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, June 29, 2019

The Appointment with Downsizing Specialist

Don’t lick the egg off my face! Would you believe it’s a beauty mask? If you said ‘no’ you’ve known me longer than a day. I’ve been a bundle of nerves for nearly two weeks, worrying about downsizing in time for what I falsely believed was a pushed up move-in date for the Continuum Care Complex that’s being built that I’ve put a hefty deposit down on. Originally we were told it would be the fall of 2020 which was perfect for me, given all I have to do. Then I was informed that the timing had changed and it would be February or March, but silly me I panicked and thought they meant 2020. I just found out they meant the spring of 2021, not 2020. I’m both relieved and disappointed. Disappointed because it means two more winters here instead of one. But all it really changes is now I can go back to plan A which is a more relaxed and doable time frame to get the most money out of what I need to downsize. Trust me, this CCC will be worth the extra wait even if I wish the wait wasn’t so long and I could be dead by then.

Another interesting thing developed before my appointment with the downsizing specialist. When I called the son-I-wish-I-had (Tim) to propose the barter I wrote about on the 19th involving an air meter he said, “Why don’t you let me help you downsize like I did when you moved after Don’s stroke?” Duh, why didn’t I think of that? Actually, I did and even though I pay him when he works for me, I don't like taking his time away from his family if I can find another solution. Anyway, he has a company that rents dumpsters and when he picks them up if there is anything useful or antique he takes that stuff to an auction house. But lately, he said, he’s been wanting to change his business model to helping people downsize. After he helped me empty two houses to get listed plus a pole building full of stuff and sell three front end loaders, a street sweeper and 10 pickup trucks with snowplows he’s helped other widowed friends downsize and he loves doing it. We decided that he should come over when I have my free hour conciliation with the D.S. so he could see/learn how that end of the business looks. 

The D.S. came out and we asked questions and listened to her spiel. They charge $70 an hour per person to stand over clients with a whip to make them let go of stuff—my words, not hers. After you decide what you want to move to your new place or to donate or give away to family her company (a nation-wide senior downsizing chain) packs up everything else (for $70 an hour per person again) and takes it to their resale shop or their warehouse. The warehouse has sales every two weeks. If something you own sells within the first 60 days, they get half and you get half. If it doesn’t sell by then it becomes their property. The average cost for their services to downsize a house and pack you up is $3,000, mine would be more like $5,000, she said, presumably because between the garage, basement, main floor and porch I have 4,268 square feet to downsize into 1,057 square feet that I'll be keeping. She kept repeating, “Your house is so clean!” Like what was she expecting, what has she seen while specializing in “senior moves?” 

After she left Tim was aghast! “They are ripping off old people!” he said. He’s been hearing rumors about that warehouse, not even knowing where their stuff came from until this meeting and none of it is good. Obviously, I’m not going to contract them. Tim is going to use me for a training ground to learn how to sell stuff like art work that he’s never dealt with, but all the other aspects of downsizing he knows how to do. And starting early in July he’s coming over one day a week and we’ll start by clearing out the garage and basement down to a bare minimum needed to live here, then we’ll move inside. He’ll charge me $35 an hour for the same things the D.S. wanted $70 an hour for doing. He’ll also haul the lesser quality sellables to the auction house where the auctioneer keeps 18% and I get the balance, and Tim will market the better quality stuff through other channels where he’ll take an 18% seller’s fee. This is what we did the last time we downsized together and we both made good money. 

In the meantime I’ll keep plugging away on e-Bay where I’ll be able to sell things like an Iroquois Indian made, beaded picture frame from the late 1800s for $200+ and I’m actually having fun researching things that I’ve loved for decades and have all but forgot their histories. To me, our downsizing “battle plan” feels like planning a wedding. We’re x number of months away from “Moving-Day” and we have x number of things to do at certain trigger points. I’m excited. I serviced nearly 4,000 weddings back when I was in the floral industry. I’m organized to a fault and Tim has his own set of skills. We can do this! Assuming we both stay healthy and wise enough to know when and if we need to go to Plan B or C or even Plan Z---the nationally franchised senior downsizing specialist with dollar signs glowing in her eyes. ©

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Selling a Big House to Move into a Shoebox

I had my appointment with the realtor or rather I should say realtors. It was a tag team of two women who work together. Smart idea for women working in that field. They walked through the house, the yard, the basement and I even showed them my embarrassingly messy e-Bay Central in the garage. I was anxious to see if one of their suggestions to improve a showing included taking down the grab bars in the bathrooms but I was prepared for that. I had typed out a list of the not-so-obvious wheelchair friendly features of the house with the suggestion the place be marketed that way. The List: 

- One of the garage doors is higher than normal to fit a pop-up van
- Garage is deep enough and wide enough so you can lower a ramp off the back or side of a van with the garage door closed
- Garage has a charging station for an electric wheelchair with a grab bar for transfers to a manual chair
- All doorways are all 3 foot wide
- Hallway is five foot wide
- Bathrooms both have the required 5 foot turn radius in the center for a wheelchair
- One bath is set up for a right side disability, one is set up for a left side disability
- Both baths have the required ADA grab bars
- Both bath sinks can be rolled up to and under
- Kitchen has a prep area for wheelchair user
- Kitchen sink doors open with no center post so a wheelchair can pull up and under
- Refrigerator is a side-by-side for the best access from a chair
- Front door has a key pad for access if you have caregivers coming in (change caregivers, change the code)
- Zero steps entry
- Staircase to basement is extra wide to accommodate a stair lift incliner
- Electrical service box is in garage instead of basement (permitted by inspector for ADA houses)
- All light bulbs in ceiling fixtures can be changed with a long-handled light bulb changer & no ladder
- Front loading, raised washer and dryer for a wheelchair user (goes with the house)
- Lower than normal windows so a person in a wheelchair gets a better view
- Circular traffic flow in kitchen, dining and living room so a person in wheelchair can’t trap others

Do you know that feeling when you think you’ve found just the right person to do a business transaction with? Well it happened to me today. I was so impressed by the tag team! They were here for an hour- and-a-half and we talked about things like getting a home equality loan to act like a bridge, if needed to pay the CCC before my house sells. We talked about timing the listing and marketing the house and they seemed pleased to get my list above and one said, “This house is marketable to EVERYONE which is a real plus.” They liked the airiness and light (which I will miss when I move) and how pleasant and private my yard and deck are and how my basement with the daylight window could be finished off with more bedrooms. We talked about how the garage is a guy magnet with its 821 square feet, vaulted ceiling, tall door, bright lights and row of lockable steel cabinets. We talked about resources for selling this, that and the other thing. 

We also talked about how the last realtor I dealt with pulled something she would have lost her license for if I had taken it to the real estate board. One of these ladies serves on that board and they both assured me that because I’m sensitive about a legality being skipped that caused a lot of extra stress and lost time they will show me every bit of paperwork, as it’s generated so I can see with my own eyes that what I’m being told jives with what actually happened.

The tag team specializes in working with seniors who are getting ready to go into places like the CCC I’ve made a payment on. One of the women is on the board of the county’s Commission on Age and a bunch of other do-good organizations that deal with senior issues. Caring about older people is embedded deeply into these women's personalities. And they said the way I have house arranged we won’t need a stager. Decluttering collectibles that could distract buyers, yes, but I already knew that and I told them that before they could mention it. They are going to call me once a month until we get closer to knowing my potential move-in date to make sure I’m on track with things like I promised by fall my basement and garage would be down to just the bare, necessary things for living here. But as far as maintenance on the house they said ‘no’ to re-roofing and ‘yes’ to staining my deck, which I’ve already lined someone up to do. They don’t see any major issues. As for having all the original AC, furnace and kitchen appliances---if asked to buy new as part of an offer, we can counter offer to buy a warranty for two years at $500 and, yes, they do sell them on things that will be 17 year old when I move. If they fail within two years they get replacements for free from the warranty company. That was just one of the ways to handle that situation but it's all my decision at the time an offer comes in. All and all I was pleased with the way things went. More than pleased.

Next time I’ll write about the appointment with the downsizing specialist happening tomorrow. I don’t expect that to go as well. I image Marie Kondo in her little white sweater telling me to thank this or that and throw it in the trash. ©

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Beginnings and Endings

I got the email announcing the movie my Movie and Lunch Club picked this month---Men in Black---which I have no interest in and no time to spend an afternoon out and about just for the human contact. Not only did I reply that I won’t make it this month but I also asked them to take me off the email list. I don’t have any close friends in the club. It was just a way to go to movies without having to go alone. I can always join again. It’s a sponsored club through the senior hall with no membership limit.

And did I mention I had new friends to make? Wednesday I met twenty-three of my future neighbors at one of the ‘guided conversations’ the CCC holds for the people who, like me, have committed with cash in hand to moving in. I was anxious to see how they dressed. K-Mart or Macy? Turned out to be somewhere in between. Mostly it was ladies who came but there were five guys, too. One of them made a crack about Trump that made me laugh and the sales representative put her fingertips on her forehead and bowed her head as if to say, “There goes grandpa again stirring up trouble.” Everyone I talked to one-on-one seemed to have the same worries I do. Did I pick the right unit? Can I get downsized in time? Will I time the sale of my house right? I am sure I’m going to fit in just fine, personality wise. 

One of the best things about all the units having the same move-in date is we get to influence the direction of the social activities, etc. This particular guided conversation, however, was all about the food the two restaurants will put on their menu. Oh! My! God! They served us a light lunch and it was do die for. They plan to raise many of their fruits, vegetables and herbs in the complex, in raised beds and we can help tend them if we want. Hey wait a minute, that’s what the old poor farms used to do! Now it’s considered 'upscale' to grow their own? The level of thought they’ve put into things is amazing like having a long community, farm house table in the café so no one has to eat alone, if they don’t want to. My husband and I ran into small town restaurants Out West that did that and the locals encouraged us to sit with them. It was fun even though it was probably part of their entertainment to quiz people just passing through town. We got to see the farm house table concept work at a bed-and-breakfast a few years back too.

The menus at the two CCC restaurants will rotate every three months and because this place is a non-profit the food will be priced well below traditional restaurants. It will be a two-tier pricing system where residents will have a food card to swipe, like running a monthly tab we pay with our rent. The first $200 a month is free. Non-residents pay cash at a higher rate. The chefs will also cater anything we might want to take to a family potluck. And get this…if anyone has a family recipe they miss the head chef is willing to put it on the menu for a day. When I told my niece that she said, “Like peas and peanuts?” My mom once made it for a family potluck but she didn’t own up to making it. We were all guessing and it became a family joke. It took a few years for the truth to finally come out. 

The next day after the ‘guided conversation’---which they call some fancy word that starts with ‘s’ that I still can’t say much less spell---my niece came to town to meet me for lunch and for a tour at my future home. She was duly impressed and is happy that I’ll be living on the south side of town. While we were in the sales office they showed me something I hadn’t seen before…large boards mocked-up with samples of flooring, counter tops, carpeting, paint, back splashes, etc. each board coordinated around a different neutral. I picked “my” color scheme board and it goes perfectly with all the new stuff I bought for my bedroom redecorating project last winter. The color board also goes with my wicker furniture that I plan to use instead of traditional living room stuff, and the minute I got home I knew I’ll be buying a new La-Z-Boy instead of new cushions for the wicker. The wicker furniture is really porch furniture but the settee was my grandfathers and a side chair and a “flower box” came from my husband’s family and I love them. My grandfather lived with us when I was a toddler and died before I was three. Me sitting in the youth chair (below) while he sat on the settee above is the only memory I have of any of my grandparents. He was the only one still alive when I was born. I think that’s why the furniture means so much to me. My best friend growing up had wonderful grandparents and I had a jealous void that was never filled.

I finally got around to calling my doctor about that persistent cough I’ve had since April when I was so sick---one of the reasons I finally admitted I need to move to where I’m not so isolated, the four-day power outage in the middle of winter being the other reason. Anyway, the saga I went through to get the prescription started with the doctor ordering a drug that got pulled from the market. Took a whole seven days of mix ups involving two pharmacies, three emails, two phone calls and a fruitless trip to the drugstore to finally get a new prescription. Funny how I could go for nearly eight weeks putting up with the cough but when I finally decided to do something about it I got all twitchy bitchy and annoyed because I couldn’t get it the next day. ©

My childhood chair with the flower box in the background that's full of rocks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Project What Did I get Myself Into!

The fear of moving---more accurately I should say the fear of not being able to downsize everything in time---is setting in. Before they changed the move-in date to the continuum care complex (known as the CCC after this) from fall of 2020 to the spring I was calm and I thought it was doable. I would have had all summer to downsize collectibles, and next summer to get the house up to snuff, sell furniture, get the house, listed and sold. Now, the major stuff outside like staining the deck has to be done before fall, I have some trim to paint and the beds around the foundation need thinning. And I have to decide if I should re-roof now at pre-China tariffs prices or wait and see if the roof passes the inspection and chance paying 30% more at post-tariff prices. I have an appointment next week with the realtor the CCC place works with and I hope to get answers to that burning question and one I have about whether or not banks are still doing bridge loans. I may need one to make this all work with the shorten time-line. 

In the meantime, I’ve downsizing on e-Bay until I can get hooked up with a quicker method. One thing I just sold was my Pendleton twin bedspreads left over from redecorating project last winter, got $350 for them plus shipping costs. I really didn't want them to go to Goodwill and I found the perfect buyer. She had a set just like mine but lost them when her house burned down in one of the big fires Out West. (I was sentimentally attached, but after hearing her story I'm thrilled they could make someone as happy as she was to win the auction.) I got another $271 for an 8” Texaco sign that hung in our bathroom before I went all girlie in there. And the ladies/men Texaco signs I also had in our master bath went for $77. Right or wrong my thinking is to sell off the rest of my husband’s gas & oil memorabilia collection before the downsizing specialist (who from here on will be known as D.S.) gets her thumbs in my pie because she won’t have a clue what she’s looking at and won’t care if guy-things have value and she tells me to trash it all. 

Speaking of the D.S., I have an appointment with her next week, too. I’m at such a loss on how to proceed and I need a second opinion/battle plan. I’m not worried about normal household stuff. I can sort out the ‘donate’ or ‘trash’ stuff from the estate sale stuff. Lord knows I’ve been to enough of those kinds of sales to do that. But it’s the sheer volume of highly specialized collectibles and art I’m worried about selling. D.S. people charge a referral fee anything they help you sell plus the estate selling or auction services they hire does too, but 50% of whatever is better than paying a junk man to pick it up. The son-I-wish-I-had is in that line of business---picking up stuff left over from estate sales---and he makes a good living doing it.

I haven’t ask my pseudo son yet but I’m hoping to barter with him to sell and ship four very heavy/pricey items that will require a freight company to pick up if sold on e-Bay in exchange for an antique air meter he’s been lusting after since my husband died. He should jump at that barter because the air meters usually e-Bay for 1,000 to $1,800. For one, he deals with freight company pick-ups and e-Bay all the time and we’ve been bartering back and forth for decades. I should have let the air meter go the first year after Don died when the other big stuff got sold. But emotions got in the way. Having the air meter restored was the last Christmas gift I gave him---just a month before he died.  

I had lunch with my Gathering Girl pals this week and my mouth was running a mile a minute. I couldn’t help it! They offered to help me if I have a garage sale, which was a sweet surprise. But I’ve lost faith in garage sales being worth the time, opting instead to donate to Goodwill or Salvation Army but Trump took away the tax write-offs on donations so that’s a bummer. By the way, when you donate collectibles, etc., they never make it to the floor. They’ve gotten smart over the years and now have online sells divisions.

Can’t wait until next week’s appointments with the realtor and the D.S. In the meantime I have two fun appointments this week: one a meeting with some of my future neighbors for a “guided conversation” at the CCC and one with my niece who is coming up to tour the CCC. She will go home with the table and chairs my brother and I used when we kids. Anyone I see or visit before I move gets a door prize when we part. ©

Some of the "smalls" I need to sell. Bet you can't find my old decoder ring from the '50s in there.