more to lose but when I see him in April the scale won’t rat me out, won’t tell him that I’ve been a very bad girl who spent too much time in bed with Ben and Jerry and other comfort foods. My primary goal, now, is to concentrate on getting stronger. My trainer says that’s gotta come first before I can do the more intense calorie burning stuff. (She's scary when she talks like that.) Can you believe it, last week I even had trouble opening up a bag of grounded coffee! And jars? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about running pickle and jam jars over to a neighbor’s house while yelling, “Help me! Help me!” If they didn’t have steps without a railing at their front door, I would have. I bought a handy device for pulling the tabs on tuna and pop cans but I hate seeing that tool in my drawer. It reminds me that I’m an aging, weakling who could starve to death trying to get into boxes, bags and cans.

Already I’m seeing progress in getting stronger. Going up and down 150 steps like a "normal" person is amazing. My posture is better, too, and I was actually agile enough to cut my toenails yesterday without my body and bones cringing. One of my friends at the senior hall broke her wrist cutting her toenails. Though it should be noted that she broke more than her bones…she broke the Old People Rule about having throw rugs in the house. She was standing with one foot on the counter top and one foot on the rug when it started sliding and down she went. I would have made up a story rather than admit that to ER thus becoming one of the 38,000 seniors who have throw rug injuries every year. 

At the gym while doing my time of the treadmill I often wish I could make people watching notes for my blog. Like ‘crab lady’ who uses the track that runs in front of the bikes, treadmills and other machines I can’t name. She takes the turns at the ends of the track running straight forward but on the long side stretches she runs sideways like a hermit crab. She does this at least a half hour at a pretty fast clip. I’d love to ask her what she’s training for; my nieces guesses that she might be a tennis player. There are so many interesting people at the gym and I find that if I concentrate on making up backstories and goals for them then I don’t feel self-conscious or embarrassed about my own. Yesterday I saw a 40-ish woman jump on and off a two foot high stool twenty times while I was doing the same number of arm curls on a strength circuit machine and I thought, Wow, she works hard at her goal! If I keep coming to the gym there will be a day when I’ll be strong enough to tear the tops off from tuna cans with my bare teeth. ©

When I look like this, I'll buy a sports bra. Don't hold your breath.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Books, Ball Busters and Blindness

The wind all week was roaring outside my windows like the proverbial lion is supposed to do this early in March before leaving like a lamb when April arrives. I’ve lost a dozen shingles off the roof and I’m not entirely sure how to handle that, so I’m applying the Scarlett O’Hara Rule and worrying about it another day. Winds were recorded as high as 50 miles an hour and one of my favorite restaurants lost its roof in the middle of the day with the place full of diners. I’d just been there the day before! No one was hurt but they’ll be out of business for a while. 

Thursday was a ball buster of a day. I need a new expression. I just used that one a few blog entries ago but it really does describe my long, hard day. I got up early to go to the gym, then came home for a quick shower and a can of Slimfast for lunch before going off to my book club. After book club I went to a lecture titled, “Take a Walk on the Sunny Side” which was about great books that will warm your heart and make you laugh. After the lecture I headed north a few miles, to the funeral home for my sister-in-law’s visitation. When I added the visitation to my schedule I thought about skipping the gym but I couldn't go Friday, Saturday or Sunday and I worried that if I skipped the gym so many days in a row it would be like starting all over again on Monday. I couldn’t skip book club because it would have been a pain to return the book and get the new one from the facilitator and the librarian's lecture was a RSVP, limited seating event and it wouldn’t have been fair to someone who couldn’t get in for me not to show up. I guess what I’m trying to say is I didn’t plan a ball buster day, it just happened and I couldn’t fix it.

I found out at the funeral home that my sister-in-law died from chocking on a pill. How does that happen in a nursing home where aids stand there watching you take your medications? A nurse gave her the Heimlich Maneuver but it didn't dislodge the pill and/or they gave it too late. I can make peace with anyone dying of natural causes but this news was upsetting.

If you’re not a reader you can skip this paragraph listing the books the librarian raved about at the lecture. I go to this particular event every year, not so much for the book recommendations but because the librarian is so funny and animated in telling about the books and it’s probably no coincidence that it happens to be Gilda’s LaughFest week in town. It started out as a small fund raiser for Gilda’s Club but is growing into quite popular draw. 50,000 people come to town to see both well-known and new comer comedians. Comedy is King in every venue we have for ten whole days. The books: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Lost and Found by Brooke Davis, Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig, A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders, Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, One Plus One by JoJo Moyes, My Mrs. Brown by William Norwish, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick, and Landline by Rainbow Rowell.

Our book club discussed Crashing Through by Robert Kurson. It’s a true story about Mike May, a man who was blinded at age three but who went on to set records for Paralympic downhill skiing. He worked for the CIA briefly, was an inventor and at age 43 he was given a chance at a rare stem cell transplant surgery that enabled him to see. It was fascinating how his sight came back in ways you’d never expect---they never expected. For example, he couldn’t tell faces apart---even his own two sons---no matter how often he saw them. He couldn’t tell genders of people he’d see. He had trouble understanding shadows on the ground, clouds in the sky and so many other things we take for granted. 

Mr. May worked with vision researchers to try to understand why the transplant itself was successful but his brain couldn’t make sense of what he saw. This is how their findings was explained in the book: “Children have an overabundance of available neurons for learning; those that don’t get used actually die as a baby becomes a small child. Adults, however, don’t have that kind of ready supply of neurons available for learning. To learn something as staggeringly complex as vision with all its subtleties, shadows, cues, priors, exceptions, contexts, and confusions---a person needs a massive amounts of neurons available and ready for the propose.” Mike May had used his early supply of neurons learning how to identify things using his other senses, and the researchers gave an example of how children can easily learn two languages at the same time compared to how difficult it is to learn a second language as an adult. Mike was that adult trying to learn a 'second language' so to speak. Crashing Through was an interesting book and one I wouldn’t have read without a club. ©