Sunday, February 28, 2010

One is the Lonliest Number

I live in an area where if you throw a stone in any direction, you will wind up in a cute, historic town full of quaint shops and restaurants. So, since I had to drive 30-minutes away to return my son's Elvis costume, I planned to stop off at a yarn and antique store in the area of the costume shop. Just window shopping mind you. But I get a lot of ideas window shopping and since my boys were out for the day had a little time of my own. A way to battle some of the winter stir-craziness.

The town with the yarn store was filled with middle-aged couples (straight and gay) holding hands while strolling down the streets. My eyes always gravitate to these fit and young looking 60-ish pairs, smiling at one another, stopping to embrace. Then in the yarn store, women in twos were mingling about. I assume there were some that were friends and others mother-daughter or sister pairs.

It is hard always going out on one's own. But if you are someone alone and want to go somewhere, what is the option? I enjoy my window shopping excursions but would enjoy them far more if they were shared with a friend or partner. Judith Sills, PhD, in her book, "Getting Naked Again - Dating, Romance, Sex and Love When You've Been Divorced, Widowed, Dumped, or Distracted" talks about this. By the way, the book is very good. Anyway, she basically says that all of us will at some point in our lives be on our own, without a partner. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is where we are at that place in our lives.

So I try to hold my head up high and enjoy browsing the bins of brightly colored yarn or shop of antiques and collectible treasures. I try to not feel too down viewing the happy couples that seem to multiply in front of my eyes. But it is still hard and I am still lonely, even though I enjoyed my brief afternoon respite of window shopping.

I am grateful:

1. For yarn shops - I want to live in one!
2. For antique stores.
3. For book stores, whether they are chains or secondhand ones.
4. For libraries.
5. For 60-ish couples who look so vibrant and in love. Puts aside the myth that you have to be young to be happy and in love. Gives me hope that someday I'll be walking down the street joining that group sometime in the future.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bragging Rights

My oldest was crowned "Mr. ______________ High School" tonight, the first Junior in 10 years to snag the award. The contest included a fashion/modeling, costume, talent, dance, fund raising and question competition. My son performed a song he had written the words to and musically composed. His dancing was very good, the costume excellent. I was absolutely blown away when he won as he had told me that the crown would almost certainly go to a Senior. In fact, my son was only one of two Juniors to be in the show of 12 contestants.

My son writes amazing songs, and we considered having him try out for American Idol this past summer. But that plan kind of fell apart when I had to become so involved with selling the house. I told him that performing in this contest would be another way of gaining some exposure.

Unfortunately, this competition fell on the same weekend my son was supposed to go out-of-town for a band trip. His band director was very upset that my son chose to perform in this contest and not go on the trip. Two boys had to pull out of the competition already and he had been told that if he couldn't perform, they were going to cancel the show. My son was raising money for a charity set up for the friend who died this summer and his conscience led him to participate in this show.

This week, all of my son's teachers wished him luck in the show EXCEPT his band director. It will be a sweet victory for my son when he goes to band on Monday having received the crown. Yes, he got an actual plush crown and flowers! I am a proud Mom tonight.

I am thankful:

1. My girlfriend attended the show with me so I did not have to go alone.
2. My son was acknowledged for his amazing talents.
3. My youngest wasn't jealous of his older brother's victory.
4. For the wonderful surprise of my son winning unexpectedly.
5. That renting the Elvis costume paid off last Sunday.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fantasy vs. Reality

Had a distressing and disheartening career counseling appointment today. Almost started crying a couple times. I thought I was going to receive some direction in creating a job search plan. Evidently this session was for long-term career counseling. It wasn't until the end of the appointment that I figured out that we were not on the same page. So I made another appointment for Tuesday to get what I need.

Basically, this guy sat with me for an hour and told me that I am "all over the place" in regard to my looking for employment. Which I do not dispute. He advised me to really hone in on the type of job I am seeking because everything is specialized today. I tried to explain that I am not really specialized in anything specific. I was trained to be a generalist counselor. He gave the example of a woman he knows who finds her "greatest joy" in working with domestic violence victims. He asked me what my greatest joy or passion is and I replied, "Working at a job so I can provide for my children." Where would I really work if I could follow my bliss? A book store, yarn store or library. But we're not talking bliss here, we're talking survival.

This career counselor actually put me down for my attitude of trying to find a job (any job) as quickly as possible. He tried to talk me into putting my main focus into finding more professional work in my field of social services/counseling. He dismissed my explanations that when I looked for work in my field, I was only offered on-call or 10-hour-a-week positions. I firmly stated that as an only parent I must accept full-time employment - I don't have the luxury of just working 10-hours a week with no benefits. But according to this guy, I should consider them to get my foot in the door. This isn't practical for me. Hello - I am the sole bread winner in my family of kids fast approaching going to college.

Sadly, the reality of my situation did not seem to hit this guy. My reality doesn't allow me the extra time to spend months on the job hunt. I pretty much have to take whatever is offered me as soon as it is offered. And that doesn't bother me. I just want and need to have some kind of work to be bringing in some funds.

I was told not to act, appear and sound too desperate. But at the same time must be enthusiastic and sell myself. I need to be "the best athlete at the top of the pyramid." We won't even bother to go into the strain of playing the B.S. games that abound when job hunting. And that is on top of worrying about feeding the kids and putting gas into the van to get to job interviews.

We talked a little about networking and I explained that in the years I stopped working outside the home to care for sick family members, I'd lost touch with my former co-workers. I tried to relate how isolating widowhood is when raising school-aged children. It was recommended that at the next school activity I attend, say a volleyball game, that I "work" the bleachers and tell everyone that I am looking for that specific job - whatever that will turn out to be. Oh boy, I'm really looking forward to that. It is hard enough for me to attend school events on my lonesome. Now I'll have the added pleasure of "working" the bleachers. Right.

At the end of our session, I was asked what "groups" I am involved with. I said, none. "None? No church groups?" I tired to explain how tough it is to get through the laundry, make dinner and do the dishes much less socialize in any capacity. But there is that superwoman mentality rearing its ugly head again. Not only am I supposed to function as an only parent with virtually no assistance but also be out there off to job club meetings and the like. I did ask at the library yesterday if there were any book discussion groups and was told no. In my life before widowhood I was a PTA officer and committee chair. Activities and groups like that faded away as the reality of functioning as an only parent took over.

I did mention that I blog and was asked how many follow. I replied maybe a dozen. So now my homework is to try and find job contacts or connections via this blog. I said that this is a nationwide blog but apparently that isn't supposed to matter in this cyber age. Well, I am not combining job searching with this personal grief blog. I will join the Wed. a.m. job club that meets at the center and keep looking for a book club.

In the end, Mr. Job Counselor Guy, whom I should add is unemployed and a volunteer himself, was pretty critical of my "I can't do this attitude" that sometimes was exposed. I countered him by saying that I need to look for work in the here and now and long-term goals are on the back burner for now. Since when did working to put food on the table for your kids become a dishonorable goal? In fact, when I was going through hints for surviving hard economic times, one tip was to go back to school for a short-term program such as the CNA one I completed to get a job ASAP. I can concentrate on a more "fun" job later when the need is not so intensely dire.

I guess my whole impression about this encounter was how little people and especially the untouched fail to comprehend the situation I am in relating to my widowhood. I don't know why I can't be taken at face value. It is what it is, although I dislike that expression. I need a job. I need a job now. I'm willing to pretty much do anything for the time being. It is a necessity. I don't have much choice. My pension is not enough for us to survive on. We have to supplement it with food from the food pantry.

I was reminded that I'll hear the word "No" plenty of times while looking for working. And I suppose along the way I'll meet more than a few people who don't get it. There needs to be acknowledgment at least that my situation may not be the same as others. That is all I really want and have ever wanted. Just recognize that I'm living with circumstances that might require some tweaking or another approach. Give me some credit for where I'm coming from. Don't put me into that one-size-fits-all box.

To be fair, this guy did say I have a lot of great job, volunteer and life experience and that I need to harness this and really sell it. He also was complimentary of my achievement of having a Master's Degree for which I will always be grateful. And I will not totally dismiss everything that was discussed. Job counselor guy made some cogent points and I need to filter in everything that is offered. I'll reflect on his suggestions. But I don't think he'll give me or my situation another thought.

Being Brave in a New World

I had assistance navigating the online job boards yesterday at the career center. It took over an hour for me to post my resume and apply for one job. I was struck as I struggled through this, how much job hunting is similar to the grief process. You feel like a fish out of water or trying to swim upstream. It is hard, stressful, tiring and discouraging - two steps forward, one step back. This is not a circumstance any of us signed up for - and for many, it is an unexpected, surreal shock. There are new rules and new ways of doing things as well as even looking at the world. But for a long while, we don't know what these new rules are and we struggle to fit in.

What really hit me was how hard I seem to be resisting change. I haven't seriously had to look for a job in about 10 years. And back then you faxed your resume to a potential employer or used the mail, plus a lot of phone calling. I am not a proficient computer user and am now having trouble figuring out all the online nuances and details. But I just want to do things the old way, the way that was comfortable for me and always got me results. I am floundering in this job market just as I floundered and still flounder with grief. I just want the comfort level of my old world when I knew what fit what and where. Sounds a lot like what I used to say when I would moan, "I just want him back" or "I just want my old life again."

In the end, we're pretty much forced to adapt. We have to resign ourselves to this. After a few weeks on my own and not getting any results with the job search, I sought assistance from a career placement center. Today I am meeting with them again and we'll discuss a job searching plan. Right now I'm in the dark and don't have any real direction on how to proceed.

That's what happened in the end after I was widowed. And again when I was divorced. Just have to dig in my heels and face the world which looks rather intimidating and threatening. The only major difference I see between unemployment and grief is that eventually the unemployment will end because a job somewhere, somehow will come into fruition. But of course, we all know the ending for our grief tales. Our partners are not returning - no tidy and happy endings there.

I am grateful:

1. For low-cost job searching assistance.
2. That the snow that came again is not a blizzard - but we all are sure getting tired of the white stuff.
3. For living in a safe community.
4. For the wide array of skills and experiences I have behind me - it will all come together in the end.
5. That in a week it will be March.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Walking Beside The Grief

It was a strange weekend where I was feeling disjointed and disconnected. On Friday I called up my closest girlfriend to ask if she wanted to go with me to see my son perform in the "Mr. _____ High School" production he is competing in. I was in the parking lot at the sporting goods store to exchange a pair of compression shorts for my youngest, running track. I got distracted and locked the keys in the van because I was still on the phone. In six years of living on my own I have always had that fear on my mind - of locking the keys in after me. And for six long years I've accomplished avoiding that event. Luckily, it wasn't such a big deal. My oldest was still at school and found a friend to drive him over to the sporting goods store and my life was restored and back to normal in about a half-hour.

My girlfriend asked me to join her for dinner that night. We went to a place where I had a buy-one-get-one coupon. When I told my oldest I was going out he was thrilled - he told me I need to get out more, do more, etc. While we were dining, my girlfriend realized that there was an eerie connection to the date. Last year, she had driven me to my divorce mediation in an ice storm. We were hours late and I remember my ex being furious that he had to pay his attorney for the extra time. My friend and I many times that morning feared for our lives driving on pure ice. We didn't talk much about my ex or the divorce. It was just an interesting connection to note and makes you wonder about how certain dates and times match up.

The evening which was restoring and a rare treat, ended with a headache on account of the glass of Cabernet and then the very strong Whiskey Sour following. I wasn't motivated to do much when I got home.

Saturday I took my oldest to a costume shop 30 minutes away to rent an Elvis costume for his pageant. I figured by the time we tried to piece something together on our own from the party stores and Goodwill, it would probably cost as much as the $50.00 rental fee. Plus we'd avoid a lot of stress. He loved the gold jumpsuit so it was worth it. It was also fun to check out the costume shop which brought back memories of my theater days in high school and college. But I also felt out of sorts and out of the loop. I seem to get out so rarely now - I live a kind of secluded and lonely life. It was a sad realization.

The threat of an approaching winter storm held me captive over the rest of the weekend and I remained unmotivated and listless. The dishes sat in the sink; I didn't go to the storage shed; I threw together meals from what was in the house. I did crochet a rug for the kitchen and read.

There was a lot of sadness this weekend very present and close to the surface. As easy as it is for people to say, "Move on and get over it" it is hard to stop thinking about what I have lost, the life I used to live, the life I hoped to live and compare that to my life now. There is the slow realization that the grief inside me will remain and I can only do my best to work around it. Somehow I have to rise to the occasion and be there for my boys to the most of my ability. This is a very shitty realization to come to. The grief just doesn't go away even when you work at it and process it and walk through the pain. I guess you have to somehow make peace with it knowing that it will remain with you. Maybe the reconciliation process of grief is that you somehow keep plodding forward with the losses next to you - not behind you or buried beneath you. You walk forward as a much different and changed person, stronger they all say. Maybe even a little jaded and numb but that's not such a bad thing. You walk forward with the grief beside you. It is not your close friend or buddy. But you do nod at it and are able to look it straight in the eye without dissolving into tears, running away or hiding.

I am grateful:

1. That the snow wasn't as bad as I'd initially heard - more slush-like and wet.
2. That I woke up this morning.
3. For my friendship with my girlfriend which has endured the end of her marriage and both of mine.
4. The clean slate of a new day.
5. The fresh start of a new week.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I think I am mourning the loss of my home. I say "I think" because I don't know anymore where the hell I am on this grief continuum. All the losses of the past six years are all bunched up into one big ball anyway. They all connect back to the death of my husband. I can't seem to separate one from the other.

It has only been five months since we sold the house and moved. Just five months that now feel like an eternity. The whole summer was spent cleaning and selling the home. Then, when it was sold, I literally on my own moved from a five-bedroom home into a two-bedroom space. I am down to one and a half storage units now housing the overflow which includes stuff I never had the time to get through when my mom died and my parent's house was sold, in 10/2007!

I was way too busy to think, much less grieve or process what moving would mean back in the summer. Now that I have some perspective with the passing of time, I look back with amazement that I was able to accomplish the feat of moving largely on my own. Sam was there during the actual 2-day move with the movers and he helped me a little with cleaning out the garage which ended up taking two long weeks. But there I was, a widowed overwrought mom, being forced to sell her home, working odd hours at the big box store, making sure teen boys got to their summer baseball games and accomplishing a major move on my own. The people in my world shrugged their shoulders and matter-of-factly went on with their lives, while mine was falling apart at the seams - literally.

And now here I am trying to cope with the aftermath. From this view I have tremendous admiration for what I accomplished over the summer. This was a big house and it had been pretty disorganized and messy from the years of my husband's illness and then my stint as an only parent. But there is also pent-up anger for this crazy world I inhabit that is so lacking in support, be it emotional or with helping with physical tasks. I can't quite put my finger on it to describe it properly. But it is this sense I get from others that my losses aren't really such a big deal, that they don't matter or count.

Well, let me set the record straight - losing my home was a tremendous loss and I am reeling from it five months later. But I don't know how to grieve this or where to go from here. Even Sam gives me that pat answer when I try and relate to him how much of a loss this is to me. You know the one - "You lost your home, it is over, now you have to get over it and move on..." I've asked him to stop reading this blog because he gets upset with me for getting too down, or feeling low and grieving too much. You know the drill. I'm sure you have heard all of that before too.

The thing is though, that this is a new loss. It is one slamming into me after a slew of others. Am I really supposed to be jumping cartwheels down the street and gleefully shouting, "I just lost my house five months ago!" Really, what do people expect? This is a major loss, although it is secondary to the death of my husband six years ago. That passage of time just keeps biting me in the backside. People think that because it has been awhile for me that I shouldn't be grieving at all, and I guess that includes the other losses that accumulated after my husband died.

There doesn't seem to be that much out there about handling and getting through secondary grief losses. Just that we need to acknowledge and grieve them individually. I think that some people view my ongoing grief as that for my husband and they think I am grieving too long. They don't know that the secondary losses along the way are part of the mix. And I've said this before, but in my case the pain I've experienced from these seemingly lesser losses has actually been harder for me to endure. Maybe it is because I'm more weary, have fewer resources, or am facing them without a spouse by my side. But these secondary challenges have been a chore to stare down in the eye.

Getting back to Sam, I just have felt that he has been critical and even holds what I post about against me. For example, he will remark that I seem more down when I am on the phone with him than how I seemed when I posted. Of course, none of our moods are stable. Maybe I was more upbeat or positive earlier in the day. And maybe my enthusiasm waned as the sun went down. I have felt I have had to defend myself and that is not what I want out of blogging. I surely do not want to say that my blog got between us!

I just read yesterday that the success of keeping a grief journal and I suppose blogging could fall under this category, is that it allows us to release toxic emotions. That then enables us to go on and face our days more productively. I will add that when I blog I take extreme care to be entirely honest and forthright. I present myself and whatever I feel at the time as it is for me. There is no hiding or sugarcoating.

So right now I am feeling some frustration with the pain that is haunting me based on losing my home. It is definitely not helping me to have excess time on my hands not working. I am going to reinvigorate my job-hunting focus - to step it up a notch. I am also going to devote more time and energy into clearing out the storage sheds. I need to keep busy and focused right now. And I am going to be kind to myself - really kind. And nurturing too. Maybe try and do some fun things just for me.

I am grateful:

1. For the return of McDonald's Shamrock Shakes.
2. That I have extra items to be able to donate to Goodwill.
3. For the great purse I bought some years back for $8.00 on sale, that I've used all winter. And I really was in need of one. It is a hand-knitted cable pattern design!
4. That I was able to get career counseling appts. on Tue. and Wed. I will get help with navigating the cyberworld which I am now floundering in.
5. For microwave popcorn.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Taking Stock

I spent a little time yesterday going online and typing in the search descriptions "Surviving poverty" and "Becoming poor." I have been looking for a book along the lines of one of the Dummie titles - "How to be Poor, For Dummies" but haven't come across one. Yes, I need a guidebook for helping me get through this stretch of life.

My short research session was productive. Not in terms of providing me with any great new ideas for living on a very small income - I seem to be limping along here on my own fairly decently. But more productive in terms of changing my mindset.

For one thing, although we are probably what would be defined as poor, we are still not below that level of poverty where it would be impossible to be surviving right now. Granted, there is no extra money for anything much beyond the necessities but we are not homeless. We have never had to resort to eating bread soaked in milk which was one of the meals suggested for eating when there isn't any food in the pantry. Yuck!

I had the recent luxury of reading the classic tale of Madame Bovary in the comfort of a warm bed. Now I could still have read Madame Bovary as a homeless person, but the experience would not have been as pleasant.

Living in this Mecca of upper-middle class suburbia, poverty has always been hidden. And as a formerly financially comfortable middle-class mom, I am floundering to some extent into having been forced into a way of life that is unknown and challenging. Even more so when dealing with all of this alone. But in reading some of the encounters I came across, I am now more aware of the widespread nature of financial difficulties facing many good folks across the nation. Many whom are struggling because of job-loss circumstances.

It is interesting that I am finding many connections between grief and financial stress. I could come up with a long list but for now will just mention how both can make you feel invisible, inferior and like a second class citizen. There is also the factor of being in a down position and needing to ask for help. Living in a country based on self-sufficiency it can seem impossible to suddenly be thrust into a position where you have to speak up for yourself. The sad part is that when you do, you're looked down on. The stigma of being poor carries with it so much shame. To have to hold your head up when someone is looking at you with contempt and as if you were contagious is indescribable. My short foray into this world had shown me that few people have sympathy for those hard on their luck. "They got what they deserved because of their bad choices or lifestyle" seems to be the prevailing attitude. Or "If they had worked harder they wouldn't be in this mess." What I am really seeing is that underneath our layers of clothing, all of us are pretty much the same. We don't want a free ride and we want to work and contribute. We want a better life for our children and along the way we want to experience love and a little happiness.

It is absolutely crummy to not be able to travel anywhere or go out to eat. And there is a great deal of worry involved with juggling bills around and not having anything set aside for emergencies, much less figuring out how two kids will go to college in a couple of years. I'm not even going to bring up health insurance and medical worries here on top of everything else. But what I was left with after my research session was that most of those who related their stories of struggle went on to overcome them. They never forgot the hardship but their lives improved. No doubt ours will become substantially better as soon as I start working again. In the mean time, I am going to choose to view my circumstances as "Our Frugal Period" rather that one including the words " poor, impoverished or poverty."

It's okay. There are a lot of us out there right now being frugal.

I am grateful:

1. For a safe place to live.
2. For the safe, picturesque and pleasant community that surrounds our home.
3. For clam chowder soup.
4. That spring is on its way - Easter stuff is now up in the stores!
5. For all the sales and bargains I come across that make being frugal easier.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


TIME: The perception of time, lack of time, beating the clock, deadlines, time heals all wounds, free time, time line myths, schedules and time for change.

The following insights come from my experience as a widow. I'm not sure if others have had similar experiences. I am relating them now because they have frustrated me. And I'm trying to get a handle on them so I can make some positive changes in dealing with these issues.

1. First of all, since I have been widowed and stopped working outside the home, people seem to assume that I have loads of free time. There doesn't seem to be any recognition or sympathy toward the fact that in losing a helpmate, I now have to handle a job previously handled by two. The sad part of the matter is that when there is more on your plate to handle, you're also more tired and consequently the jobs getting done are not up to your usual standards. There is a lot of just making do or getting by. You also have to figure out how to handle a lot of jobs and duties you don't know how to do because in the past, your spouse took care of them. It is frustrating. Also, suddenly having to worry about everything on your own takes up time because you have to figure out new ways to plan and do things.

Maybe this misconception comes from the fact that people don't see what is going on inside our homes. They don't see the piled up laundry, the stacks of bills, the weariness that exists in our souls from managing all of the shopping, cooking, lawn work, car maintenance and child care. So while I haven't worked outside the home for much of my widowhood, the work load within my home and life has increased. There has been minimal time off for relaxing or down time which is another matter as well.

2. Despite the time constraints of having to fit too much into a day that is too short, the world still expects us to meet all the established deadlines. I have also found that with people it is the same thing. I'm expected to go out with someone or meet with them according to their time frames and schedules. Rarely has anyone expressed an interest in trying to accommodate my schedule. When my husband died I lost the power of two and the power of being in a couple. I honestly believe that I became diminished in importance, value and worth since I am alone. As a result, people have been less polite and respectful to me. In a way, it has sometimes felt like people could walk all over me because my husband wasn't around to "protect" me.

3. My grief intensified over time. The first year it was centered around shock, disbelief, fatigue and pity. In the second and third years, my grief matured into a greater realization of what the boys and I had really lost when my husband died. In the beginning, you don't have the perspective of time to really acknowledge this. And the world believing that popular myth that we should be over our grief in a year, isn't around to help support us when we really need it. Maybe for some of us, the second and third years out are when the real grief work starts. Not to say that the first days, weeks and months of grieving are not important. Looking back for me at least, the grief I experienced and had to work through was far more difficult after the first year. Then there are the losses that come with the passage of time. Maybe financial hardship, loss of a home, having to relocate...

To be fair, part of the equation factoring into all of this is that by nature I have always been a non-complaining, people pleasing "Yes Man." But as I continue to navigate the widowhood road I am gaining strength to be able to state my needs and wants more securely. I have the power to say, "No, Saturday night is not a good time to meet. We're going to have to set another time." I'm no longer reluctant to refuse to participate in car-pool duty. There are other parents out there with greater flexibility and ease to pick up those duties for the parents like myself holding the short end of the stick. And I am more confident in stating what for me is my reality. That even if a number of years have passed since my husband died, it doesn't mean that I have gotten over it. Nor does it mean that I can face new losses like a divorce and losing my home with greater ability and ease. Through this blog and in my interactions with the people in my life, I am trying to paint a picture of what it is like to live with grief and loss. Maybe it is not a pretty picture and maybe people feel uncomfortable knowing that a cloud of loss surrounds me. But I will stand tall and tell it like it is. No longer will I just nod my head and say, "I'm fine." If someone asks or even cares, I will speak my truth: "I am facing and working through a number of major losses that came at me in a short period of time that resulted in me feeling great pain, and I am doing the best I can to go on living a happy, meaningful and productive life while I regroup, catch my breath and figure out where to go from here."

If the world isn't willing to cut me some slack for circumstances largely beyond my control, then I suppose it is up to me to stand up for myself and my needs. I only wish it had not taken me six long years of wearing myself ragged to reach this point!

I am grateful for:

1. The time to write this post.
2. The time to do the dishes in an overflowing sink.
3. Alarm clocks.
4. Bit and pieces of free time granted during the day here and there.
5. The sacred time before bed for reading a few pages.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Madame Bovary Reopens My Eyes and World

I recently read the classic "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Falubert, published in 1857. There were a couple of reasons I chose this book as a read.

1. I reviewed the six books I read in January and noted they were all current titles including "The Shipping News," "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "The Art of Mending" by Elizabeth Berg. All of these were very good reads, by the way.

2. I had not read a classic in a while.

3. I felt my mind needed the stimulation of a more classic work.

4. In a way, I wanted to prove my intelligence and worth. I may be financially struggling right now but that does not mean I still can't be wealthy in mind and spirit.

5. I had always wanted to read this book. I didn't know much about it except that it had caused a scandal when first published.

6. It is considered one of the best books of classic fiction, ranking in at number 7 on some lists of 100.

7. It seemed like a good book for February since it involves the themes of lust, love, marriage, betrayal, sexuality, etc.

I finished the book a week after starting it and absolutely loved it. In fact, I'd say I was riveted to the pages. I enjoyed being taken back in time to rural French Normandy and reading about fashions and old time implements that no longer exist. As always, whenever I end a book written long ago, I am struck by the realization that human nature hasn't changed that much over the years. We still long for the same things - love, respect, acknowledgment and commitment. Madame Emma Bovary went on shopping sprees and hid her purchases from her husband. Her mother-in-law visited and was critical. Once she and and Emma did not speak but twice during a whole two-week period they were together. Sound familiar to certain situations people go through today?

Also touched on were the themes of grief and the fact that religion cannot explain or offer total comfort to the bereaved. Heavy stuff. At Emma's funeral, the men all advise her distraught husband to get it together and the poor man chastises himself for not being strong enough. I saw so many parallels between the two time periods even with the gap of 150 years. Sometimes I don't think we really have advanced that much as people - maybe there have been technological advances but I think the inner core of humanity has remained largely the same.

I felt let down after I read the final page not because it was over but because I didn't have someone to share my thoughts and impressions with about the book. When I was married both of my husbands and I often talked in detail about the books I was reading. And I miss that. I felt so excited that I'd tackled and gotten through a classic. I was inspired and bursting at the seams with new ideas and images in my head. All dressed up and no where to go to borrow from another saying.

It was the bittersweet way I felt while watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. I have not viewed the Olympics the last few years. And I was totally blown away by the creativity demonstrated in the ceremony. From the dancing and costumes of the native Canadian inhabitants, to k.d. Lang's singing. The technical imagery of the leaves falling and the doves flying. The snow that fell indoors and the floor that magically became the ocean with whales enchanted, excited and blew me away. It made me long for more art, adventure and travel in my life which has been solely lacking the past seven years.

My husband was a seasoned traveler and had been to Canada many times. He and I only had gone to Toronto and Niagra Falls with the boys. I know had he lived, we would have returned to the country he admired and loved so much. In fact, one of the high school classes he taught was Canadian History.

The high school open house was a few weeks ago and I had my paperback copy of Madame Bovary with me. Which I should add I only paid 25 cents for at a used book sale this fall. My youngest son's English teacher saw the book and we started a conversation about it which the led to Moby Dick - another classic I have always wanted to read (but I just am not sure I want to learn that much about whaling). Anyway, it felt so nice to connect with another person about a book we'd both read and have some conversation about it.

I miss that aspect of not living with an adult partner. It will help when I can get out more and interact with others at a job. But for now I suppose I could look into seeing if there is a book club at the library. I can see about going someplace new in lieu of taking a trip. I've always believed that you don't have to go far from home to restore your spirit or soul. But it sometimes means exposing yourself to new ideas and places. Maybe part of it is stir craziness from the winter months.

When my husband was alive I made a point of trying to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars. He would stay at home to be with the boys and I'd take a rare night off on my own. Since his death, I've seen just two movies at the theater and less than 20 videos at home. It is probably more like a total of 10 current movies within a six-year time period. Another casualty of widowhood and the need to carpool boys with heavy sports schedules. I think back to my happiness at being able to go off on my own to see a movie while knowing that my little family was safe and sound at home waiting for my return. When I longed for some time on my own. Boy, have the tables turned!

It takes a great deal of effort to function as an only parent and devote a bit of time to oneself. Even more effort to try and maintain a degree of culture in one's life, much less keep up with the daily news. I for one, did not know there had been an airline bombing attempt on Christmas Day until some weeks later. But I think what reading Madame Bovary did for me as well as viewing the Vancouver Opening Ceremony was to show me that I need more entertainment, culture and beauty in my life. They say that reading a book opens up a whole new world. I think that has what has happened with Madame Bovary. I have a taste again of what has been lacking in my life and I want to devour more of it.

And while I'm at it, in case any of you out there have read this book. This book took five years for Flaubert to write. Do you think he specifically created characters in the book to represent certain themes? There is a terribly disfigured blind beggar that some think is supposed to represent Emma's ultimate destruction. I for one, don't think Flaubert set out to create a character to depict this but maybe I'm wrong - after all he took five long years to write this. I think authors for the most part write their story and then all the critics afterward come up with the meaning which may or may not have been there (think "The Old Man and the Sea"). But I miss being able to ask someone their thoughts on this and to discuss it.

Today I am grateful:

1. For great books that stand the test of time.
2. For art in all forms.
3. For creativity that inspires a passion within.
4. For knowing that there will always be more great books out there than I will ever have the opportunity to read.
5. For the finer things in life. I have always focused on simple pleasures but am finding that a mix of the not-so-simple isn't a bad thing. Why shouldn't I dream about visiting Vancouver someday?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Power of Love

I think I have figured out why this Valentine's Day has been so trying for me. During most days of the year I keep it together. Meaning I appear composed and all that grief buried inside me stays there. But that inside grief doesn't just vanish with the passage of time. It remains. A fact that we have to learn to live with. And for the most part, with the exception of self-pitying blog posts where I can release some of my agony, I do manage to keep my chin up and trudge forward.

But on holidays and observations like Valentine's Day, I am visually assaulted from every direction. And this year's visualizations seemed bigger and that there were more of them for sale. Maybe it is because of the stilted economy. But there was a balloon at the store that had to be five feet long. I'm not sure how it would fit in a vehicle to get home! Cute singing stuffed animals - huge flower arrangements - giant chocolate covered strawberries. All kinds of goodies brought out just for this occasion.

I do not begrudge anyone lucky enough to have love in their life. Love has been a major part of my consciousness since my husband's death. I believe love is the most important thing in the world and that the world needs more of it. Like Christmas, this is a day that receives a lot of focus and attention that is forgotten soon afterward. Instead of rushing to the gas station to pick up that 19.95 bouquet of roses to present to your sweetie, we all need to concentrate on demonstrating our love in kindness and actions, not objects, every day of the year.

So I'm surely not resentful of the fortunate people out there receiving valentines today. I suppose a little bitter and jealous. But I don't want to begrudge others their happiness or take that away from anyone.

Being bombarded every which way by reminders of love, lovers, romance, togetherness, marriage, commitment and the whole nine yards is like the world rubbing my nose into what I don't have and most want right now. To be in love and remarried. As a result of my childhood issues and probably my personality makeup in general, I have great difficulty living on my own. I want to be married and not just in a committed relationship. Sam moving away and my decision to remain here for the boys to finish high school has hit hard right now. Because I have given up the security and safety of being able to live with someone. And that is big for me.

The tokens and symbols of this day - the cards. hearts, candy, champagne, flowers and other pretties end up representing far more than mere gestures of love and affection. They are reminders of the pain I feel from having lost a husband too soon and having a marriage end before its time. I think also having the new losses of moving from my home and then Sam's departure are still very close to the surface and fresh. As a result, this year's day of love was harder to face.

I finished the large pink heart hanging I crocheted for the front door this morning and have hung it up (taking my giant mittens down for now). I want this heart to symbolize my hope for more love in this household and the entire world! This was a rough Valentine's for me. I wish it wasn't because there is enough hardship as it is. Tomorrow some of the red and pink will thankfully come down in the stores and windows. I am already planning on my next door display to be a rainbow and pot of gold. That will be fun to work on. But I'll leave the pink heart up another week or so. And tonight I'll celebrate love of family with the boys. We will feast on our little heart-shaped cakes, and Twizzlers.

Before this day ends, here are words of Danielle Steel. They appear in the beginning of one of her recent books, "One Day At A Time." I found them lovely, touching and inspiring.

"Whatever happens, has happened, or will happen,
I still believe in Love, whatever orthodox,
unorthodox, ordinary, or extraordinary form it takes.
Never give up Hope.


Today I am grateful:

1. For the "free" cake I ended up receiving since the package was priced incorrectly.
2. That there is a day devoted to the demonstration and reflection of love - we need more.
3. For the power of love because I firmly believe it is the most powerful force in the world.
4. For snowmen.
5. For the gift card my son's track coach gave him that allowed the purchase of new track shoes and compression shorts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Letting Myself Go

I'm not sure why this Valentine's Day is hitting me harder than those in the past. Maybe it is the harsh winter we've had, our financial hardship, unemployment stress or that Sam is not living here anymore. So although I have a special someone in my life, it is still a Valentine's Day devoid of flowers, candy or a card.

I picked up a few goodies for the boys and I. Some candy on sale and little cakes in heart shapes which we'll have for dessert tomorrow. Both boys are at Valentine dances. My youngest didn't want to attend and wasn't planning on it. But at the last minute, literally two hours before having to leave for dinner, he got a frantic call from a friend whose date was unable to go because of getting so drunk last night. This friend asked my son to accompany her free of any associated costs. Although, he still wasn't thrilled at going he felt worse not helping out and leaving his friend in a lurch. So he agreed to attend and we had a busy hour trying to locate his suit (buried in his closet), then iron it, find his dress shoes, tie, etc. We accomplished all this and he looked very handsome when I dropped him off at the girl's home. I told him to enjoy the unexpected dinner out and have a good time.

I needed film for my camera but did not want to run into any people I know of the married and middle-aged variety picking out cards and candy for their spouses. So I purposely went to a Walgreen's on the outskirts of town - not the one I usually go to right down the street. It didn't help any because I saw a travel baseball and football mom shopping in the card section. I walked past her without looking in her direction and thankfully avoided any contact.

For some reason I've been fixating on all the middle-aged flaws I see in women my age. General sloppiness, roots showing, tummy bulges, dowdy outfits. Yet these women are all getting Valentines this weekend, including the nice mom of my youngest son's date tonight.

I think some of my irritation about this has to do with the fact that these women have the option of letting themselves go. I do not. Widowhood has robbed me of that too. Not that I want myself to gain weight or dress sloppily. But it would be nice to feel comfortable and in a stable relationship where I don't have to worry about gaining five pounds or going a few more days before coloring my hair. I feel as a 50-year-old widow that I have more of a responsibility to look good because I don't have the security of a wedding ring on my finger.

I know that being married does not guarantee anyone that they'll stay married. My experience has sure proven otherwise twice! But I think that when you're in a long-term relationship there is a comfort level there that allows you to put down your guard and not have to strive to look like a "10" everyday. You're judged on far more than looks which is the number one criteria in beginning relationships or those where a formal commitment has not been established.

Yes, this is all trivial and superficial. And I'm not particularly proud of myself for reducing myself to this level. But it is what I'm feeling. And I do wish that my life was more stable, secure and that even I was one of those less than glamorous moms this Valentine's weekend. Tonight I think I just might trade my youthful attractiveness and long locks for a box of Russell Stover's from a gassy grey haired guy who could stand to lose a few pounds.

Today I am grateful:

1. That the 30 degree temperature outside feels like a heat wave.
2. That both boys will have nice dinners and be out with friends at school dances. At least they're having a nice Valentine celebration.
3. That I hit pay dirt at the grocery store with some 99 cent deals on ground turkey and turkey burgers.
4. That we'll have enough food to get through the month because of these meat deals.
5. For heart-shaped pizzas.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Krispy Kreme Lesson

One of the first lessons I received regarding my new life as a widow, came even before I was widowed, a week before my husband's death. By that time he had been in a coma for weeks and was in the acute ICU section of the hospital. I was crying for most of those days. Thankfully, I could stop while I was driving the hour to the hospital but once there, I could not stop the tears - they flowed endlessly. I was bringing the boys to the hospital after school and I'd already been there during the day. Because no food was allowed in the ICU, I'd stop for kiddie meals at some fast food place along the way and the boys would eat dinner in the van. Actually, the eating in the van thing had been going on for a number of weeks, not just at the end. I was focused on having the boys spend as much time as they could with their Dad. Although I had not been officially told, I intuitively knew that death was near.

Anyway, that is a little background as to what was going on in our life at that point. I'd just taken a leave of absence from my 20-hour-a-week job which had been granted very reluctantly. I was doing my best to take care of the boys and manage the impending death of my spouse. The boys would often complete their homework in the van and were still participating in soccer and baseball. We were even involved in completing a creative arts project sponsored by our PTA. So this was not really an academic requirement. The kids were supposed to create some type of artwork be it a poem, drawing, painting, musical composition, etc. Both boys were doing a photographic collage. The artwork was due on a Wednesday. My husband died three days later on Saturday. The boys handed in their entries on the Wednesday due date.

But my oldest son's teacher rewarded those students who handed in their entries early, on Monday, by giving them a Krispy Kreme Donut. We had been at the hospital the whole weekend. I'd planned all along to hand in the entries on the day due. And now looking back I can't even believe that I just didn't have the sense to say the hell with the whole, silly art competition in the first place. Trust me - we had enough on our plates. I should mention that the school was aware of our situation and I had spoken personally to the teachers, staff and principal.

Going back to this story, because my son hadn't turned in his art work early, he did not get a donut. Nor did a handful of other classmates who all happened to be minority kids and/or the ones living in the apartments. I was pretty outraged at the time. My son did feel hurt - he was left out - and he was publicly excluded. The sad part of this whole story is that those excluded kids all handed in their projects by the due date. They just didn't get them completed early.

I think this situation just demonstrated to me that the world really doesn't give a darn about what is going on in your life. We still need to play by the rules put in place. And usually those rules don't allow for any type of adjustment, even if one is struggling or dealing with major life calamities. For a while I contemplated talking to the teacher and principal about this but after my husband died, the importance of the matter took a back seat. I guess it is still important though because I am reflecting on it now, years later. And I wish I had said something when the time would have been right. At least now I am verbal and do speak up when a situation like this rears its ugly head.

So this was probably the first widowhood lesson I received. That we have to try and fit into a world that just keeps buzzing by. Picture a train pulling into a station without really stopping. We have to jump on. No one is slowing down for us or making any concessions about our new lives. This teacher didn't even have the compassion, sense or decency to think about why this little group of 10-year-olds hadn't been able to hand in their art projects early. One's father was dying.

We're already living on borrowed time and energy. We're doing the job that used to be handled by two. We're trying to figure out the rules, find our way and stumble onward. Instead of care and sympathy, I have largely encountered criticism for grieving too long, making mistakes or the wrong decisions and not being able to keep up the pace. So not only do we not get any breaks but we don't get recognition or encouragement for trying our best to fit into a new and alien world.

I believe I ended up buying a box, maybe two of Krispy Kreme Donuts for my sons but I don't really remember. It seems like something I would have done so I'll go with that image. But I'm sure that the extra treat didn't lessen the sting of being publicly excluded. All for reasons beyond my son's control.

Today I am grateful:

1. For wind chimes.
2. For candles.
3. For paper.
4. For books.
5. For pens.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Old Man Winter Blues

It was just so cold yesterday when I went out in the morning to face the blowing snow to clean off the van so I could take the boys to school. Instead of feeling energized and uplifted after surviving the record-breaking snowfall, I felt dispirited and defeated. What did it matter? So I got through one storm. Now there was the bitter cold to face. And some more snow on the way besides.

I know the Eastern coast has been hit harder than the Midwest. Others are out there battling the elements along with me. I'm not the only one struggling, nor am I the only widowed mom. But there are fewer of us and it is harder for us - those of us alone.

An unusual small scale earthquake hit Illinois, near the Chicago area yesterday. I watched the news reports of witness accounts. The men and woman would say things like, "My husband woke me up" or "We felt the bed shake." All of them seemed to have references to a partner who was there with them, there in bed with them.

That's kind of the downer about this whole winter weather scene. Now is the time when snuggling and cuddling are the most useful and restorative. This is the time when we give extra thanks for the warm body next to us providing heat and comfort. And yes, even protection from threats such as intruders breaking in, which is what one woman thought was happening when the earthquake stuck at 3:59 a.m.

I come in out of the cold needing to feel safe and warm. And while my body temperature rises, I think a part of me deep inside continues to remain frozen. Like that little bit in the middle of a chicken breast being thawed. It stubbornly refuses to thaw and I always end up impatiently tossing it into the oven anyway. It is not enough to lie in that queen or king size bed. When you're lying there alone and you don't want to be, the wide expanse of extra space is mean and mocking. Yes, you're warm and maybe even cozy and comfortable. But that part of your heart that yearns for companionship, conversation, sex, love and nurturing remains as empty as the space formally occupied by a loving partner.

Chilled to the bone on so many levels - physically, spiritually, emotionally.

Today I am grateful:

1. For seeing the sliver of sun just above the horizon as I dropped the boys off at school.
2. For seeing the reflection of that sun in the windows of a home.
3. For seeing the sun seem to rise out of nowhere within minutes and cast its glowing warmth over the cold morning.
4. That it wasn't too difficult scraping off the van's windows this morning.
5. For protection against the harsh winter elements.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weary Winter Widowhood

We are under a winter storm advisory for the next 40 hours! This morning wasn't too bad dropping the boys off at school, although there was an accident near the high school. There always seem to be those on days like this. Poor, inexperienced teen drivers going off the road and hitting the signs of businesses. This car's whole front end was crushed.

As I was driving with the snow coming down I thought about how these winter storms are similar to widowhood. The first time one hits in late November or early December, there is a sense of resolve and strength is facing the novelty of it. Getting through it one thinks, "Now that wasn't so bad. I did it. We made it through!" But by the time you're on the fourth or fifth snowstorm, some of that optimism and courage has faded. "Not this again! I can't bear another one of these. When will spring be here?"

Another factor in battling the storm of widowhood is that one has to face the challenging elements on one's own, when in the past they were faced with a partner. Then, to top that off the widowed are in various stages of grieving. So add into the mix having to cope and carry on while being depressed and/or hopeless. We're tired and not thinking too clearly, yet we're plunged into a situation where we need to remain alert and exert ourselves physically. No wonder as the weeks go by we become even more depleted while those around us expect us to be stronger!

Having to keep running on empty is a good description here. The novelty has definitely worn off.

The untouched will come back with wisdom such as "Hang in there. Spring is coming. It is just around the corner." But the snow falling just seems to represent more of an avalanche to me. I feel like I am being buried alive. I've been through a number of winters and springs now. Yes, the spring returns but eventually so do the snowstorms. This is becoming more depressing than I'd thought it would. Sorry for the discouraging imagery.

I tried to plan for this winter onslaught by doing my running around yesterday. The nursing home facility I visited and applied at actually expressed some interest in hiring me. But the big boss wasn't there so they couldn't make an offer. I knew that I'd be cooped up inside today and have given myself permission to take some time off to knit a heart as a decoration for the door. I will bake a chocolate chip coffee cake for the boys. Tonight I am making a dinner I always make on snow days. Pure comfort food and it will use those 99 cent chicken cutlets I just bought. You mix a box of Stove Top Stuffing with the turkey or chicken, add sour cream, a can of cream of chicken soup and some frozen vegetables. Bake at 350 - the recipe can be located at Stove Top's web site. It also used to be on the back of the box but since I am only buying off-brand items these days I'm not sure if it is still there!

I am making this dish for myself since the boys aren't that fond of it. It is comfort food I enjoy. I am giving myself some scheduled time off today to knit because I know I am depleted, tired and have reached a point where the snowstorms are making me a little stir crazy! I suppose that is the moral of this winter tale. We have no choice but to face the snow falling. Spring is still pretty far off in the distance. Until it arrives, it is up to us to carve out little pockets of thaw in our lives in whatever ways we can. For me, that involves cooking, baking, food, reading and knitting.
For all of those who are facing winter snowstorms that were never predicted and blew into your life with such force and intensity you were knocked off your feet, you have my sympathy and compassion as we all pick up our snow shovels to face the blinding winds yet another time!

Today I am grateful:

1. For snow plows.
2. For meteorologists.
3. For the National Weather Service.
4. For weather predictions so accurate they can advise you when the first flakes will actually start falling.
5. For instant stuffing mix and all other convenience foods someone had to invent way back that do make our lives easier.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Bacon That Got Away

Melaka very kindly responded to my last post by suggesting I check out the Angel Food Ministries at I had not heard of this organization. They have local host sites that package fresh foods which you order online in advance and then pickup on a certain date. There is a menu for each month and it looks like you need to place your order by mid-month to be able to pick up your selections by the end of the month. There are great deals on meat packages (approx. $32.00 a box) but because we do not eat beef it would not be beneficial for me to order one. So I checked out the fresh fruit and vegetables. Here is this month's box at a cost of $22.00:

3 lbs. oranges
2 lbs. red delicious apples
1 lb. plums
4 pears
4 Fuji apples
2 grapefruit
6 small boxes rasins
3 lbs. red potatoes
2 lbs. onions
1 head green cabbage
1 lb. baby carrots
1 lb. dried pinto beans

I decided to go to my local ALDI and see what the cost of the same items would be there to see if it would be worth placing an online order. ALDI had everything but the cabbage and Fuji apples. They also had bigger quantities - a 4 lb. bag of oranges, 3 lbs. of red delicious apples, 5 lbs. of red potatoes, 2 lbs. of tangerines instead of just four. Substitituting a head of cauliflower for the cabbage and not including the Fuji apples, the total cost of these items not including tax was $18.74!

Shopping at ALDI is what is saving me at this point. I only go to the "regular" grocery store if they have a good special. The regular store also has a section in their meat dept. where they put the items that are close to code. That is how I get all our meat. On Friday I got 2 packages of turkey burgers, then one each of turkey tenerloins, turkey cutlets and turkey Italian sausage for just $5.00 or 99 cents a package. I try to stop by every day just to see what may be available for 99 cents. Once I passed on a package of bacon because I try to limit our processed foods. But I kept kicking myself for passing on it because I could have put it in the freezer. Now I tell myself that whenever I see a deal too good to pass up to get it. I'll throw it in the freezer.

I have found that our local dollar store sells bread for 50 cents a loaf, as well as hamburger and hot dog buns. I got a loaf of white, wheat and hamburger buns this weekend. I checked out the bakery on the back label. Turns out the bread is from the famous Chicago bakery, Gonnella! What a find. This bread is really good quality. Who would have ever thought that I'd get so excited over a 50 cent load of bread.

I've also discovered another store that markets to an ethnic population. They have discounted bakery items and fruits and vegetables too. Like a large package of apples, oranges and pears for just 99 cents. At the regular store they have a special now on General Mills cereal, four boxes for $5.00. I got four on Friday and you would have thought it was Christmas here. The boys were so happy to have brandname cereal to eat. I ended up having cereal for dinner this weekend when the boys were out and it was a wonderful treat. I am going back for four more boxes.

I've been baking muffins and cookies to supplement our soup and sandwich dinners. They seem to make up for the budget stretching. I have rediscoverd that box of Bisquick and have just baked one of my favorite comfort food recipes - the crumb coffee cake with the brown sugar and cinnamon topping. Yummy.

I am proud of my thriftiness and creativity in the kitchen. If there is anything positive that has come out of my financial distress it is that I no longer take money and shopping for granted. Before widowhood, I'd go to the regular grocery store and fill my cart with whatever I wanted. I didn't clip coupons but by the same token I didn't go overboard. We were never an extravagant steak-eating family. I shopped the sales. But I never worried about writing the check to pay the bill. And there was waste with fresh food items often being thrown out or leftovers not being saved. I will never go back to that mindset. A loaf of bread has become dear and I long for the day I'll find another 99 cent package of bacon. This time I am going to grab it before it gets away!

Fun, Easy, Cheap Cookie Recipe - Best Served After Budget Dinner Leaves Kids Hungry For A Treat - Great With Large Glasses of Filling Milk

Fudge Crinkles (Betty Crocker)

1 box Devil's Food Cake Mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients except powdered sugar. Shape dough into one inch-balls. Roll in powdered sugar. Place balls two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes at 350. (I redipped the baked cookies in more powder sugar because they needed it after baking).

Today I am grateful:

1. For ALDI grocery stores.
2. For store brand labels that I can use instead of namebrands at less cost.
3. For all the 99 cent meat specials I find because they let me afford meat - please keep them coming my way.
4. For programs like the Angel Food Ministries that realize folks need and deserve affordable fresh food items and more than canned goods.
5. For the bacon that got away because it taught me the value of getting a deal and not passing on another one in the future.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Presents With Ribbons And Bows

It was such a pleasant fair weather day yesterday. I felt good and more in control as I drove to a neighboring town to fill out a job application. The sun was out. The snow on the ground was fresh and pretty. It wasn't frigidly cold. I stopped into a bakery cafe for a quick restroom stop. Instead of feeling down that I couldn't pick up a pastry, I admired the mini cupcakes they had featured for Valentine's Day and the gas fireplace that was lit. I love fireplaces and told myself that I'll revisit this cafe with a book in the future. I'll treat myself to a hot tea and pastry while sitting in the little alcove around the fireplace.

It is productive for me to get out and about. Having been a stay-at-home widowed mom for much of my widowhood, I know firsthand how easy it is to feel isolated very quickly. Seeing the people having lunch at the cafe made me feel connected to the larger world. Everyone seemed to have a spring in their weary winter steps because of the break in the weather. I felt energized just being in the hustle and bustle of the world. That will be a very positive aspect of going back to work for me - to have more involvement with the outside world. To interact again with people on a broader scale.

But those reactions were only part of my story yesterday. There was the part that felt connected and energized - the outside part of me. And then the inner, private part. As I made the half hour drive to the other town, I observed all the nice winter scenery shining in the sunlight while an inner dialogue was going on. For some reason my inner train of thought centered on the topic of presents and gifts. I'm not sure why or how I was focused on this. But my thoughts included feeling sad that in my widowhood I haven't received many gifts. Gifts wrapped in a box with paper and a bow on top. Gifts someone took the time to choose and then present specifically to me in honor of a special occasion.

In those first days, weeks and months of widowhood you never think of the little losses that will come up in the future. Who would ever imagine that there would be a sense of missing something because as the years go by, unless you buy something for yourself, no one presents you with a gift. When you have younger children, you can't expect them to go out and get you gifts. Your spouse was the one who took the kids to the store to choose Mother's Day or birthday gifts for you.

I know in the grand scheme of life this is trivial. But it is still one of those factors of widowhood that has impacted me, even in a small way. And yesterday I was just missing the whole gift giving aspect of life. I suppose it is one of those simple pleasures we take for granted until it just doesn't happen for us anymore. We miss it because it is no longer there, we can no longer count on it, nor do we even expect it. Is it essential for our ultimate happiness? No. But it is sure nice to receive a heartfelt gift presented to us in love. I personally miss that simple pleasure. This may not be as big a deal to others out there but it is one of smaller losses borne out of the death of my husband that has touched me.

Reflecting on all of this makes me even more cognizant of just how complicated and far-reaching widowhood impacts us. I would never have understood this in my early days of widowhood. It is only since the years have passed by that I can see how the loss of a spouse has affected me and my life on so many levels, in such a multitude of ways, many unexpected and surprising. I walk this walk with such respect and admiration for those who join me in my journey. And I am so grateful for those who read these posts and truly understand where I am coming from. Unless you have lived this, it is very hard to imagine how the loss of a spouse permeates almost every aspect of our days. Unless you haven't received gifts, it is hard to imagine how much you would miss them when they are absent. It is hard to imagine how all of these little losses pile up until they look and feel like that small mountain of dirty snow at the back of parking lot at the grocery store.

Anyway, this whole gift/present theme was playing out in my head as I drove around. I kept seeing pictures of prettily wrapped gifts in my head. And then I kind of imagined my whole grief stricken life as a present. Inside the box are my grief issues: childhood/family hardships; death of my husband; death of my Mom; divorce from second husband; loss of home and even most recently the out-of-state move of the man I've been involved with. To top off those issues is a big, bright and shiny bow representing the financial difficulties we are currently facing. This is the box I carry around with me everyday.

On a more positive note, I stopped by a local antique shop for a browse after completing the job application. It was on the route home anyway and I felt the need for a pick-me-up. As I left, the owner requested that I fill out a raffle ticket for a drawing they are having at the end of the month. In January, the winner received a cute tea cup and saucer. This month's prize is a crystal pitcher vase. I wasn't smitten with the vase - crystal isn't my thing and I was going to decline. But then I changed my mind. If I won the raffle it would be like receiving a gift, and an unexpected one besides. I can see the pitcher right now filled with some fresh cut flowers!

Today I am grateful:

1. For the HUGE flock of geese I saw on the lake at the forest preserve.
2. For fireplaces.
3. For yesterday's fair winter weather.
4. For the antique shops that have managed to remain open - so many have had to close.
5. For all the presents I've received in the past. You better believe that any I receive in the future will be truly appreciated and I'll try not to complain. In other words, I'll be grateful for any presents coming into my life, even if the color/design isn't one I'd have chosen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Snickers Bar Instead Of A Hug

I'm needing emotional support, encouragement and just plain someone to take over the reigns for a minute or two. But where does someone like me, the only adult in the home and parent to two male teens get some of that?

I knew not seeing Sam this weekend would emotionally set me back. I don't think he fully realizes as do others who haven't lost a spouse, just how depleting living alone (without another adult in the home) can be. I needed to be with Sam to emotionally recharge, feel wanted, desired, and share adult conversation in person.

I'm concentrating on the job search right now which is a drain. You have to pump yourself up and board that train of optimism. But then when you get home there isn't anyone there to pat your back, give you a hug, provide a pep talk or rub your feet.

Snow showers on and off today. Worried about not being able to afford food. That $336.00 car repair bill and then the $95.00 needed for my son's overnight field trip killed the food budget. This may be the month I have to beg the boys to try and eat at their friend's houses. Having to carry this worry and dread around with me all day on my own adds to my tension and stress.

What can I say, what can I do but take a few moments to vent about my predicament here. I have to try and remain hopeful that I'll be hired for a job quickly. I applied at two places Monday but only one today because of the snow. I plan on hitting three places tomorrow. My goal is to physically apply at two places daily. I'm avoiding the on-line applications for now believing personal interaction will be more effective.

Part of me is trying to keep myself pumped by believing that I have great job skills, experience and education so eventually I'll find something. I will be a great asset to an employer. There is just this gun to my head with the reality that it is imperative I find a job quickly simply because I have to feed my sons. They are my sole responsibility. It all rests on my shoulders. Their care and well being along with my own.

Tonight there were no hugs or words of "It'll be okay." Instead I rummaged around in the old trick and treat candy and had a couple smashed in individual-sized Snickers bars. I would take the hug any day.

Today I am grateful:

1. For the Valentine Day's heart cutouts I saw on some doors and windows as decorations.
2. For the light dusting of snow that covered the ground and trees looking very pretty and serene.
3. For the smell of Noxema skin care cream.
4. For the turkey tenderloin roast I got for only $1.99.
5. For leftover Halloween candy worth one more look before tossing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

One Down, Eleven More To Go

Hooray! I made it through the longest and my least favorite month of the year - January.

January Poem by John Updike

The days are short,
The sun is a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

The snowy footsteps
Track the floor,
And parkas pile up
Near the door.

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees' black lace.

The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.

Updike sure got it right in describing the sun coming out in days between dark and dark! This month went more quickly than I expected. I never made any resolutions at the new year. Part of it was that I knew the early months of the year were going to be hard enough to get through. What was the point of piling on more pressure? I just read that we shouldn't make resolutions until the middle or end of the month anyway. After we've had a chance to let the dust stirred up from the holidays settle and a chance to reflect more consciously.

I am feeling somewhat energized just at the fact that I've made it through a bleak month financially without too much struggle. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected.

Some January Accomplishments

1. Studied for, took and passed the CNA State Certification Exam.
2. Read five novels.
3. Started cleaning out the storage shed.
4. Made a cake and cookies. This is good for someone who loves to bake but hasn't been doing so in about a year.
5. Maintained a pretty optimistic attitude throughout the month despite hardships.
6. Helped the boys study for their finals.
7. Helped the boys settle back into school after their three-week absence.
8. Knit and gave two gift sets as thank you acknowledgments.
9. Made effort to spend more time on self-care than I have by giving myself mental health breaks and focusing on updating beauty routines.
10. Helping Sam out of a jam in regard to his mortgage payment.

Today I am grateful:

1. That the temperature won't be bitterly cold this week.
2. For my morning cup of tea.
3. For the honking call of geese.
4. For antibacterial wet wipes.
5. For oatmeal topped with brown sugar.