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, April 28, 2018

From Doctor’s Bills to Elephant Bells

I got a bill from the doctor’s office for the first time I saw his nurse practitioner about at my Popeye’s Elbow. $39.00 for the clinic visit and after the “Medicare Insurance Adjustment” the grand total came to $107.43. What the heck? Insurance adjustments are supposed to lower your bill, not raise them by $68.43. I called their billing service and was told that Medicare likes to help you get to your deductible faster. “By making me pay for services I’m not getting? That makes no sense what so ever!” I told her. “I know,” she replied. “You’ll have to call Medicare for a more comprehensive explanation. We can't do anything about it.” Medicare takes forever and a day to send out their Summary Notices but when it gets here you can bet your grocery money that I’ll be calling about that $68.43 “adjustment.” In the meantime I was told I should pay the bill in full. It’s been years since I’ve racked up enough doctor appointments in a calendar year to satisfy my Medicare deductible before November. And I like it that way because that means I haven’t been sick. What a crazy, stupid change in Medicare if it pans out not to be a mistake. What if I didn’t have an extra seventy bucks to throw around on something I didn’t get?

The next day I got another bill from the doctor’s office, this time for $52.00 and after the “Medicare Insurance Adjustment” it was reduced down to $43.39. I called again. I was told the first bill was for the use of the clinic room, the second was for the services of the nurse practitioner. I used the bathroom while I was there so I'm surprised I didn't get billed for a toilet paper and flushing fee! 

Service people saw the surly side of me this week. My irrigation company called two weeks ago and wanted to come out this week Wednesday to turn my system on and fix any heads that winter may have damaged. Great, I could be home then but the scheduler couldn’t give me a window of time they’d be here. “I’ll let you know later,” he promised. He didn't. Tuesday morning I called him and asked if he could give me a window for the next day. “I’ll call you after six when I have the route set,” he said. I replied---and not too nicely, I might add---that I liked their old system better. “What was the old system?” he asked and I told him that the guy who did his job for years before he took it over always gave us a window of three hours in the same phone call when he’d set the date. “I can do that when I call tonight.” “A lot of good that does,” I snapped, “when I’ve had to keep the entire day open for two weeks waiting for you to call with a time!” Fortunately, the young guy who showed up to do the work was a sweetie pie and I didn’t give him a lick of surly or sass. 

Thursday the tide was about to change. When I came out of the grocery store I loaded my bounty into the car, hopped in the driver’s seat and hopped back out to take a sheet of notebook paper off my windshield. In block print, no punctuation or capitalization---a sure sign the writer was under thirty---were the words, “have a happy day” followed by a happy face drawing. I looked around and of course no one was around to see me smile. Then a cynical thought crossed my mind. Maybe someone scratched or dented my car and he/she left that note because someone saw it happen and the note writer was pretending to leave their contact information. I walked around the car, carefully eyeballing the gray metal and plastic. It was fine. I was truly the recipient of a random act of kindness. I kept the note and I’ll pass it on to another unsuspecting soul who will probably wear a silly smile all afternoon like I did---hopefully without my momentary cynical thought. 

Life was good again and it got better on Friday when I went to a lecture called, What Happens When You Tickle an Elephant's Toes? Crazy name but an interesting lecture about the Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, which is a place where dozens of elephants live who’ve been abused and neglected. The woman giving the lecture took part in one of those volunteer programs where she paid to spend two weeks working at the sanctuary bathing, walking and feeding the elephants who live there. She’s a fascinating person. She works in a Search & Rescue K9 Unit and has been to over 40 countries. Her vacations are never your standard, hotel and tour bus kind of vacations. She finds these off the wall, ecotourism vacations that I’d never do but love hearing about. Why is it that some of us are doers and others, like me, are their cheerleaders? In my next life I want to be a doer who finds out firsthand that if you tickle an elephant’s toes they "laugh" just like we do and who learns that elephants are so smart they'll pack grass up inside the bells they wear around their necks to make them stop ringing when they play hide and seek with their Mahout. ©

NOTE: Ecotourism is defined as, “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.” In other words you pay to work to make a difference for good causes.  Volunteer for Wildlife 

Photo at the top is of an elepant bell.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Time Marches On

Saturday was one of those rare days where I got a big girl serving of family time topped like a cherry on an ice cream sundae with a wish that I could be a young again. It was the first tine this spring that was warm enough to go without a jacket and the sun was bright enough to require sunglasses as I drove out to the boondocks to my oldest niece’s log cabin in the woods. They built the house thirty some years ago and I love it as much today was when it was new. There’s a peacefulness that comes over me when I open the old fashioned, wooden screen door that slams with a thud. That sound calls back to my youth and it says, “Hey, I remember you, welcome home!” I’ve never lived in a log cabin but I grew up in an era when everyone had wooden screen doors that made that sound. Usually it was a soft thud but when my brother rushed in and out it could be a sharp banging. Mom got so mad at him for slamming the screen door once too often that she made him stand at the door and open and close it a hundred times. 

From her house, my niece drove us to a different boondocks than I’m used to going, to a brand new house where a party was going on for a one year old boy who shares the same name as my dog. Of the nine (soon to be eleven) kids under four who form the newest generation in my family, he’s the only one who will carry on the family name. When they found out the sex of the baby, his grandmother claims I was the first person they called because they knew how much I was rooting for a boy who will keep our surname from dying out. I doubt that story is true but it seems to be part of the family folklore now and that's okay. It may be the only thing Levi will ever know about his great-great aunt Jean when he grows up.

We left the party before they served the cake and I teased my niece for “rushing me out” before I got my sugar fix so she took me to a place near the lake where I spent all my summers growing up, to an ice cream store that still has the same name but, boy, has it changed. We got cupcakes and took them to the old family cottage that she now owns, where we had tea and cake on the screen porch. I told her, “I never tire of this view” and although it’s changed a bit (trees die and others grow) that lake view reminds me of the days when I spent hours playing in and on the water---swimming, canoeing, sailing and fishing. There were also the days when we’d put peanut butter sandwiches and Orange Crush pop in an old Army surplus knapsack and we “cottage kids” spent the day walking around the lake's shoreline. In those days there were only the six-seven cottages on lake and most of the land butting up to the water was farmer’s grazing fields alternating with wooded acreage. We loved the woods because one of them had jungle-like vines that were strong enough for us to play Tarzan and Jane and the other one had catalpa trees aka to us, bean pod trees. 

My niece is doing some redecorating inside the cottage, her second reincarnation of the place. She’s going from a fun, eclectic ‘40s vibe that I loved to the growing-in-popularity mid-century modern. Slowly the cottage of my childhood is disappearing and the ‘60s look of my niece’s youth is taking its place. Both my nieces are fans of the Mad Men series and my oldest watches it for the decor in the scenes like I used to watch Little House on the Prairie for the frontier antiques. Time marches on.

Time Marches On. Do you know that Tracy Lawrence song? I hear it on Country Classic Channel every time I drive to the boondocks. I’m fascinated with how a song writer can take 171 words and tell a story that covers decades. I’m going to hear it three times in May. I have appointments lined up to finally get my tooth fixed that I broke off in February. The dentist will drill down the old molar and its huge filling, built up a core and set a new cap. I hate getting caps but what are you going to do if you still like chewing food and you’re not ready to suck all your meals up through a straw.  

Have you heard about the movement nicknamed Straw Wars? ‘National Skip the Straw Day’ took place in February so I’m late to the party. If you are too, let me introduce you to the cause. According to National Geographic Magazine Americans use 500 million plastic straws DAILY. They are a particularly insidious pollution because they are often the cause of death for marine animals. Plastic straws are an unnecessary pollutant because there are Eco-friendly wax coated paper straws and reusable stainless steel to take their place or we can go straw-less altogether. I watched a video of a sea turtle getting a straw removed from his nose, putting the big guy in obvious, bloody pain that lasted eight minutes before they got the whole thing out. That made me a believer in getting my own Eco-friendly straws to carry in my purse. Time marches on but we all need to be marching with it to solve the problems mankind created. Do what we can, where we can is a promise we can all make to the newest generation in our families. ©

Warning: Strong language at the beginning of the video.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

All's Well that Ends Well

My Alice in Wonderland theme birthday party came and went and everyone seemed to have a great time. It started with the invitations up above, and on the day of the party as the guests came up the sidewalk to my door they were greeted by the White Rabbit playing in our rare April snow. 

After opening the door (above) guests found me wearing this silly headband, which I hope distracted from the fact that I hadn't been able to wash my hair for three days because I lost my hot water heater during the ice storm. It was so comfortable I forgot I was wearing it when later I took my dog outside for a potty break. God only knows what the neighbors thought!

One of the first things the ladies saw coming in the door was this floral arrangement that my niece sent me for my birthday. And after everyone got here we did a little Q & A involving the scrolls below.

In an email before party day I had sent the guests---my Gathering Girls group---a list of three questions with the instructions that they’d have to know the answer to one of them to get in the door. The questions were: 1) who made the tarts in the ‘Alice’ book; or 2) what was the key used for; or 3) what did the flamingos and hedgehogs do in the book? I had a method to my madness---no pun intended. Mad Hatter, get it? One lady found answers for all three questions and she didn't have to take a scroll. One forgot to look, another had an answer but it was wrong. Both had to take a scroll. The scrolls were just a fun way to assign tasks to do at the party: 1) to help carry the food from the refrigerator to the dining room; 2) to pour the drinks to toast 'friendship'; 3) to help plate the cake and ice cream; and 4) to help make and serve the tea with dessert.

Can you believe it, I totally forgot to take pictures of the food---well, of anything on party day! I had planned to do it when all the food was sitting on my Hoosier cabinet before it was passed around. My camera was sitting only two feet away, how could I forget! I served two kinds of tea sandwiches (tuna and a cream cheese with cucumber and spinach), potato salad, a cucumber salad and a marinated four bean salad plus trays of cheeses, olives, pickles, red tarts and one of my friends brought dill pickles rolled up with cream cheese and ham. The tray of olives was a joke for one of the ladies who says when she goes out with her family she steals all the black olives off their salads. I had tiny flags marking the black olives "Sue's" and the green ones "Everyone Else's." She got a kick out of it and wanted to take the flags home to show her family. There were a few other flags here and there proclaiming, "Eat Me!" as per the story-line in the 'Alice' book.

The photos below were taken the day before the party and in some cases they don't show the finished version. The first one is a place setting, for example, that is minus a key at the top of the plate. The dessert cups on the left were filled with the four bean salad, the ones on the right were for the water and champagne. I've loved my moss green thumbprint Fenton luncheon set since the '60s when I first started buying the pieces. But it's been so long since I've used them that they all had to be washed before the party as well as afterward. So worth the effort for sentimental me!

My centerpiece is not impressive in photos but in person where you could absorb the details and symbolism from Alice in Wonderland I think it worked nicely. (My friends seems to enjoy it.) It only cost me the price of a deck of cards, some glass bottles (both from Amazon, both cheap), tags from Hobby Lobby and the flamingos are from the dollar store. The rest I had around the house. 

I love these tiny bottles. In the book Alice drank a potion from bottles like these to make her grow smaller so she could fit through the small door the key unlocked to the garden. Mine just held pink lemonade.

I broke the minute hand on this pocket watch from my husband's collection trying to set it to rabbit time---2:30. (The rabbit's watch stopped but at different times in the Disney movie and the original book.) The rabbit is three inches tall, handmade and I bought him years ago at a teddy bear convention. Before my husband's stroke I was teaching myself how to make designer teddy bears. The smallest one I ever accomplished making was a six inch, jointed bear with a silly looking neck.


The little scrolls (in an upside down candle holder) contained seven life lessons that the 'Alice' book teaches. (I wrote about the lessons in any earlier blog.) I think/hope everyone enjoyed their positive messages and the bit of conversation they triggered. I was kind of shocked that some of the ladies had such expressive voices for reading out loud, no doubt honed over years of reading to grandchildren. I messed up my reading and I'd read all the lessons more than once while I was making them.

The one inch cake and the chair are from my dollhouse (and represent the time when Alice was big and the cake was too tiny to share). The Cheshire Cat card was not in my centerpiece but the branches with the ribbon you saw in the photo five up above represents the tree in Oxford where the cat was known to sit, a real cat and tree that Lewis Carroll wrote into the book. The Dodo in the story was based on the author himself who was a stutterer like Dodo. Another interesting fact: Alice in Wonderland has never gone out of print since it was written in 1865 and it's been translated into 176 languages.

The circle of playing cards grounds the other stuff and are copies of the vintage art work in the book. In the center of the cards is a cake plate to give height to the second tier of things.

The photo above shows the table without the water glasses and bean cups or the keys at each place setting. I wish I had remembered to take a photo of the table with all my Fenton on it. You'll have to take my word for it that the table sparkled in the sun coming through the windows. And I didn't get a single picture of my oak table in the kitchen where I had a red velvet cake, my mother's lily-of-valley tea cups and a small tray of cookies set up. (The cookies were just the king and queen cookies sorted out of two bags of Pepperidge Farm Chessman---lots of leftovers for me to eat.) The cups and saucers are in the dishwasher now but the photo below will give you an idea of the colors and dishes on the cake table. The dishes were supermarket premiums back when I was growing up and when I downsized my everyday dishes---heavy restaurant ware from the 40's---I went on e-Bay and China Replacement to fill out what was missing from Mom's lily-of-the-valley set to build a service for six. Seemed only right since my brother and I broke most of Mom's prized set. She had a thing for lily-of-the-valleys---wore the perfume, had the flowers in the yard and picked them in the spring. My brother, nieces and I have all transplanted some of Mom's lilies to where we currently live.

The party started at 12:00 and ended around 4:00. Toasting to friendship and my birthday, those us who could have alcohol with our medications polished off a bottle of champagne and those who couldn't, polished off a bottle of sparkling white grape juice. Hey, it just dawned on me that we didn't sing Happy Birthday! But we all laughed and shared a lot and no one person monopolized the conversation. The thing I looked forward to the most was letting the ladies wander through my house and see my collectables and art work and they seemed to enjoy that. I think it helps friends to bond and understand one another if we see each other in our natural habitat, so to speak---what we treasure and surround ourselves with. (And I often feel misunderstood.) I had a great time planning the party and it sure kept my mind focused on the here and now and not the six sadiversaries April usually brings.

And to my best friend since kindergarten who lives far away and answered my endless email questions about food and menus, these balloons are for you. You kept telling me I couldn't have a birthday party without balloons and one of my Gathering Girls pals must have heard you because she was the first to arrive and she was carrying these.....

"All's well that ends well" is a phrase that's been around since 1604 when Shakespeare wrote a play by that name. My party is a perfect example of how that sentiment is still as true today as it was when he gave those words to the world. ©