Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride Edition

The symbols weren’t coincidences. Mike was with us.

My car’s rear view mirror displays the compass direction, so I exited the perpetually-under-construction toll road and headed out to two-lane county roads. We zig-zagged our way north and west, past red barns with stone silos, cows, horses, pumpkins and sheep, and fields plowed under, sleeping until spring.  There were hay rolls, waiting to feed the livestock through the winter. Not enough color in the foliage yet, but there will be at least one more fall excursion for that.

We arrived at our destination town with a little over an hour to spare before we were due at the stables, and we needed lunch. Lunch has not been a success on fall excursions past.

The available options were:

  1. the biker bar on the corner, or
  2. the biker bar next door to the biker bar on the corner.

Hmm.

We chose the biker bar on the corner on the assumption that a full parking lot (full of cars, oddly, not motorcycles – a bit of a relief) – indicated decent food.

About half the barstools were occupied, obviously by locals, all men, each one of whom turned to look at the two women walking in.

The lady bartender, fully embellished with tattoos from wrists to elbows, presumably extending to shoulders under the sleeves, invited us to find a table.

“That doesn’t look cheap,” remarked one of the locals, referring to the tattoos. I think he intended that as a compliment. Lady bartender took it in stride.

It wasn’t as crowded as the number of cars predicted. And the food was pretty good, a welcome change for a fall excursion. And the Harley-Davidson-Green-Bay-Packer logoed patrons were non-threatening. Just people having lunch. Or a beer. Or a beer with their lunch.

On to the stables, at a cute little pretend Western town in the middle of a state forest. Utterly deserted, and a little forlorn.  But it was a Tuesday afternoon in October, not a summer Saturday. We found the guide prepping the horses and took a look around while she got them ready.

There was a mock sheriff’s office, a barber shop, and a closed-but-clearly-capable-of hosting-a-function saloon.

There was a little chapel on a hill, named after the owner’s mother and guarding a memorial to his son. The name on the chapel is my daughter’s middle name.

The hill reminded me that Mike always climbed to the top of whatever was tallest where ever we stopped on any fall excursion. He did it on the last one.

He would have marched right up the hill to that chapel. I did it for him. It was lovely, both outside and in, and the memorial to the son who died young was touching. I choked up as I came back down, and turned away to collect myself before rejoining my daughter, waiting below.

We were introduced to the horses.

The biggest one we were introduced to, though not scheduled to ride, was named “Bear.”

My pet name for Mike.

We had a lovely ride through the forest, looped around and back.  The guide took a picture.  Time to head home, down aIMG_20181017_125345.jpg few more country roads.  Along one of them, I glanced to my left and noticed stones arranged in the shape of a huge dragonfly on the side of a little hill and above a farm pond – creative drainage, I guess.

Dragonflies, along with butterflies and hummingbirds, are a symbol of Mike to me.

On our way back to a town where I planned to get our daughter a post-trail-ride treat, we drove right by a little park that I instantly recognized as one we had stopped at during a previous fall excursion, where Mike and our daughter took a break and on the swings and drank their convenience-store lemonade.

I don’t believe these things – the name of the chapel, the horse named Bear (another horse named Bear – there was one on a trail ride last year, too, along with lots of butterflies) and passing the park where we had played before – were coincidences.

I believe Mike helped me find this place, that he was with us, and that he was enjoying himself. Maybe making up for the last time, when he didn’t.

I went to bed regretting the excessive carbs from the OK biker bar lunch, and really regretting the two bites of “fresh apple cider donut” I got at the post-trail-ride-treat place, and worrying about my weight.

I dreamt that Mike came and hugged me, outside, at a place that looked like the gravel drive of the stables we had visited that day, and said that I was beautiful just the way I am, and the way I am is the way I was made, and I should accept myself and quit worrying about it. I felt his hug physically.

Just as physically as I felt him blowing in my ear a few days ago, during a mid-afternoon nap attack. Half asleep, I called his name and asked him to stick around, stick with us. I heard his voice, plain and clear, say the word, “haunting.” Not in a scary way – just jokingly, the way he would have said it, with a grin, if he had been right there on the bed with me.

The last thing Mike said to our daughter was, “Dad’s love never ends.”

I know now that his love for me hasn’t ended, either, and never will.

May you know that you are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were made, and stop worrying.

Enjoying deep October-blue skies, I remain,

Your reassured, trying-to-keep-things-in-perspective and trying-not-to-let-the-coffee-shop staff-see-my-eyes-tearing-up,

Ridiculouswoman

On, Wisconsin

Beer-cheese soup. Followed by apple cider. Spiked.

I thought “beer cake” took it. The cake, I mean.

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But then came “beer cheese soup,” served with a warm pretzel.

Heretic that I am, I skipped the mustard. But still.

Pumpkins, gourds, hay bale and obligatory (too sugary, but what the hell, it’s October) apple cider obtained, rustic roads driven, stables located for Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride version, planned for tomorrow. Weather scheduled to cooperate. I’ll keep you posted.

And oh, by the way, trusted friend two has submitted a second positive review with a few minor and constructive editorial suggestions and a vote for pursuing publication (no idea how to do that, but I intend the first step to be an effort to obtain representation by a literary agent. Which I also have no idea how to do. Advice welcome.) Activate Plan A.

And bonus, here’s something I learned from getting a good review from a trusted friend right after returning from Fall Excursion Two: fresh apple cider tastes pretty good when mixed with champagne. And mild terror. Just sayin’.

Gathering courage for the next step (which also may include hearing from brothers, who are much slower than trusted friends in reading the book), I remain,

Your nervous, jumpy, over-caffeinated and energized by the crisp fall weather,

Ridiculouswoman

Frost, Flannel, Fall Excursion

October’s bright blue weather has come at last. Time for flannel shirts and Fall Excursion(s).

Fall excursions were among the first things I wrote about on this blog, which caused it dawn on me that sometime in the past two weeks, this blog had its first anniversary.

I guess I’m supposed to mark that milestone, in some way.

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What have I accomplished in that year?

What’ s this blog got to do with it?

Well, I wrote a book, and wrote about writing the book on the blog.

I “met” some wonderful new people who kindly and generously have liked and followed this blog, and offered support and commiseration.

I rediscovered my love of writing for writing’s sake, and found solace, inspiration, an outlet, and the beginnings of a new and very different kind of life without Mike. Writing has helped me try to turn that life from a life reduced, a life lived with absence,  a piece missing, to a life deepened, enriched and more appreciated, moment by moment.

I forgot to empty the bird bath despite freeze warnings – I hope the crack in it doesn’t expand – but now I know that if it does, if that symbol of my past life with Mike comes apart, I’ll survive it, revive it, somehow, with a new way of keeping a symbol of Mike in my heart with a new symbol of his love for birdwatching in the yard.

I think today is finally the day I’ll give away his fall coat, and his winter boots. I got them as far as the car a few weeks ago, when it was hot and humid. But today, someone is really going to need those.

I’m getting over the panic attacks, even though I’m giving myself a lot of reasons to panic, mainly having to do with money. The burn rate has gone off the charts and the market’s behavior this week was, erm, unhelpful, to say the least.

But something about getting through two years without Mike, and writing about it, and reading about other women’s experience of widowhood and aging, has made me, not so much stronger, as more willing to let go of worry, have faith in God and the universe, keep things in perspective and believe, truly believe, that whatever happens, everything will be ok.

We will emerge. Not submerge.

In the meantime, we will head off into the pumpkin fields, drive the rustic roads and enjoy the loveliness of the October sky, a loveliness all too brief and fleeting, like our “little life…rounded with a sleep.”

And that keeping things in perspective thing? While I wring all I can out of the few gorgeous October days granted this year, I know that it is springtime for followers down under – and through all the little losses and the major catastrophes blasting us everywhere in a daily barrage, rebirth and rebuilding happens, grief can be carried, and assimilated into a new life that is both heavier and lighter, simultaneously more profound and more ethereal, fleeting, yet eternal.

May you find your perfect pumpkin (or spring bloom, depending on your hemisphere), and find comfort that its inevitable decay portends its sure and certain return. Sic transit gloria, world without end.

Glad that my daughter is finally getting enough sleep, but anxious for her to arise so we can get on the road,

I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, dare I say? happy?

Ridiculouswoman

Displacement Activity, or, How Not to Paint a Room, Part Two

Waiting for reviews…what to do? Let’s paint…and ruin the irreplaceable carpet….

“Let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting, while we’re waiting…”

-Fred Rogers

One vote on the book  is in from a trusted friend, who said she loved it and votes for moving ahead with it. Encouraged, but waiting for further opinions.

What to do?

Let’s paint.

Brimming with overconfidence, having learned from experience, proceed to hardware store. Because saturated color looked great in the small bedroom-turned-computer-lounge, boldly select three additional saturated colors – pink for her room, silvery-grey for mine, sunny ivory for the living room, plus two gallons of that color-changing ceiling paint that seemed to work so well. Also purchase every roll of two-inch “frog tape” in stock, along with six additional rollers, two more brushes (despite the others being washable, wanting to start fresh), another tray, a pack of a dozen tray liners and sixty feet of “hallway” plastic tarp.

Confidently cover beds and side tables with plastic tarp. Fail to cover carpet, on the assumption it is already old and worn and must be replaced with something very similar.

Begin painting ceilings.

Notice areas of peeling paint. Determine these should be scraped.  Don mask left over from chicken-coop cleaning days. Begin scraping.

Under peeling paint, discover a substance that does not appear to be either plaster or drywall. It is smoother and harder.

Despite tarps and face mask, panic.

This is an old house.

Cease scraping. Don’t create dust. Let sleeping dogs lie. Paint over scraped areas and sleeping-dog areas of still-peeling paint, sticking them back on ceiling. Sort of.

Look up in premature satisfaction.

Notice that areas that had been scraped look stupid. This is not a Tuscan villa, where patches of missing paint or plaster add a patina of old-world charm.

Determine to spackle over already painted scraped places, thereby sealing undetermined ceiling substance in place. Spackle over remaining unscraped peeling paint, thereby sticking them more firmly back to the ceiling.

Spackle used in computer lounge to plug now-empty screw-anchor holes is thick and lumpy. Attempt to smooth. Create additional lumps and visible tracks of spackling knife.

Sigh.

Proceed to carefully peel and spackle hallway ceiling. Run out of lumpy spackling stuff.

Return to hardware store.

Select a lightweight spackling named something that suggests a “one and done” kind of application. Ok, that.

Resume spackling with whipped lightweight stuff. Works great! Applies more smoothly than other lumpy stuff. Like icing on a cake!

Use lightweight fluffy spackling over old, thicker lumpy spackling. Looks smoother but still a little like an elementary school ceiling where children of yore tossed soaking wet wads of toilet paper upward, sticking them to the ceiling in white lumps.

Decide that ceiling paint will minimize appearance of lumpiness, and paint anyway.

Complete walls.

Realize you failed to tape the white trim around windows, which now have streaks of strawberry-ice-cream pink  or grey on them.

Return to hardware store. Buy white paint for trim.

After walls are dry, tape around windows. Paint trim. Step back in premature satisfaction.

Realize that the slanty part of the wall above the closets in the half-story upstairs of our story-and-a-half Cape-Cod was supposed to be painted like the walls, not the ceiling.

Sigh.

Retrieve paint from basement. Paint slanty part of wall.

Step back in premature satisfaction.

Realize you forgot to tape ceiling above slanty part.

Retrieve ceiling paint from basement. Determined to minimize repeated rounds of touching up ceiling, then wall, then ceiling ad infinitum, tape slanty part of wall. Paint over splotches on ceiling.

Engage in three additional rounds of touching up ceiling, then walls, then ceiling anyway.

Remove tape, which removes additional chunks of peeling paint from ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase larger tub of fluffy spackling. Spackle new patches of peeled paint on ceilings and under windows. In fit of exhaustion, paint over spackling before it is dry, smearing white spackling across larger patches of already painted walls.

Sigh.

Slather saturated color paint over white patches and decide it looks good enough.

Realize that careful taping of ceiling has left a thick line of previous lighter wall exposed at top. Use brush to paint along intersection of wall and ceiling. Decide that quarter inch of dark color on ceilings is OK if it occurs on entire perimeter of room.

Shower, rest.

Revived, carefully remove tarps from furniture avoiding , attempting to avoid sprinkling ceiling substances and old paint chips on ruined carpet. Paint chips and dust land on carpet anyway.

Vacuum. Repeatedly. Excessively.

Shop for new, smaller bedside table that will hold lamp while not interfering with closet. Fits great. Plug in lamp. Lamp will not light.

Realize that in the course of slathering on very thick layer of paint hoping to avoid doing a second coat, you painted over the only available electrical outlet for lamp.  For reasons unknown, that outlet, which is nowhere near any source of water, has a reset button on it, which it now hopelessly stuck. (See, “painted over outlet with very thick layer of paint,” above).

Sigh. Call electrician.

Having decided not to worry about paint on carpet, which is to be replaced with something very similar, proceed to carpet store. Carpet store has every kind of carpet under the sun, but inexplicably doesn’t have anything close to that beloved, pretty old carpet. Pattern has apparently ceased to exist.

Return home. Stuck with ruined carpet indefinitely, vacuum excessively, again (is there any such thing as vacuuming excessively)? Rest until morning.

Next day, displace lingering frustration about carpet by moving desk, file cabinets and former-bedside-table-now-to-be-printer-pedestal out of bedroom, to area of kitchen that is to become new “command center,” when absurdly expensive new desk, which was ordered when allegedly “in stock,” in mid-September, is finally shipped and delivered sometime between now and the end of recorded time. Or early November, whichever comes first.

Commend self for having gained sufficient maturity to wait.

Lie down. Notice that new bedside table smells funny.  Decide that I’m so old I’ve probably already been exposed to a lot of  whatever is causing the smell anyway. Disguise smell by spraying perfume all over new bedside table.

Plan trip to department store to buy more perfume.

Attempt to rest.

While “resting,” plan how to paint living room without ruining beloved rug. Decide to roll up and stow rug for the duration. Realize I will have to buy more plastic to protect maple floor under rug…and more tape…and more paint for trim…ad infinitum….

Hoping to hear from brothers and other trusted friend about book (STOP ME BEFORE I PAINT AGAIN), I remain,

Your paint-splattered, carpet-ruining, running-out-of-money-for-the-love-of-God-what-the-hell-am-I-doing,

Ridiculouswoman

Anger Management…

Take two Bach cello suites…and call me in the morning.

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Over in the Snark Tank, I wrote about my determination to continue making a Ridiculouswoman of myself in public (you might have to scroll down a bit for that entry, because I have some new Snark going up over there, in the nature of the further adventures of things about suburban living that can knock me off the path, if I don’t watch out. It’s pretty snarky. Which it is why it is over there, not here.)

Meaning I intended to express joy through music, or dancing or goofing around, whenever I felt like it, even if other people thought it was ridiculous.

Unfortunately, instead, I had a few episodes of making myself ridiculous for the wrong reason – anger.

It is not possible to live with love and laughter if you allow anger to consume your joy.

I won’t go into detail, because the details involve politics (exhausting) but suffice it to say I was very ashamed of myself, for giving in to rage, publicly.

It’s been burbling up off and on since the Fatherless Day slump, particularly when I’m driving (surprise. Have you had to endure suburban driving when you are trying to catch a train, or get your kid to work on time? OK, so you know what I mean.)

But it isn’t good for me or for our daughter.

So I look to the radio (and the CD player) from whence cometh my help.

Specifically in the form of the sublime music. There is no such thing as hearing the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 too many times. I could survive on a desert island if that was the ONLY piece of music I was allowed to have.

But thanks to Mike’s wonderful CD collection, and to WFMT, Chicago’s exceptional classical music station, I have all the Bach cello suites, most of the cantatas, and right when I was about to lose it again the other night, an exceptionally lovely (and they are all lovely) Palestrina motet on the radio.

Aaaaaahhhh.

Life is too short to spend another nanosecond of it expressing anger. I’m here to try to convey lessons I’ve learned from Mike’s passing, and laughs I could generate or share for the time I have left.

Only God knows the number of our days, so make each one a good one, if you possibly can. Nobody ever changed their mind because someone got really pissed off at them. Quite the opposite. Anger tends to make people dig in.

So I’m working on it. I’m getting better and finding and sharing the love, and trying to find the funny again.

Stay tuned. I’m sure to do something ridiculous (in a joyful way, I hope!) sooner or later.

Until then, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, breathing deeply,

Ridiculouswoman

While You Wait….

The book is out of my hands, being read (I hope) by family and friends…so I wait…

The waiting is the hardest part…

-Tom Petty

Waiting is nerve wracking and breeds paranoia. It means that something you care about is out of your hands and in someone else’s and that turns on the fear faucet.

The rheumatologist said my blood work is “perfect.” Nothing really showed up on the x-rays, either. I don’t have arthritis. There seems to be no explanation for why the ring finger on my left hand won’t bend. I’ve decided it must be Mike, hanging on, and peeved that I took my wedding ring off. Until he lets go, I’ve been prescribed an anti-inflammatory regime of tart cherry juice and turmeric. But the waiting to hear that it wasn’t something systemic and vaguely terrifying is over. So there’s that.

But I’m still waiting to hear what my brothers and my friends think of the book.

I’ve decided I’m going to use the time I’m waiting to to work on how I’ll react to whatever they say.
Plan A: listen attentively, ask questions, solicit suggestions and humbly make thoughtful decisions about which suggestions to accept and which to reject. Move forward with final revisions and a plan to submit to literary agents.
Plan B: listen attentively, ask questions, solicit suggestions and then curl up in a little fetal ball, whimpering and wondering how I will even come out from under the covers, ever again. Moan, sob, and wonder what to do next. Start applying for jobs for which I am wildly overqualified, because they involve standing for eight hours a day and lifting heavy things, where exhaustion replaces worry and, bonus! I lose weight. (I almost typed “wait.” Ha!)
Plan C: listen attentively, ask questions, solicit suggestions, and ignore them. It’s my damn book and I’ll write if I want to, write if I want to, write it I want to, you would write too if it happened to you. Ba-da-ba-DAT-DA.

But we’re trying to be classy here, a fine line with a story that could be perceived as the opposite: too confessional, too intimate, too much information, just too much.

Obviously, Plan A would be the classy plan in the face of this.

But as you know, I am the Ridiculouswoman, and I specialize in being “too much.”

Case in point: I never miss an opportunity to overdress, and I wore one of my 1950’s style dresses-with-a-crinoline, the one in a nice fall burgundy-rust color, to brunch with my friends yesterday, in an attempt to distract myself from my nerves about handing over the memory sticks with the book on them.

OK, so part of Plan A, the classy plan, would be to try to take good care of myself and look as fabulous as possible while waiting for the opinions to pour (ok, trickle) in.

I reread the book myself last night, and corrected a few typos, and only had one more moment of “oh, I should have put that in” but no more moments of “Jeez, I better take that out.” It’s as done as it can be without some outside perspectives to help me.

Displacement activity, then! Busy-bee stuff! My daughter and I took our first “fall excursion” Saturday morning, beating the crowds and catching the blue-sky fall weather before the clouds came back. We got the most expensive, touristy part of fall excursion month done right up front – breakfast, hayride (well, tractor-pulled-wagon-into-the-orchard-ride, anyway) and apple picking, followed by a visit to the pumpkin farm my daughter still wants to visit every fall because she visited it when she was in high school.

The apples we picked are really, really good, which (slightly) mitigates their being absurdly expensive.

And even though nothing says “Wisconsin” quite like “beer cake,” I resisted the temptation to buy any. Couldn’t resist the temptation to take a picture, though:

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The weather forecast for the next ten days stinks. Rain predicted every single day. Drat. Not much opportunity for fall excursion two.

OK, so now what? I know! Paint! I’ll paint the ceilings in her room, the upstairs hallway and my room – I’ll paint my bedrooms walls a gentle dove gray – more restful and calming than the sunny yellow they have been for the past nearly twenty years.

Then we’ll pick a color for the walls of her room, and new carpet for all of it, of course.

(This displacement activity thing gets expensive, fast).

Maybe I should dial back the caffeine a bit, head to the gym, start re-reading Patrick O’Brian again, go to chorus rehearsal, plan a the next fall excursion for when the good weather returns, and hope for the best.

Hoping for the best is about the best I can do right now.

I’ll keep you posted (about opinions on the book, if any, as they arrive).

Until then I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, nervous, twitchy, busy-bee-while-waiting-for-feedback,

Ridiculouswoman

Stage Fright – for Writers?

I never suffered from stage fright – but is there such a thing as “writer’s fright?”

I never suffered from stage fright – not the debilitating, get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-you’ll-have-to-shove-me-out-there kind. Sure, I was excited and nervous before I went onstage, but once I was out there in front of an audience, I was fine.

I was home.

It was fun.

It was real.

I’ve been writing for as long as I had been dancing (from pink tutus to pink toe shoes, days long over) and have been singing (may my singing days end only with my last breath), but yesterday, for the first time, I experienced a kind of “writer’s fright.”

Because yesterday, I gave thumb drives containing the draft of my book to my brothers. I’m not seeking comments from them. I just thought family mentioned peripherally in the book should be among the first to read it.

I’m not sure they will, but at least I can say I gave them the chance. No surprises.

I offered the same opportunity to the Bulgarian. He demurred. But I tried. Then I promised him I would never contact him again.

Sunday, I’ll be giving the book-on-a-memory-stick my two best-friend-former-work-colleagues, and I am seeking their comments.

Which I know will be brutally honest.

Ranging, I imagine, from “are you out of your mind? Destroy all copies of this, now!” to “well, a really great editor might be able to make it tolerable.”

(Of course, I’m secretly hoping for, “this is a work of genius! It’s poignant, funny, gripping, heartrending – I couldn’t put it down! It made me laugh and cry – simultaneously!” or, “this must be published – I’m contacting every literary agent I know and telling them they have to read this immediately!” I can dream, can’t I?)

These friends have never hesitated to be straight with me, and even when we disagreed vehemently, we’d get over it.

So why the “writer’s fright?”

I’m not worried about criticism of the writing itself. I’m happy for constructive criticism that helps me fix that.

I am worried that the book will change the way my brothers and my friends see me. They will read things they didn’t know about before, that might shock them or make them cringe, or see me as weak (even though they already know that I’m ridiculous).

As I watched my book churn its way out of my aging printer (to have a hard copy, in case every other form of backup fails), and clipped into into a (quaint, retro?) three-ring binder,  I felt a kind of resignation.

My truest self is in that book. I don’t know why it is easier for me to reveal myself in a blog, and now a book, intended for large audiences of strangers, than it is for me to share my deepest self with the very limited audience of family and friends.

Is it a tabula rasa thing? Strangers haven’t known me before, so they’ll judge me only on what I put before them? Whereas family and friends know more?

I don’t think so. I think that writers have essentially the same deal with their audiences as actors and improvisers do.
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In the theater, we “suspend disbelief.” We “look through the fourth wall.” We make a deal: “for the duration of this show, we agree that the emotions, thoughts and reactions  elicited in us are not real, and as soon as the lights come back up, we may pretend they never existed.”

Whereas every actor and improviser worthy of being in front of a live audience knows damn well that what happens on stage is much more true and real than what we, outside the theater, agree is reality.

Because real reality is just too much for most of us, most of the time.

So we bury it in stories. Including true ones.

Humanities 101 teaches that artists (actors, dancers, musicians, composers, writers, poets, visual artists etc.) unearth reality for us – often embedded in metaphor, or draped in mystery, or flowing in a melodic line that will get you every time – but that one way or another unmasks something that we ordinarily need to keep veiled. They give us a “safe” way to experience the fullness of our humanity for the duration of the show, or the length of the book. Then we are allowed to go on about our everyday stuff, feeling somehow edified, unburdened or relieved.

(If unmasking reality that most humans would prefer to keep hidden most of the time is your job, is it any wonder so many artists are kind of nuts?)

But hey, all I’ve done is write a memoir (like everyone else in every coffee shop on the planet has done, or is doing right now.) I’m not claiming any great artistic mantle for myself. I just have a true story to tell that I hope has some universality to it, that will help anyone who reads it feel a bit of “real” reality, the reality we don’t talk about, but that we allow ourselves to safely visit in the pages of the books we love.

Wishing you the comfort and catharsis of a good story, a great show, or some beautiful music, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, nervous, wary, and waiting for reactions,

Ridiculouswoman