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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Life is Good Again - Adventures and Gardens

These past few weeks I’ve been driven and part of that is because I’m feeling truly good physically for the first time in probably a year and a half. This time last year I was getting ready for shoulder surgery. The painful windup to that and the recovery afterward was long and difficult, given all the restrictions that came with it---a winter of one-handed snow shoveling, not lifting anything heavier than a fork. Also going on was the bottoming out of my thyroid and the lethargic moods and weight gain that came with it. Once discovered, then came the gradual building up of the hormone to where my latest blood test two weeks ago said, “You’re there, let’s celebrate!” I’m back to walking every day (until the snow flies). I’m back to eating healthy again (until the farmers market closes). And I lost the weight I gained while my thyroid was wacked out and I’m in serious downsizing mode. 

With my mojo back and with any luck, I’ll be able to buy a condo in the spring and I’ve found not one, but three online that are in my target neighborhood and price range. They are zero-steps concept, just like my house, and even though those condos will be gone by the time I’m serious about moving it makes me happy that I won’t be looking for a needle in a haystack. The baby-boomers have “arrived” and they are doing what they’ve done since birth---driving the marketplace. Now, that means the building industry is starting to build for aging in place. When we built this house in 2001, zero-steps houses were as rare as unicorns. All I'm saying in these two paragraphs is it feels like an adventure on the horizon and I’ll be ready for it.

Speaking of adventure, can you imagine what it would be like to do a 1,000 mile journey to explore the islands in the Great Lakes? This week I went to a lecture featuring a woman who did just that---hiking, boating, kayaking and biking around just a fraction of the 35,000 islands in the Great Lakes. (If that number sounds high it’s because an island is defined as land that is at least a square foot and has at least one tree and is surrounded by and above water year around. Who knew!) The lecturer is in her fifties and did half the trip on her own, the other half she took part in scientific research projects. I learned a lot about my home state and saw a video presentation of beautiful, wild places I never knew existed here. I have no desire to set rugged goals for myself like Ms. Niewenhuis---this was her third 1,000 mile adventure---but I bought her book all the same. She’s inspiring. She sets goals that scare and challenges her, plans how to get from point A to point B and then has confidence enough in her own abilities to carry it through. What’s not to like about that? And once back home, she writes a book about her adventure while planning her next one. On the way home I challenged myself to stop at the nature trail to walk a couple of miles with a looming storm overhead even though I knew I’d be walking later that afternoon at the sculpture park.

I went to the sculpture park for a book club like no other that I’ve ever been to or heard about. The book discussed was Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden and we met in the dry (Zen) garden for the first half hour, then in the wet (moss) garden for the second half hour. In both places the lead horticulturist shared his vast knowledge. The two types of gardens share elements of texture, movement and the all-important use of negative space. The Zen garden, he said, is a tool for concentration and is more for the gardener than those who come to visit. There are twelve classic patterns they use to rack the crushed granite and how the gardener gets out of our garden after completing his work is to hop from boulder to boulder. The head librarian at the sculpture park’s research library read passages from the book and asked questions. In the moss garden she read: “The garden is a world filled with secrets. Slowly, I see more each day. The black pines twist and turn to form graceful shapes, while the moss is a carpet of green that invites you to sit by the pond. Even the stone lanterns, which dimly light the way at night, allow you to see only so much. Matsu’s garden whispers at you, never shouts; it leads you down a path hoping for more, as if everything is seen, yet hidden. There’s a quiet beauty here I only hope I can capture on canvas.” 

Even though it was only 64 degrees, I thoroughly enjoyed this garden book club experience---much more than reading the book. But, of course, they went hand-in-hand. The people at the book club were interesting, too. Before it started I talked to a woman who volunteers for two weeks each spring to work at a large Japanese garden in Ohio, staying in a cottage on the grounds. Not something I would aspire to do but like the lady who traveled 1,000 miles I’m always impressed by the vast areas of interest people find to feed their souls in retirement. ©

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Old Arguments and the New Cuba

Before my husband and I met, he bought an old Victorian house that had been split into four apartments that shared two bathrooms. He owned it for more years than I like to remember because it was a lot of work to keep it up and that’s not counting all the remodeling we did to add two more bathrooms teaching ourselves plumbing, electrical wiring and sheetrock application along the way. Once when we painted the outside we hired three 15-16 year old fatherless boys to help and they ended up to be factors in an infamous fight that Don and I had. They were kids from the neighborhood whose mothers---for various reasons---didn’t pay a lot of attention to them. From the time they were 9-10 years old every time Don was outside working on a piece of equipment the boys would be there watching and getting what we nicknamed their “Fifteen with Father” talks. I can’t tell you how many times ‘the three musketeers’ would be in the back of our yellow convertible being our shadows during Don’s and my early years together. The beach, carnivals, car shows, music-in-the park, the rodeo and the races---we introduced them to a lot of things they’d never done before.

Back to the Victorian house: One day we were all busy bees painting on the exterior when Don sent me to pick up lunch for the crew. When I returned, I parked the car opposite the driveway. No big deal. It was a busy city street and parking was at a premium. Later on, Don backed his truck out of that driveway and hit my car. A normal person might have apologized. A normal person might have taken in the fact that I was in a legal parking space before he started chewing me out. “Why did you park there?” he yelled. “You know you’re going to get nailed when you park opposite a driveway!” I pointed out that HE was at fault for the accident---that I wasn’t even in the car. But he still had a full head of steam and when I asked him why he was yelling he waved his arm towards the teens who were watching the exchange and shouted, “To teach these boys where not to park a vehicle!” 

“That’s just great!” I was yelling by then, too. “All you managed to teach them is it’s okay to yell at a woman for something you yourself did! Is that really the lesson you want them to learn?” And just like that, the steam left Don’s head and he got a look on his face akin to that of a little boy who’d just got caught teasing an alley cat into a frenzy. Game. Set. Match. The little woman won one for womankind when Don then told the boys that I was right and “a guy shouldn’t take his frustrations out on a woman.” Don would have made a good father. He wasn’t perfect but he was quick to admit when he was wrong and he rarely forgot that the three musketeers were like sponges who took in everything he said and did. He was a role model by default.

Change of topic: I have no plans to travel to Cuba but I went to this month’s 'We Travel' event anyway. It was one on the most interesting hours I’ve spent in a long time and before it was over I was longing to be the type of person who is adventurous enough to sign up for trips like that. One of the things I learned is that although the country has been recently opened up for travel between the U.S. and Cuba, there are many regulations and restrictions on who can go and why. People who have family there or who once lived there can go. Journalists can get in if they engage in interviews on a daily basis and average people, like those in the audience, can get in if they are take part in a program called People-to-People---cultural and educational exchanges. You have to sign a contract that you’re going to interact with the Cubans each day from nine to four and keep a journal of how much time you spent where and what you talked about. 

The company who organizes these cultural and educational exchanges schedule three-four events a day and they sound interesting. You go in groups of twenty-four and you learn about the Cubans as they learn about Americans. The interactions take place at tobacco or cocoa farms, cigar factories, Hemingway’s house, with a baseball team and the American Car Club. You visit schools and historical landmarks that go back to the days of Columbus. Art, music and dance are a big part of the exchanges, too. One thing that I thought was cool is in the cigar factories they have someone who reads the news to the workers while they work. The speaker said that travel to Cuba could close back up depending on who gets elected next time and if it doesn’t American investments into the country is going to change its character and charm. In other words, the ideal time to go is now. Sometimes I wish I was younger with a better working blander, and seeing that 'We Travel' presentation was one of those times. Oh, well, maybe in my next life…. ©

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Moving Forward While Looking Back

The Farmers Market is a crazy, good place. Even this late in the season when---can you believe it---I saw my first Christmas commercial on TV! It’s not even October yet but you’ve got to get those Christmas presents put in lay-away, says K-mart. Hurry, hurry before all the good stuff is gone! Back on topic: the vendors at the market all must have produce coming out of their ears because Saturday they were giving unadvertised freebies. One of them gave me two pounds of string beans when I asked for one. The corn grower gave me ten ears of ‘peaches and cream’ instead of six. The green pepper and tomatoes dealer doubled my order. I smiled and thanked them all for their generosity, of course, but I can’t eat that much produce! And the guilt of wasting food always weighs heavy on my mind---especially now when there’s so many displaced and hungry refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland on the news.

Solution: At seventy-something years old, and for the first time in my life, I needed to learn how to blanch produce for the freezer. Pots, pans, boiling water and ice water. How hard could it be? Turns, out it’s not hard---just time consuming, especially if you count the part where you have to clean up the kitchen afterward. I didn’t think I could blanch the dozen peaches I came home with so I mashed them up like strawberries for shortcake. But I didn’t have a plan or solution for the extra tomatoes. Decades ago, I helped my mom make her famous chili sauce a few times but that was more complicated than I wanted to get into, so instead I’m eating tomatoes morning, noon and night. That’s a slight exaggeration but I did discover they taste good sprinkled with French’s Fried Onions. My mom’s favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes was sprinkled with sugar, my husband liked them with salt and pepper. I like them with McCormick Bac’n Bites but I didn’t have any in the house. I thought about using the dog’s Beggin Strips. They look like bacon, they smell like (rancid) bacon but they have yellow dye #5 in them and I’m allergic to that. Tonight I’m having a BLT for dinner made with bacon cheddar beer bread from the Farmers Market. I might have to make one for the dog. He loves everything that goes into BLTs. He’s very good about eating fruits and vegetables. 

Monday morning is my make-a-trip-to-the-auction-house day. The drive is about a half hour and it takes me through massive peach and apple orchids. Their picking is well underway. Packing crates were stacked higher than a house at several farms, ready to be transported to the canning plants. At one of the corn fields I went by there was a combine parked and ready to start cutting. It was old and probably paid for and it could only cut down four rows of corn at a time. When Don and I would go to heavy equipment bone yards to find parts for one of his three front-end loaders we’d run into farmers doing the same for their various farm equipment. 

Don could fix anything. One of my favorite memories involves going to a bone yard where Don and the owner spent several hours stripping parts off from an old Trojan loader while I sat in the truck reading. After Don paid the guy, the man handed me thirty dollars and said, “Make this guy take you out for dinner. You shouldn’t have rush to get a meal on the table after keeping him company all day.” Little did the man know I didn’t cook and going to a restaurant was a given. But the look on Don’s face when bills went from his hands to the guy’s, then three tens given to me was priceless. We would have stopped for hamburgers but I upgraded us to steak. When the owner of the bone yard died, his tombstone made the newspaper. It was a large, marble bulldozer and, of course, Don insisted that we had to go see it the next time we were down in that county.

I sold off all of Don’s heavy equipment within nine months of his stroke and this week I took his vintage toy farm and heavy equipment to the auction house. Already, Christmas stuff is showing up at the auction house and I did my part. I brought all of Don’s candles---ten sets---that were made by his favorite oil company, Socony-Vaccum. If you have any vintage Christmas candles and see a red Pegasus on the bottom you'll know you have angels, trees, snowmen, choir kids or deer that were made in the 1930s. I hated those candles. At vendor swap meets we had to keep them from melting in the sun and we couldn’t sell them on e-Bay in the summertime for fear they’d melt in shipping, yet Don kept buying every single one he saw at estate sales which only proves that not all dead husbands become perfect, pedestal candidates when they pass. He had his flaws…though time and distance do make them more endearing. ©