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. (Just remember I'm looking through my prism which may or may not be the full story.) Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Day Trip to Lake Michigan


Seven of us from the continuum care complex left our campus in two cars to go on an adventure. Destination: A cottage on Lake Michigan down between South Haven and Benton Harbor about hour and a half drive way from home. It’s owned by a couple of ladies that split their time between our CCC and their summer place. Once on the Blue Star Highway---which most Michiganders know---we had to take a narrow, winding fire trail through the wooded dunes before getting to a cliff top where five cottages perched along with more birds than I’ve seen in ages, all greedily eating at their bird feeders, ignoring the fabulous panoramic view. But few people could view that lake and not be awed by the power of seeing the water, hearing the waves lapping the sand and breathing in that first breath of fresh, water-cooled air. I could feel myself relax and tensions slip away.

If you read my last post you’ll know I wrote about not liking the idea of riding in a car with another 80 year old at the wheel but of the two cars going, I picked the right one to get in. The other car left last and got there before we did and when we arrived my neighbor, a retired physiologist, said the ride made her a nerve wreck because their driver drove too fast and played hop-scotch with the 18 wheelers. That driver who probably weighs all of 90 pounds laughed and said, “Everyone tells me that!” When it was time to leave my neighbor crawled in the back seat of the other car saying, "I don't want to see out the front window this time."

In previous posts I’ve called the couple we visited the Skinny Minnie Twins and I guess I’ll continue to do so in this post. Neither one of them has an ounce of fat on them and yet they say they each love sweets and especially Crumbl Cookies. But they also go up and down a 130 steps to get to their sandy beach on Lake Michigan where they swim and walk two miles each day. I and three others in our group rode their incline elevator while others in our group tackled the steep steps down to the lake and they did it with none of them having a heart attack. 

Crumbl Cookies are supposed to be the best cookies in the world according to their press releases and the Twins which is why we bought a box of twelve cookies to take out to their cottage. $48 and if those are the best cookies in the world then I’m the real Santa Claus. To me, they were like eating raw cookie dough which apparently a lot of people do enjoy because the chain is growing fast and furious. Over the day I ate a half of two different flavors---milk chocolate chip and sea salt taffy, wasting 480 calories that could have gone to something I actually enjoyed. Why do I do things like that? Finish reading a bad book, finish eating something disgustingly sweet and barf worthy? The lunch they serve, though, was a wonderful array of healthy finger foods, deviled eggs to die for and fresh fruits. It was a fun day and their lovely cottage (a converter garage with a six sided, two story ceiling) was very modern with lots of light coming in and exactly like you’d expect of two graphic designers---all white with touches of red and Herman Miller furniture.

Looking out at their million dollar view was a great reminder of massive size of Lake Michigan and if you’ve never been there its like looking an an ocean. You can’t see across to the other side and the entire horizon is nothing but sky and water unless an occasional freighter is out in the shipping lane. They haul taconite, limestone, grain, salt coal, cement, gypsum, sand, slag and potash out to the St Lawrence Seaway headed to the Atlantic Ocean. If you don’t know what potash is, I’m glad you asked since I had to look it up---it’s a potassium rich salt used to make fertilizer and apparently Michigan has a lot of it. 

We didn’t see any freighters that day and the waves weren’t very high for the few people we could see along the beach playing in them. Lake Michigan waves typically get between 3-4 feet high and up to eight on a windy day, with the tallest ever recorded being ten feet. And in case you’re wondering there are a few places along the Michigan coastline where they surf---Marquette, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Sleepy Bear and St Joseph. I was a fish when I was a kid but now I’m too bumpy and frumpy to ever get caught with a bathing suit on but if surfing had been a thing when I was a kid I might have tried it if not for the fact that our little inland lake didn't get those kinds of waves. The Twins kayak the shoreline when it’s calm. That’s more my speed and I did have a canoe (and sailboat) when I was young and was spending my summers at a lake. All in all it was a wonderful road trip. Well, except for eating the cookies which I’m still kicking myself for doing. ©

 

Photo from the South Haven visitor's center.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Field Trips and Movies


Six of us left the continuum care campus to go to a movie theater in a near-by mall. I hate getting into a car with another octogenarian at the wheel but my car isn’t big enough to take more than two pint sized people with me, especially if one them comes with a walker. This is nothing new, I used to hate getting into a car with a septuagenarian at the wheel, too, when I was in the Red Hat Society. That group of women was even scarier because we joked around more, were more of a distraction to anyone driving. But my fears were unjustified. We never got involved in an accident and our road trips were longer than any I’m bound to have in this my current chapter of my life. Still, it would help if I’d quit binge watching Grey’s Anatomy where ‘road kill’ comes into Seattle's trauma center and ends up on a surgical table where every other patient seems to die while the doctors sort out their love lives as they stand over their bloody bodies. I’m in season 12 of 18 so hopefully I’ll be to the end of the series before my trigger thumb/carpal tunnel surgery is scheduled. With my imagination I can see myself leaving our surgical center minus an arm because a flesh-eating bacteria entered my wounds. Okay, I just outed myself as a worry wort. Or did I do that a long ago?

Being a worry wort does have its upside. I credit that mindset for me never having let a bride down in my twenty years of servicing nearly 4,000 weddings and receptions with flowers. I always had a plan A and B with a follow up Plan C. For extra points for weddings I carried a tackle box with stuff like smelling salts, band-aids, shirt buttons and thread for hemming up dresses---this was in the days before wedding coordinators were a thing and they inherited the tackle boxes. I was prepared for every conceivable thing that could go wrong from the wholesalers shipping the wrong flowers to the church being locked when it was time to pick up the rentals after the wedding to move them to another church. I traveled that way too. Laugh at me if you must---my husband did---but if I was caught during a blizzard on a highway for ten hours I had my homemade coffee can stove for heat and for melting snow into drinking water. I could eat my emergency energy bars and do word puzzles while I waited to be rescued. You'd be surprised how much storm-comfort stuff you can pack inside a coffee can stove. I blame my mom for me always being prepared. She made the teen me carry dimes in my shoes in case I needed to make an emergency phone call.

Enough about me. The movie we saw was Where the Crawdads Sings and afterward we went to a restaurant where we disagreed on whether or not the leading character, Kya, actually killed the young man (Chase) who she stood trial for murdering and was acquitted. One thing we didn’t disagree on was that we all loved the movie. The scenery of the Carolina swamps and marshlands was fascinating, the acting and casting was spot on. I’d read the book but so long ago I had forgotten it and its plot. But here it is two weeks later after seeing the movie and I’m still thinking about it. 

Spoiler Alert: I found an article that explains the ending and the clues in the film that back up the case for her having done it and I was finally convinced by the line Kya spoke to her publisher about how she believed nature doesn’t have a dark side “just inventive ways to endure” coupled with a line she wrote in a diary her husband, Tate, found after she died about how Chase had become her pry. I wish this movie was on Netflix. It's the kind of film I’d watch over again back-to-back so I could enjoy the dialogue without the distraction of the cinematography. Since having Netflix I get frustrated watching stuff on regular TV where you can’t rewind the parts you want to savor, where you can’t pause the action long enough to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.

Despite my fear of riding with senior citizen drivers, today---if you're reading this on the day it goes live---I am on another road trip. An all day trip with two car loads of women from my CCC. We’re visiting a gay couple who have a cottage on Lake Michigan who split their time between their cottage and the CCC. One lady in the couple is in my book club and our sense of humors meshed from the first time we met. We’re kindred spirits on the silliness charts. They were both college professors who taught graphic arts and are just plain fun to be around. There is another gay couple living here who are not as warm and fuzzy but who are quick to say they are pleasantly surprised at how well “they’ve been accepted” on this Christian based, non-profit campus. I don’t think they are as good at reading people as they think they are---and gayness has nothing to do with it. And I’ll just leave it at that. ©

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Water's Edge and Angel Wings

Two perfect swans glide on the cloud’s reflection, their babies in tow as they approach a Great Egret standing on skinny stilts stalking minnows. The family stops to pluck their weedy dinner from below the water’s stillness. Geese touch down on the far side of the lake and Father Swan sets off on a mission to let the geese know the welcome mat is not out for them. The swans want to keep the aquatic plants all for themselves and the white creatures wins this round over the flock of honking, dark Canadians. But the war is not over at the water’s edge. It never is when territory is fought over to the amusement of those watching from the shore. 

Someone on the bank used their Boy Scout skills to build a tepee of sticks and twigs and they wove white swan feathers into a pattern at the bottom of the tepee, like spokes on a wagon wheel. I plucked three feathers from a pile of those not attached to the shire and carted them home. Three of anything is a collection. The longest one is 19 inches long and its a flight feather. I know that because google told me how to tell the difference between tail and flight feathers. “Tail feathers are balanced left and right of the center. Flight feathers have a wider and narrower side. This makes them better for flying because they can cut through the air with very little resistance,” according to Arizona's 'Ask a Biologist' website. And try as I might I cannot separate the barbules and hooklets. 

Carrying my stolen treasurers home, someone along the trail told me it's illegal to keep them but my fear of going to feather hoarders’ prison didn’t last long. Google told me that people are selling them in plain sight. Yup, you guessed it. I fell down the rabbit hole of learning everything there is to know about features including how bags of white feathers are sold for weddings and others have their quill ends sewn on webbed ribbons and sold by the yard presumably to those making Native American ceremonial costumes or Victoria Secret type angel wings and capes. Those angel wings the models wear, by the way, are made of ostrich feathers and they weigh between 12 to 18 pounds. If you’ve always wanted one you’re in luck because there are tons of DIY videos online on how to make your own wings which begs the question: who is making themselves a set of wings and where do they keep them when they aren’t parading them around in the bedroom or on Halloween? There are videos on how to make your own feather capes and headdresses, too. 

But down duck and goose feathers sold by the pound make me sad thinking about all the birds that had to die in some smelly processing plant and get their feathers plucked out moments after death. No time to grieve their friends also going down the line to get their heads ground off in the cruelest looking machines I’ve ever seen. (Remember Sarah Palin doing a promo at Thanksgiving while a turkey was being jammed head first down a machine in the background and the guy holding the bird by its feet was waiting to pull the headless bird back up after the cameras quit rolling?) We mammals pride ourselves on standing upright and living in houses but we are no different than the swans. We take what we want from lower down on the food chain. Some of us more cavalier about the process than others. Native American's in the movies of my youth, at least, thanked the spirit of the animals they kill for dinner. Sarah Palin laughed at the reporter who asked if she really wanted to do the interview in front of the turkey guillotine.

I thought my collecting days were over when I downsized and moved here last October. But now I have a collection of owl and swan feathers and I am resisting picking up goose and duck feathers. What are the possibilities they’ll give me salmonella? Growing my mom caught me licking a turtle once and gave me my first salmonella lecture. What are the possibilities an apartment filled with nature’s discards won’t lead to me becoming what I’ve always feared---that in my old age I’ll start saving creamer cups and picking lent off the hall floors and hoarding my ‘treasures’ in a dresser drawer. My husband’s mother did those things in her dementia. 

Lately I’ve been spending more and more time at the water’s edge. I come prepared with my notebook and book of inspiration, intending to go back to my writing roots when my teen-self tried to create poetry. But so many people walk by on the trail and stop to talk that I don’t get very far trying to channel Mary Oliver. I carry around her book, A Poetry Handbook as if just holding it will give me an ear for meter and rhyme. It’s not working. Nor did the two times I actually read the book impart me the ability to do more than learn to look longer and harder at nature and write opening lines like, “Two perfect swans glide on the cloud’s reflection, their babies in tow as they approach a Great Egret standing on skinny stilts stalking minnows.” ©


Sarah Palin

 P.S.  I ran across a blog post that might help those of us having trouble posting comments on our own and/or other people's blogs---they come out as anonymous instead of with our google account name and link. Life and Linda has helped many of us bloggers with technical stuff and gives great, detailed instructions. I followed her directions for Firefox but she gives them for Chrome and Safari as well. A Fix for Anonymous Comments.  Good Luck!

 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Book Club Drama

 

Sometimes I wonder why I keep blogging. Surely I’ve said everything worth saying then I remind myself it’s exercise for my brain and it comes in handy when I want to look up something I’ve done in the past, something with details too fuzzy to recall without my blog's search feature. The most recent search of my blog was to find a review I wrote for a book we were about to discuss in my new book club here at the continuum care complex. I didn’t remember reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Pkhilipp Sendker, a saga that GoodReads says is “a poignant and inspirational love story” until I got about twenty pages into it. Then it hit me, my extreme dislike of the book I’d read for another book club and how everyone else in my old club loved it. 

This time there was one person who agreed with my criticism of how the author used a character to be an omniscient narrator who delivered long, rambling monologues about the backstories of a half dozen other characters including their innermost thoughts---stuff that no one character had any way of knowing. The other woman who said that bothered her too was a retired librarian which is probably why she knew what the heck I was ranting about (in a nice, sweet old lady but cynical kind of way). We both thought the book needed restructuring to make the author, not a character the omniscient narrator. I can't move past glaring flaws like that and apparently a couple dozens publishers turned the book down for presumably the same rookie mistake so there's that to rub on my lack of literary forgiveness wart.

Despite the impression you might have of our book club the discussion was well balanced with everyone having their say and we all agreeing at the end that having different opinions makes for good discussions. But for me it ended on a sour note when a brand new member to the group asked what kind of books I like since I didn’t like that “wonderful piece of literature” and I couldn’t name a single author or book and I was finally forced to admit I read a lot of trashy romances but I stupidly just had to add, “And I’ve studied a lot of how-to-write books.” She replied in an oh-so-sweet voice, “Maybe one day you’ll get published.” I’m surrounded by teachers and professors in that club who’ve never treated me like a literary flea for liking romances, but her comment and smirk seemed condescending. I felt like I was ten years old and I wanted to blurt out that I’ve had 12-15 articles published at Associated Content before they got bought out by Yahoo. But I kept that to myself and got tongue-tied for doing it.

The newbie must have taken my floundering as a call for help because she suggested a mystery series I should try to “improve my appreciation for literature” in a genre I was not aware was even a genre---‘magical realism’. Apparently the ‘Heartbeats’ book is classified as magical realism. Back in my apartment I googled ‘magical realism’ and sure enough it is a thing---never too old to learn. 

It dawned on me that I just finished reading a mystery that could be classified as magical realism and cynical me didn't like that book either. The main character was an FBI agent who could see red circles on the ground where bodies were buried and where evidence was stored between walls of a house, etc. All the leads to solve the case came, not from good detective work but by her magical power. If only life was that simple. Whip out a magical power and crimes get solved by human bloodhounds, and no daughter is left to wonder if the father she loved is dead or alive when in fact he just ran off to play Romeo to his Juliet. (‘Heartbeats’ was basically a Romeo and Juliet plot with Burmese folklore thrown in.)

The next book up for discussion in our club is one I picked for the group to read---The Death and Life of the Great Lakes---so I hope the newbie is there to see I read more than books written for flea brains. But the book club discussion continued later on at dinner, minus the newbie when a couple who had witnessed me getting flustered was asked what the ‘Great Lakes’ book is about and the guy says, “Jean picked it and it’s a romance, isn’t it Jean?” I like this guy and so I took it for the teasing it was meant it to be and I replied, “Yes, with a little mystery and sc-fi thrown in.” The three of us laughed while the woman who asked the question looked on confused. She’s not in our book club but she often reads the same books we do, she just doesn’t want to be committed to the formal club discussions. She’s not the only one who does that so in any given month there are 12-16 people walking around campus who we can talk 'book' with---“How far did you get?” “Do you like it?” “Does so and so die?” It’s pretty cool to have fictional characters to gossip about guilt free. 

And let me just add that the hour and half we spend at book club is my one of my favorite times of the month. I love the debates that sometimes happen, the sharing of personal anecdotes that relate to the story, the challenge of thinking on my feet and, yes, even when I fail to think on my feet like I did this month. Even when what happens in book club doesn't stay in book. ©