Mrs. McWhiny’s Pity Parlor is Closing

Pity party is over – get your gratitude gear on.

So, about that last post. Aren’t we quite the little drama queen, with our little pity party?

Sorry about that.

I really was feeling that way and was writing from the heart, but I can feel my New England ancestresses (one of whom lived as a widowed schoolmarm for over 45 years) are pissed off at me from the next world. They want me to

So, OK, enough Mrs. McWhiny – it’s time to put the big girl pants back on (wait a sec, I am big girl, so I kind of wear them all the time, but whatever), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get your big ass into gratitude gear.

You’ve probably seen this one, but it bears repeating:

So, yes, my daughter and I (that’s the first thing I should be grateful for — I am not, in fact, alone – I live with an angel; a beautiful, resilient, patient, kind, caring, forgiving angel) have been through some big stuff, but:

  • we’re alive
  • today, we have a roof over our heads
  • today, we have food
  • today, the power works and the faucets produce clean water, hot when needed
  • I have a reliable car that will be paid off by next October
  • I have two brothers, one of whom lives close enough to come and help out
  • that closer brother weatherstripped doors today, so we’re less freezing in here
  • handy closer brother also tested the back-up sump pump he installed, and it works
  • this year’s mother-daughter Christmas downtown excursion is planned and booked
  • I lost a pound by not eating dinner last night – intermittent fasting works for me
  • I had an opportunity to do a small, unnoticed but kind thing today, and I did
  • I have gotten this far through the day without accidentally hurting myself

I am grateful for these things. I am grateful for the wise, kind WordPress friends who have shared their wisdom and kindness with me – you guys rock. I love your blogs. You know who you are (and anyone who reads this should too, because there’s a list of blogs I follow over there in the sidebar – or at the bottom if you scroll down, I think).

I am grateful for small accomplishments and meeting modest daily goals.

I’m grateful for weird dreams that amuse and puzzle me.

I’m grateful that through online shopping I figured out cheap, functional, stick-on, OK looking LED vanity lights for my dressing table, so I didn’t have to hire an electrician to tear up the wall.

I’m grateful for my old, fat, warm, soft cat Sophie, even though she ignores her claw-sharpening carpet remnant and continues to destroy the good rugs, and sits on my face when I’m not ready to get out of bed yet to feed her.

I’m grateful for the really good, really beautiful sacred music my choir director selected for the Christmas concert, and the challenge of learning it and the joy of singing it with a really good choir. You may take that as a shameless plug for our concert, which is a bonus add-on to my gratitude about it, because I really am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be grateful, and, because I’m breathing, the chance to be happy, one moment at a time. I hope I can maintain the happiness long enough to send a little love out into the word.

They say what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

In the bleak midwinter – what can I give?

….give my heart.

Trying to send love in little bits and pieces, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, sucking-it-up-and-snapping-out-of-it,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island Serves Lousy Food; or, the Tale of the Terrifying Turkey

OCD invades fantasy island…

Thank God the gentleman caller didn’t show up.

glass horse

Because I cooked The Worst Turkey Ever.

Also the most expensive. What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking (and this is for you, RomComDojo, because I know you’ll understand):

  • This is the year of Rotten Romaine and Terrifying Turkey, so,
  • after throwing away ten bucks worth of Romaine lettuce because of the e-coli scare, I’m damned if I’m going to make us sick from salmonella turkey, so
  • how about an organic turkey? organic turkey farms must be safer, right?, yet
  • organic turkey was obscenely expensive; nevertheless,
  • it’s worth it if it will help me not worry about it, right? so
  • buy it anyway, because it is smaller for just the two of us even though it is OBSCENELY EXPENSIVE, but
  • even though it had been in the fridge for three days the damn thing wasn’t completely defrosted when I opened it to get the giblets out for the gravy, so
  • I put on nitrile gloves and put the bird in an aluminum pan in the sink remembering that even though this was an organic bird it was still a Terrifying Turkey that was Potentially Poisonous and I dug out the giblets for the gravy while I took note of any surface or object that might have got splashed with Terrifying Turkey juice so I could wipe it down with antibacterial wipes, and put the bird back in the fridge to keep defrosting and started the stock, which smelled really good and used my home-grown herbs, so yay me we got that good Thanksgiving smell in the house, however
  • it was the day after Thanksgiving which meant I needed to put up the Christmas lights, and it was not cold outside, which it will be next week, so yay me for getting that done, with help from my angelic, patient, hungry daughter, except
  • I got behind schedule on our day plan and realized that I needed to get the bird in the oven right away so I was little rushed, but I still
  • noticed this bird seemed greasy, and a little discolored on the legs but I put that down to being more “natural” and “free range” and “organic” besides
  • even though the instructions on the plastic that had encased the bird said to rinse it, all the Terrifying Turkey warnings said don’t do that, but then I
  • realized I can’t get the salt and pepper in the thing without touching the salt and pepper containers with the gloves I was wearing that already had Terrifying Turkey grease all over them so I
  • take off one glove and open the salt and pepper one handed with help from my chin and then
  • realize I also wanted to butter it all over and inside and say hell with it I have anti-bacterial wipes so
  • take off the gloves and shove butter under the skin and rub it all over with it and somehow get it in the oven using my elbows and then
  • rub all over the sink and countertops with disinfecting wipes, even waiting 10 minutes to rinse, so yay me and
  • I cook at 425 for 15 minutes to seal in juices before I reduce the heat however
  • I realized the instruction said 325 and I started to wonder whether the plastic thingee that that had held the legs together but could not be removed from the turkey was ok at 425 or will the plastic break down and poison us even if the turkey doesn’t? oh hell with it it’s already done and who needs instructions anyway I’ve been cooking beautiful turkeys for 30 years, plus
  • some article I read said you don’t really need to baste it just lets the heat out of the oven so OK I won’t and then
  • my god that looks really brown and where are the juices in the pan? so I basted it once anyway then
  • I noticed it really looked like it was drying up even though the timer said it needed 45 more minutes so try the meat thermometer but
  • what do they mean by “the thickest part of the thigh” anyway? and don’t touch bones? how do you do that? so
  • I tried the thigh and it was 180 so that meant overdone but I wasn’t sure so I poked the breast with it and
  • that’s when juice squirted out of the breast which made me understand why they tell you to poke the thigh, dumbass, now it is sure to be too dry, so
  • I take it out of the oven and “let it rest” like they say to while I finish prepping sides but then I notice
  • the juices look really pink, and it got cold really fast, so I’d better
  • put it back in the oven to make sure it is really cooked and won’t make us barf with salmonella, so now I
  • get all the pre-prepared sides out of the fridge and up to room temp before I put them in to warm and now it’s
  • time to carve the thing but the wings and legs would not come off, I never could find those joints anyway and the crispy skin on the ends of the legs tastes awful WTF? and I start to worry that maybe this particular bird was accidentally coated with some sort of foul industrial grease that was meant for machinery and I start to worry that we’ll both be paralyzed if we eat it but I’ll decide to wait and see for a week and if we make it to next Friday OK, I’ll call it on that particular bugaboo but still I should have basted it with butter and orange juice and
  • the breast is dry as a bone, even though it won’t come off as easily as it should dammit is it still not done? oh what the hell she only wants potatoes anyway but
  • what good are potatoes with gravy that looks sort of grey-green? How could the gravy be awful? I’m really good at gravy, so I decided that it must be that
  • this accursed obscenely expensive greasy organic turkey and the giblets I used for the stock are a con and the scrawny, gamey, greasy damn thing ruined my perfect fantasy island dinner and by the way
  • I’m exhausted and sore – maybe it was
  • bending over the garbage can peeling 10 pounds of potatoes, 5 of which I threw out because I did it early in the day but I didn’t think I should cover them with water because that would make them too soggy but they turned brown and looked gross and does that mean they’ve gone poisonous too? but fortunately
  • the pumpkin pie turned out OK and my sweet potato carrot puree was delicious and the stuffing, cooked separately from the probably poisonous greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive bird was OK and the cranberry sauce was delicious and when everything was put away and I mopped the floor because I dropped the greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive turkey on its way to the garbage can, I plugged in the Christmas lights and then
  • took a hot bath hoping that Dr. Teal and his epsom salts would work their magic, and even though I was feeling flat and disappointed and missing Mike and had a good cry, I ended up feeling
  • OK. I forgave myself. I decided I will never do this again. If we don’t go to someone else’s house, we will have a modest little meal, with rational portions just for two, and I will buy
  • a CHEAP breast-only major brand turkey with one of those pop-up things that tells me it is done and makes it their fault if it pops up and it isn’t done and it poisons us and I’ll make the gravy with less of my fresh herbs and more pan drippings from that cheap commercial turkey breast which I will baste liberally even though that let’s the heat out of the oven and there will never be a gentleman caller but, we will be

OK.

Grateful for whatever food is put before us and for the roof over our heads and heat and fat old whiny Sophie cat who I forgot to get food for so she got the canned clams I was going to use for some future pot of chowder but chowder has to have potatoes which are carbs galore but I’m not going to worry about that anymore because after our perfectly delightful meal at the brother’s in-laws even though I had potatoes and pie I actually lost 2 pounds, which I’m sure I regained yesterday so now I’m trying to muster the energy to paint, because painting counts as working out, I remain,

Your devoted, disappointed but realistic, grateful and determined to do better tonight when I’ll cook a chicken and make great gravy so she can finish her leftover 3 pounds of potatoes,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island

He could show up…in my fantasy…

Tonight through Friday, I choose to dwell in an alternate, fantasy universe.

In this place, flying horses are gently anchored at sunset, docile, innocent, faithful – certain of a safe night and a sweet sunrise, when they will be freed to soar again.

And in this place, I cook an enormous Thanksgiving meal, with appetizers of paté on brioche with cornichons and mustard, smoked salmon and cream cheese with capers, marinated shrimp, cheese and grapes, strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar, a perfect, moist turkey with crisp skin (I’ll try spatchcocking it, for the first time, which is sure to turn out magnificently, because this is my FANTASY, remember?), mashed potatoes and gravy, whole berry cranberry sauce (not the abomination of the canned stuff, cylindrical, jiggling – we  have RULES here) sweet potato and carrot puree, peas and onions, brussels sprouts with bacon and a salad with dried cranberries, pecans and blue cheese crumble with raspberry vinaigrette, dinner rolls with butter, pumpkin and apple pie and wine, a meal that will last all weekend, with many, many platefuls to be assembled, warmed and served to …..

my imaginary gentleman caller.

Not Mike – that wouldn’t be fair, to call him back – but someone new that he’s approved of, or sent, even.

Someone to prop up this two-legged stool our lives have become, in this manless house.

I’ll wear my Thanksgiving dress all day, because you never know when a man on a flying white horse will show up. Could happen, here on my fantasy island.

I am in the process of cooking that enormous meal, preparing everything that can be done ahead of time, for our second Thanksgiving on Friday, after the first on Thursday at the brother’s in-laws, the first large family Thanksgiving my daughter will have ever experienced.

Then we’ll do our meal-just-for-two, with vats of hopeful leftovers waiting for my imaginary new man: leftovers that will last beyond Friday night, when I’ll hang up the dress; leftovers, uneaten by any man, that will sustain us through the weekend, when, back in the real world, I will bring out out the drop cloth and take on the big project, painting the front room.

Hilarity (and multiple additional trips to the hardware store) will no doubt ensue.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may your fondest fantasies come true.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a flying horse to catch.

When my equine flight lands, you may find me in the kitchen.

Stirring, pureeing, peeling, mashing and basting, I remain,

your loyal, lonely, faithful, hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

“There Came a Still, Small Voice”

That buck stopped me in my tracks, and reminded me to be still….and grateful

“…and in that still voice, onward came the Lord…”

-from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”

I just wanted to grab a little fresh air on what, if the weather nerds were to be trusted, was to be the last sunny (or at least partly sunny) day of October.

I headed out on my usual route at the forest preserve savannah, but noticed a little yellow sign tacked to a post. “New Trail,” it said.

Cool, I’ll try a new path – it headed off in a direction I’d always wanted to explore, but couldn’t because of swampy patches and tall grass.

But now a path had been mowed that way, so off I went.

Within five strides I caught my left walking boot on a small stump sticking up right in the middle of this “new trail,” felt myself go horizontal, and WHUMP, fell face first on the damp grass.

Cut the meat of my left hand on the zipper tab of the little wallet-purse I was carrying (lock in the glove box next time, dumbass!), muddied my black jeans and jammed my wrist in a futile attempt to stop a hard face plant. Bruised my right hip which landed hard on the little lipstick compact I had in my coat pocket (even out here, the middle-aged woman rules apply.)

Up slow. Nothing broken, it seems. The cut, while ugly and bleeding, was small and not deep. The black jeans would survive.

Cursing, dropping “F” bombs loudly, out there where cyclists and joggers and other walkers were no doubt trying to grab their few remaining minutes of October glory (oh, nice) I stood up and kept going, bitching about how I had been lured onto a “new trail” that clearly wasn’t ready for use – more stumps and sticks and logs and branches all over the place. I didn’t want to have to walk looking down just to keep myself from falling again.  So I consciously began picking my feet up higher, in a silly-walk-looking kind of march, and pressed on. Came to a little bridge over the swampy part and took a photo of a stand of russet oaks:IMG_20181029_162322442.jpg

And just after I did, walking on a bit, still cursing, I saw him. A buck, with a small but impressive rack of antlers, looking right back at me. Can you find him in the photo at the top of this post? He’s there, just right of center.

“Oh!” I stopped. I stood still. I slowly drew my camera back out from my rear pocket (grateful that I keep in back there, instead of in the front pocket, where the already cracked face of it would no doubt have shattered for good from the impact of the fall.)

I slowly took a few pics, hoping that cropping or zooming might capture him.

As I put my phone away, it occurred to me that in all the times I had seen deer around here, I had never before seen a buck with antlers.

I tried to move closer, slowly and quietly, but the buck took a step toward me, as if to say, “Hey! I’m eating here! Pipe down and shove off!”

Though the deer near here are used to people, I figured it wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility to get gored by a buck who was irritated that I’d interrupted his grazing.

So I turned around and slowly walked away.

And another, smaller buck with smaller antlers, but antlers just the same, came blasting across from my left, toward the buck I was now calling “Big Daddy.”

Wow.

I had only planned to walk for about half an hour anyway, because I had to get home to prep dinner, greet the companion/caregiver and head off to rehearsal. Cleaned and bandaged the hand, no time to change the jeans.

Before being admitted to the Chicago Master Singers, I had never sung “Elijah.” It has been challenging and wonderful to learn the it. Like all of Mendelssohn is to me, it is a beautiful, moving piece.

In the text, when the Lord at last responds to Elijah’s prayers, after a mighty wind (but the Lord was not in the tempest) after the sea was upheaved, after the fire (but the Lord was not in the fire) – “there came a “still, small voice.”

“And in that small voice, onward came the Lord.”

And above him were seraphim, begun with a soft soprano solo, “holy, holy, holy…”

And the heaven’s were filled with his glory.

I looked up Mendelssohn, to make sure I spelled it correctly, and found that it means, “son of Mendel,” and “Mendel” is probably derived from  “Menachem,” which, if Wikipedia is correct,  means, “one who consoles.”

I found consolation for my minor scrapes and bruises when I saw that buck, and when I sang that chorus at rehearsal, I was reminded that God’s amazing creative glory often comes in moments of stillness, like when that buck and I stood looking at each other, dissipating my little pain and my petty little frustration and my cursing and bringing me back to beauty and peace.

And reminding me of recent, seemingly daily reports of inexplicable tragedies and inconceivable losses of breathtaking magnitude. Feeling simultaneously ashamed (for being so upset about my minor, transitory physical scrapes) and grateful, for how lucky I am, to have another day to walk in the woods.

For those whose grief is fresh, whose pain feels insurmountable, for whom the senselessness of this vale of tears is relentless, may you hear that still, small voice, and be consoled.

I’ll be thinking of  you at this weekend’s performances.

Until then, trying to be still, listening for that small voice, hoping for consolation for all those who grieve,

I remain, your sore, humbled, grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

Separation Anxiety

I said “yes, I’ll be back…” but I didn’t say, “I promise.”

That’s exactly what it felt like: as if I were leaving my sweet fatherless daughter reaching for a string to hold onto what was left of her deflating heart as she anxiously watched it float away.

“You’re coming back, Mom? Right? You’ll come back?”

I hesitated- her anxiety had made me anxious about traveling, something I used to do routinely this time of year for work, thinking nothing of it, because Mike was with her.

I said, “yes, I’ll be back Tuesday.”

But I didn’t say, “I promise.” I couldn’t. Promise, that is. I was superstitious about it.

I got on the plane for the short trip to Toronto, to attend a gathering of Patrick O’Brian/regency era enthusiasts.

It was the first time we were to be apart overnight since Mike died.

I tried not to telegraph my own anxiety. But I did send updated emergency information to my brothers.

Before I left at 4 a.m., with my daughter and my brother, the uncle who agreed to stay with her while I was away, asleep upstairs, I cried as quietly as I could, and silently asked Mike to help all of us out – not to be upset that it was my brother who was watching her – to just help them both get through it.

I called as soon as I could after landing.

She sounded fantastic. Happy and relieved to hear from me, of course. But more than that. Really, really good. Not just then, but every time I called, all weekend.

She had a clarity about her I hadn’t heard so consistently in a long time.

I think it might have had something to do with presence of her uncle – she spent so much time with her Dad, and there hasn’t been a man around the house in over two years. Something about the male presence must have made her feel comforted, reassured.

She told me what they’d had for lunch and dinner, and how she’d emptied the trash and replaced the trash liners and had fun at art and riding, and did a good job at work.  She asked if I was having fun and what I was doing, and, of course, when I’d be coming home and what sort of present I’d be bringing her.

As if this was a normal trip, and she was a neurotypical person, and it was just another time when Mom would be gone for a few days.

I was massively relieved, and thus able to enjoy the historical presentations, the meals and the English country dancing lesson.

I’d had a gown made especially for the Saturday ball, IMG_20181020_182234257.jpgwhich I wore to the dinner before. I decided to skip the ball itself to go hear the Journey tribute band that was playing at the restaurant attached to my hotel. You know why. (If not, the post behind the link explains it).

When conversation came around to explaining the circumstances of my widowhood, I discovered three sympathetic cancer survivors. I met a lovely couple who shared my interest in the books (she) and in choral singing (he). They took pictures for me, to document the gowns.

I “broke” my  “day/dinner” dress out of ignorance of the mechanics of donning Regency style dresses without the help of a ladies’ maid – which I’m bereft of at present – ha! –  but was repeatedly rescued by other more knowledgeable ladies, with safety pins and offers of the use of sewing kits.IMG_20181020_164858.jpg

My hair was a disaster due to strict observance of a “no scented products” rule in deference to the very sweet and hard-working organizer’s sensitivities, but I was told by several gentlemen (themselves resplendent in period uniform) that I looked radiant.

IMG_20181024_122048.jpg

My improvised infrastructure didn’t quite succeed in creating the “shelf” effect (which I irreverently refer to as “tits on a platter”). I might splurge on the right kind of custom corset (“short stays”) next time, to shove the girls up high enough to provide …erm… more historically accurate allure. Ha!

I got back to the airport early. My plane was delayed just long enough for the crew to fail to advise passengers that roll-aboards would have to be carried up stairs onto the plane (preventing me from observing my superstitious entering-the-plane ritual) and that, once carried up, said bags wouldn’t fit either under the seat or in the very small overheads and would have to be carried back off again to be “gate-checked” (thereby giving me a second chance to perform my superstitious getting-on-the-plane ritual – whew).

Safe, uneventful flight and landing, breeze through customs, bag was where expected, and, a very rare thing, very light traffic on the road home.

And there she was, accepting a much longer, tighter hug than her tactile defensiveness typically permits. Asking what I brought her.

Wow.

We got through it. We proved we could get through it.

We have a shot at a different but almost-normal life. Though it has to be a life without Mike, it will never be a life without whispers of his love and support from the other side (the right piece on the classical station just as I was thinking of him, a fan that perfectly matched my ball gown waiting for me, available for purchase, a touching Trafalgar dinner toast to “absent friends” that made me miss and remember him with love, and almost made me cry. Oops, writing that did make me cry just now. Oh well. It happens. It should. It’s ok. We’re ok.)

Wishing you support from family and kindness from strangers who quickly become friends, I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, momentarily and more often, happy,

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.

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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