And What Do We Learn From This? or, Sometimes, Nothing Is Something

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

So what the hell was that all about? The “Pardon Our Dust” thing?

I wanted to change up the look of my blog. I thought it needed some freshening.

I spent the last four days messing around with a new theme.

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

I spent a lot of time trying teaching myself enough additional Illustrator to make a banner that with images I had made or chosen previously to symbolize the blog.

After a lot of trial and error, Googling and help chats, I finally figured out how to create a “clipping mask” in Illustrator to round the corners of the image I made of my face and shoulders, with the heart on the sleeve.

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

I got mad about how much elements of the “Creative Cloud” that I wasn’t using cost.

I unsubscribed.

Then I freaked out (hey, no project is truly complete without a little OCD smeared on!) about whether I’d still have the right to use the stuff I had previously created if I didn’t keep subscribing.

The (very nice and helpful, by the way – thanks Adobe) chat people said I can keep and use what I already downloaded and created. (Sorry, OCD, take a seat. Or a knee, as the case may be.)

Then, as I was scrolling through the blog with the new theme applied, to make sure I liked the (eleventy-hundreth) palette I had chosen, I noticed that all my “featured images” from past posts had disappeared.

Apparently, I neglected to notice where, if anywhere, there was space for a “featured image” in the new theme.

I’m fond of some my photos used as “featured images,” and refer to them occasionally as “that picture up there” in the posts where they appear; I didn’t want to spend weeks going back to putting them wherever they might fit in the new theme.

Which made me take another look and realize that new theme was a bit too cutesy or “whimsical” to encase my content on grief and loss, despite some other content that is funny. Or that tries to be.

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

When I switched back, I remembered the reasons I chose 2016 in the first place.

It’s clean.

It has elements I want and doesn’t confuse me with stuff I don’t need.

And Mike died in 2016.

Which reminded me that, when I started the blog, I chose the “2016” theme as a way to keep Mike close while trying a new thing without him, missing him.

So good things came of the whole manic, circular, redesigning exercise.

I got new art that I made myself, even though I’m a total amateur as a designer. I won’t have to settle for banner images I don’t like much, anymore.

I learned more about using tools I’d have to use if I ever need to modify that art again.

I tweaked things a little – a slightly modified color here or there. I’m not even sure exactly what I changed, anymore. But during the process I learned which parts of the “palettes” go where, and where I can use a custom color.

I got the pleasure of days filled with creative flow: that feeling you get when you are working on something you care about, and you forget what time it is and you only think about how to make your project better and get it right.

I also got to remember my Dad with gratitude.  He taught me to apply reason to observation to solve a problem, accomplish a task, fix things that are broken or assemble things that are new.

He called that process “using your bean.”

Dad enabled me to “use my bean” to accomplish something I didn’t know how to, but very much wanted, to do.

Dad also had an expression, usually uttered with sly determination and a not a little glee, while forging ahead down an unknown country road or pressing on through eight inches of recent snow on less-than-optimal tires: “We’re takin’ her through!” he’d say.

I don’t remember ever getting stuck, when Dad was driving.

And then finally, it all came back to Mike, whose bravery and generosity in the last weeks of his life were breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring. Memories of Mike and of 2016 were, and still are, central to helping me move forward, fight my fears and carry on. They help me “take her through.” I’m grateful for the bittersweet reminder of him whenever I think about my blog’s “theme,” in both content and design.

So, “redecorating” my blog turned into a pretty good Harold.

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

Your clumsily creative, sometimes manic, mostly anxious but still takin’ her through,

Ridiculouswoman

Happy Love Day

May Love Day grant release from grief and bitterness.

Yeah, I’m one of those “holiday themed guest towels” ladies.

Picked up the habit from Mom, who fretted excessively about the state of the hallway bathroom whenever guests were coming over. She had quite a collection of “guest towels,” most hand-embroidered, by her mother or grandmother. I have some of those now. Or, she would buy packets of paper “guest towels” and it would be my job to arrange them precisely on the rack before any guests arrived.

They had guests over a lot, almost every weekend, for cocktails.

After the first two years in this house, we never had guests.

Ever.

Mike didn’t like to socialize, fell out with his family and mine, and wouldn’t have them or anyone else over here. So it was just the three of us, for fifteen years.

Now its just the two of us. I’m still working on the house to make it fit to have anyone over. Not sure I’ll ever get there.

But I put the towels up anyway, to brighten the place, because my daughter does love holidays. Sets her calendar by them.

She calls today Valentine’s Day, but more often, she calls it “Love Day.”

“Happy Love Day, Mom!”

Thanks, sweetie.

Today I’m thinking about bloggers I’ve “met,” by reading their blogs, where I found some shared experience.

Commiseration.

And because of that, I know there’s a good chance some of them will be hurting somehow, today, on “Love Day.”

Missing a loved one. Feeling lonely.

Or feeling betrayed.

If that’s you, I hope today you can remember love, and try to remember it with joy.

Easier said than done, I know. I’ve already had one quick round of weeping today, when my daughter repeated, “it’s hard to live without a husband,” echoing me, because I had  said that to her after we talked about how it is hard for a young woman to live without her Dad. Trying to show her I share her grief, in my way.

“It’s hard to live without a husband, too. I miss him too.”

“I’m Dad’s Valentine in heaven.”

Yes, sweetie, you sure are.

“You’re my best Valentine, Mom.”

Sniff. Sniff. Blink, blink.

“You OK, Mom?”

“Yes, sweetie, I’m fine.” Tissue.

Today I’m thinking of those who grieve. Those who feel their life has been diminished, and can never be whole or full again. Those for whom today is a day where each breath threatens to become ragged, and each exhalation risks an accompaniment of tears.

I hope today on Love Day you can remember that you are loved, and that, as Mike said to our daughter from his deathbed, “love never ends.”

I am also thinking of those who have suffered loss not through death, but through betrayal. I have read how they have endured infidelity and lies, that, when discovered, left them feeling that everything they thought they knew was wrong, that the love they thought was theirs isn’t, and may never have been, and their life as they knew it has dissolved, leaving them feeling cold and hollow.

And then feeling really, really pissed off.

I’m hoping, if you are one of the betrayed, that today, you can decide not to dwell in anger.

I hope that you can decide not to let bitterness consume you.

By losing Mike I learned that despite whatever pain it has inflicted, life is precious and time is limited.

It makes me sad to think that someone’s ill treatment of you has caused your life to stall and sink and left you mired in fury and pain.

Mike and I went through it. We stayed together.  We made it back to each other, after years and years, back to the love that was there underneath it, all along.

I know it’s a struggle. I’ve been through the un- and underemployment, the caregiving and the financial worries. I’m hoping today in spite of it all you’ll find a hand, or the strength, to pull yourself out of the mire into the light that can be the rest of your life.

I have found solace by finding gratitude. For every breath that may get raggedy, for every tear that may fall and for every time my resident angel, my amazing daughter, beams her beautiful, unconditional love my way and out into the world.

Today if you are hurting, I hope you find consolation.

And if no one has claimed you as theirs today,

Will you be my Valentine?

“In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – the Beatles.

Wishing you peace, solace and light on “Love Day,” I remain,

Your off-to-bake-some-heart-shaped-cookies-and-fully-intending-to-enjoy-my-share-of-them,

Ridiculouswoman

Snow

Hoping to avoid a snow-related heart attack,
I’ll shovel every two hours or two inches…

“Smells like snow.”

If you live in, or visit, the Northeast or Midwest or mountain states of the US in winter, you might hear someone say this.

If you have the misfortune (or luck, depending on your perspective) to live in a place where there is never any snow, and you have never visited a place where there is, you will not have had the sensory experience of what the air is like before snow.

The scent usually is most noticeable before the first snow of the season, or if it hasn’t snowed for a while, and there is no snow on the ground at the time. That’s when you notice something’s coming.

It’s clean. It’s crisp, and there is a decided sort of clarity to it, as if it has gotten…thinner, somehow. In a good way. As if you were at a higher altitude. All the junk in the air seems to have stepped aside for a moment, to make way for the snow to come.

And then it starts.

You check the outdoor temperature, so you’ll know whether this is going to be the light, fluffy stuff that shovels aside like a feather, or the heavy, heart attack stuff that could kill you: everyone who lives in a snowy place will know, or know of, someone who died of a heart attack trying to move the stuff. And that includes trying to move it with a snowblower, because you still have to move the snowblower.

If the temperature is near freezing, you know two things: the driving will be especially treacherous, because the snow will be covering ice beneath it, moisture that froze as the temperature dropped, and that you better get your ass outside every two hours to shovel so you never have to shovel more than two inches of it at a time (and risk dying of a heart attack).

We had a snowstorm several years ago that everyone came to refer to as “snowmaggedon.” Sixty mile-an-hour winds that ripped part of our roof off (“hon, what’s that flapping sound?” “no idea – but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.”)

But the winds didn’t stop Mike from going outside every two hours, all night long, in the raging gale, to shovel the driveway.

The next day, we had to shovel our way out of the house. Couldn’t get out of the garage or the kitchen door without a shovel. But the driveway was easier because the drifts were a foot lower, due to Mike’s determination with the shovel.

The snow by the doors was three feet deep. Not exactly Buffalo or Watertown, New York, but still.

The morning after was bright and beautiful, and we worked together to clear the driveway and the walk, taking breaks to warm up, change gloves or defrost toes.

I will never forget the winter when, the morning after my Dad finally got home from the city, I stood in the garage at the moment the door was first opened.

And the snowdrift on the other side of it was as tall as I was.

In those days, a “snowsuit” was a sort of winterized pair of overalls, with suspenders with metal clips. Just getting dressed to go outside was a half-an-hour ordeal – tights or long johns, turtleneck, sweater, snowsuit, heavy wool socks, parka (for girls like me, with a border of fake wool or fur around the hood), scarf (which for some weird reason we tied around the outside of the parka, where the hood met the jacket, under the chin), mittens (sometimes two pairs, one within the other) and rubber boots or “galoshes,” which weren’t warm enough, but wool socks, two layers, right?

We did things then that are the stuff of parental nightmares, now.  I’ll just say they involved sledding. I can’t describe them here because it makes me too anxious, now that I’m a grown up and parent, remembering. I’ll just say it makes me wonder how the hell we survived our childhoods.

But somehow we did survive, and grew into cautious adults who respect the power of a big snowstorm enough to bundle up and get out there and shovel, every two hours or two inches, whichever comes first, slowly and carefully, hoping to avoid the heart attack.

There’s a big storm just starting here, now, and it will affect a huge part of the midwest and northeast this weekend. The kind of storm where you check to be sure you have enough food in the house to get through the weekend, because you ain’t going anywhere til it is over, plowed and salted. And blankets, too – because this one is going to be followed by arctic cold.

There was no snow-smell before it here this time, but when it starts, the air clears, and you hunker down: flashlight checked, phone charged, firewood brought around, iron pot ready for cooking in the fireplace if the power goes out, ice-dam preventing salt pucks on the part of the roof that will leak if I turn the heat up beyond 64 (first time trying those), hat, scarf and gloves ready on the drying rack, shovel and boots ready by the front door.

Wishing you a cleared, heart-attack-free driveway and no dangerous snow-related antics by your progeny,

I remain,

Your yes-I-pay-someone-now-to-do-the-driveway-but-dammit-that-walkway-is-MINE-snow-shoveling, environmentally-friendly-ice-melt-scattering,

Ridiculouswoman

Gowf

How I feel about golf, in one photo…

As I was leaving total body fitness class a few days ago, I was greeted with the above pictured troop of frozen golf carts.

(Or “gowf carts,” as those who play this spectacularly dull sport usually say it – especially the TV commentators. Mike used to watch “gowf” on TV – which, for me, is somewhere between watching paint dry and sticking knitting needles in my eyes. Suffice it to say, I was always able to find myself something else to do until the “gowf” was over, which often was somewhere between six and ten hours in).

So the sight of frozen “gowf” carts?

Oh, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!

Just sayin’

Preferring brisk walks not involving attempts “to place a small ball in a smaller hole with weapons ill-designed for that purpose,” (Churchill),

I remain,

Your loyal, non-conforming because non-gowfer, but hoping the fitness class can get me skiing again someday,

Ridiculouswoman

There’s No Place Like Home

These hometown colors still thrill me every year…

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard…”

-L. Frank Baum, via Dorothy Gale

Fall excursion four, Trail Ride No, 3, was to have been tomorrow, based on the weather forecast reported last week.

Now, the updated forecast is for thundershowers.

Cancelled.

Epic disappointment. Have you ever spent a day with an autistic person who has suffered a disappointing change of plans? This is a profound kind of disappointment – as if it is threatening, in some way – what’ll we do now?

Get out the whiteboard. Write out the feelings. Work it through.

And she did:  my amazing, resilient daughter bounced back, changed her attitude and decided to get over it. Bravo.

Me? Not so much.

The expectation of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season is not enough to soothe my sense of loss when October ends. This year has been a skimpy one in the way of bright blue October skies. Today, it seems, is the last day this year with a shot at it – but there’s more “cloudy” than “partly” today, too.

For a few hours this morning, though, it was there.

I have lived in this town pretty much my entire life, and walked, ridden bikes and driven down these same streets for decades, yet each fall, each October, specifically, it still thrills me – sets my heart aglow, like the trees themselves, that seem to have the ability to exude light from within.

This morning was that day – when I realize that it isn’t really necessary to take a long drive to find that October joy; it is right here.

The photo at the top was taken in my own back yard. So was that gold one. IMG_20181029_134750.jpgThose below were taken within within a 2-3 mile radius of my home.

There’s a “toasted maple,” my favorite fall display, where the tree gets all purply on top but stays golden underneath.IMG_20181029_125553.jpg

There is the incredibly rosy glow of the maples uptown (that’s what we call our tiny but thriving “business district,” which until about 5 years ago had no restaurants (if you don’t count the breakfast joint that closed fifty years ago) but now has three.

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There are the lanes lined with color leading to and from the bluff with views of the lake.

Not just any lake. Lake Michigan. A great lake, which only needs to be referred to as “the lake” for anyone living within 100 miles of it.

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And a view of the park, where the huge old cottonwood finally had to come down, but was replaced with an expanded playground with that newfangled, squishy-bouncy stuff instead of the pebbles, or concrete, or asphalt, or, if we were lucky, the wood chips, of my youth. I spent more time on those tennis courts.

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But here is autumn glory, just a walk, a bike ride or a short drive away.

I finally got my fix – my dose of October’s loveliness, ephemeral.

I’ll take it, and call it enough.

Trying, often failing but still trying, to live in the moment and focus on love and laughter, I remain,

Your loyal, sentimental, nostalgic, one-day-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman

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

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