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, September 28, 2019

The Downsizing Saga - Chapter Four

My life is rolling along at a pretty good clip now that fall is here. All my biannual doctor appointments are coming up, plus the yard and car both take time up with biannual maintenance. Then there is the Big Purge that has taken over my life. I just sent my fourth load of stuff off to the auction house which included a ton of tools. As Tim---the son-I-wish-I had---said, “Don didn’t buy cheap tools so these should bring good money.” And they did. I sold Don’s stainless steel tool cart to Tim and that’s gone too. So far neither one of us has laid out any cash to the other; he works at $35 an hour but he’s been buying stuff at about the same rate. Fine by me. 

He spied a glass canister set today on my Hoosier cabinet (circa 1900) that he wanted and I told him I’d barter it for vintage zinc topped canning jars, which in his line of business he finds all the time. Ever since I visited Dawn’s blog and saw all the neat things she displays in canning jars I’ve been lusting after a couple to display my Cracker Jack plastic and metal toys in. I’ve already got collectible marbles inside a few zinc topped jars that I’m taking with me when I move but I’ll have room for a few more. I also have a collection of wooden nickels that I’ll put in a jar. When little kids come over they always want to take some nickels home and while most aren’t worth more than a buck I have an even hundred with no duplicates and I want to keep it that way. A jar of wooden nickels instead of on a tray will keep the pilfering at bay.

This may be my last lot of stuff to go to the auction house---at least to this, no reserve auction house---because all the junkier stuff is now gone from the basement and garage and the good stuff won’t be sold there if I can help it. Although I can't complain about the bidding war the auction house had on my 1976 bottle of bourbon. It closed at $228. Next up for the Tim and Jean Dream Team is making a list of all the art in the house and start the research on where to sell it. That will be his job. Why? Because if he wants to branch out his business to include helping people downsize and he’ll need to know how to deal with all aspects of what he might run across in homes. And the timing is right because Tim’s heart surgery happened this week and he’ll have to take it easy for the next two weeks.

I’ve also job assigned him the project of putting my ice cream parlor cash register (circa 1906) back together so we can e-Bay it. One day I came home to find my husband had taken the sales counter on it apart for reasons I still don’t know but being he only had the use of one arm/hand he couldn’t get it back together. Boy, was I mad! I put all the screws in a pill bottle, put the bottle in the drawer of the cash register, closed the lid that hid the counter and I forgot about his misdeed until I decided to sell it. Tim thinks my husband wanted to clean the counter because it was the only part of the register that wasn’t shiny and that might be true. I bought that cash register in the ‘60s and one year in the ‘70s for a birthday gift Don kidnapped it and sent it off to Chicago to have the brass re-plated.

After the cash register came back it looked so good Don didn’t want to give it back and it sat in his office a couple of months until I pitched a fit and made him put it in a place of honor in the living room. I adore that piece but I don’t want anything decorative in my next place that I can’t lift. Still, I love the memories attached to that cash register including how my dad couldn’t walk past it without pressing the ‘no sale’ key and putting a quarter inside. I feel awful that I didn’t take a photo of it as it sat by the door leading into my library. Tim took it to his house so I’ll have to wait until he lists it and then I’ll nab a copy of his listing photo.

I did take a photo of one of six bookshelves in my library (above) before I started a selling friendzy of the black bug boxes. They aren't filled with mounted bugs but the nickname comes from the Victorian era when this style display box were first made for the then popular hobby. Mine are/were fulled of small stuff like union pins, political pinbacks, stick pins, watch fobs, metal oil change reminders, WWII photo ID badges, service awards, fountain pens, mechanical pencils, Moose Lodge and military insignias, etc., etc. A different collection is in each box. My husband had an eye for finding this kind of stuff but it wasn’t until after his stroke and we moved into our new house that we spent evenings cleaning and sorting them into any kind of order and I mounted them in display boxes. Like the maps I finished up selling a few weeks ago, I’ve been feeding these boxes to e-Bay a few at a time.

And thus you’ve just read another chapter in The Downsizing Saga book I seem to be writing in my blog. Will I finish in time for the move? Will there be a conflict three-fourths of the way through the process to be resolved before the final chapter? Only the Shadow knows... and if you're under 70 you probably won't get that 'shadow' reference. I'm barely old enough to remember The Shadow radio series, but it's something my husband and I said to one another on occasion when an answer was unknowable. ©

bug box

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Culture Week – Downton Abbey and Educated

First time author Tara Westover wrote a memoir in her late twenties titled, Educated. The New York Times named the book one of the Ten Best Books of 2018 and it’s received so many national awards you’d be bored to tears if I listed them all. Had I known her age when I started reading the book I would have presumed that someone so young couldn’t have lived enough life to be able to write a memoir worthy of such critical acclaim but I would have been wrong. Born in Idaho to a separatist Mormon father who didn’t trust the government, schools or doctors and mother who was a self-taught herbalist and midwife, Tara was the youngest of seven children and growing up her days were filled working alongside her brothers in her father’s junk yard and in the evenings she helped her mother stew herbs. Throw some physical abuse and doomsday prepping into the picture along with some screw-ball ways of viewing the outside world, Tara definitely has a story worth writing and reading about.

Tara was seventeen the first time she stepped inside a school, nor did she get a proper home schooling growing up, but she taught herself what she needed to know to pass the ACT test and scored high enough to get into college. Fast forward to her Wikipedia page: Tara “…graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.” I stayed up into the wee hours of the night three nights in a row to read this book and when I was finished, I got on YouTube to watch five interviews. I couldn’t get enough. 

Two days after closing the last page I was in a group of ten---at a cousin’s luncheon---and was delighted to find out that two of us had read Educated, someone else was at a half way point and another had just finished the first chapter. What are the odds of that? Bottom line: I highly recommend this book but I am standing in line to do it behind people like Barack Obama who said, “It’s one of my favorite books of year” and Bill Gates who put it on his Holiday List and wrote, “Tara’s process of self-discovery is beautifully captured in Educated. It’s the kind of book that I think everyone will enjoy, no matter what genre you usually pick up.”

I’m calling this Culture Week because in addition to finding a haunting book, I also saw the movie Downton Abbey with four of my Gathering Girls pals even though I must be the only person on earth who couldn’t get into the TV series. I multitask when I watch TV but so much of the story-line is carried in the facial expressions and body language that I was missing more than I was getting. After a couple of tries, I gave up. I figured with the movie I’d have to keep my eyes on the screen.

“Lacking the nutritious story lines of the past, the movie is mainly empty calories,” the New York Times movie critic wrote about the film.  “For a few fleeting moments, they've returned us to a time of bygone glamor when class trumped crass and even treachery was sweetly done,” wrote Mr. Travers at Rolling Stone. Hummm….which one will turn out to be true for me I wondered before stepping foot inside the theater. 

We went on Cheap Tuesday and I expected the place would be packed with women all lined up and itching to get a ticket like the senior version of when the last Star Wars movie came out only without the costumed people in attendance. I was shocked that we were five of only fifteen people in the theater---much less than usually show up on Cheap Tuesdays. Someone said all the seats over the weekend at all the showings were filled so I can only surmise that elderly women don’t have as much patience as I gave us credit for having. My movie companions are all fans of the series and they were thrilled beyond containment to be there.  Me? I had to force myself to care about seeing Downton Abbey and after viewing the ten minute “tutorial” for those of us who hadn’t seen the series that played just before the movie began I was totally confused and realized why I couldn’t get into the series. It wasn't just my multitasking habits, it was also the fact that there are just too many characters for me to keep track of. 

My bottom line on Downton Abbey? The movie and lunch afterwards with my friends was fun. They loved, LOVED the movie and a couple of them wanted to see it again. I got my six bucks worth just seeing the costumes and antique cars, but I won’t be binge watching the series. ©

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Penny Saved

It was five months after my husband’s stroke when my friend Tim and I were cleaning out one of the two basements we had to empty out to get the houses up for sale when we found two, ten gallon milk cans filled with pennies. I knew Don saved pennies but I had no idea he had so many in the basement in addition to the five pound coffee cans full we found in the garage and in his office. Tim and I had a rule that everything we brought upstairs had to be run past Don who sat in the driveway in his wheelchair before anything could be put in either in a trailer headed to an auction house or in the back of our pickup truck going to a storage unit. 

Don only had a two word vocabulary at that point in time---"yes" and "no"---but neither was reliable so it took asking the same question a few times before we’d get the right answer. ("Are you a girl?" "Yes." "Are you a girl?" "Yes?" "Are you a girl?" "No!") I’m pretty sure Don thought he was going to make a full recovery and resume his prior life so he didn’t want to let go of much. Tim and I knew better. He’d lost the use of his whole right side and his ability to speak and write so Tim and I didn’t want him to think he’d also lost total control over his ‘stuff’ thus 'The Rule.' It was a long, stressful process for all of us because Don had to be cajoled into letting go of quite a few things. That was Tim’s specialty. But no matter what either one of us said to Don he wouldn’t let those milk or coffee cans full of coins go off to the auction house or the bank. 

Nope, Don had other ideas. The coffee cans came back to the apartment. (Neither house couldn't be retrofitted for a wheelchair, in case you're wondering...) He wanted to look at every single one of those pennies before I was allowed to roll them up and take them to the bank. I made a list of key dates to look for, set up a card table and I rough sorted the coins one batch at a time by decades, then by year at which point he took over looking for mint marks and error strikes. We had quite the operation going. When the coffee can coins were finally all sorted, I’d take trips to our storage unit to scoop more batches of pennies out of the milk cans.

This went on for months in our spare time which was in short supply because most of our days were filled with outpatient physical, occupational or speech therapies plus doctor appointments. Not to mention when Don was down for his afternoon nap I was back at the houses packing and cleaning or meeting with our builder. When the last shoe box full of rolled pennies was taken to the bank and all the collectible ones set in collector albums and sleeves, I rejoiced. I made a vow I’d never let pennies accumulate in the house again. And I still don't; I'm that old person in line who counts out the exact change for purchases whenever possible, but I also don’t just throw my pennies in dish by cash registers either. They add up! I’d forgotten how much green money I got from the bank for all those pennies but it was measured in thousands rather than hundreds. 

Fast forward to today when I went to a lecture given by a guy who won a $200,000 cash prize for making a piece of art out of all pennies---24,576 pennies. Oh! My! God! Could I identify with his process of sorting and taking pennies back and forth to the bank by the poundage he could carry. Only he was sorting by a range of colors instead of dates---burnt umber, rosy brown, russet, chocolate, auburn, bronze and sepia. WWII pennies which have no copper in them because it was needed to make the shells of ammunitions the artist had to buy because he didn’t find a single zinc coated steel penny, but fifteen years earlier in our sort we found over a dozen. He used them for the shirt on his eight by twelve foot portrait of Abraham Lincoln. 

1,347 art pieces had been entered the year A Lincoln won in our annual Art Prize. 327,814 votes were cast from the public to narrow it down to the top twenty art pieces then the voting started all over again. The top 20 drew 72,000 votes with A Lincoln taking the grand prize. Art critics snubbed the people’s choice. They always do so one year they chanaged the rules so that a panel of five professional art critics picked one winner and the public vote picked another each with its own cash prize. Only once did the art panel and the public pick the same piece and that person got an obscene amount of prize money. I didn’t get to see A Lincoln in person but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this lecture. Hearing about the process from how a jar of coins on a dresser inspired the idea to carrying out the logistics of working on something so large and heavy was fascinating. The artist figured he had about $4,000 invested in making the piece which isn’t bad considering it brought him a $200,000 check for his 465 hours of gluing pennies into a portrait. 

One of the benefits (or curses) of growing old is the way things in the present can bring forth so many memories of days gone by. I’d grown used to seeing pennies without being reminded of the Great Penny Sort but spending an hour listening to another person talk about his fascinating of the copper coins was a reminder of how I got the penny albums I’ll need to sell at some point in my downsizing venture.   ©

close up of how the pennies were glued, every date they were made is represented