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 20, 2018

Hot Book Club Discussion: Serendipity or Divine Intervention?

I have a love-hate relationship with my book club down at the senior hall. I like that I get a monthly opportunity to read and discuss books I otherwise would not pick for myself to read. It’s like taking a college class without having to pay tuition. We need to challenge our thinking from time to time---if for no other reason than to confirm that our biases are based on something other than our imaginations. A book discussion can open up our minds to new ways of thinking about any given topic but the problem with my twelve member book club is I’m often the only odd man out, so I have to decide if I want to defend my point of view or put a zipper on my mouth. It’s an adrenaline rush either way.

At our June meeting we discussed My Mrs. Brown. (I wrote about a passage in the book in an earlier blog, about how the main character takes a framed photo out of her bedside table drawer every night and displays it, then every morning she puts it back in the drawer.) As the club facilitator went around the room asking everyone how we liked the book, ladies said things like, “it was a sweet book” or “it was a feel good book” but when it was my turn I said I thought it was mostly a boring book to which someone commented, “We can always count on Jean to have a different opinion.” When the laughter ended and it was time for the next woman to give her opinion she gushed about how the book was full of divine interventions. “It was so inspirational!” Say what? I couldn’t help it, I had to ask for an example of a divine intervention in the book. She said it was a divine intervention that the main character took a job helping to pack up the house of a wealthy woman who died. Finding a dress in the closet that Mrs. Brown loved was a “divine intervention.” Someone giving Mrs. Brown a book to read about fashion was a “divine intervention.” I had to say what I was thinking: “I’d call all those things serendipity. How do you define a divine intervention?” I asked.

She was a little---okay, a lot---defensive and miffed when she replied, “I don’t believe in serendipity, everything is divine intervention!” I took that to mean only non-believers use the word ‘serendipity’ and since it’s one of my favorite words and I call myself an agnostic I would have let it drop before the whole thing turned into a discussion of religion. But it happened anyway when someone else asked me if I thought serendipity was always happy little events. She threw me a life-line and I took it. “Yes,” I answered, “I just don’t think God has time to intervene to help someone find a dress when there are more important things in the world to attend to.” “So you’re saying that divine interventions are more like miracles,” the woman holding the life-line said, clarifying my words. Bingo.

When you use the word ‘God’ in that group we can count on one member to get into sermon mode. And so she went on and on about how there’s no difference between divine intervention, coincidence and serendipity or between wishes and prayers. Ya, I know, you’re thinking that I challenged that ‘wishes and prayers’ idea, too. Trust me, I wanted to say that wishing I had a bowl of ice cream isn’t the same as praying for world peace but I zipped up my lips. She’s got a Doctor of Divinity degree so I know better than to question her. But when she came up for air, words slipped out of my mouth with no forethought. Oops. “And with that sermon,” I said, “we don’t have to go to church next Sunday.” Everyone laughed including the divinity school grad. I’m just glad the parting of the Red Sea didn’t come up in her sermon because I probably would have suggested---for the sake of argument---that some would call it serendipity that a temporary land bridge from an underwater earthquake made it possible for Moses to cross the Red Sea. It wouldn’t have been much of a debate, though, because if I believed in divine intervention this easily-explained-by-science thing happening just when Moses and the Israelites needed it would qualify as a miracle---or serendipity on steroids if the word ‘miracle’ isn’t part of your vocabulary. When you go looking for reasons to believe or to not believe in a Supreme Being, you will find exactly what you want to find. 

On the way home I thought about how the book club discussion clarified that I don’t believe in divine intervention any more than my nemesis believes in serendipity. God controls everything, according to people in her camp of belief, like a puppet master, where I don’t see the world that way. We were pecking around the very foundations of world religions. Once I came to that conclusion it was easier to understand why she got her hackles up over the word, ‘serendipity.’ Her fatalistic view of a Supreme Being controlling our lives is polar opposite of my world view where I define God as the combined goodness of mankind aka when we come together in love and good intentions, we ARE God. Literally. But there are places where I do not dare speak those words of “heresy” out loud. ©


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