Supersize me . . . I’m a widow

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WidowPlate

I do know how to cook a healthy meal, if only I had the motivation to do so.

After my husband died, eating a meal at home changed from a pleasant occasion to a little house of chagrin and horror. It morphed from being balanced nutrition, with at least one veggie and lots of conversation, into a lonely, tasteless thing you only do because you’re supposed to.

Thanks to that new life change thing, and to a panicked, adrenaline-fueled enrollment in an arthritis swim class at the local YMCA, I lost weight the first six months after the funeral. I’ve gained it all back lately by indulging in all the sweet things my local grocery store bakery entices me to buy. After all, it’s on sale, and cinnamon rolls . . . and chocolate anything . . . fill up that lonely hole in your heart for at least 15 minutes.

I have done nearly everything the grieving books tell you to do in the eating department.

  1. Instead of sitting across the table from the empty chair that once belonged to my husband, I changed places and took away his chair. That failing, I made an even more drastic move, relegating the round oak table to the basement for crafts and sewing and installing a breakfast bar with my seat facing a window on the front of my house. Then I realized that my silhouette behind my metal blinds would make my solitary existence even more obvious to the neighbors who pass by on their dog walking and errand rounds.
  2. I tried cooking for one, but how many times can a person eat warmed over country-style ribs before they begin tasting like sawdust? No amount of barbecue sauce can transform those leftovers into something as good as when the same fare was shared with a spouse. In fact, everything I tried to cook for myself seemed to expand in volume rather than diminish as it was sampled.
  3. I have responded to every invitation to eat out with friends and family and truly relished each morsel in those circumstances. Food always tastes better in a crowd. Plus, every church supper and donut Sunday were always circled on the calendar. Thankfully, some extended family members who live an hour away invited me to spend my first Thanksgiving as a widow sharing in their sumptuous feast. But even if you are alone, you can’t eat every meal with friends or family. You just have to face that solitary breakfast bar, put your lonely little plate on it and catch up with Facebook posts or read a book while eating. Please don’t sue me for unhealthy widow advice but what nutrition cop is going to arrest me for mindless eating and telling others that it is okay? You gotta do what you gotta do and get away from the table as fast as possible.
  4. I have always been the chief cook in the family, which offers an advantage as a surviving spouse. I can go through the motions at the chopping block and the stove, even cleaning messes as I go. So it’s never been a matter of ineptitude, but now more a lack of motivation. Why bother to cook?

    My higher self knows the answer to that hypothetical is, “To stay healthy.” Sadly, grabbing a pizza slice and a Coke at the gas station does not count as healthy. The times I haven’t given in to lazy fast food cravings and fixed a chef salad, I’ve been proud of myself and slept better at night.

  5. Speaking of sleeping better at night, it is true that it’s best not to eat much at all after 8 p.m. so that when you go to bed you won’t be suffering from indigestion. My late husband had a horrible habit of late night snacking . . . one which I merrily adopted, especially when watching a movie always led to one of us saying, “I want something,” and heading to the kitchen while pressing the pause button on the remote. Old habits die hard and I’m still pressing the pause button for a quick trip to the fridge. Not good. Maybe if I gave up television at night and read a book instead, my gut would sing my praises instead of protesting at 10 p.m. I promise to work on that.

    Meanwhile, here are some things that worked for me in the food and cooking department, at least for awhile until I backslide into bad habits:

    Small portions and single serve versions: The food industry knows there are many of us who are flying solo and trying to eat right. They have responded by making single serving sizes of many foods. While I’ve been taught to shy away from food in boxes, there are some relatively healthy processed foods. The pizza that I sometimes crave comes in flatbread, vegetarian single portions. Many brands try to limit the sodium content, thankfully. The same goes for “TV dinners,” which come in low-fat, low-sodium and fairly tasty versions. Even desserts are now packaged in single serve freezer containers. The bakery at my local grocery store will also occasionally offer up a four inch pie, as well as containers of a single slice of pie or cake.

    The deli: The local deli, whether a neighborhood ethnic spot or a section of your grocery store, is a great spot for widows and widowers. Don’t feel like cooking? Go grab a rotisserie chicken and concoct your own take home salad from the fresh food bar. They even serve fruit, already cut up, and you can select just enough for one or two meals.

    The outside aisles of the store: Savvy food shoppers have all heard the mantra about shopping on the outside aisles of a store for healthier purchases. That’s where all the fresh food is, from dairy to produce, from meat to cheeses. I love it that fruit juice companies are selling smaller bottles of the “not from concentrate” products. And you can drink straight from the bottle in your widowhood without worrying about giving cooties to your mate.

    FoodBox

  6. Special food delivery boxes: In my better, more motivated and self-righteous months as a surviving spouse I had boxes of healthy food delivered to my door. It was like Christmas every Saturday when the FedX man brought my pretty green box with its ice-packed and healthy foods. The box contained enough to make two servings of the three meals so leftovers didn’t become too ubiquitous. The best thing was that cooking those meals made me feel like a gourmet chef because the included instructions took me step by step through reductions, pan-searing, homemade dressings and exotic things that I don’t normally cook with, like shallots and fresh herbs. All the vegetables were oven-roasted and my new stainless steel cooktop got quite the workout when those boxes arrived. I was so proud of myself, I even took pictures of my plates.

    The only drawbacks to the food boxes, besides lots of dirty pots and pans and an oil-spattered stove, were the boxes. I now have a tower of them in my basement waiting to be filled with yet another load of stuff for the City Union Mission. And they’re so sturdy and potentially handy I can’t bear to just recycle them. So I’ve put the food boxes on hold and gone back to prowling the bakery specials and loading up on quick and easy.

    Someday soon I will probably hit rock bottom and admit I have a widowhood-induced food problem. But I know I have plenty of company, and not just from fellow widows. All the single people I know fight the same lonely eating battles.

    Perhaps the only long-term solution is to adopt an attitude of gratitude for the ample offerings of tasty fare we have to choose from in this country, no matter if we eat in a crowd or alone. When I am tempted to over-indulge and excuse it as a misguided need to take care of myself, I can recall that in Venezuela right now people are starving and fighting each other as they stand in food lines for eight hours to get their meager weekly rations. And that’s enough to make me instantly food sober and ashamed of my lazy, self-indulgent widowhood.

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A widow learns to mow again . . . the hard way

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Randy

Sometimes it’s best to leave the hard stuff to those who do it for a living.

In widowhood I am fast becoming the comic relief for the neighborhood. It’s my Craftsman riding lawnmower’s fault.

My late husband always insisted on being the operator of all things with belts, blades and horsepower. The last few years he did hire a man to mow the yard, as his illness and medications made exertion in the sun a no-no. And I’ve kept Randy on this summer too.

But that leaves a fairly new riding mower and a brand new self propelled mower in the shed, forlorn and unused. So when Randy called and said he was down in the back, I almost rubbed my hands in glee because I could once again climb behind the wheel of my own little amusement ride.

But wait! I seem to have forgotten a few things in a several year hiatus from that outdoor chore. In my haste to see if I could even remember how to start it I forgot to check the gas. No wonder it wouldn’t rumble to life. (And don’t tell anybody, but I also forgot the capital rule about picking up downed branches before even climbing on the machine.)

Once filled with petrol, I backed out of the shed and got her going (note the use of the feminine pronoun when referring to machinery). She purred along in second gear until my memory got jump started. So far, so good. I kicked it up into the number three slot and whizzed along a little faster. But then I got to the part of the yard that slopes down into a French drain on one side with a concrete tree ring on the other side, with said mower’s girth a little too much to navigate without making me feel like I was going to fall over sideways. I leaned the opposite way and made plans to jump off if necessary but my own substantial weight kept me in the seat. I only shook a little after that.

Bravely I descended into the lower yard at the foot of the French drain swell and mowed down there. On the way there I noticed slosh-able water standing in the yard and mentally filed that for future fear time.

It did not take long for the reminder of how wet it was to come back to haunt the inexperienced mower person. I did have to get up that hill to mow the front yard and then to put the machine away. Well, that little process took me five or six tries, with the only result being my own personal mudathon. That machine was not going to climb a now muddy hill from any angle.

Operator turns off machine and goes to the garage for two large pieces of cardboard. They do not prove successful in two more tries.

Finally, I back the mower up clear across the yard, put it in sixth gear, pop a wheelie (well, close to one, according to my neck) and pull that sucker up the hill.

When I had dinner this evening with a few neighbors, the only male in our little group said he saw me using the mower in the front yard and noted that my husband used to mow a lot faster than I do.

Well, so what! I am a grandmother, okay? Grandmas use granny gear.

But then I asked this man, who used to be a distributor for a well known line of power equipment, if he could suggest why my brand new self propelled mower would not start he asked, “Did you drain the gas out of it for the winter?”

Now why would I waste gas? Besides, it was in a pretty air tight shed all winter.

“The carburetor is gummed up,” he explained to the clueless female pretend power machine operator.

Randy is coming to mow tomorrow. Maybe he can un-gum the carburetor after he goes over all the spots I missed on the rider. I’ve decided this is not a task for sissy Grandmas. He can have all the fun from now on.

Summer Shipp was so much more than a murder victim

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

How do you re-create the story of someone who died much too suddenly, leaving a grieving family and friends . . . especially someone who disappeared and was apparently murdered?

Consider the case of Summer Shipp.

I joined her family and friends this week in listening to testimony in the murder trial of Jeffrey Sauerbry, accused killer of Summer. It was a high profile case, even though it had almost been lost in the cold case files of the Independence Police Department since Summer disappeared while doing door to door market research back in December of 2004.

Summer’s daughter, Brandy Shipp Rogge, kept the case alive by seeking the help of such national notables as Nancy Grace and Montel Williams in the search for clues to her mysterious disappearance. She quit her jobs and spent most of her savings in undertaking a full time search for her dear mother.

The search ended in 2007 when two fishermen on the Little Blue River, only a 13 minute drive from where Summer was last seen, found parts of her body and items presumed to be hers. Summer was no longer missing. But the mystery was by no means solved.

And, despite testimony this week from a man who claimed to have listened to Jeffrey Sauerbry confess to her brutal murder, an Independence jury found the accused man (who is already serving a life sentence without chance of parole in another murder case) not guilty of Summer’s murder. There was not enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed the heinous crime.

So the challenge now becomes how to fashion a fitting memorial to Summer’s memory as some form of consolation to her family and friends.

The only way to do this monumental but crucial task is through the stories her friends and family will tell of her. Summer Shipp’s contagious smile lit up the billboards plastered all over Kansas City back in 2004 and 2005 in an attempt to find her. She was that full of magnetism and a joy of life.

As I attempt to do justice to Summer’s memory in the next few months of writing her memoir, the stories her friends and family retell make me feel like I missed a lot in not knowing her in life. Her friend Brian told me over a lunch break during Wednesday’s trial how she almost exasperated her friends by always insisting they notice a beautiful sunset. Her daughter even got a little tired of her mother literally making her stop to smell the roses in her front yard every time she came to her house.

Brian told another story about how Summer loved going to movies with her friends, even after she no longer owned the Bijou Theater in Westport.

“She would pop a bunch of popcorn, put it down her shirt and pretend to be pregnant and then share the popcorn with all of us during the movie.”

What a fun-loving woman! What a joy it will be to discover her life and stories in writing her memoir.

Summer Shipp was so much more than a murder victim. Even now she will live on in the memories. And that’s why it is so crucial for each one of us to record our stanzas as we live them. We don’t know when we will no longer be alive to sing them.

 

Widow Journal: Older, solo women ‘don’t get no respect’

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Rodney Dangerfield had it right. Only he had the wrong gender.

I am now finding that being a widow at age 66 is a recipe for invisibility, especially where business dealings are concerned. Then again, maybe it’s not just widowhood, but being older in general.

The perfect example of this showed up in a scene from the Netflix original series “Frankie and Grace” starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. As the two newly divorced seventy-ish women discover, service and retail workers do not even see them if there is a younger woman or a man at the counter . . . until and unless they make a scene and demand to be waited on. Then they’re just dismissed as cranky old ladies and the subject of much eye-rolling and disgust.

Well, I joined the ranks of cranky old ladies this week as I waited at my car dealership for a simple oil change and coupon-induced free car wash. For the first hour in the “lounge,” as they call their waiting area, I entertained myself by eating my sack lunch, finishing a good book and catching up on friends’ Facebook posts. I had barely finished when the nice young man told me my car was ready. As I paid the bill I was told the car had also been subjected to some recall electrical work and that it was washed and ready just outside the door.

Well his “right outside” and my version slightly differed. I had to hike all the way to the end of the lot. There it was; my unwashed car. Only slightly agitated, I returned and informed the young man that my car had not been washed, returned my keys to him and he said it would be taken care of.

Two hours later, after being so bored I actually played a few rounds of Candy Crush on my iPad, I got up and went into the service area to see if I could spot my car. I sighed audibly when I found no sign of it and returned to the lounge. I was alone in that gray room. All the people who had come in later than I had were already long gone.

By now totally irritated, I returned to the service desk and told the young man that if my car had not been washed, I wanted to forget about it. I needed to get home and a four hour wait was long enough.

The car was not washed. He gave me some lame excuse and said they could wash it next time, but he was certainly not concerned or even apologetic. I grabbed my jacket and purse and huffed out of there without a word. But I showed those young whippersnappers at the service counter. I peeled out of that parking lot, by golly. (Too bad they couldn’t see or hear it. They have no windows in their office.)

 

But all the way home I fumed, recalling how nice those same guys used to be when I was with my late husband for service appointments. They were so deferential and even called him by name. They were always anxious to please because their jobs depended on us giving them a 10 rating in a follow-up email survey. Maybe they’ve done away with that survey business. And now the only service or retail person who calls me by name is the lady at the local pharmacy.

Yes, I have joined the ranks of invisible older women. We evidently don’t deserve to be treated courteously because there is no man backing us up with male firepower. Then I recalled how my late husband had helped several single women with vehicle issues—looking over a potential purchase for some and negotiating prices for others. He knew well how to get good service and was not shy about making demands and even being extra assertive when necessary.

I guess us older gals need assertiveness training, or maybe a list of men we can call on for backup in times of need. My husband used to joke about starting a “Rent a Husband” business for situations like I had just encountered. Even then he saw the need, and not just for car repairs and purchases. He saw the need for women to have some savvy while working with home contractors and for navigating complex legal and financial dealings. He ran out of health and time to follow that entrepreneurial path.

As I got closer to home, in addition to recalling the famous Rodney Dangerfield quote about lack of respect and the scene from Frankie and Grace where Lily Tomlin jumps over the convenience store counter to get a pack of cigarettes, a famous scene from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes popped into my head. You know the one . . . where Kathy Bates’s character has just been denied a supermarket parking spot for her rambling old Cadillac by two young chicks in short shorts driving a VW convertible. As the younger women laugh at besting an older lady, their cute little convertible gets rammed into oblivion by Bates’s Cadillac. And with a sweet smile, she explains “I’m older and I have more insurance.”

So after chiding myself for an un-Christian attitude and forgiving the young men for their lack of respect at leaving me in the lounge for hours unnecessarily, I decided to consider getting a little more respect by taking my business to another dealership. Maybe an old widow still has some economic power, even if she doesn’t have a man to fight her battles anymore.

Delightful surprises could lurk behind the anticipated ‘Bah Humbug’ of a new widow’s Christmas

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BlogChristmas

For many recent widows and widowers, the idea of celebrating their first Christmas without their spouse opens a window of dread akin to being force-fed a fruitcake.

As unique individuals, we have different ways of dealing with the grief of finding ourselves alone during a holiday dedicated to family celebrations and long-held rituals and traditions. Some of us may refuse to do any holiday decorating, including any kind of Christmas tree. We may hole up in our widow’s quarters and shut out the world, wallowing in self-pity. Totally understandable.

My high school friend Don, a widower for many years now, admits he hated the idea of Christmas, since he had spent every holiday with his beloved Mary since age 17. He felt like his life was over when the holidays rolled around after her November 1 death. All his memories were wrapped up in her and he just knew he could never top the life he had once lived.

He knows now he was wrong. His daughter would not listen to his protests that he just wanted to be left alone for Christmas. He spent the holidays with her and his son-in-law’s extended family, including his Jewish and Lutheran parents. It was such a different celebration, it temporarily took his mind away from his sorrow. Each holiday since has been a little easier, even while he never forgets to honor his late wife’s memory.

For another high school friend, Donna, doing something different over the holidays helped her get through that first Christmas without her husband. “Trying to make everything the same brings up too many memories.” She reports that instead of the big family dinner, her family had a chili cook off and hit the Dollar Store for silly gifts as prizes for games. She also made a special remembrance tree ornament for herself and each of the adult kids.

“Also remember that there will be times when your spouse’s death is going to hit like a ton of bricks,” she advises, adding the examples of hearing a certain song, seeing a Christmas movie, a gift, anything. “It’s okay to have some mini-breakdowns,” she concludes.

For myself, this first holiday without my husband is punctuated with distractions. I am having the kitchen re-decorated and trying hard not to get sheetrock dust and glue anywhere near the ingredients for holiday confections that I insist on making, just like I have every year since I was old enough to follow my own mother’s example. I will never forget her making beautiful Swedish tea rings decorated with frosting and green and red maraschino cherries to give as gifts to friends and neighbors . . . (and she was German, not Swedish, but they were works of art that I drooled over).

This first year I have tried to follow the admonitions of my church to make Advent a mini-Lent through almsgiving. I went through the massive and unnecessary multitudes of our holiday decorations and gave many of them to a local nursing home. I will be going to that same nursing home on Christmas Day to have dinner with my husband’s stepmother, even though she will not remember the celebration a few minutes after I leave.

On Christmas Eve, the time I dread the most, I will be singing with a choir at two services, then having a few of the members of the group to my house for a buffet. One of them is a man who just lost his wife after a nine-year battle with cancer and is himself suffering from Parkinson’s, and the man moved this week into an assisted living facility.

I predict, that with this activity, I will fly through the holidays relatively unscathed and land in the doldrums of January just in time for a meltdown. But why borrow trouble, right? If my friends and acquaintances can get through a tough time, I certainly can too.

CooperTree

For now, as the days dwindle in the lead-up to a major annual event, surprises and delights are surely in store. New memories will be made, especially with a 15-month-old grandson whose wonder at twinkle lights and a fat bearded man in red can be soaked up vicariously and eagerly, along with some cuddles and kisses. A new vulnerability will lead me to do things like I did this morning and be moved to tears by an article in the newspaper about slave labor in Thailand that produces much of the shrimp we eat.

The rawness of emotion that I now wear on my sleeve like a Girl Scout badge may allow me to feel and experience precisely what I need in a season dedicated to remembering the birth of One who will dry our tears and lead us to a reunion with all our loved ones.

I’m grateful for toilet tissue

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In all the Facebook posts about gratitude, have you ever seen someone express thankfulness for toilet paper?

Well, think about it. Where would we be today without cushiony, perforated tissue (disregarding arguments about which way it should be placed on the holder)?

Anyone who has ever traveled to a developing country and had to rough it outside the confines of a luxury hotel can tell you what a precious commodity Charmin is. In Brazil, way back when as I learned to rough it as a Peace Corps volunteer, toilet paper came only in the consistency of ugly crepe paper. Once used, it could not be put down the toilet for fear it would clog up the works, so it was confined to a wastebasket, providing a constant room un-freshener. (Sorry, was that too much information?)

Ask your grandparents or parents their opinion of the evolution of bathroom dry goods. For them, toilet tissue may loom large in the comforts of life. It represents a move away from cold, smelly outhouses and Sears and Roebuck catalog pages; or worse, shelled corn cobs.

Turkey

Now to the object of this discussion: This week, as you gather with family members and stuff yourselves into oblivion so you can watch the football games with eyes glazed over from satiety, ditch the usual drama and talk to your elders. If you can’t record their anecdotes with a digital recorder of some kind, make mental or physical notes about their wisdom. What are they grateful for? They probably have not expressed their gratitude on Facebook so how else will you know what they deem their life’s blessings?

Rockwell

For an ex-mother-in-law, I’ll bet that sliced, store bread would rank right up there with her first automatic washer. For her, it represented the ultimate luxury and freedom for her own mother from the daily grind of getting hands to elbows dirty with flour. It might have even been a badge of privilege to open a school lunch box to reveal: Viola! A sandwich made with store-bought bread instead of that coarse homemade stuff…. plus a scorer of brownie points with less fortunate classmates.

Our ancestors and elder family members probably found God’s blessings in similar mundane details of daily life . . . things that we have been taking for granted for decades. How will we know what those blessings amounted to unless we ask? How will their voices sing to us from the grave unless they are recorded in some way?

It’s time to draw up a new set of resolutions, well ahead of the New Year. Resolve to talk to your elder relatives, listen to their stories and record them in some way. Find out what they appreciate about toilet tissue. Soon you will be looking at this commodity with more gratefulness, through the eyes of those who saw its advent with much thanksgiving.

Widowhood: Free to be a sports fan again

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The Halloween pumpkin my son carved this year was frequently photographed by trick-or-treaters' parents.

The Halloween pumpkin my son carved this year was frequently photographed by trick-or-treaters’ parents.

During the 21 years I was married to my late husband, our lives revolved around our newspaper, gardening and maintaining a home, 20 acres and assorted outbuildings, plus a number of domestic animals. Seldom was there any room left over for sports.

But in a previous marital incarnation, sports was a family pastime. If it was Sunday, males and females alike gathered around the console television in the large living room of some family member. If food preparation was occurring in a kitchen, there was always a reassuring murmur of a familiar sportscaster as background music. If we were on the road or on vacation, the radio was always tuned to a baseball game, professional football or baseball match or college ball.

I grew up in the pre-Title IX era when girls were cheerleaders or pep club members and our main form of physical exertion took place in a school gym, while wearing ugly one-piece gym suits with our names stenciled on the pocket; this followed always by a requisite shower.

Only when I got married the first time did I put my foot in the sports waters, trying my hand at golf and a few coed softball leagues. I was a miserable failure, except for making the winning catch to end the season in a women’s softball game. But I learned to be a great spectator.

And now, thanks to the Kansas City Royals, and a newly echoing house, I’ve rediscovered my lost sports affinity.

Those who study the stages of grief always note that having a television or radio on at night helps fool us into thinking there’s someone else in the house. It can be a comforting noise, especially if you’re tuned in to an athletic competition. Golf is a sure cure for insomnia (why do those announcers talk in a whisper, anyway?) NFL football is a great background for fixing an autumn Sunday meal, even if it’s only a meal for one. I’ve learned that baseball playoffs and a successful World Series can chase the blues away magically. So thank you, sports teams, for giving me a new temporary distraction and focus.

These days I read sports articles to the end, especially since they’re the dominant front page story. All the while I marvel at a segment of journalism that gets to break the rules of headline writing and sentence structure. This is journalism that is entertaining yet informative. Until I read Sam Mellinger’s front page story this morning, I had no clue that eight of the Kansas City Royals’ playoff wins were achieved in the sixth inning or later after coming from behind, sometimes by two or more runs. In fact, our home team is the “greatest rally team in more than 100 years of playoff baseball.”

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So, I join thousands, perhaps millions, of newly rabid fans in World Series excitement and pride. I can now surprise my son by occasionally talking baseball. And I am so glad our colors are royal blue, as that is one of my Color Me Beautiful complementary shades. I was waiting to buy my t-shirt until it could say “World Series Champs.”

My only challenge in watching last night’s game was calming down my dogs. Every time I yelled, they were ready to go into action and kick some butt. However, I believe the Mets were on the receiving end of some of that by some wonderful royal blue dogs.