Run Away, Run Home, Don’t Run

My project-filled year of grief avoidance is almost over.

The butternut squash is roasting in the oven, for the curried soup I will make for my brothers and sister-in-law, visiting tomorrow. The bag of orchard-bought Macintosh apples is in the fridge, waiting to become pie. Seven pumpkins (one big and six little) and ten gourds cost $24, total, which is another benefit of driving several hours to an actual farm to buy your fall decorative stuff.

I wonder if indulging in an extended (two overnight stays) fall excursion this year was a way of running away from waiting to hear about a job, and from the approaching end of my year-long redecorating project.  I’m starting to think it all was just prolonged “displacement activity,” to avoid being still and letting the grief soak all the way through.  Stillness is when the waves come, of grief, sadness, regret, anger, frustration and sense of incompleteness about a marriage that fast-forwarded to caregiving, skipping the “happy retirement rediscover one another” phase.  The rediscovery came only in those bittersweet, final weeks of hospice. I was and am so grateful for that, but I also feel cheated by the brevity of it, and feeling cheated makes me feel ungrateful, and feeling ungrateful makes me feel ashamed.  I should be grateful for just waking up alive in the morning.

Finally decorating and furnishing this house, a house that remained largely undecorated and unfurnished, except for hand-me-down furniture and the odd Black Friday deal on a couch or a glider or a new mattress, feels like closing the circle, doing the things we didn’t get done, as the years passed toward a future together that never came. Mike saw the kitchen, the deck and the basement. I want to believe he sees the rest, from where he is, and that he likes it, and that he approves of me making this house look like what I had hoped it could have been when we still had time here together.

The painters in the front hall got the wallpaper off in about half an hour.

“If I had known it would be that easy, I would have done it myself.”

“We’re pros. We make it look easy.”

Their van said “drywall,” so I asked for a little extra help repairing the hole in the downstairs bathroom wall, where I lifted one of the mirrors off and took one of the screw anchors with it.

The head guy agreed to do it for no extra charge. Maybe he thought what I had said meant I thought I wasn’t getting my money’s worth. I didn’t mean it that way, exactly. Just that I shouldn’t have spent the money if it turned out to be easy.

But then he took out all the old screws, and drilled four new holes and put new screw anchors and screws in, and patched the old holes, because nothing would have held through a patched hole.  And then they hung up the mirrors for me.

After I asked them to turn off the fans they were using to dry the front hall because the loud sound makes my daughter nervous, and they saw how I had to coax her downstairs to get past them to go to work, they asked me if I had paint for the front hall.  When I handed the can to the lead guy, he said he’d paint it for me.

“Really? You’ll make me cry.”

“Do you have paint for the trim?”

“Here it is. ”

“I’ll do the walls. You do the trim.”

Then he left and his guy did the trim anyway.

So yes, I cried a little.  I’m at the end of my rope with the work, and close to being done, and feeling stupid for spending so much on it all, and now these guys have gotten me closer to the finish line faster than I thought I could go.  I won’t be up until 2 am after chorus rehearsal tonight doing it myself, just to get it ready for my brothers and sister-in-law tomorrow.

When I feel defeated, like when that screw anchor ripped out of the wall,  I let go. Then kindness comes from unexpected places, helping me keep the faith that maybe I will actually get a job before I run out of money and have to start dipping into the already too-small retirement fund.

Sell more stuff on eBay,  lose the the cable, scour the house for more stuff to sell to Half Priced Books. We’ll have this house, for now, and this town, so familiar and comfortable.

The colors are more brilliant here than they were on our excursion. Yesterday we finally got our bright blue October day, and the sun just came out again.

Time to make soup. And pie.

Until pictures prove I actually made them, I remain,

Your grateful-but-spendy-and-anxious-but-hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

The October Rules: Midwest and Northeast US Edition

I’ve made it simple for you to enjoy October PROPERLY.

It’s been a while since I’ve issued some Rules. It was quite a habit when I first started this blog – The Middle Aged Woman Rules, The Thanksgiving Rules and even the Rules of Attraction. I have a very strong attachment to October, and I’ve noticed (ok, and even committed) some violations of rules I should have made known by now. So:

  1. Pumpkins, gourds, hay bales and cornstalks must be purchased at a FARM, with fields and tractors and at least one barn. Exceptions permitting grocery store purchases are only for those who have aged out of driving three hours each way to reach the constantly receding farmland that keeps getting swallowed up by sprawl, which is now getting drowned in climate change torrential rains that won’t quit, but they’ll quit long enough for Fall Excursion (upcoming this week) so back to the rule: Pumpkins, FARM.
  2. Lights are for Christmas. Halloween is about welcoming the DARK. Get rid of those cutesy strings of lit-up dancing skeletons or jack-o-lanterns, or those orange Christmas lights some marketer figured out how to sell you, which brings me to rule
  3. Concerning marketing, do not patronize any store that already has Christmas stuff packnig the aisles . If a store can’t muster a few turkeys and cornucopias before going all in on St. Nick, nuts to ’em. Christmas stuff goes up the DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING.
  4. Jack-o-lanterns are made out of REAL PUMPKINS that were purchased at a FARM (see rule 1). You cut out a cap for the top and scoop and scopo and carve. Bonus points for separating the seeds from the glop and roasting them.
  5. If you are an adult, and you have occasion to wear a costume (e.g., you actually got invited to a Halloween party hosted by other adults) your costume will be either scary or funny. NOT SEXY. Why does everything for adults turn into porn? Which leads me to ask, why are there no “sexy” Halloween costumes marketed to men, hmmmmmm?? Find me one. Can’t do it, canya? If you go to a costume store online and click “sexy,” does anything for men come up – oh wait I didn’t mean it that way — dammit, porn!
  6. You are permitted to eat leftover candy only after the last doorbell has tolled, but only if you were decent enough to buy the good stuff, meaning your Halloween bowl is filled with Reese’s cups, Snickers (I’m on the “fun sized acceptable” team, because that way you can eat more of them on the excuse that they’re small), Baby Ruth’s for those with eclectic tastes, and Hershey minis in all varieties. Don’t try to compete with the pro athlete or CEO down the block who passes out full-sized. They’re just showing off. But, whatever hasn’t been consumed in a guilt-ridden binge before midnight October 31 must be discarded. Vade retro.
  7. Leaves should be peeped at, then raked, not blown (I throw the flag on myself – lawn guy – but after he’s done for the season, these rules apply) or run over with a mower with mulching blades and left to nourish your yard for next year. Demonstrate virtue by using an electric mower, or better, an old-fashioned human-powered mower, which won’t mulch but will win the neighborhood nobility competition (environmental responsibility!)
  8. At least one peck of apples must be picked at an orchard. One or more HOMEMADE PIES (crust too, from scratch, no cheating) must result. If you have to buy a taffy apple, or one of those dolled-up apples coated in two inches of chocolate, at least do it at the ORCHARD’S store, not some cutesy in-town candy store. Eat the pie for dessert after the butternut squash soup you made from squash purchased at a FARM.
  9. Smore’s are to be made outdoors. Relive your scouting days.
  10. October air is “crisp,” not cold, even if you are freezing your fingers off. Suck it up. There may be a vortex or a Siberian jet stream coming your way in a few months.

There. Enjoy the harvest season, which lasts until THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING.

Packing for fall excursion, I remain,

Your pedantic, old-fashioned, fussbudgeting, October-loving

Ridiculouswoman

Fall Excursion: Trail Ride Two

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.

IMG_20180929_090456774.jpg

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.

candle-2288531_640

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

A Journey with Journey: Fall Excursion, Part 3

Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again. Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

Unexpectedly, the forecast is for some sun, one last time before Halloween.

Carpe this freakin’ diem, for sure.

We didn’t have a trail ride scheduled, so we got going early, and I had actually planned a route that could intersect with several “rustic roads,” and a few more days had passed for more leaves to turn, so this, I was sure, would finally be the day for the perfect fall excursion.

And the rustic roads did not disappoint. Out by Lake Geneva, then west and north, back east and north, hills, ponds, bowers of boughs over strips of smooth asphalt, like ribbons through the moraine. Hawks circling, big red barns, horses, cows and the occasional llama.

We stumbled upon a pristine local park right when we needed a bathroom, and although as usual the “bathroom” was an outhouse, it was the cleanest, freshest outhouse I’d ever had to use.

And the road signs were there, this way and that, to lead us down those rustic lanes and give me what I needed from October’s bright blue weather – a stress-free, no-anger, no-pain, no-yelling fall excursion.

And I want to believe he was with us, enjoying it along with us, this time, free from pain.

Our child has taken to repeating wistfully, “a day without Dad.” He’s been gone 14 months, but on the spectrum, processing time is individual, and often long.

And I say, “every day for the rest of our lives on this earth will be a day without Dad, sweetie, but never without his love. You remember what he said to you?”

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s right. And I believe he’s here with us and he sends us little messages from the next world – the monarch butterflies, the Journey songs.”

Yes, Journey songs. Mike could sing just like Steve Perry – Really, high notes and all.  And it was mostly a running joke for us three, whenever it came on the radio – “just a small town boy, livin’ in South Detroit….” But it was damn fun to sing along with, and they’re actually really good songs. And despite the haircut (c’mon, it was the ’70s), Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again.

Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

And our child has an uncanny knack of changing the radio station to land directly on a Journey song, repeatedly, during the day.

I know, I know, Journey has been resurfacing constantly since “Don’t Stop Believin'” but who cares why? To us, the impulse to change the radio station right now is a little signal from him, from the next world – change it now, you’ll get a little hello from me.

Faithfully. Separate Ways. Open Arms. “O-pen Ah-AHHH-Ahms!”

“It’s Dad!”

Yes, sweetie – a little message from Dad from the next world.

Up toward Waukesha, found the road with the farms. Pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds.

And this time, we ate at Taco Bell.

And it was good. Back on the road in plenty of time to enjoy the last of October’s bright blue weather, singing along to Journey, and with Mike.

Fall Excursion, Part 2

…hopes for some local cafe with soups and sandwiches and pie. I end up with grey, greasy burgers and torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

It started out great – a beautiful trail ride in a state park I didn’t even know existed until a few months ago. We rode through a savanah with a marsh in the middle of it, saw and heard (incredibly loud!) sandhill cranes, I think, and wended our way up and down ravine-like terrain populated with huge, beautiful, old, gnarled burr oaks. The sun was shining, the dappled leaves were changing, and adult child was happy.

Next goal, winding roads, pumpkins and lunch.

We found an odd, small little farm that billed itself as a winery, mostly, but sold decent looking pumpkins and what’s called “Indian corn,” which I like to hang on my door this time of year. Pumpkins accomplished.

Winding roads of fall color? A little, and following my nose and the compass embedded in the mirror of my car, found the town with the store that has the chicken feed we needed.

But first, lunch.

A likely place, menu looked OK, even a bit sophisticated for a rural town. The place is mostly empty, which I put down to the hour of the day, not the quality of the food or service. Which was my first mistake.

So, I thought, OK, not crowded, great! Will get adult child fed and happy and be on our way in a jif.

Not.

I should know by now, through years of fall excursions, that I am particularly cursed at choosing lunch places. I always harbor hopes for some quaint out-of-the-way find, a local cafe with great soups and sandwiches and maybe some pie.

I usually end up with grey, greasy burgers and persons with whom I dare not converse lest the subject turn to politics, arrayed on torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

But this place looked much more promising.  Tin ceiling, nice old bar, highboys and regular tables, tile floor, interesting historic thingamabobs all over.

Adult child was very hungry, so I thought, OK, bruschetta – how hard can that be? Essentially some toast with tomatoes, basil and a little cheese.  That will be fast and take the edge off.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. Breathe. Head in hands, pulling at my hair. One waitress, only two other parties in the place.

Breathe.

Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetie, just trying to stay calm.

Thirty minutes, at last, the bruschetta.  Ice cold. As if it had been defrosting. And coated with something that was supposed to be balsamic but looked more like chocolate sauce.

Thirty minutes for a COLD appetizer.

Breathe, head in hands, Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetheart, just trying to stay calm.

Thank God the burger and fries came immediately after, as if the lone inexperienced waitress figured out that I was about to lose it if my child didn’t get something edible RIGHT NOW. Adult child likes the fries, at least, but tells me the burger was fried. As in, fried in oil, or worse, butter, which adult child on the spectrum can’t stand.

My salmon salad was pretty good, but I realized it too had been fried, not broiled.

OK, whatever, we ate. I admit to myself that I have zero skill in stumbling upon the one cute “supper club” or diner in town that actually might be worth trying, where they actually might have some retro comfort thing for my child to eat (big old shake in one of those tall, heavy ice cream glasses? No whipped cream, that is even worse than butter. Mac and cheese? Too many carbs. Tomato soup! Why can’t I just find a damn bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? In friggin’  WISCONSIN???)

So what do we learn from this? Fast food next time. Don’t even try. Go somewhere generic, cookie cutter, where you know exactly what to expect, and quit trying to make lunch any significant part of fall excursion.

On to feed store. No time for any more winding roads.

Will there be any more of October’s bright blue weather? Please?

Ah, God is great. Yes, yes there will. And the third time’s a charm.