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

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Sentimental Holiday Feelings

Watching the line dancers doing a Christmas performance it hit me what a close knit community we’ve built here at the continuum care facility. A few tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought about the overlapping Circles of Friendships that have developed since our campus opened. Most of us have found our Tribes---those people in our inner, middle and outer circles. And the best part is that everyone’s Circle of Friendships connect to make this place a warm and accepting place to live despite (or maybe because of) our individual foibles and idiosyncrasies. We’re truly a microcosm of a larger community.

Over the two years I’ve been living here I’ve written extensively about those foibles and idiosyncrasies. As I sat looking around I realized I write more about the funny or annoying aspects that I see in my neighbors and not enough about the endearing and admirable side of some of those same people. Heck, I’d sound like I’m living on Movers and Shakers Row if I wrote about the charity work some of these people do. They don’t just belong to do-good groups, they’ve started them or run them. I found out yesterday, for example,  that one of the guy here has helped several of the waitstaff to get college scholarships, using his connections and writing recommendation letters for them. Now I know why we've lost some of our best waitresses.

Seeing the different facets of people is one of the things I like the most living here. I see people who support causes I hate but I can still like and get along with them. Case in point our resident, most avid Trump supporter knows I like pea soup and she always gives me enough for three bowls when she makes it. She loves to cook and is generous to everyone like that. The woman who called me to rally support against the bombed-out gingerbread house makes beautiful bows for packages and does so for anyone who asks and this time of the year she’s been kept very busy. She and I had some similar experiences---I worked in the floral industry for 20 years while she volunteered making floral arrangements for club banquets and parties---and she is ready and willing to help others along those lines. I am not. I selfishly keep my floral arranging talents hidden under a basket.

What brought the tears on and caused this train of thought to come to the surface was a couple who came in late---while the line dancers were doing their thing. The woman was pushing her husband in a newly acquired wheelchair and came close to barging right through the dancers to the point they had to adjust their positions while her husband tried to get her attention to stop. She’s in the middle stage of dementia and until his recent fall he was an extraordinary caregiver to her. He still is but his row is much harder to hoe right now. Not too long after we all moved in I wrote about the first time I found myself at a dinner table with them. I had a mini melt down because she kept shoveling food off her plate and onto mine. I’m kind of a germaphobic and would never eat something that had been on someone else’s used fork. Especially from a total stranger like she was back then. I didn’t know she was having issues with early dementia at the time and I was trying not to show how freaked out I was. Fast forward and I recently saw her refuse to eat a salad because she was afraid of the croutons on top. It’s so much easier to feel compassion when we can look past our own issues and see where others are coming from.

We have another couple here who is very popular. She’s got Lewy Body dementia and a good sense of humor about it. They go everywhere holding hands. (Actually, all the couples on campus do that.) She was my Mahjong mentor two years ago but now occasionally she’ll ask me to clarify a rule and she’d been playing weekly for 35 years. He’s another great caregiver as well as another avid Trump supporter. Although he keeps his politics closer to the vest than the Trumpter mentioned above. Both of them hate Hillary to a point that it shocks me every time they voice it. He’s also the Class Clown and will do anything for a laugh. At the end of the Line Dancers routine, for example, they were asked to huddle together for a photo and The Clown sat on the floor in front of the line dancers for the photo-shoot and just to be clear he’s not a line dancer and didn’t prance around wearing reindeer horns that day like they did.

We have quite a few couples here who I admire for their devotion to each other. One couple is in their mid-nineties, super sweet to each other and to others, super religious but you don’t want to mention transgender issues around them because she thinks all the public schools are trying to make children change their sex. Boys into girls and girls in to boy for God only knows why we Evil Liberals want to do that. Then there’s the couple we could easily nickname the Complaint Department. Nothing is ever good enough for them---not the food service, not the cleaning crew, not the grounds keepers. I couldn’t live inside their skin but they do hold management’s feet to the fire over some things others collectively care about and wouldn't get done without Mr. and Mrs. Squeaky Wheel. We all have a place in the microcosm.

We have a new couple in my building. I don’t know them well enough to give them a nickname shorter than The Artist and the Eye Candy. They are social and are taking part in various activities, building their Circles of Friendships here which is what you have to do when you're the new kid on the block. Network until you find your Tribes, unfortunately for me they seem to be seeking out other couples for their Tribe. I’d love to get an invitation to see their apartment because I’m told she has an art studio set up in what I use for a den---we have identical floor plans. Her husband is the first man in my age bracket I’ve seen in ages who can take my breath away just by looking at him. Be still my heart. He’s so good looking! And immaculately groomed. A sharp dresser. They seem devoted to each other in that touchy-feely way that lets you know they are still attracted to one another which seems to be a requirement for couples living in a continuum care complex. 

I’m guessing that happy couples are disproportionately represented in places like this. The couples moving into CCC’s want to be sure their spouses are cared for after they’re gone---that’s a fact. Just ask and they’ll all tell you that. But I’m also guessing that husbands and wives who’ve fallen out of 'love' or 'like' don't want to be locked into a CCC. They both probably hope they'll be the last one standing and they don't want their finances tied up in a non-refundable jointly chosen life style. That’s my theory, anyway, based on no research and no anecdotal evidence.

Until Next Wednesday… ©

Photo: The guy at the top is not my new neighbor but they could have been cut from the same cloth. He's an actor, model and photographer named Andreas von Tempslhoff, age 75.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Cookies and Gingerbread Houses on Disaster Lane

I woke up this morning thinking I had a dozen Christmas tree cookies lined up on my kitchen table ready to decorate. I didn’t. I baked them in my dreams. Once again I'm wishing against all odds and common sense that someday it will be proven that our dream life is one we actually live in an alternate universe because I do some pretty awesome things when I’m thrashing about in my bed. If you could see the mess my sheets are in when I wake up you’d know that “thrashing” is a good word to describe what I do at night. The only time I sleep like the dead is when I’ve taken an Ambien and I try not to do that unless there’s a full moon and I’ve remembered that fact early enough to pop one of those pills.

I probably dreamed I was baking cookies because several of my fellow residents had a cookie baking production line going to make gingerbread cookies for our upcoming cookie decorating party. I signed up for the party right away to get one of the twelve available spots. I did it last year and I had a frustrating-but-fun time trying to keep up with the others who’ve had years of experience as mothers and grandmothers painting cookies, while that was my first experience. I’m super competitive with anything crafty so the pressure is on to see if I learned enough last year to decorate some cookies I’m not ashamed of and won’t have to eat right away to hide the evidence. As a kid my mom did bake cookies around the holidays but nothing that required putting frosting buttons and bows or faces on baked goods. I’m writing this on Sunday and the event takes place on Wednesday so you won’t see any cookie photos in this post. 

What will happen in time to share in this week's post is the results on who won the gingerbread house building contest---results are due on Tuesday. You would not believe the controversy the Art Professor’s bombed-out house in the Gaza Strip caused. Last year they kept the houses on display for several weeks, including while and after the voting took place. This year they pulled them down and tucked them out of sight after only 4-5 days. Then the kitchen manager sent out an email with photos of all the houses and gave us just a few days to vote. 

The night before the houses disappeared I got a phone call from woman who was looking to rally support for going to the management and asking them to take the bombed-out house out of the show. "A gingerbread house contest is no place for a political statement," she said. Can you believe that? Not the part about it being the wrong place for a political statement but the part about being so offended that she and a few others thought it should be removed and they were willing to take action to make that happen. This is what intolerance leads to---fighting over something as insignificant as a gingerbread house in a senior community.

Several people did confront the Art Professor face-to-face while the houses were on display but she said she’d been involved in showing and setting up art displays for years and is used to defending controversial pieces on display. I felt bad because I was one of the people at a lunch table one day who encouraged her to build a gingerbread house knowing full well what theme her house was going to be. 

The person who called me even claimed that one of the professor’s former students probably built the house for her and she should be disqualified on that count alone. She says that because the professor has macular degeneration and that was her only proof. One of the houses was built by a group of people in the Memory Care building. Should they be disqualified? Should the couples who built a house together be disqualified? Such silliness! I doubt it is true that she didn't build the house. There was certainly nothing precise or complicated about the house, but even if she did have help, so what?

Another lady said, “Christmas is a time of joy, this [house] doesn’t belong here.” Two wars are going on in the world and this woman---who goes to church nearly every day---is not willing to be reminded that not everyone’s Christmas is going to be filled with sugar plums and carefully wrapped gifts? She has a right to an opinion but why make a big deal out of it? Tell your friends you hate the house. Don’t vote for it. But what gives anyone the right join an effort to have the house removed thus canceling out the professor's first amendment rights? I wish I had said that to Ms. Offended as we stood looking at the houses on the first day they were on display. Instead I said nothing except “it makes my house look better” and I’m ashamed of that. I should have said something to defend the right to be different in a contest with no rules. I should have said we're never going to achieve world peace if we won't/don't acknowledge the sufferings of others. 

By the way, one of the women rallied against the bombed-out house is the same woman who was responsible for the renaming of the ‘Secret Society of Liberal Ladies’ dinner group to the ‘Tuesday Dinner Discussion Group.’ Another concession to Ms. Offended we made is instead of eating at one large table we broke up into three tables and rotate who sits where so we don't call attention to ourselves. We're more secretive now than before which is ironic when you think about how we used to made our Tuesday reservations out in the open as the Secret Society of Liberal Ladies. It was a playful joke, until it wasn't.

Back to business: Whoever took the photos of the houses, didn’t do a very good job which I can’t help thinking had a bearing on the results---some people didn’t even have time to see them in person. And the controversy sure put a damper on the results. The house at the top was my Cupcake Cottage and it won First Place. The next three houses below were built by my friends.


 Built by my writing group friend

My writing group friend and his wife made this one. It's hard to see in this photo that the tree in the window has working lights and the window pane itself is made of sugar as is the 'green water' feature in the front. The Royal icing has the cutest footprints in the 'snow' and the tree in back is made out of spearmint candy and is absolutely perfect and looks like a high end, carved candle.

Built by the Art Professor

This is the bombed-out house. Coffee grounds were rubbed into the gingerbread to make the walls still standing look charred. I never got a chance to photograph the paper that went with the house (or any of the houses for that matter) which told the symbolism of the elements that were used. The house was named after one that Oppenheimer had lived in while working on the Atomic bomb.

The pink yarn house below was made by a former kindergarten teacher---she's The Cheerleader if you're a long-time reader of my blog. It's a godawful house in my opinion but the woman is such an upbeat and playful person to sit next to at the lunch table and whenever I get that chance to do that I know I'm going to have fun. She went around telling people not to vote for her house, that it wasn't a serious entry.

Built by The Cheerleader

Below is other samples of the houses submitted. I don't know who built the first two houses but they were cute. 

Built by the Memory Care Building residents

For some reason they didn't name a 2nd and 3rd place. I haven't been out of the apartment to find out what the gossip machine has to say about that. But nothing about this year's contest was 'normal' by comparison to last year. The barn you see in the background in one of the photos above kept falling apart and the window trim on another house kept falling off. They'd get repaired several times a day but the frosting or glue used wouldn't hold. (Maybe this was a contributing factor on why the houses disappeared earlier than expected?) The pink yarn house never got the gingerbread roof put on. It was sitting off to the side, the victim of a strong wind according to the builder's note. Oh, and I thought it was totally unfair that the kits provided weren't all the same i.e. we didn't start out on an even playing field. The lean-to cottages took less candy and time but it would have been harder to be inspired with less 'canvas' to work with. Anyway, the theme of this year's show could easily be called The Houses on Disaster Lane. Winning first place felt like a hollow victory.

Until next Wednesday. ©

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The GingerBread House 2023


It's starting to look a lot like Christmas around here. The photo above is of our lobby where this week the area will be filled with folding chairs and an a keyboard will be moved in front of the window on the right for several musical events on the calendar. The space is bigger than it looks in this photo and will hold 75 of us, mostly behind the gray sofa and off to the left. The door you see in far left leads to our activities room and the building you see through the window on the right is where I live. It's not much of a walk and the sidewalk is heated but this time of the year I prefer to walk across the underground parking garage to get over to this part of the campus. The piazza between these two buildings in like a wind tunnel coming off the lake and taking the outside route in the winter calls for a comb and a coat that I don't want to bother with. Way too many people in my building go across without a coat but, in my opinion, that's just asking for trouble should you fall or forget your key. A coat isn't going to prevent you from falling or getting locked out but it will keep you from freezing to death while you're waiting for help to arrive. Someone falls here in the independent the living buildings every week.

Time to get down to business and that business, today, is to do a show-and-tell on the gingerbread house that I built for the contest this year. I started buying candy before we got the kits and that was a mistake because the kits the management provided were smaller this year so I over bought. The first thing I acquired was a jar of tiny cupcake candy which was my inspiration for the theme and color scheme for what I'm calling the Cupcake Cottage. 

Before the kits arrived I built the platform for the base using two thicknesses of cardboard covered with freezer paper that I use to protect my drafting table when I do art projects. If I'm smart I'll save the base for next year's house because it was time consuming starting with tracking down a box, cutting out what I needed, taping two layers together, breaking the rest of the box down and taking it to the recycling room.

The kit and the base.

I got the bright idea that is would be easier to decorate the gingerbread house before I assembled it. But that turned out to be giant mistake because the weight of the taffy I put on the roof made it impossible to keep the roof sections in place while the frosting dried. So ended up taking the heavy taffy off and replacing it with some disassembled candy spikes that were made out of marshmallow-like disks.

With the taffy.

Second attempt without the taffy

Finally, I got the roof to stay in place but I cut down some candy canes to use for posts on the four corners of the roof to help support the weight. I didn't trust the Royal Icing to hold the roof on. It was another bright idea of mine to use Royal Icing instead of the stuff that came with the kit because I forgot to factor in the fact that I've never used it before and I wasn't sure how quickly it sets up. Thankfully, I made it in small batches and by the time I was finished I could see why my great-niece loves working with it. She makes the most beautiful cookies, better than the professional ones you pay $4 a piece for. 

The candy spike in the front of the above photo is what I ended up using for the roof but before that I had the bright idea that I could make the spikes and candy canes stand up and tower over the house by inserting them in a half a potato but the potatoes kept weeping and the frosting wouldn't set up underneath or on them.

Above is the front of the house and below is the backside. That snowman is a Peeps. I bought two packs and used just the one guy. I bought Peeps Christmas trees, too, but the color was too bright for the rest of the candy so I used ice cream cones. I did put a Peeps tree inside the house that is visible through the partly open door.

You can see the roof supports good in this photo of the back.

This is the side yard and those are pretzels for the windows. I saved some from last year's house project so I wouldn't have to buy another bag for just six 'panes'. They make cute and quick windows.

View from the top.

Those gummy worms are what I planned to used whole on a bigger house kit but I ended up cutting them up to use for siding bits and on the peak of the roof. The sidewalk is Necco's broken up with crushed shredded wheat used to fill in the cracks...the latter saved from last year's house so I didn't have to buy more cereal just for a teaspoon full.

I'm disappointed in the way this house turned out---mostly with the roof because I couldn't get the messed-up frosting under the heavy taffy off to start completely over. The Art Professor did a bombed out house in the Gaza Strip. My writing group friend took first place last year and stepped up his game this year by adding lights inside the house, sugar spun window panes and a swimming pool outside. No way can I beat him, but that's okay. He's very creative and a purist.

Speaking of being a purist, I had hoped this year they'd go by traditional gingerbread rules that everything has to be eatable. Again, they didn't have any rules other than we're not supposed to reveal who made what so it doesn't become a popularity contest. But it comes out. When we deliver our houses we have to go through the lobby where someone always sees and tells. One contestant is obsessed with the fact that we don't have to sign our ballots. She thinks someone will stuff the ballot box voting for their own house. And let me just say that that's the only way her house could win. She used yarn for the siding on the house and buttons on the roof. The roof is sitting on next to the house, unattached and off to the side because she, too, was having trouble get the frosting to hold so she named her creation Tornado House. 

Building the houses is about so much more than just the final results. Yes, it's a friendly competition. But it's also about the conversations we have during the planning stage when we bounce ideas and tips off each other. It's about the houses being on display and everyone trying to figure out what ingredients were used---Golden Grams, sugar cubes and coffee grounds to name a few that were new this year.  I'm predicting I'll take second place. Again. Third place---I'm guessing---will once again be the chefs' gingerbread house even though their window trim is falling off and piling up around the base of the house which just goes to show even the professionals can't always judge the holding power of Royal Icing.

Until Next Wednesday. ©