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, June 16, 2018

Fathers and Grandfathers

In my entire life I’ve never met a man as honorable and honest as my dad. He was a good-natured and soft spoken guy with a clear vision of humanity that included compassion for everyone, in every circumstance. For example, one time my cousin and my brother took Dad to a strip club, hoping to shock my dad for a few laughs and prove how grown up they were now that they were old enough to get into places like that. When my cousin asked Dad what he thought about a woman who’d take her clothes off and dance like that, my dad answered, “She probably has babies at home that need to be fed.” When my cousin told me this story years after it happened he said what started out to be a joke on my dad ended up being a life lesson on learning to walk in other people’s shoes. That was my dad---always caring, always seeing the best in others, always teaching without preaching. 

My dad’s formal education ended in the lower grades as did his association with the Catholic Church. His parents were Italian immigrants and he was the youngest of three kids. He lost his mother in the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918/19 and at age eleven he became a latch-key kid in a coal mining town in southern Illinois where one of his jobs each day was to go to the tavern to fetch a pail of beer for his dad when he came home from working underground picking coal in the mines. At the tavern my dad also played the piano by ear to earn a few coins before he was even old enough to wear long pants but even with that background, he wasn’t much of a drinker. At a party here and there but that was it. He was a good, hard working man who always put his family’s needs first, but he gave Mom credit for them being able to build the financial security my folks enjoyed later in life. 

My grandfather died when I was a toddler but I heard lots of stories about how he’d sit on the porch singing opera and playing the accordion in the evenings. Like my dad, he was also a good-natured and fair-minded man and he allowed my dad to drop out of going to church on Sundays with the rest of the family when a priest picked him up by the seat of his pants and his shirt collar and pretended he was going to throw him into an open door on a pot belly stove to teach him about the fires of hell. My grandfather, though, told my dad he still had to go to church just not to same church so every Sunday dad walked alone to the only other church in town. There, Dad learned that “Jesus loves all the little children of the world, red and yellow, black and white.” And he got to build things with a hammer and nails and he spent the rest of his life teaching himself how to build and remodel things.

My grandfather didn’t want his sons to work in the mines so he devised a plan. He raised potatoes and sold them to the local grocery store owner he had befriended. When he’d saved up enough money to buy a bus ticket he sent my uncle up north to Michigan---still a teenager---to work in the factories and between the two of them they saved up a ‘nest egg’ to move the whole family up north. And that’s how my dad ended up working for a quarter an hour crawling inside of hot machines to pull wood veneer sheets out. Somewhere along his work life, Dad learned how to be a tool and die maker and he was so good at it that the draft board during WWII wouldn’t let him sign up. He was deemed an essential worker in an essential industry. So he spent the entire war working 14-16 hour shifts making patterns and prototypes for airplane parts and munitions. But what I remember most about dad’s working years is when he’d come home from the factory he carried one of those black lunch boxes with the rounded top and he always had a few squares of a Hersey Candy Bar inside for my brother and me. And it just occurred to me why each night I have two squares of dark chocolate and I’m never attempted to eat any more. 

I don’t know how my dad picked up his respect for knowledge and education. Except for the newspaper, he wasn’t a reader yet when I was in college and taking classes in philosophy, world religion and logic we could discuss those topics and he held his own talking about Socrates, Plato, mythical utopian cities and the origins of our values and laws. Life was his teacher, I guess. He’d witnessed Ku Klux Klan hangings while hiding in the woods when he was a kid. He saw the unfairness of the blacks, Italian and Irish getting paid less than whites in the coal mines while they all worked side by side. And I’ll never forget the look of horror and disgust on his face on Bloody Sunday 1963 when the nightly news showed the fire hoses and attack dogs that were turned on the black marchers in Selma, Alabama. I’ll also never forget the look of shear happiness that lit up his face when Tiger Woods won his first PGA in 1999. He was proud of Tiger for breaking the color barrier in a game that dad loved his entire life. Dad was the most fair-minded and ethical person I’ve ever known and I know I got the luck of the draw to have him as my father, my teacher and the person who I’ve most admired and loved my entire life. I hope I made him half as proud as he made me. ©

Mom and Dad on their Honeymoon

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Deck Clutter, Body Scans and the Secret Service

I have turned into one of those old people I used to laugh at who has a yard full of cheap garden doodads and baubles. I don’t have flamingos, plaster ducks and gnomes like my childhood neighbors did but on my side deck, just outside the window where I sit typing, I have junky dollar store stuff and plants that have no coordination except I liked them when I saw them at the garden center. A large pot of pink geraniums sits on one side of the deck railing clashing with my dog’s red fire hydrant on the other side. On top of the railing, a huge plastic flower that spins in the wind is dominating a pot full of moss roses and next to a large thermometer hanging on the railing is a fruit jar solar light and a red mystery plant I bought hoping it calls out to the hummingbirds, "Fine dining here!" In my defense, I won that spinning daisy somewhere. I liked it better when it was bright pink but even sun faded, it still fascinates me when it takes off at warp speed. If I lived near a wind turbine farm, I’d probably be zoned-out hypnotized with the slightest breeze.

Up close to the window are two potted tomato plants and a pot of lettuce. A few days ago I suspected that the rabbits had discovered my lettuce because I noticed chewing on the lower leaves. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my dog chomping away on my future salad! He’d better leave my tomato plants alone! If the number of blooms equals the number of tomatoes I’ll get 36 on the Chef Jeff’s Tomato Grape and three on the Chef Jeff’s dwarfed premium patio plant. My sweet basil, mint plant and pot of pansies round out my ‘container garden’ and they all are sitting next to a white plastic chair where I can sit and hide behind a large rail-hugging container that holds a sweet potato plant and some colorful foliage plants I can’t spell at the moment and am too lazy to look up. And have I mentioned the upside down wine bottles inserted in a plant? In my defense I have another deck and a patio that are nearly naked. Apparently I like my outdoor clutter where I can see it…or more importantly where other people can’t see it and laugh at the old lady on the cul-de-sac. I've posted photos below so you can laugh, if you want. What goes around, comes around.

Now that I’ve filled half my Wednesday word quota up with a tour of my deck, it’s time to get down to how my week is going so far. I started out Monday in fine old people form, arriving for an appointment to see my new dermatologist at 11:45 when the appointment was actually scheduled for 1:45. Oops. But I got lucky and their 1:45 appointment canceled as I was leaving and they hustled me back in to fill up the doctor’s time. Quickly, I got nearly naked for a stranger with a magnifying glass to do a full body mole scan. I’ve had four basal cell carcinomas removed so this procedure is recommended every year and he found nothing but a common rash “we all get as we age,” he says. He called in a prescription so I can quit going around itching the back of my ear and my belly. I was glad I had a professional pedicure last week because he checked in between and underneath my toes which my old skin doctor never did in the five years I’d gone to him. The new doctor is also 20-25 pounds overweight, a nice perk to have in a doctor who is going to see your unclothed body. If he had been drop dead cute like a TV doctor or too old to care if I die of skin cancer in between my toes, I wouldn’t have left his office feeling like Goldilocks finding just the right bowl of porridge.  

Tuesday I was at the dentist for my real 11:45 appointment of the week. Yup, I had them reversed in my dyslexic brain. He’s now the only doctor I have who I have to take the expressway and a long drive to see. And that’s saying something when I have an ear doctor, ophthalmologist, allergist, internist and orthopedic doctor plus a skin doctor, dentist, chiropractor and a foot doctor. Remember the good old days when one doctor and a dentist did it all? Gosh, does that date me! The last half of my week will include my Book Club and the Lunch and Movie Club so hopefully I’ll have something interesting to think about, if not to write about.

I did just finish the new James Patterson book that he co-wrote with Bill Clinton titled, The President is Missing. I read it in two days--- couldn’t put it down if that tells you anything. I saw an interview of these two guys and they said the book is an accurate representation of how the Secret Service works which is the reason I wanted to read the thriller in the first place. If that’s true---and I have no reason to doubt them---I’m impressed with how these highly skilled people work to keep our elected officials safe, not to mention the “toys” they have at their disposal. But to my non-liberal readers be forewarned that there was a little bit of “preaching” the kumbaya method of governing at the end of the book when the president gives an address to Congress but, to me, it just balanced out the tribalism that was peppered here and there in the plot and most certainly in our nightly cable news. ©

dwarf tomato, basil and lettuce after picking
wine bottles
wind spinner
chef Jeff's tomato grape
Levi thinks he's a hummingbird
bird feeder pole turned into a wind chime stand

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Barf, Art, Friendship and Minutia

Fifteen minutes after taking an Ambien sleeping pill plus two chewable Melatonin I heard the unmistakable sound of the dog tossing his cookies alongside of the bed, right in the pathway to the bathroom. I get up several times in the night to pee and even if I had wanted to, there was no way I could let the barf sit until morning. I turned on the light and couldn’t believe how high that pile of undigested food was that Levi had the bad manners to deposit on the carpet. With sleep quickly taking over my body I managed to drop the pile of vomit I had picked up with a paper towel, spreading it across the three foot between where Levi had parked his barf and the wastebasket. While I was undoing the damage I did, I heard Levi out in the living room retching up more vomit. In two different places. The poor little guy was sick and I was not safe to be walking around. I was afraid I’d fall asleep right in between his second and third piles so I picked up what I could and left the deeper cleaning for morning when I was sure the Resolve Pet Expert, High Traffic Carpet Cleaner could do the rest. And it did, but it wasn’t going to dry before the township inspector was due at the house to check out the installation of the new hot water heater I got last month. Rather than let him think the dog had peed on the floor I plopped two of Levi’s least favorite toys on top of the wet spots. I am nothing if not creative. 

This week I’ve been busy with not much opportunity to be bored or melancholy but both are still lurking below the surface none the less. Monday I had lunch at the sculpture garden with my Gathering Girls pals where there was a new exhibit of contemporary sculpture by Masyuki Koorida from Shanghai, China. His medium is mostly marble and the one thing we each wanted to do is touch the polished surfaces of his work, but of course that’s not allowed. The security guard either had a thing for older women in comfortable shoes or he didn't trust us not to resist touching the stones because he followed us around from room to room. Every time I go to one of these exhibits of art that each costs more than my house, I wonder why not me? Why do some of us give up playing with paints or clay before we’ve become so damned dedicated that others think our work must be good just because we’ve devoted our every breath to creating it? The artist, the docent said, sits in a room with a slab of marble for hours letting the stone speak to him before he starts. (Ya, sure. My husband and I once did that before tackling our first wallpapering job, knowing it would be costly if we screwed up.) Mr. Koorida says he’s letting the “heart of the stone out.”

The next day I let the heart of friendship out when I met one of my husband’s high school classmates for lunch. He lives a couple of small towns away and a couple of times a year we meet in the middle for lunch. He’s thinking of moving out of state. That made me sad, then ashamed of myself for feeling that way. I should be happy that he wants to find a climate better suited to his disability but if he leaves all my connections to the good times we all had in our old group of friends will be gone. Sure, we can still talk on the phone like we do every couple of weeks when we each give the Republicans hell---get it all out of our systems until the next big news story breaks. But it won't be the same. He’s been such a great friend, even moved in for a couple of weeks to be my husband’s caregiver when I had my knee replacement surgery. How many friends can you name who’d wipe your butt like Gary did with my disabled husband? 

Yesterday I went to a travel club presentation to hear about the 2019 trips they’ve got planned. Three of the five are taking place in The States which makes them more doable and intriguing to me. One trip abroad is a ten day Kenya Camera Safari for $4,195 plus airfare. The other overseas trip is a cruise called the Mediterranean Legends. Thirteen days for $3,995 taking in Rome, Sicily, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia and Malta. The trips here in The States are: 1) The Tournament of Roses for five days, $2,650; 2) New Orleans for seven days, $1,999; and 3) seven days to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, $2,895. I go to these travelogues because they’re a free afternoon with interesting things to learn and see and usually they inspire me to hop back on the diet train. Travel would be so much easier if I could drop a few pounds. But this time with boredom and melancholy so close to the surface, I got to the "rail station" too late to catch that train. I have no reason to be unhappy but every so often---like now---I feel like I’m hiding behind a cardboard cutout of myself, showing the world what they expect to see when inside I’m questioning why the minutia of daily life is sucking the sparkle out of me. ©

Meijer Sculpture and Garden Park, more work by Mr. Koorida.