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, February 28, 2024

War and Play and my Black Jeans

It’s been a head spinning week starting with a lecture here at the continuum care complex that was---well, very complex and totally over my head. It was presented by a woman whose field of expertise is the Holy Lands and she’s spent a lot of time in that area of the world. It was titled: Understanding the War. I went away from it being nearly---if not more---confused than I was before. As one of my fellow residents said, “She assumed too much about our basic knowledgeable of the region and used a lot of words that aren’t in most people’s vocabulary.” I went into the lecture hoping to learn exactly what it means when people say they believe in a two state solution. I was under the (apparently false) impression that the two proposed states would be like our states under an umbrella of united states that formed one country. But, no. The two groups would be living intermingled but with separate religions and governing bodies---this assumes I understood the lecturer correctly.

In the speaker's opinion a two state solution won’t word because they have too long of a history of fighting with each other, with each side having valid claims over the territory. And as much as I really want to understand that conflict I could have easily fallen asleep in the first three-quarters of her lecture because she started around 3,500 years B.C. and went through ALL the conquers and surrenders from that time frame to the present time. 

Beware of a Rant Starting Here: 

Cynical and naive me, at one point I was thinking, Why can’t they just let the past go and start where they’re at? Clean slate; no religions nor scores to settle from ancient history of any kind to muddy things up. I just don’t get holding century-long grudges against people you never met. The blacks in this country have---for the most part (70%?)---let go of their collective grudges born in the slave era in the name of co-existing. How many more centuries is the Holy Land region going to fight over whose religion is "best" and who is the most entitled to live there? Wouldn’t it bring harmony faster if we quit worshiping the person/s credited with bringing us our value systems and just concentrate on living up to those values? I contend, for example, that The Ten Commandments, that are held up as the word of God SHOULD be held up and valued because they are the moral foundation for Judaism, Christianity and Islam---a logical way to live in peace---and NOT because they supposedly came straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, via way of different messengers. I could care less where they came from. It’s the message, stupid, not the messengers who went around spreading and planting the seeds that would become our major religions that are the important part. Forget the spin that has been added to the Word since biblical times; Get back to the basics, find those long-ago common values and take it from there. Compromise. It's not a bad word.

Rant off.

The next day was my play day on steroids. I designed and taught the first of a three part clinic on how to play mahjong. (And after that hour and a half classs was over I played the game for two more hours.) I had on my Mahjong University sweatshirt and my packet of hand-outs and I so prepared it wasn’t funny. As I said in an earlier post my co-teacher and I were shocked by how many people want to learn…a total of eleven people! We cut the sign-up off at six with five on a waiting list for the next time we teach. Halfway through our first session my co-teacher came over to my table of students to whispered, “Never again!” She didn’t really mean it. We both know that if we don’t grow the present group of players, the club will peter out, not just from people in a senior complex dying but someone is always going to a second home up north in the summers or down south for the winter. Some days we can only fill one table and other times we can fill three tables.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with this ancient game from the orient it was introduced to America in 1920 and it’s a gin rummy-like game played with 152 tiles that combines luck, skill and strategy. Every year the National Mah Jongg League puts out a new card listing over 60 winning combinations of tiles and who ever builds their hand first as the tiles are passed around, drawn and discarded wins the game. I love it because the more you learn about playing and its history the more there is to learn. And nearly all the action goes counter-clock-wise which makes your old head work in a brain-cell building way you don’t get from games designed in our part of the world. I love studying the old game sets as art and antiques and I love following the mahjong Facebook groups. I love everything about mahjong and guess what, I just bought my very own set and a tee shirt that says, “I don’t always talk about Mahjong…oh wait! Yes, I do.” Can’t wait to wear that shirt but I’ll have to wait until it gets a little warmer.

For me, I’d like to stay in my winter wardrobe another month or more. I’ve been trying to lose weight and it’s going slow…only down six pounds in a month. But it’s enough to make my clothes feel more comfortable. Hopefully when I can get out to walk more I can lose at a faster pace. I am, however, proud that I’ve been consistently making better food choices. I hate being fat but its been more than a few decades since I’ve been ‘normal’ that I wouldn’t know how to act. Hopefully not like an old friend from my other life who daily posts photos of her body, her face, her meals, her hair or toenails on Facebook a couple of times a day.

Actually, my goal isn’t to get that far down on the scales that I'd be normal sized again, but I’d like to drop a size and a half. I’m right in between two sizes and nothing looks good on me. My friend mentioned above who has lost 50 pounds would go every few weeks to Goodwill to drop off a batch of clothing that got too big and to buy some new things from them. I couldn’t do that. What if I gained the weight back and couldn’t afford to buy new stuff? It’s not like Goodwill and other thrift shops have a glut of queen size clothing on their racks. Anyway, I have a brand new pair of black jeans that I'd lusted after for years that I couldn’t zip up a month ago. Now I can get it the zipper half way up. I plan to be able to zip them fully in another month. Wish me luck.

Until next Wednesday. ©

 P.S. The map above is the same one the lecturer used during her lecture.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

From Kittens to Quilts via Way of the Underground Railroad

Our campus was excited---maybe not the WHOLE campus, but I sure was excited about the new visitor who spent a morning with us recently. His name is Mercury and he’d been lost for four days before his picture was snapped outside the window next of our concierge's desk. He found the right window to make his plight be known. The concierge was able to hook him up with some residents who have two cats of their own who provided food for the hungry little guy. Someone else found him a blanket and box where he warmed up after he was wandering around outside in our below freezing temperatures. But he was too sweet to be a stray so eventually he got taken to a vet to see if this guy had a micro chip implanted. He did. And his ‘dad’ came to pick up soon after we called. Mercury was nine months old and had traveled over a half mile from home where the thirty-something cat daddy’s girlfriend had “accidentally” let the inside kitten outdoors. I’ve joked many times that I wish a kitten or puppy would wander onto my deck so I’d have an excuse to keep one but I never really thought it could happen. I'm going to be more careful about my wishes from now on and hope a winning lotto ticket is in the mini pile of dried-up oak leaves blowing around on my deck.

To celebrate Black History Month our Life Enrichment Director booked a black college professor to talk about the Underground Railroad, concentrating mainly on the Railroad Stations here in Michigan. I’d pretty much heard it all before because a few years back I went on a day trip tour of some of the underground stations aka houses with secret rooms that housed run-away slaves. Some of them had tunnels connecting the houses with their barns so the human cargo in false bottomed wagons could be unloaded in the barn away from prying eyes. Then they'd walk the tunnel to the house where they’d be fed, get rested up and get medical attention if needed. Still, its always good to reminded of our collective history and I was happy there was standing room only for the lecture which isn’t often the case here in my Continuum Care Facility.

When it came time for the Q and A I asked if he could talk about the Quilts. If you don’t know about quilts in connection with the underground railroad you haven’t read the 1999 book by Jaqueline Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard titled Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. This beautifully illustrated book claimed there were codes in the quilt designs that pointed the way to safe houses along the Underground Railroad. The professor said, “I was hoping someone would bring up the quilts. That’s been debunked as a myth." “That’s too bad,” I replied, “It’s a lovely myth.”

Having mostly believed in ‘the myth’ for over twenty years I did  some research after getting back to my apartment and I found a recent interview of Marsha Mac Dowell, the director of the Quilt Index which is a massive online catalog of more than 90,000 quilts who refreshed my memory of the controversy about the quilts but the book authors to this day stick by their claims. Mac Dowell says before 1999 no one---not even in the African American quilting communities---had ever heard of coding in quilts. She says this comes up every Black History Month because in 1999 all the book reviewers at places like The New York Times, The National Geographic's, The Smithsonian and NPR accepted the content of the book as true without questioning its validity. It took on a life of its own, she says, that today has African American women making coded quilts for their daughters and granddaughters.

The information in the above paragraph was found in an article in Folklife Magazine and it ends with the author, Marie Claire Bryant, saying: “Whether or not the codes are ‘real,’ Tobin and Dobard are responsible for a twenty-year tradition of craftsmanship that has cropped out of a confidence in what they wrote, in the codes. Now the lineage of artisans using quilt codes is robust. For them, the codes are poetry, healing, and, especially, a means of expressing history.” 

I like how she kept the door open to the power and possibility that the myth has a grain of truth to it. And whose to say that at least one conductor on the Underground Railroad didn’t have a few stops that used coded quilts the way hobos riding the rails during The Depression used piles of rocks and sticks along side the tracks to point to houses where they could get a sandwich. There were many Underground Railroad branches operating secretly and independently from one another fanning out across upper northeastern part of the United States. It’s not like there would have been period handbills to be left behind as proof that quilts were used to point the way to Canada. Anyway, it’s fun to learn new things but not so much fun to have to unlearn them.

Until Next Wednesday. © 

 ** I wrote about my day trip to visit some stops on the Underground Railroad and the quilts in a post tiled Day Trip to Secrets and Accomplishments. If you're interested in the topic that post is more detailed than this one.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Busy Little Bee!


Correction. I’m not ‘little’ but I’ve been a busy bee lately and it’s mostly my own fault that I had a million questions come at me where ever I went this week. 1) I’m being credited for saving my upstairs neighbor’s life---not my words. Her daughter started that rumor and gave me a purple orchid for doing what anyone else would have done in my situation. But more on that later. 2) I had the bright idea of co-teaching a How To Play Mahjong, three-part clinic and the announcement went live on our communication app and and within six hours enough people signed up that we now have a waiting list. My co-teacher and I are over-whelmed with how popular it’s going to be and surprised at who signed up. A few of the people who signed up will never be able to learn to play it but we didn’t want to show favorites and have the clinic by invitation only which someone suggested we should have done. That would look and be too clicky in our opinions so we have to expect a high drop-out rate. 

I’ve written four pages of hand-outs for the classes in addition to check-off sheets for teaching the three sessions with my co-teacher acting as my editor. She has a dyslexic son so she understands my first draft crazy spelling without judgement. She also has Lewy Body Dementia and it’s important to her to pass on her thirty years of loving Mahjong before she can’t. She taught all our current players including me but now she occasionally asks me for clarification on rules and procedures. Being One-Tracked obsessed with the game, I have played over 3,000 games online against computer bots and I never miss our weekly Mahjong days here on campus. 

And last but not least I was extra busy because the above two things all happened the same time frame as my Creative Writing Group was working on a new project that had us text messaging back and forth before our meeting. Then out of the blue a person not in group sent me the first and last chapters of a book he’s been writing and wanted to know if our group would read and edit the full book. Again, text messages and emails had to be read and written. I personal thought it was a big ask of someone who isn’t even in our group so we ended up inviting him to come to a meeting and read his first chapter in person, which he did and he said he’s coming back 25 times to read addition chapters. (Lord, what have I gotten myself into?) His wife just got moved from our independent living building to a room on my brother’s hallway in the Memory Care building. That first chapter was all black and white facts with not even a hint of emotional content and when he was asked about that he said that he never writes about his feelings. The rest of our writing group spills our emotions all over our pages, then sweeps them up into a pile for the rest of us to jump into.

The project we started is we each wrote some Ten Word Stories on slips of pair and folded the papers up. The plan is to draw one a month to use as a writing prompt---a little ‘side hustle’ to whatever else we might be working on. For March we’ll all be using the follow Ten Word Story: “His kiss was more of a dismissal than a sign of affection.” The rule is we can write between 50 to 3,000 words and the ten word sentence can be the first or last sentence or in a random scene in between. It will be fun to see the different directions the little game takes us.

In our group of would-be writers we’re not experts and we don’t pretend to be but we’re constantly being asked to write stuff. For example also this week one of our favorite servers got fired (or quit) and I was asked to write a petition to bring her back. I did not want to get involved in that tale of woes, especially since rumors are flying around that tell diametrically opposite versions of what happened. I said I’d sign it but someone else will have to write it. The person who ended up writing it, slid a copy under my door with a note attached asking me to collect signatures on the sly. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. I never agreed to do more than sign it, which I did, then I slid the petition under HER door. The audacity of that ‘ask’ made my head hurt.

Okay, now the story of why I’m being credited with saving my upstairs neighbor’s life. She’s in her nineties and weighs about the same yet she sounds like an elephant as she stumps around in her apartment with no carpeting under foot. She’s always dropping (on purpose) heavy boxes of photos and genealogy albums on the floor, tipping over chairs (not purposely), dragging a vacuum around every single day and she has fallen 3-4 times. She doesn’t like me to check on her when I hear loud noises so I’ve gotten in the habit of looking at the time when I hear what I think is a fall with the plan that if I don’t hear her moving around in five minutes then I'd check on her. 

This time she fell and didn’t get back up nor did she answer her phone. So I went up and rang her doorbell. She didn’t call out but by the time I got back down to my apartment to call the security guard she had remembered me teasing her that if she falls and can’t get up she can pound on the floor and I’d hear her. The guard and I let ourselves in, then called the ambulance. I waited with her, called her daughter and the rest is history. 

God, I hope I never break a hip! She was in so much pain that they couldn’t even move her until some pain meds took effect. I’ve never seen anyone shake that badly while trying unsuccessfully not to cry. I’m not the only person in continuum care campus who has helped a neighbor---it’s the nature of a CCC like this. Anyway, I needed something to bring to our creative writing group so I dashed off the poem below. It still needs some work but the bones of my thought process after the experience are there for later refinement.  

 Misguided Gratitude

Three sets of open arms
greeted me at the door
reaching out to hug me for
so-called saving their mother
and all I could think about is
have they all been vaccinated?
How could I not let them do
what they came here to do
with their smiling faces all lit up
while I envisioned hospital germs
crawling happily up their arms
and pole jumping over to my shirt.
They handed me a purple orchid
that doesn’t fit with my decor and
with my background with plants
it could out live me since I don’t
have the will to kill a living thing
even those I don’t want nor deserve.
They also gave me a delightful box
of heart-shaped chocolate cookies
to follow up the month I just spent
detoxing the sugar out of my system
and I’m worried my monsters will
eat them all in one day-long sitting.
The next time I hear a giant thud
coming from up above I shall call the
ambulance anonymously and keep
it under the minute needed for tracing
because I’m no life saving heroine,
I’m just a person with a handy phone.
                 by Jean at The Misadventures of Widowhood ©
 Until Next Wednesday! ©
* Photo Credit:Ranger Rick Magazine

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Neurodiversity, Autism and Dyslexia

Tuesdays or Thursdays are usually our lecture days here at the continuum care campus. I try to go to them all for several reasons: 1) I figure if they don’t get supported they’ll quit inviting speakers to the CCC (and I feel sorry for speakers when only a handful of us shows up), 2) I like learning new things, and 3) even if I don’t like the topic the experience might make good blog fodder.

This week's lecture was titled, ‘Neurodivergent StoryTelling.’ “What’s that?” I can almost hear a few voices coming at me. That’s what I wanted to know too, having never heard of term ‘Neurodivergent’ before. The Cleveland Clinic defines it this way: “The term ‘neurodivergent’ describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. That means they have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those differences. The possible differences include medical disorders, learning disabilities and other conditions…Neurodivergent isn’t a medical term. Instead, it’s a way to describe people using words other than ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal.’ That’s important because there’s no single definition of ‘normal’ for how the human brain works.”

The cynical side of me wants to challenge the well-renowned Cleveland Clinic on their claim that we can’t label individual brains as normal or abnormal. Certainly the character Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory displays many/most of the classic traits of autism but you’d hardly say his brain is normal. I just finished reading a forum thread on Reddit about Sheldon where members were debating if he has high functioning autism or if he’s just a “rude asshole” whose mother protected him too much as a child. The fact that one of the writers on the show is autistic my money is on the former.

The lecturer is the author of a book titled On the Spectrum and he’s a college professor who didn’t find out he was on the autism spectrum until he was 35 years old. Obviously, he’s on the high functioning end of the spectrum who says he uses writing to work through his trumps and heartbreaks. (Me too!) He told of needing a lot of alone time, of his need for routines and being one-tracked and of the shame he felt before his diagnosis knowing he was different than his older brother.

As I sat listening to the lecture I was struck by how much of what he shared about his life before he was diagnosed could also be said about my experiences with being dyslexic and left-handed. How I didn’t know why I was different from my brother, of how I was called “dumb” and “stupid” because I couldn’t tie my shoes or read a clock until I was much older than other kids and because I struggled with reading and still can’t sound out words or spell those I haven’t memorized. I also get obsessed with projects to the point that my husband used to call me 'One Track.' Imagine my surprise when after the lecture I googled neurodiversity’ I found out that dyslexia falls under that umbrella. Would having your frustrated mother call you a neurodivergent hurt any less than having her call you stupid?

LeafComplexCare.com says, Dyslexia is associated with creativity, empathy, communication, design skills, observation, narrative reasoning and “big picture” thinking.” That sentence gave me a few more boxes to check off in understanding myself. Big picture thinking, for example, is something I’ve always been able to do and never understood why some people can't.

Goggle is so much fun. Next I goggled famous people with dyslexia and found a long list that includes: Richard Branson, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Cher, Anderson Cooper, Tom Cruise and Robin Williams. One of my favorite writers---Fannie Flagg---I’ve written about before in Trip to the Corner of Fiction and Dyslexia talks about how so many people can't understand how she can write when she can't spell. I get asked that all the time. Then I goggled famous people who are autistic and found a shorter list, but no less prominent, that includes: Bill Gates, Anthony Hopkins, Jerry Seinfeld, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Bobby Fischer, Elon Musk and Steven Spielberg.

What I took away from the lecture was that I had a misconception of autism. The image in my head was of little boys who seem to be locked inside their heads with few verbal skills, who need consistency in their routines and rituals but eventually grow out of it with treatments. I learned that it's a sliding scale kind of thing involving the classic symptoms. And I learned a new word: Neurodiversity which covers a whole host of brain related labels. All the websites I visited want to sell us on a romanticized view of these conditions, in my opinion, as being “linked to unique strengths and perspectives that enrich our world.” I get that, I really do. One cannot look at the lists of famous people who are “on the spectrum” without seeing the truth in that statement. However, what is lacking on those medical websites---but the lecturer focused on---is the pain that one goes through who is on the spectrum and how they have to work twice as hard to do average things. He talked about how just having a name for his condition changed his life.

On the other hand, perhaps the idea of abolishing the words ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ in this context isn’t akin to giving everyone a ribbon for participation---my first cynical impression. Maybe the goal in what I labeled ‘romanticized’ is to get society to accept and embrace the diversity in the way our brains function which in turn might cut down on the pain people on the spectrum go through? Whatever the case, neurodiversity is a complex topic and I’ve barely scratched the surface but it made pretty good blog fodder, didn't it? ©