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, May 28, 2022

Coffee Cups and Great Books

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public.” I love that quote because that’s often the way I feel when I reveal my willy-nilly thoughts in my blog and I’ve used that quote by Paulo Coelho several times before. But until today I had no idea who Paulo is other than I suspected he isn’t an American because no one here goes around calling themselves “Paulo.” Now that I’ve googled the guy I’m embarrassed to reveal my ignorance because I should have recognized him, if for no other reason than his first book, The Alchemist, is on a list of the '100 Books Everyone Should Read.' That list was compiled in the last century and I’d read 50+ of the titles but I just found out that I’ve only read 45 on the list compiled in this century. The Alchemist is on both lists but books like Gone With the Wind and The Tale of Two Cities have apparently lost their relevance and books like The Kite Runner and The Handmaids Tale have been added which just goes to prove I can never live long enough to read the 100 Best Books because they keep moving the target. 

Another reason I should have recognized Paulo Coelho is because some of his words have been immortalized on those great keepers of wisdom: coffee cups. Words like: “You are what you believe yourself to be” and “Life is short. Kiss slowly, laugh insanely, love truly and forgive quickly” mean ever so much more when they come with a nice cup of hot coffee. My husband was obsessed with both coffee and coffee cup philosophy. In the house he had before we got married three quarters of his kitchen cabinets were literally devoted to his coffee cups---over a hundred if my memory isn’t playing Pinocchio on me. His ritual of picking out a cup reflected his mood and was not just a grab-one-and-go affair. When he’d picked the one that proclaimed “Don’t let the Turkeys Get you Down” I knew he was in a gloomy mood. He was treated for depression for over a decade so that cup got a lot of use. 

When we moved in together I wasn’t willing to devote three quarters of the kitchen cabinets to his collection so I boxed most to them up with a promise to rotate them up from the basement from time to time, a promise I never kept nor intended to do. Wives are wicked that way. What would you have done if the man in your life refused to pare down a collection like that to a number that would fit into the  normal, allotted cabinet space? Ya, you’d lie, too. I know you would. Or maybe you’d have risked a war of words, hurt feelings and resentments by getting rid of them when he wasn’t looking? 
Don had cups he’d never let company drink from but if he served you coffee in cup with a Snoopy quote you knew you were more than just a friend-friend. Only good friends got the Snoopy cups. Snoopy was up beat and whimsical. “Keep looking up. That’s the secret of life” being one of his favorites. Even then his choice of cups were mini subliminal messages especially chosen for what ever was going on at the time. 

When I downsized to move here I didn’t keep a single one of Don’s message coffee cups but I bought a new one of my own and I kept one political cup---an Obama cup that shows his birth certificate. I had a hard time selling all the presidential campaign cups on eBay because I liked them---part my collection as well as Don's. We had them back as far as JFK. And sometimes I regret having sent the “turkeys” cup to Goodwill. It’s not like I need that object to conjure up the memory of Don sitting at his roll top desk with that coffee cup in his hand. But objects once special to deceased loved ones are like jigsaw puzzle pieces found on the floor long after we’ve boxed up the puzzles and passed them on. They give us brief memories, knowing where they came from, but we know those pictures can never be whole again. Not for us. Not for anyone.  

I’ve been trying to figure out when and in what context Paulo Coelho wrote the words about writing being a socially accepted way to get naked in public but all I found out is that a ton of bloggers like me love to use the quote and that good old Paulo has a Twitter account. I love books that contain snippets of authors' words on writing written with aspiring writers in mind. I thought the quote might have been in a book like that.  

Very few of those kind of books leave out Stephen King's quote about “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” While looking for Paulo I got hung up on a King quote about claiming your identity as a writer. He asks, “Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.” Ohmygod! This is SO me! I never say I’m a writer. Never. I will say I’m an aspiring writer or a wanna-be writer but there’s always an adjective firmly in place. I write every day and according to the Great Stephen King that’s all a person needs to do to own the title. So I'm asking: would someone like to make me a badge? I'm thinking of wearing one each time I sit in front of my computer because, ya, I'm going to try to kick the adjective habit. ©

100 Books Everyone Should Read 2022

1. 1984 (George Orwell)
2. The Alchemist
3. American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
4. And Then There Were None and Selected Plays (Agatha Christie)
5. Animal Farm
6. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
7. Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) (Anonymous)
8. The Art of War
9. As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner)
10. Atlas Shrugged
11. Atonement (Ian McEwan)
12. Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
13. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
14. A Bend in the River (V.S. Naipaul)
15. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
16. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
17. The Canterbury Tales
18. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
19. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
20. A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
21. Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)
22. Crime and Punishment
23. Divine Comedy
24. Don Quixote
25. Dracula (Bram Stoker)
26. Dune
27. Emma
28. Ender's Game
29. Fahrenheit 451
30. Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Anderson)
31. Fanny Hill (John Cleland)
32. The Fault in Our Stars
33. Faust
34. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Nevada)
35. The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
36. The Godfather (Mario Puzo)
37. Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
38. Gravity's Rainbow
39. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
40. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
41. Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
42. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
43. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
44. House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)
45. The Illiad
46. Interview With the Vampire (Louisiana)
47. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
48. King Solomon's Mines
49. Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
50. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
51. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
52. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
53. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
54. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
55. Madame Bovary
56. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
57. Metamorphosis
58. Middlesex
59. Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)
60. No Country for Old Men
61. The Odyssey
62. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
63. Old Man and the Sea
64. On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
65. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
66. One Hundred Years of Solitude
67. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
68. The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain)
69. Pride and Prejudice
70. The Raven
71. The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
72. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
73. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)
74. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
75. Schindlers List (Thomas Keneally)
76. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)
77. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
78. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
79. Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison)
80. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
81. Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert a Heinlein)
82. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
83. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
84. To the Lighthouse
85. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
86. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne)
87. Ulysses
88. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
89. Vanity Fair
90. War and Peace
91. Wasp Factory
92. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (Raymond Carver)
93. Where the Wild Things Are
94. White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
95. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
96. Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
97. The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
98. Women in Love
99. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'engle)
100. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

PJs and Other Controversial and Relevant Topics

It’s eight AM and I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for an hour and these are the first words I’ve typed. Sure, I’ve been reading around my normal morning circuit---e-mail, Facebook, other people’s blogs, a bit of news and back around again waiting for inspiration to strike. I look out the window and for the third time this morning I think that I should get dressed and go outside and take a photo of the woods across from our green space while the trees are still damp from the rain. It must have come in strong from the west because only one side of the bark on those trees are almost black from the dampness while the other side is lit up to a silvery gray by the morning sun. It would make a great painting, if I was skilled enough to capture the sap green and lemon drop yellow leaves with their touches of rosy pink dappling here and there against those tree trunks. 

How long before I’ll ever see this again, I ask myself but still I sit in my bathrobe too lazy to get dressed. It’s one of the downsides of living in an apartment; you can’t wander around outside in your night clothes and bathrobes. Especially in an independent living apartment where that could be taken as a sign that dementia is making inroads into your brain.

There was a silly debate at Tuesday’s Happy Hour about a woman who came downstairs to get her mail wearing her pajamas. Someone said, “This is our home. We can do that if we want” and someone else shot back, “It’s my home too and I don’t want to see that.” Others came down on one side or the other and I piped in with a comment about pajamas covering more than many daytime outfits and I was rebutted with “Not all pajamas.” I didn’t see the woman’s PJ’s that sparked this discussion so I kept my mouth shut after that, but I wanted to ask if she was wearing baby doll short shorts but I didn’t want to be told “no” because the idea of drawing a cartoon of an old woman with too many meals under her belt wearing baby doll PJs with no bra and fuzzy pink slippers was having too much fun in my head. 

I need to learn to keep my mouth shut more often around here, like I did when I first moved in. My sense of humor is not always understood. One night when dinner was over I remarked that I wish they had served dessert because I was still hungry. “Even an after dinner mint would help,” I joked while using sad, basset hound eyes. After we parted and I went back to my apartment I got a knock on the door which never happens. It was one of my neighbors bringing me a mint patty. That was funny but when I got the second knock and a delivery of another mint patty and I started wondering I was being funny or pathetic when I was belly-aching about still being hungry. I got my answer the next day when I thanked one of the Sugar Fairies for keeping me from dying of hunger overnight and she admitted that they'd coordinated their prank.

Change of topic: Do you ever worry that you’re putting too much stuff in your brain and it’s going to start falling out at an alarming rate? I'm listening to an audible book I thought would be more relatable than it’s turning out to be. Music is History by Ahmir Khalib Thompson covers 1971 to present. I thought I’d remember most of the song titles mentioned and so far I’m remembering maybe one in ten. I’m only up to 1977, the year Elvis died and the TV series Roots was a big deal. More than 80% of Americans watched Roots according to this book and to this day the last episode holds the record for being the third most watched TV show of all time following the last M*A*S*H and the 'who shot J.R.' episode from Dallas. 

I saw a 60 Minutes TV show within days of hearing the above facts. It featured a black guy who’d bought a house that unbeknownst to him had been a plantation where his ancestors were slaves. He mentioned that seeing Roots was the first time in his life that he knew slavery was a part of the black experience. That's happening more and more to me lately where two random but related facts will come together from random sources. It's like a beam is reaching out of my head to pull stuff in like matching Go-Fish cards and my brain is flashing a warning message that my hard drive is close to being full.
After seeing that 60 Minutes I tried to remember where and when I first learned about slavery and I’m pretty sure it was in 1950's Life Magazine that was devoted to the history of Segregation. The centerfold picture was of a ship’s cargo space below deck where blacks were chained together and lined up like cord wood. Over 200 American slave schooners were running the seas after the Revolution bringing 12.50 million enslaved humans to our shores, according to the Encyclopedia Virginia, between 1500 and 1866. 
I still had that copy of Life Magazine until I downsized last year. It's too bad so much of our history gets lost or white-washed in the shame of it because that lack of common knowledge of our history gives the Tucker Carlson’s of the world full rein to be super-spreaders of hate and conspiracy theories like the one that got ten people killed and three wounded while buying groceries in Buffalo, New York. ©

   Find the magazine here 


Saturday, May 21, 2022

Fire Trucks and Rule Breakers


A fire engine just went by on the main street, horns blasting they way they do when little boys grow up to do a man’s work. I can barely see them now that the trees have given birth to their summer foliage. The woods that separates the main street from the campus is maybe two-three hundred feet wide so the blue, black, white and red vehicles that travel that street are just flashes of color tracking behind the tree trunks. The fire station is just around the corner----less than two blocks away by foot---which is handy given the nature of our private road that’s lined with an assisted living, an independent living apartment building and twelve town houses, a memory care facility, Hospice and an activities building. 

The fire engine is here at my apartment building three to five times a month. One time someone’s toast got caught in the toaster causing the smoke alarm to ring down at the fire house. Any time a smoke detector is activated on campus it can only be turned off by the fire department so waving smoke away from your detector does no good. Another time the fire department came out because someone put a pot of water on to boil and she claims the steam set off the alarm. Twice a couple burned the steak they were cooking and as a result they strong-armed the CEO into buying a “community grill” to use outside but it sits by their door, too inconvenient for 98% people living here. They seem to get a lot of special privileges like spreading their lawn ornaments and chairs ten feet out into the public areas which our rules book says is a no-no. It’s not in my wheelhouse to snitch on rule breakers but if I was I’d start by reporting the guy who is feeding birds. He thinks because he’s using seed cakes instead of loose seeds in a feeder it doesn’t count. He’s on the second floor and the birds going to and from his deck are dropping do-do where the public lounge chairs are located for viewing the lake. It’s just a matter of time before someone gets poop on their head. It should be noted that it's my jealously talking here because I miss my birds, but I'm not brazen enough to break the no bird feeders rule. I catalogued 26 variations of birds at my old house. Here, I haven't even started a list. Hand me a tissue, I think I'm going to cry.

The fire department is the first on the scene for medical emergencies, too, and when everyone living in a place is over 65 you’re going to get to know their procedures. I’ve gotten good at telling which kind of call they’re coming to when I see the guys hop off the engine. I love guys in suspenders even if they are holding up turn-out gear for fighting fires. For fire calls, all the guys and gals on the truck will have their turn-out pants and boots on but only the lead guy will go in with a jacket, helmet and tank of something strapped on his back. Once that guy does an assessment, the next person to go into the building will have a box box fan and someone else will be charge of turning off the alarm. I’m assuming if there was a ‘real’ fire, the entire crew of six would be throwing on their jackets and helmets and the alarm would stay on like it did during our fire drill. 

We haven’t had a big fire here but if they do I’ve got a hydrant literally two foot off my deck and right under my bedroom window so I won’t miss any of the action. As long as I’m not the source of the fire I’m good with that. The building has a sprinkler system so I don't expect a fire could get out of hand. I do worry, though, about living with so many older people. My neighbor admits to putting a roast on the stove and running off to the church. On purpose. "What if you got in a little fender bender on your way home or you got distracted and went out for coffee with an old friend?" I asked, "Your apartment would set off the alarm when that roast runs dry!" "I hadn't thought of that," she replied. Why is common sense so uncommon? 

Tuesday we had our monthly “Dialogue” with the CEO otherwise known as a ‘Pitch and Bitch’ meeting where we residence listen to an upbeat spin on various issues and where some residences are more than willing to hold management’s feet under the fire for promises not fulfilled or answered with their classic phrase, “We’re working on it.” We’ve wanted a way to recycle from the beginning and just this month the management finally came through with containers in our trash rooms. Six months. It took four months to get our screen doors, too, but few of us cared in the middle of the winter. I was one of the first to order one (back in January) so I got my screen installed just in time for warmest temperatures of the season to pop. Others will be waiting until summer is almost over because apparently some people thought they'd magically appear when needed. And let that be a lesson to you: Learn to use apps and email daily because life in places like this is peachy-keen if you do. Otherwise you're getting your information like the old party-line telephone game where you sit in circle and whisper a secret in the next person's ear.

I would hate being in charge of the people who live here and our CEO is in charge of our sister campus as well where there are twice as many of us old people to keep happy. He can’t walk anywhere without someone putting a bug in his ear about something they think needs changing from smudges on their shower door the cleaner left behind to why can't maintenance just kill the geese? It’s interesting to watch a few people here who once-upon-upon-a-time had high powered jobs try to bulldoze someone who now has a high powered job and is standing in their way of getting what they think they're entitled to. 

And last but not least, here is my public service announcement for anyone who doesn't think they'd like politics and gossip that takes place on a continuum care campus. You become one of those prairie dogs I wrote about last week. Easy-peasy. For me, it's entertaining blog fodder and lest you think that's all I do is gather fodder you'd be wrong. I average an hour or two a day to interact with others and that includes a lecture and Mahjong once a week. The rest of my time is usually spent by myself. By the way, I've won twice at Mahjong out of the five times we've played. I'm enjoying the challenge of learning something new. ©

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Pardon my French and other Colorful Euphemisms


My husband used the euphemism I have to go see a man about a horse when he needed to use the restroom and we were in ‘polite society’ which is another euphemism meaning in today’s world we were out in public but in ye olden days the phrase polite society had more to do with having a so-called superior set of standards for behavior brought to them compliments of their wealth and breeding. As a man, for example, you’d never think of even whispering the word ‘sex’ to others of your social standing but forcing sex on a lowly housemaid was a different ball of wax. Though I suppose that example would be more along the lines of a dichotomy? Either way, there was a time when you could use the term ‘a different ball of wax’ and everyone knew you were talking about two things that might seem the same but were completely dissimilar. But I was shocked to learn that in today’s world you have to be more careful throwing the term ball of wax around. 

The urban dictionary is claiming a ‘ball of wax’ refers to the crud that builds up under a man’s balls when he hasn't bathed in a few days. I could have gone on playing the euphemisms game all day long if not for that bit of information. For one thing, I didn’t know that crud built up there and two, now that I do I can’t help wondering if there is a euphemism for the crud that builds up under a woman’s breasts when she’s doing manual labor in the hot sun. I spent the summer one year working on my husband’s asphalt paving and patching crew and I learned all about sweating my balls off which is another idiom my husband often used and in case you’re dumber than a box of rocks that means it was hotter than Hades. Side note: Does this whole paragraph remind you of belly button lint? Or is it just me?

I love idioms and euphemisms but they’re supposed to be a lazy man's verbiage. Still I don’t care. I don’t think I could talk without them and it’s common for me to edit one or two out of posts I'm working on because I do try to follow the rules of good writing---well, except for posts like this when I’m in a silly mood and I want to play with words, maybe make you smile or remind you of a phrase someone from you past was fond of saying. It's fascinating that word usage can sometimes remain the same for centuries and other times words can completely flip in its meaning. I’m over the moon for internet websites devoted to doing deep dives into where and when certain sayings and word usage started.

Shakespeare coined a lot of our English phrases like the green-eyed monster and wear your heart on your sleeve that both came from Othella. Love is blind and in a pickle both debuted in The Tempest. It’s all Greek to me appeared in Julius Caesar and a wild goose chase is from Romeo and Juliet. A method to his madness is something that reminds me of my mom and it’s from Hamlet which was written in 1602. 1602. I had to write that again so you’d know It’s not a typo.

Disney is probably the most comparable we have today to Shakespeare in terms of influencing a large market to use catchy phrases from their prolific bodies of work. And we’ll have to wait around a few hundred years to see it lines from Disney films endure the test of time. But I predict little girls who grew up singing Let it go with Elsa from Frozen will be be using that phrase as a coping tool their entire lives and passing it onto their grandchildren. But in our world things come and go in our media at a faster pace than in Shakespeare’s time and catchy phrases don’t have as long to peculate and take roots in society before another shiny new penny comes along to replace it. Did you know, by the way, that the Shiny Penny Syndrome is a real thing? It refers to when we get distracted by the newest whatever---the latest technology, a flirty party girl. Something that keeps us from sticking to our goals as in, “You won’t get far in life if you’re always chasing shiny new pennies, son." 

Back to my husband: I used to think it was a family idiom he was using about the horse. He was raised on a farm and they had work horses but the see-a-man-about-a-horse euphemism dates back to at least 1866 when it first appeared in print. In 1939 it was heard in a NBC radio program and during prohibition it was commonly used when a man was going to the back room of a super club to have a drink of bootleg booze. As euphemisms for using the bathroom go, I’ve always been grateful my husband didn’t use take a piss which I’ve noticed lately is showing up on TV---the phrase, not the action itself---and I hate that P word more than the other P word. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go powder my nose. ©