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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Outlet Malls, Beekeepers and Fitbits

I must have been bored out of my tree when I signed up for a senior hall trip to a brand new outlet mall in town. A half day of shopping is for people who actually enjoy the experience. If I’m going to spend that much time looking at stuff I’d rather be looking in an antique mall where I’m apt to find something as old and obsolete as I am. Sure, if I had a bunch of grandkids to shop for, it might be different. I, too, would have boarded the bus back home with more bags than would fit in the overhead compartments. I came home with a set of one inch square, thick rubber bread bag “ties”---neat things that are too big to lose and easier to use than the twist ties that come on bagged foods. 

A third of the women came home with new purses from the Vera Bradley store. “How could you pass them up?” my seatmate asked, “They were 70% off!”

“Easy,” I replied, “I don’t need a purse.” And if I did, I added inside my head, it wouldn’t be one that looks like it was made from a pair of trailer drapes. When I was growing up my mom sewed curtains and drapes for a trailer sales place. That’s where my dislike of floral prints was spawned. Though I do remember one, non-floral fabric she brought home. It had Sputniks and other “heavenly” object on it. I hear that stuff is coming back in style again and if Vera Bradley ever hops on that wagon, let me know.

It was a beautiful, sunny day at the mall. Not too hot, not too cold. I walked the entire complex, a series of ‘fake streets’ and courts for pedestrians. A pretty place but all I could think about was: 1) how will they deal with the snow? It looked like it was designed for places that don’t get any. No place to pile or blow snow, no snow melting grates; 2) why did they install stainless steel desks on the 'streets'? They were outfitted with device chargers and Wi-Fi and looked like teen magnets on steroids. Mall cops in other area malls have a hard time dealing with loitering teens, this place was inviting them to stay overnight. And last but not least, 3) with over 130 stores you’d think they’d have a least one coffee shop! The only sandwich shop in the place didn’t serve coffee and, yes, I got cranky without my morning caffeine. “Starbucks is coming by Christmas,” I was told. Sweet Jesus! I thought, I think I’ll find a cup of coffee before then! Out loud I said, “That will be a nice.”

The next day my plum colored Fitbit Charger HR came in the mail. Now I can now track how much I don’t walk and don’t sleep. Did I need another gadget in my life? No, but half the people I know brag them up so why not keep up with the Kardashians, so to speech. Truth be told, I sent my pocket pedometer through the washing machine one too many times thus I joined the Fitbit fad. That will last until I wear it in the shower one sleepy morning. The first night it documented that I slept five hours, 39 minutes, woke up nine times and was restless 29 minutes. Tonight I’m taking an Aleve PM and see how much difference that makes. And tomorrow night I’ll bring out the big guns and take an Ambien. I love those pills. I’m out like the preverbal light in ten minutes and I wake up feeling like I’ve been having a tea party with the angels.  

Saturday was a rainy day but I went to the farmer’s market anyway. All the vendors were giving ‘rainy day’ discounts and I scored more food than I can eat in a week: 3 cucumbers, 4 tomatoes, 4 corn on the cob and a pound each of new potatoes, string beans, blueberries and strawberries. I also got baby loaves of Dakota bread and extreme cinnamon, 4 salty camels, a small jar of local honey, a chai spice cookie and a bunch of zinnias. I admired the teddy bear sunflowers and vowed to get those next week.

Lest I forget, I got a soda straw ‘stick sampler' of buckwheat honey from the beekeeper guy who told me it's better than local honey for allergies. I loved the molasses-like taste of it and will buy a jar next week and that doesn’t have a single thing to do with the fact that the guy might have been flirting with me. It’s so hard to tell at my age! Either way it's a love doomed before it starts since I'm allergic to bees and he could terrorize me easily with one in a jar. Then germaphobic me got to worrying about how the guy gets the honey up those sample straws. I love Google! It has the answer to how ‘honey sticks’ are made. That question answered, I decided next Saturday I’ll flirt my way into getting a strawberry-honey stick sampler. You can roll your eyes here, knowing he probably gives them out to everyone. ©

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Movies, Entertainment and Condos

Recently my Movie and Lunch Club saw Ricki and the Flash. If you saw the trailer you may have gotten the impression that it’s a comedy. I did and that accounts, in part, for why I was disappointed in this movie starring Meryl Streep who played an aging hard-rocker singer/guitarist. She’s a fabulous actor, no doubt about it, and her singing wasn’t bad at all. But any humor in the film was all in the trailer and I had a hard time liking her character, Ricki. In her younger years Ricki had left her husband (played by Kevin Kline) with three little kids to try to make it big in the music industry. Instead of achieving that dream she ended up broke and in a 2nd rate bar band. In the meantime her three kids grew up resenting her and by the time she came back into their adult lives they each held varying degrees of ambivalence towards her. Meryl’s real-life daughter plays her on-screen daughter who, in my opinion, doesn’t hold a candle to her mother’s natural talent. Rick Springfield who plays Meryl’s younger love interest, Flash, was believable and his music was just as great as it was in the ‘80s when he was a heartthrob. I’m glad to see more and more older women---Meryl is 66 now---getting leading roles these days but that wasn’t enough to make me like this film. It was worth the price of admission but not one I’m willing to brag up. 

The local sculpture park with its new Japanese garden announced a book club discussion that I signed up for within minutes after reading about it. It involves the book, The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. The lead horticulturist in the park is going to read portions of the book, show us the plants mentioned and share insights on their importance to the story. It’s a monthly book club but they are going to start doing four books a year that relate to the art or landscape of the 158 acre park. That twist was enough to make me decide this club might be worth checking out. I’d been in a book club before but too few of the twelve people in the group actually read the books so the discussions were often lacking. The club at the park has twenty-five people and seems more structured. I’ll have to waiting until the end of September to find out if that's true. Gosh, can you believe how fast time is flying by?

The senior hall had their end-of-summer picnic today. One hundred and ten people each bringing a dish to pass so imagine the hard, cuisine choices we had to make. It was nice, though, as it always is at the hall. That fact is one of the reasons the decision to move to the other end of the county has been so hard. Since Don died, I’ve been dependent on the place for my entertainment and human contact---however shallow that contact has been. This summer I’ve been experimenting. I cut my involvement at the hall in half, to see how I’d fair. Would I feel more isolated? The answer: yes. Would I find other things to do if I move away from my social hub? Researching what’s available down in the small town where I’d like to move, I found a monthly MeetUp for people over 60, a quilter’s club, two book clubs and the sculpture park is no farther away than it is right now. Neither is the theater where my Movie and Lunch club usually meets. Plus my family would all be within a short country drive away. I want to believe the latter would get me more impromptu invitations and visits.

Coming home from my niece’s house after our vacation, I serendipitously found a condo community exactly where I want to be. I detoured through it and called a realtor about a house up for sale. (The one pictured at the top.) It’s almost creepy how many features that house has that I want and it’s in my price range, the first big hurtle. It’s a zero concept, stand alone condo/house with two bedrooms and a small den off the front door and across the street is the entrance to the condo’s dog walking trail. Along the back of the condo is protected wetlands, so the immigrating bird life would be fantastic to watch and would give more privacy than most condo communities have. I asked the realtor if they had an open house coming up, explaining that I wouldn’t want to waste his time on a private showing since I won’t be ready to buy a condo until early next spring. But he seemed like he’d be glad to show it to me anyway and I’m waiting for a call-back after he arranges something with the owner. The web listing is so spot-on perfect, I’m almost afraid to tour the house for fear I’ll do something crazy like I did when I took the car in for an oil change and came out with a brand new car. I want that house so bad but the timing is wrong. I can’t downsize that fast and I need the money downsizing is bringing if I want to stick to my plan of not having a mortgage. I keep telling myself if I found one perfect place without even looking, I can find another when I’m dead seriously looking. Day dreams are dangerous things! ©

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Widow's Vacation in Saugatuck

This woman has been on vacation! Yes, a genuine, long-overdue vacation where I packed my bags, put the dog in a kennel and took off for some R & R. I didn’t go far. My niece and I checked into a Bed and Breakfast in my favorite tourist town along Lake Michigan. I’ve been going to Saugatuck since my teens but I’ve never stayed overnight unless you count the times in my late twenties when my husband and I brought sleeping bags over to the beach and fell asleep under the stars. Those were the good old days when we were carefree and didn’t worry about getting caught with our pants down. Literally. (Raise your hand if you think I’ve shared too much information here.)

Our B & B had nine bedrooms with private baths and it was the oldest continuous use residence in town. My room had its original horsehair plaster walls and polished plank flooring with square, blacksmith-made nails and it was named after Susan B. Anthony. She stayed in the same house 136 years ago while she was in town to help organize a local Temperance Union and to give a speech on woman’s suffrage. The local newspaper of the era said “she succeeded in closing six of the fourteen saloons” and “that was a testament to her persuasiveness and organizational skills.” My niece and I tried to find a bar to have a drink in one evening and we only found two open, neither one enticing enough to draw us inside. Susan would be proud that we choose, instead, the only other business open that late---a chocolate and ice cream shop.

We packed a lot into our vacation. After a leisurely breakfast each morning, seated on miss-matched oak chairs at a long farmhouse-style table, we’d take off to do things like: walk the beach, drive the shoreline of Lake Michigan, visit a neighboring town, and browse a few antique venues. We also walked along the marina, strolled a few residential blocks with gardens you can’t truly enjoy just driving by, and we even visited the place at the shore where we spread some of Don's ashes. One night we went to a summer stock production of First Date, a musical that was so funny I had tears running down my cheeks; another night we went to an outdoor concert in the park where we perfected the fine art of people watching. One afternoon we toured a restored 1920s, twenty-five room mansion with a third floor ballroom that was built by the inventor of comptometers, the first commercially successful mechanical calculator. His story was fascinating. Where the lumber industry clear-cut the woods along the lake, he managed to restore the land, stabilizing the shifting dunes with carefully chosen vegetation and now the property is a deep woods again. I wouldn’t have thought that was even possible.

Our Meals: When we first got to town we had lunch at a store-front restaurant with Andy Warhol style murals of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean on the walls. The next day we ate at the oldest structure in the county, originally built as a hotel for traders and people in the lumber industry. I lost my ‘fish tacos virginity' at another place across from where the ferry operates. But my favorite meal of all was when we decided to have dessert instead of lunch at a large pie factory-restaurant. It’s out in the boondocks---in the middle of apple orchards, wine vineyards and blueberry farms. They’d taken a page out of a near-by winery's book and had a pie sampler tray on the menu---various, warm pies served in squatty jelly jars with vanilla bean ice cream on the side. Then there was the day we had ice cream cones for lunch. Yup, I was a bad influence on my niece. But so was she on me. Did I mention her stop to purchase a couple of bottles of wine?

Saugatuck is a town with a history rooted in boat building and lumbering and it’s often called the Art Coast of Michigan because of its 100 year old, 115 acres art colony with ties to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The town is a mecca for people from Chicago who spend the summers or boat over on the weekends. A high energy town with a wintertime population of around 1,000 that swells to 3,000 in the summers. My niece and I wondered if my great-great grandfather could have lived in town during its boom town days when he was known to have made his living following the lumber industry around this part of the state. We romanticized him living in our B & B when it was a boarding house for lumberjacks or eating at the hotel where we had dinner. Using our imaginations doesn’t make it fact, though the idea could be an interesting, family genealogy ball to chase for a tenacious researcher.

However, we did get a heavy dose of family history while we were on vacation. Sorting boxes in the basement the week before our trip, I had found six cassette tapes made of my mom and dad talking---circa the early 1970s through 1984. My niece and I listened to half of them in the evenings while drinking wine and munching popcorn. It still blows my mind that tapes made thirty and forty years ago could so clearly bring my parents back into focus. At one point we laughed so hard I actually thought I’d pass out from lack of oxygen; I could feel my face turning red. I suppose you had to be there to understand the humor in hearing my folks say long good-byes to their two dogs. They were dropping them off for me to babysit while they spent the winter in Florida. My niece started prompting them to include me (their daughter) in their “good-byes” and I started prompting them to say “I love you.” The tape ended with me singing a 'lullaby' to the dogs, which reminds me I should erase that embarrassing section. 

It was a vacation filled with quality time and memorable moments with one of my favorite people in the world. I crossed a few things off my Bucket List but believe it or not, there are still things on my ‘Saugatuck To-Do List’---like take the chain ferry across the river, ride the paddle boat, visit the art colony, walk the entire length of the boardwalk and I can’t believe we forgot to go to the kitchen gadgets store! I love that place. But for the bonus point of vacationing, when I picked Levi the Mighty Schnauzer up from the kennel it was reported that he had a wonderful time playing with a puppy during the puppy's daycare/socialization sessions and taking part in group obedience classes at night where he was pronounced to be "well behaved and sweet." Levi came home as tired and happy as I did.  ©
Main Street, Saugatuck

Our Bed and Breakfast
The Susan B. Anthony Room

The Felt Mansion

The Marina
The pier in the distance, Lake Michigan. The photo at the top was taken looking in the other direction.

This is an elaborate set of brand new steps and wheelchair ramps at a county park leading down to the beach. Don would have loved it!