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, February 20, 2019

Handy Tools, Chickens and Family Visits

Do you know what a chicken catcher is? I didn’t until last Saturday and now I’m the proud owner of my very own poultry catcher leg hook and, no, I don’t have any chickens to go with it. It’s a 4 1/2 foot long pole with a rubber handle at one end and a hook at the other, a fancy model compared to some I’ve since seen online. My niece and her husband live in a county south of me and they drove up to present me with my new prize. I’m pretty sure he made it, judging by the wood burnt label on the smooth wood because it matches the work on the walking canes that he makes and sells. They don’t keep chickens anymore but at one point in time they used to have a dozen chickens---each a different, fancy breed that laid various colors and sizes of eggs. But at least three of my brother’s grandchildren keep chickens. Chicken talk in the family amuses the heck out of me but we have the best deviled eggs and potato salads at parties. They didn’t grow up on farms but they are prime examples of a growing phenomenon of backyard and urban chicken hobbyists in their generation. There are five magazine publications on the market now devoted to raising backyard chickens!

So what am I going to do with my new tool? Hope I’ll never, ever have a need to use it but if I experience another power outage, the chicken catcher hook is the perfect tool to pull the manual override cord on my garage door. It’s such a simple concept and a solid solution for those of us with bad bones who don’t get on ladders. I got curious about how the tool works for the purpose it was invented and all the videos I found online are so quick you can’t really see what’s happening. But this description from UIUC Poultry Farms explains it: “What this tool does is it catches a chicken by its leg and because their legs bend forward (and not backwards like ours) their leg gets stuck. From there, I lifted it up and grabbed it by both of its legs. I was then told that the proper way to hold a chicken is by splitting my fingers into a live-long-and-prosper sign, then sliding that along the chicken's stomach. This allowed me to hold both of the chicken's feet as well as support its entire weight in my hand.” The guy who wrote that was learning how to catch and band chickens but I assume other people catch chickens to cook for dinner. That was one of my husband’s job as a kid growing up on a farm. I can’t even buy and prepare whole chickens from the grocery store without them remaining me of a living creature and that turns me off to eating them. I can’t imagine killing dinner with my bare hands. 

My niece is a grannie-nanny to her a four-and-a-half year old and a newborn. She, her husband and their daughter are all teachers---two of them retired, of course, but once a teacher always a teacher. They genuinely enjoy interacting with young people and I’ve come to believe that it’s also an art form that if I ever had it, I’ve lost it along the way to sprouting gray hair on my head. When I try to make conversation with little ones or pre-teens I feel like a sea lion preforming for a fish they never deliver. I didn't had that trouble relating to my nieces and nephew when they were growing up. Heck, I was still half kid myself. I was only twelve when the first one came into the family. 

Playing in my nieces and nephew’s fort in the woods, swimming, boating and fishing at the family cottage, snowmobiling, raking leaves, sleep-overs, planting gardens, walking country roads and me bugging them with my camera are some of my best memories. My brother thought I was spoiled because I wasn’t in the kitchen doing ‘women’s work’ before and after meals. Instead I was in charge of entertaining the kids. But who was I to question the wisdom of my mom who wanted us out from underfoot when serious meal preparation and clean up was under way? My mom and dad set great examples for how loving grandparents should interact with their grandkids and I like to think I set a good example for how aunts interact. However, I’m the official godmother to my oldest niece---and maybe my other niece, too, I can’t remember---I fell down on that job. Do godparents take that of roll of spiritual guide seriously? If so, I'm not dead yet. There's still time for that conversation. I'd probably quote something cryptic like Echart Tolle's, "You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself." Ya, I know what you're thinking. What was my brother and sister-in-law thinking when they picked me to be a godmother?

My niece and her husband and I had a wonderful, long visit. They helped me track down a problem I was having with my hot water return line since last week when all my pipes were drained during the power outage, then we went out for brunch and came back here to look through old photos. And, of course, I had a show-and-tell with the stuff I’ve bought for my upcoming bedroom redecorating project. Show-and-tells have always been one of my favorite activities and when you think about it, the blog world is full of writers and readers who also love them. ©

Saturday, February 16, 2019

From President Ford to Nigerian Princes

I live in President Gerald Rudolph Ford territory. The Ford Presidential Museum is near-by, his childhood homes, too, and I met the guy on many occasions when I was a kid. Ford had a camper that as near as I can remember looked like the one in the photo to the left and when he wasn’t in Washington serving one of his many terms in the House of Representatives he was in his district moving that little camper around to different neighborhoods so it was convenient for his constituents to come talk to him. He’d publish a schedule in the paper and people would line up at the door and if my memory serves me right when you got inside a kitchen timer was started so everyone one in line got an equal amount of his time. That kind of attention to his constituents is what kept him in office from 1949 through 1973. Ford was a Republican and my dad was a Democrat and a labor union representative for the factory where he worked and Dad took me with him whenever he had ‘advocacy work’ to do with Ford. Ford listened, took notes and gained my father’s respect. 

I know a lot about Ford so I almost didn’t go to the Life Enrichment lecture at the senior hall about the former president. But I needed to get back into my normal routine and I did learn a few new details like the fact that “Junior” was a stutterer until the 5th grade when his teachers finally quit trying to turn the left-hander into a right hander, then the stuttering just went away on its own. I also learned he kept a copy of Robert Kipling’s poem “If” in his breast pocket every day of his adult life. As a boy his mom used to make him recite the poem if he showed any signs of a temper. She feared having a bad temper was passed on from his birth father who was physically abusive. She had left him when her son was just two weeks old.

My favorite permanent exhibit at his museum is about pop culture from the 1970s because Ford was the president during the Bicentennial and if I had to name a favorite year in my life, it would be 1976. I even had a long, loose fitting hippie-style dress with a smocked front that I made out of a light weight “homespun” cream colored fabric with small, 1976 dated flags and fireworks printed all over it. I wore it to every weekend music festival and parade we could find that summer of ’76. I still have it. As Marie Kondo would say, it gives me joy. Seeing it from time to time hanging in the back of my closet makes me want belt out a little Bellamy Brothers “...Let your love fly like a bird on a wing and let your love bind you to all living things..Just let your love flow like a mountain stream and let your love grow with the smallest of dreams..."

After the lecture I walked across the hall to go Book Club. I’ve never been less prepared for a book discussion and I didn’t even try to bluff my way through it. I’d read the book a couple of years ago and had planned on reviewing it last week but the power outage put a snare in that plan. I couldn’t concentrate on anything more complicated than putting a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle together. Yup, that’s what I did when I was cut off from media and good reading light. From the time I was a kid, if weather got in the way of something we wanted to do, we’d pull out the puzzles or games. We didn’t even have electricity in the early years at the cottage or indoor plumbing. Puzzles, Monopoly or playing poker were our ‘devices’ back in the ‘40s and early '50s. 

A week ago today when I posted the short note about having to leave the house because I didn’t have heat or power someone left the following comment on that blog entry: “You Baby Boomers are the most evil generation to ever exist. You are all psychopaths. You destroyed your own children’s future, destroyed the economy and then you sit back and laugh. I hope you boomers enjoy your retirement homes! I guess what I’m really trying to say is, can you Baby Boomers hurry up and fucking drop dead?”

It was a poop-and-fly-away, cut-and-paste comment that I found on several other blogs after googling those words. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Millennials vs. Baby Boomers smack like that. It’s a theme that pops up on political message boards from time to time. But wouldn’t you love to know the backstory on why that particular Millennial feels so beaten down by his/her life that he/she has taken to leaving death wishes Johnny Appleseed style across the internet. I'm tempted to say, "Get a grip! Gripping about the generations before and after our own is a time-honored tradition."

But rather than get snarly about the “debate” I tend to look for the lighter side of the Millennials vs. Boomers conflict. For example: A tweet by Mrs. Math Teacher: “Baby Boomers blame Millennials for everything but WHO PUT CARPETING OVER ALL THESE HARDWOOD FLOORS?” Or this tweet by Andy Levy: "'Millennials are idiots' [says] the generation that made a millionaire out of the creator of the pet rock." And Zach Wallen's: “I love Baby Boomers who say ‘kids don’t even know how to write cursive’ in a negative way. Like ‘okay, grandma you can’t even turn your laptop on without getting six viruses and wiring half your retirement income to a Nigerian Prince.’” ©

The Bellamy Brothers

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Power Outage Refugee

I survived the Great Ice Storm of 2019 without becoming a weather related statistic. 268,000 people in Michigan lost our electricity this past week starting on Wednesday and most of us got ours back on Sunday afternoon minus 1,368 rural residents still waiting for power on Monday. My county was ground zero and thick ice was covering every surface, taking trees and power lines down. Temperatures outside got down in the low teens at night and in the 20s during the day. Add high winds to the mix and it was dangerous for the linemen who were working 12 hour shifts around the clock. One school a mile from me had a sewage line freeze and burst and a hallway filled up with raw sewage. And here I thought having a water pipe freeze would be a nightmare.

The first day of the outage I was spared but the following morning I woke up to no heat or lights. Even though the house was 50 degrees inside I thought I could tough it out. I’d been camping in cold weather but I’d forgotten how nice it was to warm up with hot coffee, a campfire and going inside a tent rated for use in Alaska. I became obsessed with wanting a cup of coffee. It wasn’t until the second morning I was without power that it dawned on me that I could bypass the electric igniter on my gas stove by using a match. Last month I had almost thrown out an old box of instant coffee during a purging session and as I heated up water I smugly told Marie Kondo, “See, this is why we keep stuff!” 

Tidy Girl Kondo’s name came up a few times during the outage.“Marie, I wish I’d kept that propane heater that my husband used at disability deer hunting camp!” “Marie, I’m glad I didn’t throw out my drawer full manuals because you said they’re all online. You can’t google without Wi-Fi!” If I had done that I wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to get my garage door open during the outrage---not that I’d drive with all the ice, but I envied neighbors using their cars to get warm or charge devices. But I couldn’t reach the power override cord and I doubted I could have lifted the oversized door if I could have and I wasn't about to fill up the garage with carbon monoxide. I also had an old cassette tape player that I couldn’t figure out how to open without its manual. I’d kept the player because I have cassette tapes of an interview I did of my dad back in the ‘80s. But I bitched at Marie Kondo for guilting me into donating a bunch books on tape. I only kept two. 

The first night after dark I laid under a mountain of blankets listening to A Knight in Shining Armor, wishing I had one. Late afternoon the second day the house was down to 42 and I wasn’t looking forward to the other book, The Grapes of Wrath which is about the hardships of the Dust Bowl, hardly something a woman fearing that she might not wake up in the morning wanted to hear and at one point I thought about Scarlett O’Hara at Tara saying, “When this war is over I’ll never go hungry again!” I couldn’t even make a peanut butter sandwich because I keep my bread in the freezer and you can only eat so many sardines and crackers before you start speaking with a Norwegian accent. By then I was wishing I could google ‘chilblains’ to see if I had them. I was getting the shivers that started deep under my ribs and I was so sleepy that I knew I should do something but I didn’t know what. My phone only had 10% battery life left, even my emergency dialer needed charging. I turned them both off so I’d have some power if I had a true emergency requiring 911. And that decision probably saved me a world of hurt. 

One of my Gathering Girls pals knew I was without power and when she tried to text me and it wouldn’t go through she got worried and sent her son-in-law over to check on me. He turned out to be my Knight in Shining Armor. He introduced himself and offered to help me turn off my water and drain my pipes and talked me into coming back to M.J.’s house where she had already taken in five other power outage refugees and a dog. Her son-in-law could have literally saved my life because I know I would have just politely refused an offer to come over if it had been sent in a text. When help was standing in my living room it was too tempting to refuse. I was so cold and there was no hiding it, as bundled up as I was. 

M.J. is the only one of my Gathering Girls pals who is a Trump supporter. On the second morning I was at her house, she got a phone call and one of the first things she said was, “We have the same thing here. We’re avoiding watching CNN and FOX.” The conversation went on for ten minutes about the “witch hunt.” When she got off the phone I told her it’s fascinating that two likeable ladies like us with similar upbringings and life experiences could view the world so differently and that I blame that on having so many cable channels with too many “news commentary” shows. She agreed. Then she did a monologue about how Trump doesn’t get enough credit for undoing all the “bad things that Obama did" and he was getting the world to respect us again after Obama’s disastrous presidency. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I sat there listening without speaking and when she finished I said, “We should probably change the subject but first I want to say that it’s amazing to me that all the words you use to describe Obama are the same words I use to describe Trump.” It was all very civil, like two friends trying to figure out the answer to a calculus equation.

When I got back home I was telling my niece about the conversation and she said words to the effect that the big take-away was that we (meaning everyone) need to quit judging each other along party lines and start judging each other by the humanity we show each other because dividing our country is exactly what the Russian disinformation campaign was/still is all about and we can't let that happen. In my case, a Trump supporter took me in at a time of need. We played a few board games, had a great time and she doted on Levi to the point she became his “aunt M.” By the time her son-in-law was able to take me back home my Gathering Girl pal and I had deepened our friendship and I wish I could figure out a way to thank her. I was truly touched by her kindness and generosity. ©