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

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

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

Unlikely Tearjerker: Crying at Catalogs

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

(FYI: I mention brand names sometimes. I’m not getting paid for it. Not that I don’t hope to get paid for it someday, to be honest, but please be assured that I wouldn’t accept payment to endorse something I don’t like or don’t use. There’s a name for that. I’m not that.)

Labor Day Weekend. So far, it’s been a weekend of funerals and public mourning here in the US  – Aretha. John McCain. Rainy here in Chicagoland. But Labor Day weekend is still and always, regardless, the informal “official” beginning of the fall season.

My favorite season.

Break out the pumpkins and gourds, the red, orange and rusty leaves, the deep blue October skies, the fall excursions, the clean, brisk chill.

Here come the catalogs.

For a while there, I was the catalog queen. I delighted in finding obscure, funny or “just right” gifts for family and friends in the deluge of catalogs that start arriving in the mail this time of year, anticipating my other favorite season, Christmastime.

The volume of catalogs in my mailbox has decreased markedly, probably because I don’t buy so much stuff from them anymore.

I used to buy Mike a lot of stuff from catalogs.

Clothes, mostly. Like many men, Mike hated shopping, couldn’t stand having to make decisions about which shirt or what color or how many pockets. So I bought most of his clothes for him, primarily from catalogs.

Mostly from the L.L. Bean catalog

I get catalogs from L.L. Bean regularly, I suppose because I buy stuff from them regularly. And the fall L.L. Bean catalog is one fat-ass catalog.

These catalogs are usually neatly divided into women’s clothing, footwear, outdoor gear and men’s clothing.

When I first collect the catalogs from the mailbox, I still find myself reflexively flipping to the back half, where the men’s clothing is featured.

That’s when the tears start.

It used to be fun, joyful, even, to peruse, study, contemplate and even agonize a little over which shirts, what pair of shorts or trousers or which color sweater I would buy for Mike this year. Always something muted – he liked misty ocean blues, olive greens, greys. He surprised me once, on our annual pilgrimage to Renny’s, an old-fashioned all-goods mini-department store in Bath or Damariscotta, Maine, by choosing a bright, rosy orange t-shirt. But for the most part, navy, dark green and greys would do.

Now, looking at the L.L. Bean catalog just feels sad, incomplete. Diminished.

What do I need with a new flannel shirt? Another expensive (always v-necked, I’m short, it helps) cashmere sweater? I’ll only forget and toss it in the shared laundry basket at the top of the basement stairs, where Angelic Daughter will collect it and with her beautiful, helpful, eager-to-please, utterly innocent heart, wash it in hot water and put it in the dryer, to emerge, a pint-sized shadow of its former self.  I have hundreds of dollars worth of such boiled-wool sweaters. I’ll cut them into squares and stitch them into a blanket for my grand-nephew, one of these days.

That raggy sweater up there in the picture was one of Mike’s stalwarts. So much so that it got snagged and torn during bouts of fall yard work. I kept it and, submerged in it, used it in the deep of winter on sub-zero mornings when tending the chickens. Those birds are gone now, but I still have the sweater.

But the catalog. There it sits, on top of my “mount to-be-read” (an expression I am borrowing from a member of a a listserv and website for Patrick O’Brian enthusiasts), half of it now dimmed, shrouded in sad irrelevance.

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

I’ve learned to give these catalogs a glance, anyway, silently thanking L.L. Bean for their neat organization, making it easy to avoid the back half of the book, where the men’s clothing is grouped. There might be something there my daughter needs. I’ll  give it a look for that.

Boots, hats, gloves, socks. Perennially unprepared for winter before it comes, I’m determined to fix that this year. We’ll have enough to muffle ourselves up in when we go to hang an autumn decoration, obtained on a fall excursion, on the shepherd’s hook by his gravestone, and when the time for winter wreaths rolls around.

Muffled, with that ever-empty space beside us, where Mike, the anchor of our little family triumvirate, should be.

We walk with that empty space beside us, inside us, now, through every moment of our days.

The tear-dampened back half of that catalog flaps limply as I fold it under.

Recycle.

 

Hoping for a hummingbird, to remind me we’ll be OK,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, I hope not-too-self-pitying, incomplete but trying to recycle and carry on,

Ridiculouswoman