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, August 18, 2018

Another $100 Day in Widowhood City


Levi’s day at the doggie foo-foo beauty spa by sheer coincidence always falls on the same day that I run errands. I love errand days otherwise known as my $100 days because that’s what they usually end up costing me. This time I started out by going to a big box store to find a hair dryer and an electric can opener. My old hair dryer still works great but I’ve had it since the 70s and it’s starting to fight with the electrical receptacle when I try to unplug it. When you find yourself googling what to do when a hair dryer catches on fire it’s time to say, “Enough is enough!” It’s a two-step process, in case you’re wondering, starting with unplugging the dryer and ending with putting it in the sink and don’t use water on it. 

The cordless can opener I bought claims it walks itself about the can. I haven’t tried it yet. I need to give up my hand-held old style can opener because my bone doctor wants me to avoid doing any hand/wrist action that torques my forearm enough to cause pain. This is the second can opener I’ve hauled home from the store. When I tried to push the lever down on the first can to poke the cutting blade into the can it didn’t pass the torque test, so I packed it back in the box and returned it. 

On my list of errands I had to get gas and go to the car wash and as I was passing by the cemetery where my husband's headstone is at, I was prompted to turn in for a quick visit. The minute I went through the wrought iron arch between the fieldstone walls I started puckering up, well on my way to spilling tears. But I didn’t. My unexpected melancholy changed to anger as quickly as a blink when I walked over to the stone and saw that is was almost entirely covered over with quack grass! His neighbor’s stone, a veteran of the Korean War, was only showing “KOR” and I had cleaned and edged both these gravestones the end of May! I’m going to go back after a good rain to pull that grass out but it won’t help much. The whole area is full of quack grass. They obviously aren’t doing any weed and feed treatments this summer. I’ve never seen it that bad! 

Shortly after leaving the cemetery the Y2 Country channel on Sirius radio had me smiling. I love the way those country/western song writers can turn a simple idea into a song like Zac Brown’s Keep me in Mind aka ‘call me’ if you’re ever between boyfriends. Or like Brad Paisley singing:

“…I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers
And I'd like to check you for ticks.”

“I’d like to check you for ticks.” Who knew those words could be so romance. I laughed out loud the first time that line came up in the song. I was still smiling when I went to the bank to get some cash, which I do every time Levi gets a haircut. I was wearing a pair of squeaky cross-trainer summer Crocs that announced my arrival as I walked across the marble floor of the empty bank. I don’t use those ATM machines that dispense cash. God, if we don’t start putting our feet down---literally---and go inside of places like banks and post offices and go through grocery store lines with human cashiers---we’ll all be going weeks without seeing a single person. And people need the greetings and how-are-you-todays, even the have-a-nice-days are better than no human contact!

After the bank I went to Starbucks for lunch---a bacon, Gouda and egg sandwich and a seriously strawberry Frappuccino. (260 calories for the latter and 370 for the former. No wonder I struggle with my weight!) I wanted to eat inside for the human contact but every chair was filled with 20 or 30-somethings all wearing ear bugs and starring at their devices. Clearly they don’t need real people when virtual ones are at their fingertips. I ate in the car with Kenny Chesney singing about a girl who thinks his tractor is sexy.

The outgoing message on my cell phone says, “Please leave a message but be aware I’m old and I might not find it.” When the doggie foo-foo beauty parlor called to let me know Levi was ready to be picked up I must have been out of the car---all three times. Silly people. I always drop him off at noon and pick him up at 4:00. I could never forget to pick up Levi the Mighty Schnauzer. ©

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mission: Relocation Possible

Saturday I hopped out of bed like I was attached to a Pogo stick, took a shower, walked the dog and took off to the south end of town. Forty-two minutes later I was sitting in the office of the manager of a manufactured homes park with 400 units. You may know of the Sun Communities. According to Wikipedia they are a publicly traded real estate trust with 350 Sun Parks across the United States and Canada with a grand total of 121,892 homes and all of them are built by Clayton or Champion. 

I started out by saying, “I’ve always lived in single family homes so I have a list of questions about living in a place like this.” I already knew the dog rule was breed specific, not weight specific but I asked again just to be sure a 30 pound dog would not be a problem. It’s not. Park Rules? “Good neighbor rules” is all she’d say but I knew from reading reviews online that they do weekly inspections. She couldn’t/wouldn’t show me an actual list of rules, but according to a reviewer “they are too picky” but, who knows, maybe he wanted to put a car up on blocks in the front yard. She did say you have to pass a background check before they’ll accept an offer on any of the units in the park which explains why when I checked the crime watch website for the area no sex offenders or break-ins popped up at Sun. HOA fees don’t cover a damn thing but road maintenance (and may property taxes. I forgot to ask about that) and they cost in between $580 to $299. Of course the units with garages would put me in the upper range. And I’d have to have a garage for Levi. Every time I come home from anywhere he insists on sniffing my car’s undercarriage. If I didn’t have a garage I’d have to tell the neighbors he was once a military dog and he’s checking for bombs and tracking devices. I’d be embarrassed to admit I indulge his habit of checking for Road Kill eau de Cologne.  

When I tried to pin her down on how much these homes depreciate, she was ready with her manager-perfect answer of, “It depends on how well the home owners keep their places up.” And I still can’t believe you have to contract for your own lawn care on those postage stamp sized yards! I think I told her that three times. You’d be hearing lawn mowers constantly. On the good side they have the cable company I like but on the bad side their community room/health facility and office building doesn’t have a single bulletin board where you could post to organize a book or movie club or whatever. No newsletter either and only two organized events each year---a yard sale day and an ice cream social. Also on the bad side is there aren’t any trees in the entire place that are taller than me. Where would Levi pee? That would be so hard to get used to. I’d have hang large paintings of white pines on the walls to feel at home. She drove me around the place and took me inside a model and I could make it work except I hated the spa-like bathroom with its toilet tucked in a chubby hole, a huge clear glass shower and a deep, claw-footed bathtub. I’d have to use the tub to display my sea shell collection because there is no way I could get in and out of that magazine perfect tub sitting in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. And that shower was so open I’d be fighting the urge to hang girly curtains inside or turn it into a greenhouse.

After leaving the park office I went a block up the road to a condo community that has a basket load of new condos going up…zero steps and in a price range I can afford. And for the bonus round, on the other side of a screen of trees is a community of 400 families who’ve all passed background checks. Across the street is a golf course, not that I golf but they don’t generate a lot of traffic. The community is dog friendly with no weight restrictions so Levi could turn into an obese schnauzer I'd have to pull around in a wagon and it wouldn't get us kicked out. Judging by the outsides and online photos, these condos are fabulous and they are just down the street from the stand-alone condo that a few years ago wanted to interview Levi before accepting my offer on a place I loved. Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Oh, and my target area of around this golf course? Perfect. It’s four miles to a library, an urgent care facility and my banks, six miles to a movie theater, gas station and my favorite grocery store chain with a Starbucks inside, seven miles to my great-niece’s house where my niece is locked in to doing child care for the next five years and it’s less than a mile from a major street that my brother and nephew frequently use---my nephew would only live five miles away and my brother fifteen. My younger niece who lives the furthest would only be eighteen miles away and my oldest niece just fourteen---both drives on country roads. And all my doctor’s offices are ganged up on one road, which is a fairly easy driving commute of ten miles back into the city. So now what’s the game plan? Get serious about downsizing and in the spring maybe start working with a realtor. ©

NOTE: Photo above is an artist rendering of the condos I looked at and the photo below is from the Sun Community. The condo is $208,000 (for two bedrooms)---yes, brand new---and the three bedroom manufactured home below is listed at $92,900. The HOA on the condo was only $200 a month and covers trash pickup, yard care, water, sewer, snow removal and insurance.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Charm Bracelet and the Devil at Book Club

Women's fiction writer Debbie Macomber says The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman, is “Utterly Charming!” And another back cover blurb sums up the story this way, “Through an heirloom charm bracelet, three women will rediscover the importance of family, love, faith, friends, fun, and a passion for living as each charm changes their lives.” 

The story centers around a 70 year woman, Lotty, who lives in rural Michigan, close to a small town that everyone in my book club thought was patterned after Saugatuck, a popular tourist place on Lake Michigan. Her daughter gets a phone call from someone who’s worried about Lotty so she and Lotty’s granddaughter take vacations to go to stay with Lotty for a few weeks to assess what’s going on with Lotty’s memory loss and while they’re visiting they learn the stories behind the charms on the bracelet that Lotty hasn’t taken off since she was a teenager. I found it hard to believe that a person could get that old without having already told those stories to her daughter and granddaughter, but a book has to have some structure to hang its chapters on so I could overlook that head scratcher. All but one person in the club thought it was a nice, light summer read, an unabashedly sentimental story. The odd man out called it “corny” and note it wasn’t me. I found it fascinating, though, that three others reported crying through out the read while the book didn’t milk even one tear out of my eyes. The only emotion it stirred in me was a burning curiosity about where the author lives and an increased fear of not having family closer by if dementia shows up at my dinner table.

A google search turned up the fact that the author is actually a guy---a gay guy who lives in Saugatuck. His ‘Viola Shipman’ pen name belonged to his grandmother, and he’s a critically acclaimed author with nine published books---six of which are non-fiction memoir-style under his real name (Wade Rouse) and three fiction books under the pen. I’ve probably mentioned before that I have a love/hate relationship with my book club and I couldn’t wait to share this detail on book discussion day, knowing several members belong to churches that condemns homosexuality. Ya, I know. That’s Mean Girl thinking, isn’t it, wanting to taunt them with reality, but on the other hand I could talk myself into believing I had an altruistic goal of illustrating without words that you can’t judge a person’s worth by their sexuality. You be my judge---devil or angel. If I had to put a label on my big reveal I’d called it passive aggressiveness. 

I didn’t bring the pen name thing up until after everyone had shared their opinion of The Charm Bracelet. Then I told the group I had tracked down one of the author’s memoir books and it covered a period of time when he and his partner bought a cottage near Saugatuck and he quit his job to write full time. The cottage was the same one he described in The Charm Bracelet. I never got to the part about how they occasionally referred to Saugatuck as Gayberry, a nickname that’s been around since the 1920s when it first appeared in an underground tourist guide of gay friendly places. (The things you learn when you collect antique maps and travel guides, like my husband did!) But I never got a chance to mention Gayberry---the open secret most tourists don't know about---because another book club member challenged me by saying, “Oh, no, the author is married and has four children! I’m sure I read that somewhere. Can't be gay.” I replied, “I just finished reading one of his memoirs and at 40 he’d been in a ten year relationship with his partner and he didn’t have any kids.” She insisted again and she started talking about the son in the book at which point we all knew she had her books and authors mixed up because there was no son in The Charm Bracelet

After that little “oops!” I shared the fact that Wade Rouse’s memoir had me laughing out loud so many times that the dog got up and left the room, giving me a dirty look for disturbing his sleep. Before the move to rural Michigan, Wade was a city guy who, like me, loved his Starbucks. Even his dog, he wrote, was so citified she didn’t know how to walk on a leash without cement underneath her feet. The book---titled At Least in the City Someone Would hear me Scream---was one of those books I didn’t want to end. When I finished sharing these last few sentences, no one said a word. Not. One. Word. It’s not unusual for us to talk about other books besides the one we’d all just read, so that wasn’t it. They just stared at me, looking like goldfish waiting for someone to drop some floating food pellets into their tank. The little devil on my shoulder laughed, but the angel on the other shoulder felt guilty for shocking the ladies speechless. Either way, I couldn’t help it. I found this author’s memoir humor to be too good not to share. (Humor was all but absent in the book club selection.)

On Wade’s website I found out he does library talks from time to time in my hometown and you can bet the next time he’s in town to hawk a book or host a workshop for to would-be-writers, I’ll be there. And I’ll be wearing my charm bracelet with its fifteen silver charms. ©
Note: the photo at the top is my bracelet, started when I graduated from high school and finished ten years later with the love birds---Don and me. Now, that's what corny looks like.