Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Widow's Kitchen

I eat out a lot and it’s a good thing because I’m a failure in the kitchen. My meal planning and grocery shopping skills are non-existent. If you follow the ‘Living Richly in Retirement’ blog you’ll know that Barb posts a lot about budgets, buying on sale and planning and to understand my approach, just think the opposite of what she does. I don’t follow sales nor budgets. In fact I rarely look at the price on grocery items. In my defense, I’ve never had to feed a family of hungry kids and before my husband’s stroke, we spent our entire adult lives eating the main meal of the day in restaurants. It worked better for our crazy schedules, thus my cooking skills are not honed to perfection like most women's my age.

So what to do I eat? I wing it mostly. When I’m hungry I open the refrigerator or freezer and stare inside. When I’m not on a ‘winging it’ kick, the sum total of my planning consists of taking something out of the freezer at bed time and putting a notation on my planner for the next day such as: ribs in the crock pot by 12:00 or cook salmon for dinner. I usually have chicken, pork, salmon and beef in the freezer---cut up and packaged in single cooking and serving sizes. I only cook once or twice a week but always on Sundays. I also like to bake scones on the weekend but that only happens once or twice a month. Before I got on the scones kick, I baked artisan breads---my only claim to kitchen fame. When I’m winging it I get by with Stouffer’s or Eat Well freezer-to-microwave meals. Heck, I've even been known to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner. Once in while I’ll make chili or soup, eat part and freeze the rest for later. For breakfast if I don't have scones I'll make oatmeal or cream of wheat or I'll have an Atkin’s Protein Drink if I’m going out for lunch later.

I might be an old dog but I can learn new tricks. Recently, I’ve discovered how to make chicken wings in the crock pot. I’m having them later today in fact. But with all my crock pot cooking I cheat. I’m using a half-a-pack of Tavern Wings Seasoning Mix. Oh and I’ll cheat with soup as well. I like Bear Creek mixes that I’ll add something extra to…like ham cubes to the bean mix. I used to make chicken soup from scratch using a rotisserie chicken carcass but I got so scared that I'd chock on a bone that I quit so now I just cook an extra chicken thigh occasionally and add that to a Bear Creek mix. But nothing is better or easier than a rib-eye steak marinated in a half-a-pack of McCormick Grill Mates Brown Sugar Bourbon mix or pork ribs in a crock pot with Maple Sugar Ribs Seasoning Mix. Sugar? Oh, yes, it’s probably my favorite food group, but sadly we can’t eat it three times a day, seven days a week. 

Vegetables. I can hear the healthy eaters ask if I get that food group into my diet. I buy salads and eat them at least once a week under protest. I cook fresh cauliflower, broccoli and snow peas weekly and fight the dog for eating them raw right out of the refrigerator for snacks. And I always have organic carrots and potatoes in the refrigerator to add to the crock pot or to cook in the microwave. If you’re going to buy anything organic, it should be the root vegetables because they contain more pesticides than vegetables that grow at the top of the plants. We once knew a farmer who grew carrots for a large cannery back in the day when it was still legal to use kerosene for week killer. He told us to smell the carrots in the supermarket for a hint of kerosene and he was right, you could smell it if you were looking for it. They've outlawed kerosene used this way in most countries now but I’ve never forgot that lesson so when organic carrots and potatoes came along I jumped on that bandwagon. Experts will tell you the same thing about organic root vegetables being worth the extra cost, while the others not so much.

And fruits? I’m glad you asked. I buy three bananas every couple of weeks. I buy strawberries in season and I alternate buying red raspberries and blue berries every other week year-around. I buy three pounds of apples in the fall and make apple sauce with them in the spring. I don’t like apples but they're my winter security blanket. It's a quirk I'd explain if I could but I've can't.

I love reading blogs like the one mentioned above. I know if I ever have to tighten the reigns on my grocery spending, I’ve got a lot of room and a road map for improvement. On the plus side, I don’t waste food. I grew up in a household that respected the privilege of having food on the table. We ate left overs every Friday night---things like hash made from left over meats and fried mash potato paddies. Mom served bread pudding, too, made with stale bread and by far bread pudding is still my favorite comfort food. And I never leave food behind in a restaurant. I put an ice pack and an insulated bag in the car for take-out boxes when I know I'm going to be eating out that day.

There you have it, my widow’s kitchen expose. All my shameful and embarrassing secrets have been unmasked and, yes, I know my haphazard approach to eating is not healthy. And for sure, no old duffer is going to set his sightings on marrying me for my cooking skills and I'm okay with that. However, if I ever meet Guy Fieri from the Food Network, he'd better be wary of me setting my sights on him. I do love a man who can cook. ©


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Poor People Past and Present

I do it to myself every April. I over schedule myself. This year I have 22 appointments or events on my day planner for this month and part of that is because it’s the end of winter when some biannual stuff needs to take place: a trip to dentist and the internist, an irrigation system turn on/off. Then there are the repeating stuff that happens every month: two gal pal brunches and two Mad Hatter teas, book club, and the Movie and Lunch Club. I also add to the schedule senior hall events when their newsletter comes out and it’s time to email RSVPs for spring. Who, for example, could pass up a lecture on the history of the poor farms in Michigan? Uh-oh, am I seeing a bunch hands raised out there at the other end of this internet connection? (I need an eye rolling emoji here.)

Actually the poor farm lecture was extremely well attended. Although some of the people there might have missed the part about it being a lecture about history and thought it was about a place we could sign up to go to live out our final days. Either way when the speaker---a research librarian---asked for a show of hands on how many people had a family connection to a poor farm or poor house about of forth of the crowd responded with an affirmative hand in the air. Imagine my shock when one of my ancestors was later named as a keeper of one of the county poor farms in 1857 but thankfully he was not one of the keepers embroiled in a scandal that made the local newspaper. Scandals like the keeper who butchered a disease-ridden cow and fed it to the people in his care. A lot scandals were going on back when the state was paying twenty-five cents a day per person to house and feed the poor. 

I was also surprised at how far back there has been public funding and support in the United States for caring for people who couldn’t take care of themselves---laws have been on the books mandating care as far back as the 1830s. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the first third of the 1900s before they started separating the mental ill from the physically ill so I would imagine the term ‘snake pit’ would have aptly applied to some of these places. Although from what I’m been able to learn the term snake pit to describe a place where groups of sick people lived in deplorable conditions wasn’t used until the 1940s, popularized by the book and movie, The Snake Pit. Both were based on the true story of a woman’s experiences living in a state mental institution. I remember seeing that movie and it scared the crap out of me.

Anyway, back on point. It was not a boring lecture by any stretch of the imagination but I found one fact particularly interested in the light of what’s going on now at our southern border. The poor farms and poor houses separated children from their parents. A man and wife could reside in the same place only in different wings set up for men and women but the kids, if they were old enough, were ‘farmed out’ to work and live in the community and the babies were given to those who wanted them which was what happened to my mom and her siblings when their mother died. People who lived at these poor farms were expected to work if they were able---either in the gardens or fields, the kitchen or laundry or to clean. And when they died they often ended up in unmarked graves. Sometimes they were given train tickets to go back to the counties where they were born, since by law each county was mandated to care for their own poor.

When you think about it, we’ve been a nation that has tried to care for the down and outers for a very long time, and I personally believe the resentment of doing so now is a new ‘phenomenon’ in this century. Maybe because we’re losing the Christian/Judeo ethics we once prided ourselves on having as a nation that makes it easier for some to justify why they belong in the group of haves and others belong in a group of have nots. Maybe because we no longer send the poor off to live in group housing---out of sight, out of mind---that we think we have the right judge whether or not someone truly needs public assistance. Or maybe we’ve grown too cynical to trust the system to make those judgements. Maybe we’re so far removed from knowing people who lost it all through no fault of their own that we’ve become less compassionate about individual hard-luck stories. Famine and World Wars of past centuries, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression touched our grandparents and other ancestors more deeply than the generations to follow. Could that be it? Who knows why the resentment of the poor is out there, but we were just told by our president that our country is “full” and we can no longer take in “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” and if I could find that eye rolling emoji in my Word program I’d end this post with a baker’s dozen of them.  ©

Offer May Vary

NOTE: Drawing at the top is of the poor farm in Calhoun County Michigan

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Potpourri Post

Used as a noun, potpourri is usually thought of as a mixture of dried flower pedals and spices kept in a jar or mesh bag for their fragrance. But a potpourri can also be a collection of miscellaneous objects or subjects, even a musical medley. To the best of my knowledge no one has a computer that can dispense or detect smells so the potpourri in my title is obviously not the pedals and spices type. So what’s a potpourri post? I’m glad you asked. It’s a post with no central topic, just a collection of unrelated things to dump into cyberspace because that’s the way my brain is rolling today---nothing focused, nothing over-developed to the point of ad nauseam. 

I’ll start by finishing a train of thought I mentioned in my last post regarding the new “digitally enhanced bank” in my neighborhood that is replacing a full service branch. I still can’t get past the fact that a BANK will no longer deal with cash. The powers that be really do want us all to quit using the green folding stuff. There’s even a few places in town that refuse cash as payment to eat there. I can play tit-for-tat with the best of them so I refuse to go to those restaurants. However, I will admit that I’m in the minority. Between my Lunch and Movie Club, the Mad Hatters and the Gathering Girls, I go out with a lot of women for lunches and I’m guessing two-thirds of them use a credit card. I’ve turned into a fuddy-duddy haven’t I, who refuses to hop on the train of progress.

Next item in my potpourri: I learned how to do something new and exciting this week that has made a huge difference in my life. I changed the settings on my mouse pointer so that it’s a bigger, slower arrow and it’s a solid black over white pages that changes to a contrasting color if it passes over anything dark. Google can teach you how to do anything. I also learned not to pick up what looks like a chocolate sprinkle from a Nestle’s Lil’ Drums Drumstick and put it in your mouth. When I did that this week it turned out to be a ball of ink that must have come off the end of a ballpoint pen. It instantly turned my entire mouth and fingers black. Thankfully, it came off my tongue with toothpaste and a lot of scrubbing. That should teach me not to eat while working at my desk where crumbs are too inviting. The next day I had a bi-annual appointment with my internist and it would have been hard to explain why I ate an ink ball.

For spices in my potpourri I’ve been watching the parade of nightly town halls on CNN featuring the Democratic presidential candidates running for president. I’m fearful of the process of paring that long list down to the viable people who can actually win AND do a good job of bringing dignity and brain-power back to the White House. So far I’m putting my money on---in no particular order---Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden make me nervous because they’ve been in public life so long they’ll be spending all their time on the campaign trail defending past decisions in a political climate where those decisions are judged by today’s standards and not the standards of the past. Like Warren, for example, before DNA testing was the thing to do, who didn’t just accept the oral family history that was passed down by our parents and grandparents? No one, that's who.

Every potpourri needs a recipe---well, I would assume so. I’ve never made potpourri except for this ‘Potpourri Post’ which more accurately should have been named ‘Six Topics, One Post’ but I’ve never been good at naming any of my creative endeavors except for maybe “Toe Joe.” Who Toe Joe? He’s a clay sculpture I made back in college that’s had a place of honor in my house ever since. He inspects his toe while cursing his creator for making him so fat. 

I write these posts twice a week faithfully to exercise my dyslexic brain although it wasn’t always true when I first stated blogging back near the turn of the century. Back then I fancied myself as having some useful advice and humor to share with caregivers, and then after Don died I was sharing antidotes to make myself and other widows feel less alone in our plight to feel whole again. Now, I would say that isn’t entirely possible for many of us, but a shirttail relative disagrees. After a long and reportedly happy marriage she’s jumping back into the marriage sack and it only took her two years of bemoaning the lonely state of her life to find another guy. Oh, and he happens to live right next door and she's giving her house to her retired kids. Something must be wrong with me because living with Toe Joe and Levi the Mighty Schnauzer is all the testosterone I’m interested in blending with my hormones. ©

NOTE: Yup, that's Toe Joe in the photo above.