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 27, 2019

Not the Best of Times...


As if I didn’t already have enough on my April plate now I have a car with a big boo-boo to add into the mix. I have no idea how it happened but my back bumper is bashed in, wide and deep. I can pin-point approximately when and where it happened because I got a car wash last week Wednesday and walked around the entire car before I left the place and it was fine and I’d only been to two places before I noticed the damage. The worst part is that one of the backup camera’s sensors is misdirected and therefore unreliable. I took the car over to the insurance company to report it and the agent told me they will waive the deductible since I wasn’t in the car. That was a nice surprise considering it will need a whole new back bumper and a few other parts and I have a $500 deductible.

So now I’m waiting for the insurance adjuster to call and he’ll probably ask if I have the insurance apt on my phone and “Can you I send a photo?” I’ll say, “No to the apt and only if I can email a photo from my computer.” I can’t take photos on my phone without my thumb included in the shot. And half the time when I try to take a photo I end up turning the phone off instead. That off/on button is right where old cameras have their shutter buttons and apparently I’m too old of a dog to learn new tricks. I’ll have to take the car up to the body shop to get an estimate soon. I haven’t had a claim in more than twenty-five years and I’ve been with the same company all those years. It should be a slam-dunk. But we shall see.

But a boo-boo on my car while annoying and time consuming is not a big deal. A big deal is what my nephew’s family is dealing with right now. His daughter just lost her husband. He was only 35 and he leaves behind two girls under three and a son due to be born this August. It was an unexpected death, a suspected pulmonary embolism. He died the day after Easter while she and their daughters were back here in Michigan for the holiday weekend. Like my mom dying on Easter, now another generation will forever have melancholy thoughts factored in their holiday memories. 

After graduating from college and getting married my great-niece and her husband moved to New York state to work at a religious camp and retreat on Lake Erie. In her case (and maybe his), she was answering a call she’d had most of her life to serve her church. She was filled with joy and totally happy with her life's projectory. They came back to Michigan often for holidays, parties, weddings, etc., and her parents visited them, too, but this time he wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay at home rather than make the long trip cooped up in a car. So she and the girls came back alone. I honestly don’t know how someone with two little ones and a baby on the way will get through this first year. It’s hard enough for widows in my age group who have chalked up more life experiences before losing our spouses. All I know for sure is she’ll have both their families and her church family to lean on and time will do the rest.

Another noteworthy happening in my week: A mini half-day trip I went on through the senior hall. They have a yearly trip labeled “Off the Beaten Path” and the destinations are always tiny towns where they drop us off at a museum and then we’re free to roam the main street shops and have lunch before the bus picks us back up a few hours later. They’re popular trips because most of us who go have a connection to these towns in our pasts. Newago, Michigan, where 50 of us went this week is not a place I had particularly warm, fuzzy feelings about but it’s got a rich history that starts back in 1600s with the French fur traders and voyageurs and includes Prohibition Era gangster Al Capone hanging out in the area. Canoeing and tubing on the Muskegon River are huge summertime draws in the area, but the speakeasies of Capone’s era now exist in the form of a micro brewer and a couple of bars. His lawyer’s former mansion is now a B&B and its said to have tunnels that once connected it to the speakeasies and brothel in the downtown area. Myth or reality, Al Capone and his gang left a mark on a lot of out-of-the-way places in my state and they’re all romanticized to serve the tourist trade. I guess we still love a good Robin Hood story and for some strange twist of reality we probably all assume we’d be on the receiving end of their crime spree and not on the taking-at-gun-point end. 

One thing I didn’t expect on our trip was a gourmet, mouthwatering lunch that was probably the best food I’ve had in years and at half the cost of city prices. That was not just my opinion. We were all rubbing our bellies and raving about the food. I brought home a mile high piece of rhubarb cake that melted in my mouth and made me regret that I didn’t also bring home a piece of the dark chocolate cheesecake and a lemon tart. Yes, a week with a minor car boo-boo and a major heart break should end with sweet treats. At least in my world. ©

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

It’s Mueller Time in the Suburbs


Bob Barr gave a speech a few hours before he released the redacted Mueller Report and shortly afterward I got a phone call from a decades-old friend who started yelling about how Trump was going to slip out of all his wrong doings without even a slap out on the hand and how Mueller turned out to be just another puppet for the Republican party. “Two years spent on investigating that ‘prick’ was a waste of time and money!”

My friend, W.G., went to high school with my husband and when Don died, the political conversations those two had every few weeks transferred to me but yelling is not part of our usual M.O. I tried to interject the idea that he was buying into Bob Barr’s interpretation of the Mueller’s Report and that no pundits, no Democrats and no legal experts had had a chance to look at it yet to see if Barr was puffing for the president. To which he screamed, “It’s not going to make any difference! Trump is destroying our country and they’re all going to let him do it!”

“W.G., we’re on the same side here,” I said in the calmest voice I could muster, “Let’s just let the dust settle and talk again next week and see if things look any different by then.” I didn’t add that I didn’t agree with him about Mueller’s creditably. I didn’t want to argue that or any other point in his rant. He was too upset to reason with, so I just said a few "give it some time" before finally saying "good-bye and hanging up.

Two days later I got home from the grocery store and found this message waiting for me: “I think you’re mad at me. I hope not," my friend said. "Not for voicing my political views. We’ve been friends too long. Give me a call when you get home. I want to know if you’ve started reading the Mueller Report yet.” I called him back but the phone went directly to voice mail and I left a message telling him I wasn’t mad but I was worried about him having a stroke over Trump. “I don’t think you realized how loud you were yelling at me. I’ll be home the rest of the day. Call me.”

I hung up the phone thinking, my God, if the Russian interference in our election’s sole purpose was to cause discord in our nation they sure have been successful. Then I remembered a comment I sent to the spam folder on this blog before I went to the grocery store. It was another one of those comments that claimed Baby Boomers are evil. “White people, black people, Asians, Mexicans, Indians, Chinese, millennials, GenX, GenZ. There is not one single demographic that does not hate you.” Blah, blah, blah. What if the Russian troll farms are behind that kind of disinformation, too? I see those kinds of topic threads on message boards and internet bots could leave comments like that on blogs. Human or computer generated, their whole purpose is to make Baby Boomers feel afraid and distrustful of others. But my first thought upon reading that comment was, Gee whiz, I guess I have the audacity not to be living under a bridge. Now pass me another stack of hundred dollar bills to count. The idea that the Russians are trying to pit us against each other in other areas besides our political leanings cheers me up. Why? Because that’s easier to accept than the idea that raw-hate is wide-spread in America. However, the field of cultural rifts the Russians could use to stir the pot into a frenzy is fertile and we have to be on guard against that.

It would have cheered me up if my friend would have apologized for yelling at me when he returned my call, but he didn't. He wanted to discuss the Mueller Report and he was disappointed, maybe even irritated when I told him I’m not going to read it which may or may not turn out to true. I haven’t decided yet but I have decided to back off from talking politics with him because it’s just not right to let the likes of Donald Trump come between me and one of most loyal friends my husband ever had and me by osmosis. When I had my knee replaced this guy stayed with Don and Levi while I was in the hospital. He literally wiped my husband’s butt, helped him with showers and wheelchair transfers and fixed his meals just so he wouldn’t have to go to a nursing home while I was gone and Levi wouldn’t have to go to a kennel. When others friends fell by the wayside when Don lost his mobility and speech after the stroke, W.G. kept the same, exact pattern of friendship they’d had since high school. The phone calls, the stopping by for coffee, and the meetings for an occasional meal---those things never missed a beat. That’s the kind of friendship that is worth something and it’s the kind of loyalty our president will never know.

Whatever happens or doesn’t happen to Trump in the afterglow of the Mueller Report, I don’t really care as long as he doesn't get re-elected. His daily drama-queen activities is wearing out the nation. But Trump is not the problem as I see it, the people who support him are. What I care about is how are we going to get his followers to value facts, Truth and the rule of law again? How do we get them to value voting candidates into office who are ethical and have good characters, who don't try to divide us and erode the Fourth Estate? How do we educate people to tell the difference between fake stories from troll accounts and well-researched and verifiable reports? I fear our democracy depends on doing those things. ©


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: haircuts and dog grooming, 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