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, August 24, 2019

Old Houses and Young Dreams

Those who know art will recognize the painting above as done formula-style aka amateurish in the tradition of Bob Ross. I found it down in my basement last week. It was tucked away in one of my printmaking folders and I hadn't seen it for nearly twenty years. I'm keeping it for my new place while better quality, arty-farty paintings I’ve done got sent off with the trash. The colors will go with my future decor and it reminds me of a house my husband and I almost bought and wanted to restore to its former glory. It had a round barn in the backyard---one of the few left in the state---and house was out in the middle of nowhere. It never had indoor plumbing other than a make-shift shower in the basement and a cold water tap in the kitchen. Late 1800s bathroom fixtures sat in their original shipping containers in the basement, never installed. But the person who inherited the house from a great-uncle (who built the house for his run-away bride) got nervous he wasn't asking enough, so the nephew got a realtor involved and he backed out of our deal. A year later he sold the place for $10,000 less than we offered plus he had to pay realtor fees proving that a bird in the hand really is worth two in the bush.

I think about that house from time to time and how different our lives would have been if we'd gotten our dream home. It would have changed the trajectory of our lives. The uncle lived in the kitchen and butler's pantry his entire long, lonely life and the place was so thick with dust you couldn't tell the windows were beveled glass or what kind of wood was on the floors. No furniture had ever been moved into the rest of the house. The exterior was brick with a tin roof and it was structurally as sound as the year it was built. We loved the promise of greatness that house whispered to us. We adored that barn, even the brick outhouse would have been turned into something quaint. We got to see the inside of the house again, at an open house when the restored Victorian was up for sale. It was magnificent! They had installed the copper bathtub and the toilet with its ceiling-high oak water box that were in basement crates and they added a skylight above them. My heart be still, that bathroom still makes we wish I could take a bath under the stars. Touring that house had me wondering if the reluctant bride was sitting on a cloud and saying, "Would you look at that, God, the house finally got finish!"

And then there's another painting of another empty house that needed a lot of tender love and care, this one painted my mom (below). She took up oil painting at the age I am now and she was a true disciple of learning-to-paint via a TV show on PBS. Being a somewhat snub about art back in those days, I wasn't especially fond of her work and if honesty were required here I'd admit to being a tad bit jealous because I'd taken a million and one art classes during my life and she'd had none yet people were handing her compliments right and left. I resisted the temptation to critique her work when I'd see one of her canvases though I wanted to. She had that Grandma Moses-like lack of prospective that drove me crazy.

my mom's work
Background on Mom's painting: First off I hate orange but it was a gift from Mom because she wanted each of her kids to have something she created. It hung in my closet forever---is still there today. It goes with me when I move, and will probably decorate the inside of my 4' x 8' storage unit at the end of my parking space. The old house theme was a family joke of sorts because for several years Don and I was in serious house shopping mode, had notebooks full of newspaper listings. Every Sunday morning when the realtor section came out we poured over it looked for what was new on the market. The family joke was we didn’t like any house if it had electricity, central heat and plumbing and if birds were flying in and out of broken windows, all the better. That wasn’t far from the truth. We had more dreams than common sense and we figured whatever an old house needed we could learn how to do.

We did buy a few old houses…in the form of prints we found at art shows but we never did find our dream house to restore.

And the photo below is one my husband took of an old house that was surrounded by hoarfrost the morning we saw it. It took third place in a photo contest with over 700 entries. I won’t be able to hang any of these in my new place---wall space is limited---but they might find their way onto the walls of my storage unit. I don't plan to keep much in there. No someday maybe projects but a miniature art gallery would be fun. I literally have 49 paintings, prints and silhouettes hanging in my house now that will have to be pared down to seven or eight. Trust me, I'm not looking forward to that downsizing project! ©

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Doilies and Drawings

My mom, like other moms in the 1940s and ‘50s, was prolific at crocheting and embroidery and while emptying out the basement I ran into a dozen or so pieces she made. They sat in my garage for a week, making me feel impotent because I couldn’t decide what to do with them. The local auction house would have ended up selling the entire lot for a dollar and after the fees were paid I’d get a whole eighty-two cents and e-Bay doesn’t have a strong market for that sort of thing either. Throughout the week the Salvation Army with it cardboard box labeled as such sat on the garage floor mocking me for my inability to let go. I had already given my nieces some of her handiwork last summer, thinking that was all I had until these pieces showed up so passing them on to them wasn’t a strong possibility either. 

Sometimes what goes on in the back of my mind surprises me. With seemingly no forethought I woke up one morning, marched directly to the garage still in my nightgown and I took some pictures of the embroidery, posted them on Facebook and tagged some of mom’s nieces to offer the handcrafts up as gifts. By nightfall they were all spoken for including things I hadn't even photographed and I mailed everything to various relatives the next day and, boy, did that feel good. One of my cousin’s collects crocheted doilies which I didn’t know and she ended up with an entire bridal party of dolls in dresses that mom made back in 1950. Another shirt-tail relative from out of state who I’ve never met offered to take some of Mom’s handiwork for the museum she runs and I gladly complied with her request for a photo of Mom and a small write-up about her to display with them. One cousin who had an terribly abusive childhood came to the give-away post late and she ended up with a couple of things I had planned to keep for myself. She and my mom had a special relationship and I figured she needed the physical connection to my mom more than I do.

It was an emotional week in the Department of Downsizing. Another task I had in the garage was sorting through decade’s worth of art supplies plus drawings from classes I took back in the 1980s. I don’t know why I thought it was important back then to save every edition of prints I’d pulled off metal plates, wood blocks and lithograph stones in a printmaking class or all the drawings of every naked person who stood before me in figure drawing classes. Judging by the style of some of my prints I was trying to be the next William Blake. My mom had died the year before---under traumatic circumstances---and apparently I was trying to make peace with her death by writing cryptic poetry and committing then to etching plates. I hate the color orange with a passion, always have, so for me spend time making an etching plate and pulling twenty orange editions off it---the class requirement---boggles my 2019 sensibilities. I was in a very dark place.

Not all my prints were weird poetry, some had pedestrian subjects. Thankfully, we were graded on learning the process, not the subject matter of our projects.
For those who might not know of William Blake (1757-1827) according to Wikipedia he was “an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.” Obviously, he was a prolific saver of his work because you can’t study printmaking or poetry without falling all over him. At least you couldn’t during my age of being a sponge in the world of art history. I admired him. I wanted to be him…or Michelangelo. Among the other art supplies I still hoarded in the basement was my set of marble cutting chisels---my 1960s period. I ended up sending all the usable art supplies to Goodwill---enough pastels, charcoals, chalks and tablets for half a classroom and just in time for back to school. And trust me when it say it hurt to send a large set of portrait, oil pastels off because I also dreamed of being another John Singer Sargent. All my expensive printmaking blotters went to recycling. That hurt too. Dried up oil and watercolor paints and printer inks were set aside for another trip to hazardous waste. My art room upstairs already has my prim pencils and acrylic paints and I hope to be able to take up art again once I move, so they will go with me. I'll have an eight foot long closet to divide up between art, quilting and/or knitting supplies plus out of season coats, the vacuum and whatever else I can get in there and still close the doors.

I had two whole boxes of drawings folded up for recycling before I thought about taking a few photos.

People say that downsizing must make me feel “lighter” or “freer” and at times those words apply. But downsizing also reminds me that most of my life is in the rear view mirror and there is no turning back, no making up for lost time during my caregiving years. Other times downsizing makes me angry for having kept so much or spent so much money on stuff that I abandoned---wasted cash that could have been growing in the bank. Often times downsizing makes me worry I won't be me anymore without the visual queues from my past to remind me of where I've been, what I've done. And this week of downsizing chastised me for not living up to my youthful fantasies. Did I not work hard enough, not have enough raw talent? Or worse yet, did I have talent that I let gather rust to the point that it’s lost forever? Downsizing is like going to a funeral. Sometimes the mourners stand up and tell funny or sweet stories, sometimes they stand up and share their tears and fears. Either way they confirm the fact that the past is really past. ©

Part two of downsizing my art stuff will be posted on Saturday.