Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow, senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. 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. Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Jean

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dreams and Mystery Trips


It’s been awhile since I’ve dreamed about Don but last night I woke up many times with vivid details of dreams still hanging on. One dream fragment was about visiting him once a week and I’d be in our old Blazer driving to another town where he was staying and when I got there, I could only watch him from a distance. Another time I was with others who were in the town watching their loved ones and we were all sitting in a circle passing around a worm-like thing with fish hooks attached and chanting as we held it. As the 'thing' went around the circle it grew bigger and more teddy-bear-like with each person that held it. At one point in my night of dreams I remember thinking I was seeing the bright light that many people who’ve come back from a near-death experience describe and I woke up in a panic and thinking, Ohmygod, it’s real! Closely followed by: Maybe the light was the alarm clock face. God, no, that’s red! The dream that finally woke me up fully so I couldn’t fall back to sleep was of me trying to find my Blazer after a visit to watch Don and as I looked for it the tiny town kept growing, adding more streets to search as it the light faded from the sky. What a night! I hate not getting the sleep I need, especially when the dreams involve searching. I have a lot of searching dreams.

Of course, it’s easy to see that searching in dreams means you have something important lacking in your life or that you need an answer to a dilemma or problem. The bright light can mean a need to pay closer attention to something going on in your life but in my case I think it symbolizes a straight forward fear of death. I do a lot of day-time worrying about dying without finding a meaning to my life and not finding something truly satisfying to do with the rest of my time on earth. All this business about it being about the journey, not the destination is getting increasingly harder for this goal-orientated person to buy into. Well, that's what I say today. Stay tuned, tomorrow I might be singing a different song.

The circle was the most interesting dream fragment This was something I haven’t dreamed about in the past and this is what dreamforth.com has to say about circles: “A dream of a circle represents your life quest for excellence, unity, and fulfillment. On the other hand, it may also signify that you are having difficulties resolving a certain issue. You cannot seem to come to a satisfactory answer. You may feel as if you are at a stagnant period in your life; you aren't moving forward as planned.”  Boy, they nailed it for me! And my guess is the others in the circle are like-wise widows and the thing we passed around while chanting represents the grief stories that we swap online, which grow less and less painful as time and the telling goes around our widowhood community.

It was a busy night of dreaming and sometimes I wish I didn't remember my dreams because they can haunt me until I figure out their meaning...or what I think they mean. Science says they don't mean much at all and they are just a by-product of the events of our day being transferred to a different part of our brains to be recalled later as memories. Still, if you don’t remember the details of your dreams and you want to, there are things you can do to help you transfer your night dreams from your sub-conscious mind to your conscious mind. You’ll need to keep a notebook and a light-up ink pen by your bedside so you can jot notes---even just a single word to act as a queue later on---without turning your light on. The more you do it, the more you’ll recall with time and practice.

Changing topics: This week I have a by-annual appointment with my internist---always lots of fun <picture a rolling eyes icon here> and a lecture at the museum where I will take myself off the snowbird list and sign up for some docent volunteer days. I’m also going to the culinary college for lunch with a bus load of people from the senior hall and on a mystery trip, also a day trip sponsored by the senior hall. We can’t be going very far since we’re due back in town by three o’clock. I’m being pickier about the trips I sign up for this summer. I skipped the Chicago gangster tour, for example, and the “Les Miserables” tour at Drury Lane outside of Chicago, and the Detroit Tigers/Chicago White Sox game because those 12 and 14 hour day trips are hard on my body and the dog. I mention them, though, to inspire other widows to look into their local senior hall activities. It might surprise you that the old stereotypes of sitting around playing bingo for soup cans no longer apply. One of the schools near-by also sponsor community enrichment trips. They are going to Amish Country this summer which is really tempting for me. I’m more the pastoral views than cityscapes kind of traveler. But right now I'm going to travel out to the dog pen and pick up a winter's worth of poop that the melting snow is revealing. ©

Friday, March 28, 2014

Widows and Weight Watchers


All week I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of going back to Weight Watchers to rid myself of the pounds I put on during my Winter of Boredom. The niece-in-law I walked the nature trail with all last summer signed up and she wanted to know if I’d be interested in going on Saturdays. One of the pros of going is that Weight Watchers has worked for me in the past. And if I want to live to be 100 I need to turn my diet around. Again. Why does healthy eating have to be so hard for some of us to maintain long term? The winter before last I spent a lot of months losing the weight I put on during my New Widow eating binges and now I’m right back where I started.

One of cons of going to Weight Watchers is the King Arthur Flour catalog for April just came in the mail to tempt me. Strawberry stuffed scones for breakfast? What a great idea! And have I mentioned that my social calendar for April and May is getting close to being overbooked? Losing weight is time consuming. Another con is I just signed up to use one of the gift certificates I won at an auction last year for cooking classes at an upscale restaurant in town. They are teaching Thai cooking the night of my class. How am I going to fit eating five Thai dishes and drinking wine into Weight Watchers’ Simple Start program? Lie, of course. All fatty-fatty-two-by-fours are good at that. No, I didn’t eat all that cake. The dog did it! I also hate all the measuring, counting and homework that comes with losing weight which probably explains a lot about why I have to do it in the first place. Now, they have all the online tools I’ll have to learn! Weight Watchers comes with too much homework and I am one, undisciplined widow who can’t be good for long. Jeez, if I left the food part out of that last sentence about being “an undisciplined widow who can’t be good for long” it would make a great line to use in an online dating profile.

Speaking of dating, if you read the Time Goes By blog linked in my sidebar this week Ronnie had an interesting post about statistics for the 65-plus population. One line really showcases the reason why so many senior halls are filled with mostly women. Quoting TGB: “In 2012 there were 43,145,356 people age 65 and older – about 5.5 million more women than men.” So, if you are a woman 65 or older who wants to date, feel free to use my undisciplined widow line. It might give you an edge. And if you are over 65 and still have a guy of your life, keep it in the back of your mind that if you ever need to supplement your income you could take him down to the senior hall and sell his hugs for a $1.00 each. Think of it like the old kissing booths of our youth only you’d be doing a good service for your senior sisters. Guy hugs are hard to come by the older you get!

Speaking of yarn---oh, I wasn’t it? Well, pretend I did and now I’m going to explain the photos below. They are baby sweaters I made for my nieces. They are both going to be first-time grandmothers soon and I knitted the sweaters to start their ‘sweater drawers.’ When they were growing up my mother always had a ‘sweater drawer’ where she kept extra clothing. It came in handy when my brother would send his kids (my nieces and nephew) over to the family cottage without a change of clothing and the weather would turn unexpectedly the way it often does around a round a lake. Both of my nieces have homes on lakes and I’m sure they’ll need to accumulate some extra stuff to have on hand for when the grand-babies visit. I knitted car seat blankets for the mothers of the babies so the sweaters are just something extra to acknowledge how special it is to be newly minted grandmothers.

From what I wrote above about joining Weight Watchers, one would think the cons outweigh the pros and I didn’t even mention that I’ve already signed up and paid for a restaurant crawl along Lake Michigan,  a fancy meal at a culinary college and a chocolate crawl in my adopted hometown. I have so many fatty-fatty-two-by-four 'holidays' coming up on my spring schedule! Plus I’ll need one glorious week to eat all the junk food in the house before starting Weight Watchers, But it’s time to pay the piper so I told my niece-in-law I’ll join after I have my bi-annual appointment with my internist coming up very soon. I’ll let him think my efforts to lose weight were inspired by him because I just know he’s going to give me The Lecture. ©



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Week of Missing Airplanes and Other Things


Monday I woke up to an inch of snow covering everything within my view. Again! Will winter never end? By the time I had to run the dog to the groomers the new snow was gone but the old snow is still covering everything but roads, sidewalks and parking lots and it’s as hard as concrete. I know this because I tried to move a pile of snow yesterday after my dog discovered he can climb the snow pile in his pen as good as any mountain goat could do. If you want to see an old lady freaking out, come by the next time Levi tries out his new climbing skills. They could easily lead him to a Great Escape to the other side of the fence where his nemesis, the neighborhood tabby cat, runs free and tries to tempt Levi into a steeplechase.

Tuesday I woke up to an inch and a half of new snow covering everything. Yet again! But this time it stuck around all day. Not to fear. It didn’t keep me at home. I had a lecture to attend on the mystery of NWA Flight 2501, a brand new DC-4 airplane that disappeared over Lake Michigan in 1950 and to this day has not been found. The author of the book Fatal Crossing, Valerie Van Heest, presented the program. She’s an underwater shipwreck explorer and researcher who has spent over a decade every spring teaming up with world reknown author and marine archaeologist Cleve Cussler to find the DC-4 using sonar equipment on loan from an agency that Cussler founded.

The film that was part of the lecture had a lot of vintage and recent videotaped interviews of people who’d help clean up the beaches after the crash, along with men who were in the coast guard who’d gone out to look for survivors in vain, and of family members who were left behind. It was a sobering fact that none of the debris that washed up on shore two days after the plane disappeared was bigger than a suitcase and that none of the many body parts that washed up were larger than part of a torso. They knew it was a torso only because it had a belly button.

They’ve searched three-fourths of the target area where Flight 2501 supposedly went down during a storm, factoring in the current patterns just like they are doing now to find the missing Malaysia plane debris. As I said, they haven’t found the DC-4 in this area known as Michigan’s Bermuda Triangle---yet---but they did find and document seven shipwrecks and they are going to start looking again when the ice is off the lake. While researching the lost plane Valarie found a one line notion in a coast guard log that said they had buried all the cremated body parts in a local cemetery. With more research, she found the unmarked burial site and the fact that none of relatives were told about this final resting place. At the end of the film it showed a memorial stone that finally marks where the remains of the victims are buried and the large stone lists the names of all 58 passengers and crew aboard. A well-attended memorial service was held 62 years too late but it did bring closure for the family members that attended. As Valarie put it, they went looking for an airplane but they found something far more valuable. It was a fascinating lecture---hearing the details of the detective work that is used to find old ships and planes under water. If my Michigan friends ever get a chance to see one of her lectures, don’t miss it.

After the shock and awe of that lecture it was a surreal experience to be running errands as if nothing I’d just seen had affected me, but that’s what I did and at one point I nearly caused an accident. It didn’t help that it was one of those days where I had to repeat stuff I’d already done which always puts me in a bad mood. Old people like me don’t have time for déjà vu days! For example, I bought a new set of sheets and had to return them because the pillow case was missing and I wasn’t about to pay $29.00 for a twin set and not get everything included. I also had bought a steamer pot for the microwave, unpacked it and found it was chipped. If I wanted to buy chipped I’d go to a flea market. Then I had to go back to JoAnn’s, a huge fabric and craft store, because I misread the dye lot on some yarn I bought and what I thought matched, didn’t. Note to self: time to make an appointment with the eye doctor.

And so it goes here on Widowhood Lane. Another half week gone, another half week and maybe Weight Watchers waiting for me tomorrow. Yes, fatty-fatty-two-by-four is thinking about going to the land of group support to lose the pounds her Winter of Boredom helped put on. ©

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dying, Planes and Peanut Butter Cookies

We still have snow here in West Michigan but the piles are getting lower and the roads are blissfully dry and safe again. I can even see patches of grass underneath my pine trees and along the foundation on the south side of my house. The daytime temperatures are in the 40’s, the lows at night are in the 20’s and I saw my first robin. In this part of the world, seeing the first robin of the year is a big, folklore deal. Although my cousin who lives 70 miles south of here said several robins have been hanging around her house all winter. “The weather was so bad,” she wrote on her Facebook page, “their flight south got canceled.”

It’s been a busy week here on Widowhood Lane. I went to two lectures, my Movie and Lunch Club, a Red Hat tea, and a craft show. The coffee and donuts they served at one of the lectures was the best thing about the event. It had a bait-and-switch topic but I am a polite little old lady who doesn’t like to make waves in public so I listened without showing my annoyance at having to sit through an hour long commercial. The second lecture was titled, “I’m Dying to Talk to You.” Its speaker had been a Hospice volunteer for twenty-five years and his talk was packed with a lot of laugh lines. Who knew talking about death could be so funny? And I’ll bet you’re asking yourself why a widow would want to go to a lecture about dying. The answer would be that I was so bored when the senior hall newsletter came out last month that I would have signed up for a class on how to turn dog poop into folk art. I was that, crawling-the-walls bored and it seemed like a good idea of at the time to sign up for everything and anything.

The audience for talking-about-dying was large and after the lecture many of us shared warm/funny/tender/comforting etc., experiences that happened while being at someone’s death bed. I told the story of my dad dying in the wee minutes of Christmas Morning. He was in a Hospice home and he had been unresponsive for several hours. We knew the end was very near when his hard-of-hearing roommate turned on the televised Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. Pipe organ music filled the room and my dad opened his unfocused eyes and said, “Am I there yet?” I just knew he was looking for the Pearly Gates of Heaven. He died shortly after that and I was still laughing through my tears. I cherish that memory from my Dad’s last minutes on earth as much as a cherish the at-peace look on my husband’s face when he passed over. Being there when someone dies can actually give you a sense of comfort.

At my Movie and Lunch Club on we saw Non-Stop, a film that involves an airplane, murders and a bomb on aboard. IMBd describes it this way: “An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.” At first I thought whoever picked that movie to see---given the mystery of missing Flight 370 going on right now---had their head screwed onto to a tree stump. But I went without voicing that opinion out loud because, as I said before, I’m a polite little old lady who doesn’t like to make waves in public. Sometimes its easy to see where filtering your thoughts saved you from the embarrassment of having to eat your words and this was one of those times. The movie turned out to be a good one with lots of twists and turns that kept you guessing who the bad guys were right up until the end. Of the eleven of us who went, though, another “little old lady” did voice her reservations about seeing the film and it made me wonder how many of the dozen or so others in the club who didn’t show up were acting on their qualms about seeing an aircraft hi-jacking. A movie and lunch club is like a book club. They both serve the purpose of pushing you out of your comfort zone and that’s usually a good thing.

This morning I got up at the crack of dawn to go to a craft show out in the boondocks. A couple of my Red Hat sisters were vendors there so I wanted to see their handiwork. Up and down hills I went as I traveled country roads to a place I’d never been before. Taking in the long vistas of snow covered orchards had me yearning for the days when Don and I took car trips. Living in the suburbs it’s hard sometimes to remember there is a whole different way of life out there in rural America and when the city got too much for us we’d take a day trip poking around the back roads to no where in particular.

The very first vendor I saw at the craft show was selling cross-stitched tea towels that read: “A house without Jesus can never be a home.”  I’m still baffled by a message that seemed Church Lady snotty and judgmental to me. Four or five other vendors were likewise selling crafts with Christian messages and I was starting to feel like I was back in grade school and being judged not good enough to play with so and so because Jesus was not living where I did. About the sixth Christian themed vendor booth I came across I was thinking, where are the baked goods? I feel a sugar binge coming on! I found them and I went home with a plate of peanut butter cookies that looked and tasted exactly like those my mom used to make. ©

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Comparing Widows and Purging Stuff

Comparing widows is wrong, I know that. But I'm going to do it anyway. From my days of being a caregiver in the stroke community I know several women who were widowed in the same time frame as me. So it’s natural---or maybe I should say it’s an irresistible temptation for me to compare where I’m at compared to where they’re at as we all transition to a life of living alone.

One of them—I’ll call her Exhibit ‘A’---within a couple of months of losing “the love of her life” was signing up for internet dating and she has been swapping out new relationships as often as Mother Nature does the seasons ever since. She says she’s having a good time. Good for her, if she’s telling the truth. She’s in her fifties and she has a long life ahead of her. But here comes the big BUT…I wonder if Exhibit ‘A’ has truly finished grieving not just the loss of her beloved husband but also the years of being his caregiver, the loss of  having a purpose in life. Yes, I know that long-term caregivers often do a lot of their grieving before their spouse dies so dating so soon isn’t all it appears to be on the surface. But it’s a whole different can of worms to grieve part of yourself, the spouse/caregiver without a care recipient. In our own unique ways, Exhibit ‘A’ and I are both running around trying to fill up the time we once lavished on our needy husbands. But the fact that all the men she meets have small flaws that causes her to discard them in short order makes me think she is unfairly comparing them to the spouse on the pedestal and she's really not as ready to move forward as she claims to be.

I compare ‘A’ to a widow I met at the senior hall---Exhibit ‘B’---whose husband made her promise that she’d have fun after he died and she is like a rat on speed, in a maze trying to fulfill his wishes through frequent tears. Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ know what their husbands wanted for them, but do they really know what they want for themselves beyond fulfilling deathbed promises? Can any of us move forward while trying to live someone else’s dream for us without taking the time to dream our own dreams, decide for ourselves what would make us happy again? I don’t have an answer to that question other than I’m glad I don’t have a death bed promise to keep. Life is complicated enough. All I know is that I’ve read too many widows’ stories where they’ve gotten right up to the edge of remarrying again, only to back out or have the guy back out. Unresolved grief? I find it hard to believe that the Exhibit ‘A’s of the world who are searching frantically for love could not be harboring unresolved grief that keeps them from finding the very thing they are looking for.

Two other long-term caregivers-turned-widows that I know are still having a hard time just getting through their days. They are both standing still. Both Exhibit ‘C’ and ‘D’ cry often and don’t know where to begin putting down new roots. They know they have to dig out the old roots to move forward---purge their husband’s stuff from the house---but they can’t seem to make themselves do it. It’s a hard process and I’m only about 90% finished with my own purging so I’m not passing judgment here. I’m just stating facts. And it’s certainly isn’t fair of others who haven’t lost a spouse to judge why a widow just doesn’t call the Salvation Army or Goodwill and send off all her husband’s clothing, tools, hobbies, books, half done-projects, cars, boats, mementos and work related stuff. For one thing, some of that stuff has too much value and many widows can’t afford to just donate it or give it all away when selling it would help build up a nest egg. <See me raise my hand here.> But mostly it’s the memories attached to The Stuff that makes it so hard to let go. Letting go of stuff is a smack-yourself-in-the-face admission that he’s never coming back and if The Stuff is gone are we worried the memories attached to those things will be harder and harder to recall? My answer to that question has been to take photos of The Stuff before purging it.

At some point in the purging process (even thinking about purging) the sheer volume of The Stuff  a person leaves behind when they die gets overwhelming. You might even start getting suspicious of those who offer to help. Do they really care about you or do they just want The Stuff for themselves? Or worse yet, do they see no intrinsic value in the memories attached to The Stuff? And it’s not unusual on occasion to get mad and/or resentful of your spouse that you have to do all that physical and emotional work of disposing of The Stuff. Why did he have to leave so many things behind? Why did he have to die in the first place?  Exhibit ‘A’ did the purging without batting an eye. Gone, done in one week. She had a mission to fulfill. Out with the old, make room for the new. Did she let go of things she’ll later regret in her mission to find a new love of her life? The sentimental soul that I am likes to think she did…or does now and just isn’t admitting she acted too fast.

There are so many ways to grieve and move forward and if I knew more people I could fill the alphabet with more exhibit variations of the process. All I know for sure is how deeply sad it makes me feel when I see women from my old caregiver circles struggle so much. We all went through so much together dealing with the repercussions of our spouses’ stroke. You’d think we’d know the drill on how to handle adjusting to drastic changes in our lives, but in the end we are no better or worse off than a million other widows. ©

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gray Hair, No Hair and Widows Shopping


Okay, it’s official. They’ve got me brainwashed. I’m not old I’m just entering a new phase of life called elderhood. Old is now a four letter swear word---unless we’re talking about fine wine and high quality, aged meat. I’ve already started the process of being ‘elder and proud of it’ with the decision not to do low-lights in my hair anymore. Last week I had my four inch long hair all chopped off to pixie length and by the next hair cut or two all the darker tones will be gone. It’s not like I’m giving up a long standing habit, though, so no applause, please. I started the low-lights as part of the widow-finding-herself make-over that we each seem to go through at some point in the grieving process. I’d never colored my hair before that and who would have ever guessed I’d be looking at gray-haired women with wistful thoughts, thinking I, too, could have pretty silver hair like hers. We shall see. Six months from now I might be back to low-lights. The real reason I made the decision, though, was because I couldn’t stand the way my colored-treated hair felt---soft and limpy. All my life I had course hair, thanks to my Italian heritage, and I’m inept at dealing with soft hair. Old---oops---elderly dogs can’t learn new tricks in this household.

According to The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology there is a cure for gray hair just over the horizon, a discovery that scientists made while working on a treatment for vitiligo, a condition that causes patchy pigmentation in skin. Great. Just about the time the movement to make old be cool gets into full swing they will have a cream ready to market that will actually restore your natural color hair, not just cover up the gray.

While I’m on the subject of hair, Saturday I had breakfast with Red Hat Society members---six of us in all. While five of us sat at the table with our hats on the whole time, one woman took hers off the minute she sat down and she is as bald as a proverbial billiard ball. She’s had ovarian cancer for four years and is at the end of any treatments they can give her and at best, she’s got until mid-summer before the cancer finally wins. She will proudly tell you that she’s not FIGHTING cancer, she’s LIVING with it. And from what I’ve seen of her at Red Hat events, she knows how to party hard. When she’s absence from a Red Hat tea others in the chapter say she is their hero for the way she is handling her illness. At breakfast we had the most surreal laugh-fest talking about funerals and cremations versus burials and she started it by telling us what to expect when her time comes. (Hint: She's calling it a party.) Young people sitting near-by in the busy restaurant probably thought we were a weird cult, talking about having husbands made into diamond rings and lockets and feeding their ashes to the crabs down in the Florida Keys.

After breakfast we dropped the bald-headed lady back home and headed downtown with plans to see the dinosaur exhibit or as one woman put it, to see the pets we used to have when we were kids. But after waiting in line for a few minutes and hearing how long it would take just to get inside the first set of doors we decided to go on a thrift shop crawl instead. Having been a fan of the Advanced Style blog for a few months and learning that a lot of the ‘elderly’ women there shop the thrift stores I was excited about the idea of a crawl. I’ve never bought used clothing before and as we shopped I kept saying, “I can’t believe how cheap this is!” Every place we shopped at had tags with three prices on them plus dates when the mark-down prices would take effect. What a clever way to keep customers coming back. And now I understand how some of those women at Advanced Style can put together such arty-farty outfits without breaking the bank. I bought an L.L. Bean vest in hot pink for $6.50 and it was just like a black one I’d bought online last fall for $49.95! I would never paid $49.95 for a vest that wasn’t in a neutral color so I was a happy shopper. Normally I dislike shopping with other women because years ago I kept getting talked into purchases I later regretted. Always the people pleaser back in those days, I couldn’t say no. Apparently thrift shop crawls is something this chapter likes to do a couple of times a year so shopping in groups might be returning to my life.

Next week I have two lectures lined up to attend---one with a rather bizarre topic, Also on my calendar is a Red Hat tea and my Movie and Lunch Club. Life here in the still snow covered north is starting to wind back up.  ©

Friday, March 14, 2014

Taxes, Texas and Mourning Doves

Every dawn and dusk my deck rail is the gathering spot for three Mourning Doves to roost. Sometimes if I get up early enough I’ll even find them sleeping in my heated birdbath. Whether they are the same doves day in and day out, I don’t know but a trio of doves has been showing up for over a decade. Given the fact that the oldest known Mourning Dove was over 31 when it died, my doves could very well be long-time residents of my rail. I love the rhythm of life they represent, the sameness of having habits you can depend on and look forward to seeing. They are monogamous birds and I’ve often speculated about their couple plus one status. Maybe one bird is an off spring? Maybe one birds is a widow or widower or maiden aunt who never found a mate? Or maybe they’re all swingers living an unconventional Mourning Dove life-style. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking at people, birds or animals we all like to assign a back-story to what we see before our eyes.

Someone from Lubbock, Texas has been coming to my blog a lot lately. (My FeedJit tracks when visitors come and go and their city of origins.) You would not believe the back-stories I’ve been composing in my head to explain his or her interest in my blog. But mostly seeing Lubbock, Texas, show up on my FeedJit brings back great memories of a vacation Don and I took to San Antonio in 1990. Traveling around Texas the summer was a John Steinbeck kind of vacation. We hit all the back roads, going to out-of-the-way, tiny towns and we met many colorful and memorable people. We got a lot of mileage out of retelling the highlights of that trip including meeting our all-time favorite street person who took a liking to us and who shared her Rule for Living. “Never, ever buy food,” she said. “People throw out enough to feed an army!”  That ‘never, ever buy food’ would get repeated for years to come as Don and I would be walking into a grocery store.

I’d like to ask my anonymous visitor if she/he knows the name of a place not far from Lubbock that was no more than place along a country road that had a post office, a huge barn full of Willie Nelson souvenirs and a replica saloon from the Old West (not open for business) where Willie Nelson supposedly parked his tour bus when he was playing around Lubbock. My husband was a huge Willie Nelson fan and the people at the barn said it was okay to walk around the Nelson encampment if no bus was parked out front, which we did. Over the years I’ve wondered if the saloon wasn’t just tourist trap and Nelson never set foot on the place, but in my husband’s imagination he had walked the same porch as Willie Nelson and that somehow was like going to church.

Change of topic: People who’ve never lost a spouse wonder sometimes why it’s so hard to move forward. They don’t know that the reminders of our loss come at us when we least expect it. Like yesterday I went to our my CPA to get my taxes done. Well, guess what. Filing my taxes for 2013 is my first year of filling as a single person post Don's death which meant my taxes went up and I now owe $1,100. In the past we’ve always gotten money back filing jointly. My CPA set things up to have more taxes taken out of various income sources so that I don’t have to pay in the future, but at 26 months after Don’s passing I didn’t expect there to still be ‘widow’s work’ to wrap up. Duh, I should have known---yadda, yadda, yadda---but I didn't.

I've often compared my financial life to playing a game of Monopoly. One trip around the board you may get to buy Boardwalk and built a hotel. But always hanging over your head is the very real possibility that hard times or the tax man will come along and take all your houses and hotels. The moral of that little analogy is never, ever attach your self-worth to the things or money you accumulate while living. It's the people you've known and the people who you've touched that makes you wealthy. ©

P.S  Thanks to my visitor from Lubbock the mystery was solved! (See comments.) The photo above is of the place I was trying so hard to remember...Luckenboch, Texas. Thank you for, BTexas!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Poems and St. Patrick's Day Parties

This morning while writing [bad] poetry just for the challenge of doing it, I almost made myself late for the St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the senior hall. You can’t be late for those events if you want to sit at a table facing the entertainment. The luck of the Irish was with me and I scored a chair up front at a table that turned out to be The Catholic table. Of the eight people sitting there I was the only one who didn’t have a Catholic school girl tale to tell. Nationality, of course, came up as we enjoyed our corn beef and cabbage and when the others heard I’m half Italian one of them questioned how I escaped being Catholic.

I told them the story of a time when my dad was eight years old and a Catholic priest, while teaching Sunday school, thought my dad had thrown a spitball. So the priest opened the doors on a potbelly stove, picked my dad up by the seat of his pants and the collar of his shirt and pretended he was going to throw Dad in to teach him about the fires of hell where bad boys go. After that my dad refused to go back there and while his siblings continued growing up Catholic my dad was sent off to the only other church in town, a Methodist. One of the ladies at the table, in a deadly serious tone said, “Why, that wasn’t very Christian of the priest!” About the third time she said it and someone else agreed that "it wasn’t, indeed, very Christian of him" I was laughing so hard I could have peed my pants, but it's difficult to explain why it struck me funny. I guess you had to be there to hear the Captain Obvious quality of her shocked sensibilities. "What was the priest's name?" "Where was the church?" You would have thought the incident happened last Sunday.  Note to self: Don't tell stories about child abusing priests while sitting at a table full of Catholics.

The entertainment portion of the luncheon was surprisingly good and feathered a one-man band/Irish singer who played a guitar, harmonic and Celtic Bodhran (Irish drum). If Bono had walked in to join him, I wouldn’t have been surprised; he was that good. After an hour’s worth of drinking songs, protest songs, Irish ballets and a few rounds of “Oh, Danny Boy” I was in a great mood and wishing I didn’t have to go home to an empty house with only a dog of German decent to greet me. For a brief moment it crossed my mind to swing by the humane society to see if they had any Irish setters or wolfhounds to bring home to Levi, the schnauzer. He's been asking for a sibling.

My husband was proud of his Irish heritage and St. Patrick’s Day was always a special holiday for him. He’d put on his green tee-shirt, dig out the green, plastic beads and tell a few jokes using an Irish brogue. We’d find parties to go to when we could and he brought green flowers to his mother when she was alive. Every year we'd watch for shamrock plants to appear in the store so we could bring one home and in the spring we'd "turn it loose" outside. Monday at the grocery store I saw a display of shamrocks in the plant & garden center and for the first time in decades, I didn’t buy one. And I’m at peace with that. ©

My Dog Poem  (Inspired by a comment on my last blog entry)

Outside a rabbit sits still in the early light of day
The dog peeks through the mini blinds and bays.
It’s their way every day of waking up the widow
Before the sun smacks trees out of the shadows.

In the bathroom the widow answers nature’s call
As the dog curls himself back up into a sleepy ball
And the rabbit runs off across the lawns to trigger
The next four-legged alarm looking for adventure.

She makes her way across the dim, silent house
Past the empty chair that once held her spouse.
And in the murky kitchen light she stands wating
As hot, steaming liquid spits out a single serving.

Cup in hand the widow sits down at her keyboard
Hoping to wake up her thoughts that are moored
Just off shore in that dim, murky place in between
Awake and night dreams of being again eighteen.

One day the gray rabbit will sit, the dog will bay
And the worn-out widow will not wake up to play
Today, though, she will slid on down her driveway
And go bond with the others running out of days. © J.Riva 2014

Update: I saw a shamrock plant at the store this week and bought it. After DNA testing I learned I have more reason than I previously believed to celebrate this holiday.  2019

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Widow Style


I’m having a hard time deciding if I have anything left to say that hasn’t been said in a million different ways about the topics I usually write about. I need a new life! Either that or I need to start making stuff up…like fictitious trips to the Amazon---the river not the online store. I’ve been to Amazon.com more times than I care to admit and while I enjoy shopping there no one cares where I get my books and finger puppets. Note to my heirs: those plush little puppets would make great places to hide things. Be sure to check the panda’s butt when I die.

I’m a widow. Yup, I’ve covered that topic to the point of nauseam. Growing older? Get out the airsick bags, that’s another topic that is probably wearing out its welcome. Writing about the senior hall. Another ho-hum, repetitively and boring topic. The Red Hat Society. Ditto. The dog…well, I could write about him until the cows come home but few people really care about stuff like how cute he is when he stands on his back legs peering over the picket fence. “Yes, Levi, I think the grass really is greener over there.”

Today I looked a word up online to be sure I was using it right and underneath the definition was a question asking me why I looked up the word and where I first saw it. Next to the reply line was a pre-checked box that would automatically post my reply on Facebook. Really? Has the world gotten to the point where we think our friends and family actually care what words we look up in a dictionary? Obviously, the person who came up with the question and his/her superior who okayed using it on the dictionary site thought people would be utterly fascinating by the fact that the widow Jean in Michigan couldn’t define ‘chicanery’ without looking it up. Wow. That anonymous question writer needs a new life more than I do! But the question did get me to thinking about one thing: where DO we draw the line between protecting our privacy and over-sharing? I’m beginning to think future generations won’t even know there is a line. “Facebook friends, I just mistakenly put hand lotion on my legs. Should I wash it off and use body lotion?” “Facebook friends, I just saw the clock display 3-3-3!” “Facebook friends, I just peed.”

Yesterday I went to a fish fry with 30 people from the senior hall. We went to a private club where my husband had been a member for over 25 years. They open the fish fries up to the public to make money and I’d gone to those lunches twice a month for 10 years when Don was alive. After he passed away I could have remained an axillary member but I let the dues lapse. You can only be a full member if you’re male and someone has to die before a guy can move up on the waiting list to become a member. Axillary members are current wives and widows only---with your spouse’s approval. If a guy gets divorced, his X can no longer pass through the doors. I know, sexism is still alive in the big city! I accepted this without a second thought until yesterday when the young director of the senior hall started asking me questions about membership requirements and the rumors she’d heard and she was aghast at its structure.  

My husband loved the place after his stroke because it's always crowded and gave him lots of opportunities to run into people from his past. After he died, it was just a place to feel lonely in a crowd for me. Going with the senior group, though, was different. The gods of irony had me sitting next to a woman I’d seen around the senior hall but had never talked to and come to find out she and my husband rode the school bus together. We swapped stories of the “good old days” as if I, too, had been a member of their class. I’d heard the hell raiser stories so often I can retell them at will---stuff like someone putting a dead skulk in the school’s ventilation system, someone stealing the flasher light off the town’s only police car, and someone turning the town’s highway sign into a swear word. If there had been a Facebook back in those days we wouldn’t have had to wait fifty years to find out who did what. My table mate kept saying, “It’s a small world, it’s a small world!” because of our chance encounter but I choose to believe Don had a hand in picking out my chair at the club’s Friday fish fry. But then again, when you take the time to talk to people, more often than not the six degrees of Kevin Bacon concept does hold up. You just gotta know the right questions to ask. ©

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Birthdays, Photo Albums and Old People Nonsense

I like to get up in the morning and start writing before my brain wakes up. That’s when I do my best pondering of insignificant things like why does the dog always take his favorite plush toy outside on his first trip of the day. Does Levi think his duck needs airing out? Does he think the duck will eat his breakfast kibble while he's gone? And why doesn’t the dog ever take the duck outside later on in the day? Mornings are turning me into a one trick pony. I ask a lot of questions but try as I might the answers rarely follow. I think Levi is germaphobic, though, because he never takes the duck down into the barked-over area where he pees and poops. He drops him off on the top step before he goes down to do his duty and then Levi collects the duck again when he comes inside.

All my life I’ve had a problem multitasking. My husband used to tease me with the nickname of ‘one track’ because I get so wrapped up with whatever I do that all else could fall off the face of the earth and I’d never notice. I always considered it to be an asset rather than a liability but I can see where someday it’s going to get me in trouble. Someday, for example, I’m going to have to explain to a social worker why I’m still sitting in my nightgown at 2:00 in the afternoon because some noisy neighbor got concerned seeing me not dressed so late in the day. "Ms. Social Worker, I got lost writing the next great American novel and here’s the proof.” Then I’ll proudly hold up one pristine page of nonsensical writing to show for my morning’s work.

I’m so sick of chasing magenta dust bunnies around the house that I’ve taken to wearing my chenille bathrobe inside out hoping that will contain the little fuzz balls from jumping ship. I’ve washed that robe a zillion times and it still creates those pretty colored dust bunnies. I even find them on my keyboard! I just know this act of wearing my robe inside out is going to be used against me in a sanity hearing one day. “Yes, sir, Mr. Judge. My aunt can’t even dress herself without getting her garments on wrong side out.” The older I get the more I want to write notes about why I do this or that and leave them all over house. If I put a note in the pocket of my inside-out-bathrobe do you think it would save me from getting shipped off to assisted living some day? How many calls from social services is one too many before your family gives up and says, “Take her, she’s all yours!”

Recently I found out that my older brother is throwing himself a big 75th birthday party. The years go by so fast, don’t they. One minute you’re in the prime of your life, then the next minute you’re looking back and wondering where it all went. I thought my half century birthday was monumental but approaching three quarters of a century is on a completely different scale. It’s very weird, indeed, to think of my brother (and me not many years behind him) as being as old as two of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World---the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge. Nearly seventy-five years’ worth of memories, life experiences, book learning, laughter and tears is a lot of data to keep sorted in one tiny little brain. No wonder that data processing gets misdirected from time to time.

I’ve been working on a book to give to my brother at his birthday party. It's titled, The Boy Behind the Man and it’s mostly sepia tone photos that highlight his first 18 years. I also put in some poems he wrote and a few quotes that help describe his childhood. I can’t wait until the book comes back from the printers. Due to a divorce and moving I don’t think he has a lot of photos from his childhood and I know he hasn’t seen the ones my mom gave me a very long time ago. It was a fun project. Next winter when my social calendar dries up due to bad weather like it did this winter I’m going to make more topic specific photo books. I even made a notation in my day planner so I don’t forget.

Well, I’ve got to take a shower. The sun is shining and the roads are good so I’m going off to a Red Hat Society tea. We really should call it a coffee, though, because most of us stop at a near-by Starbucks before going to the community room for the meet-up. We’ll be planning an outing to see a dinosaur exhibit later this month. ©

Note: The photo above is of my brother and me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gilda Radner’s Legacy of Laughter


I’ve been re-reading my blog posts from last year, getting them ready for Blurb to slurp them up into a hard copy book that I can put on my library shelf and I’ve come to realize that I use the word ‘damn’ entirely too often when I write. At least I did during my second year of widowhood, and probably in my first year as well, Back then, I’m guessing I even used a few more colorful swear words along with the damns. In my offline life, when I’m around “real people” I check myself from saying things that might offend others. I might accidentally slip with the D word on occasion but never the F or P word. Let’s back up here a minute: I’m not saying the people who might be reading this online aren’t real people. It’s just that readers have the option to quit reading at any point. When you sit next to someone out in public it’s harder to just walk away or to tell them that you don’t appreciate their “colorful” language. I’m not a language prude, don’t get me wrong, but on the other end of the scale I also don’t like comedians who depend on blue or crude language to get their laughs. To me, it’s like listening to a band that only plays two notes over and over again. Get a dictionary. Learn something new!

For the next ten days my city is hosting its 4th annual Laugh-Fest, a festival of laughter that includes over 260 events spread out over 65 stages in the area, half of them free and many of them child-friendly. The whole event is billed as a “Laughter RX series, a prescription for emotional health” and the proceeds all go to the local Gilda’s Club. This year the headliners are Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan and Lily Tomlin and in past years we’ve had Lewis Black, Betty White and Bill Cosby in town performing their acts. There are amateur stand-up comedy competitions as well as professional acts plus films, bands, open mike joke nights, storytelling and a ping pong competition with some weird twists. Even a 5K race takes place where you have to wear your underwear over top of your running suits to participate. Heck, even I got an invitation in the mail to see a standup comedian doing old people humor at a retirement village.

Gilda Radner, for anyone not old enough to remember her from Saturday Night Live, died of cancer and afterward her husband, Gene Wilder, and her cancer therapist co-founded the first Gilda’s Club in New York City, a place where cancer patients and their families can get free support. The movement to establish a Gilda’s Club to my city was started by one of the pillars of the community after her own bout with cancer and, boy, is it successful. This local club house gave birth to the very first festival of laughter in the U.S.A. and its grown every year. It’s sad that until this year I didn’t appreciate what is going on right in my own back yard. But I do now, and yesterday I read through their schedule of events looking for something free I’d like to see. I found an art exhibit at the local art institute billed as ‘humor in craft’ that I may go to if the snow ever stops messing up the roads. The whole city wants to make us laugh. Even the libraries are displaying books known for their humor.

I love the following Gilda Radner quote: “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

I rarely do that but it sure is a good goal to work towards, don’t you think? In our Western culture we can get obsessive about planning the future and micro-managing our days, and we think we can know where we’ll be in life five years from now, even ten or twenty. But something comes along like cancer or the death of a spouse or a disability and we have to rearrange our thinking in a big, hard hurry. Suddenly, we start lamenting the fact that we didn’t take more time out of our hectic schedules to watch a sunset at the beach, appreciate the sounds of a summer evening, or even to play connect-a-dot with our freckles and an ink pen. 

“Taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what will happen next.” Jeez, half the time I can’t even enjoy my first cup of coffee in the morning without looking over my job list for that day. How do we get to that point where we can quit worrying about what will happen next and just live in the moment, find things to laugh about and love that are right before our eyes? We can all name times in our lives when living in the moment happens spontaneously, or when something grabs our attention and won’t let go like Gilda’s legacy of laughter is bringing to town, but is it realistic to think we can truly maintain living in the moment on a daily basis? Is it even necessary for us to so? Or is it good enough just to seek balance---the yin and yang---the calm after a storm, and laughter to balance out our tears? That darn Socratic Method I learned decades ago in college sure taught me how to ask questions, didn’t it, but it did nothing to help me learn how to sort out the conflicting answers I receive. ©

 French comedians..........


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Loneliness, Isolation and Dollhouses

In the comment section of a website I visit daily, someone wrote this: “Loneliness, by my definition, is in your head. It's a decision you made that justifies your own homemade isolation. My advice? Don't allow that thought to enter or cross your mind.”

For several days I’ve been pondering this opinion and wondering if there is any validity to it. Is loneliness just a state of mind that we can change through pure willpower and thought control? I do believe in---and try to practice---the power of positive thinking but I don’t agree that loneliness and isolation are necessarily of our own making. Sure, we make the decision not to go out into the world and socialize. But socializing with others doesn’t automatically make you feel less alone or lonely. Maybe it’s just a widow’s point of view but to me, it’s not having that one person in your life who knows you better than you know yourself that makes you feel lonely and isolated. A sea full of acquaintances, neighbors and co-volunteers can help fill the void but it doesn’t replace the closeness you crave. That I crave. I also question if the people who believe that loneliness is all in your head have ever truly had an intimate relationship with another human being. How’s that for judging (maybe misjudging) a person I’ve never met? It takes time to transition from metaphorically walking two-by-two up the plank to the Ark to thinking of yourself as an island onto yourself.

Another person commented on the same article words to the effect that in order to make friends you need to stay current with the daily news so you have interesting things to talk about when you go out and about in public. I’d agree with that. My husband was a well-read person with a high IQ and he could strike up a conversation with anyone on the face of the earth and hold his own on a wide variety of topics. I watched him do it for 42 years. He was the original Chatty Kathy who never forgot anything he’d ever learned, read or saw. I know the technique for engaging strangers in conversation, I’m just not as good at it as he was. I was the observer who threw a wise-crack in from time to time, then went home and wrote about the encounter as an observer, not a participate. I can’t change my whole personality in the name of building new friendships. Can I? Can any of us? Friendships need to be built on honesty, not bait-and-switch techniques. But I am trying to be more outgoing as I interact with the outside world, Jeez, I’m making myself sound like an alien from another planet. I promise I don’t have purple antennas under the hats I wear out in public.  

Changing gears. For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to teach myself how to crochet. I’ve tried other times in my life to learn without much success. My mom was good at it and I still have the miniature hats and doilies she made for my dollhouse. I also have her set of hooks and the smallest one, the size 14, .50 mm, is so small I had to get a magnifying glass out to even know it was a hook. Most of the hooks in her set have prices stamped in the metal of twenty-five cents---that’s how old they are. Now, Jo-Ann’s online store is selling the size 14 metal hook for $9.99.  A few days ago, quite by coincidence one of my cousins posted a crochet supplies website on Face Book and lo and behold it has tutorials for left-handers. Now I’m starting to make progress! I so want a little hand project like this that I can take to the museum when I start volunteering there again in March. Last year I was the only docent who didn’t have something to keep my hands busy when we manned the not-so-busy front doors. I’ve been thinking about volunteering on Sundays when the museum has its peak number of tourists and lowest number of volunteers, but the tradeoff is I wouldn’t be able to pick volunteer days that match up with the people in the Historical Society that I’d like to get to know better. Decisions, decisions.

I absolutely can’t wait until spring! I freely admit to being isolated and lonely this winter but the weather, not a self-imposed mindset, has had me imprisoned for most of the season. And some of you reading this are probably quoting Hamlet right about now: "The lady doth protest too much methinks!” Maybe so, maybe not. We humans are good at judging others we don’t know, aren’t we. ©

Note on the photos. The one up above is one of the dollhouse hats that my mother made when I redecorated my childhood dollhouse in the 1970’s. It measures around ¾ of an inch. The first photo below is of a dollhouse carpet she crocheted. It measures 6 ½ inches square.  She made the pink bedroom rug in the bottom photo as well. My dollhouse is going to be one of those hard things to give up on my next downsizing. The house itself was made before WWII from a pattern that appeared in a magazine and it still has the original stenciled vines, hedges and shutters on the outside. I couldn't bear to cover them up after learning the house's history. My parents found the house at the Salvation Army and it was a Christmas gift from Santa. I found the magazine article and pattern decades later. I have a lighting kit and baseboards for it but I never got around to installing them.