Stuck in Transition

Diving off the high board. That's the metaphor my pals use to encourage me to take bigger and bigger steps; to feel confident and capable as a single seventy-something starting anew.
I'm doing well....diving in, leaps of faith, the occasional hop, skip and a jump!

Here's my list so far:
Survived sudden widowhood
Learned to live alone without the lights on all night
Asked questions, researched; figured out how to make my own decisions
Became a farm to table advocate (easy way out as I've never cooked)
Ventured into dating...sorta
Planned and visited NYC with my granddaughter
Spent the past two Christmas Eves with my kids....reversing family tradition
Grew as a writer
Sold my house
Relocated back to my home state

Now....I'm stuck in transition. Here I am back in Michigan's lake country staying with friends, relatives and sometimes, at my favorite Best Western. I've got my Honda Pilot and khaki bag filled with everything I need and my furnishings in storage and I've become a wanderer!
It takes time to find the right place to settle. It takes time and money to make it happen. It takes time and new brain activity to grasp financial planning, rental agreements, different state laws....all good to know. I can't decide. I don't spend a dime. I ask, listen and learn.....but I just don't want to dive or jump in right now.

I've felt so strong and ready to move forward. I needed something new and different. Everything has fallen into place beautifully. My son's family moved back here also; they're happily employed with a darling house and two teens ready to start a new school. I've reconnected with old friends, have part-time work in the schools and am finally debt free! My fitness level has increased with nature trails, bike paths and kayaking nearby. Every time I drive through town, I'm reminded that so much of who I am is based on coming from here!

Am I getting too comfortable living with trial-sized everything? Counting the number of folks who still ask me to come stay? It seems half the time I'm clueless and half the time I'm taking a stand against responsibility. I was dependent on my husband for so many years; learning to do for myself and become confident gave me great peace and faith. I've gotten myself this far.....maybe it's just a Time Out. Maybe patience and grace take it from here.

My days feel open and content. I meet pals for lunch, catch up on shows, ride bikes with my granddaughters now, write again. I want to settle with my comfy chair and scrapbooks; a place for my own hair dryer and bed and clothes hanging in a closet. I learned to be proactive, to go for it and make things happen. But now, it seems I'm waiting for something to grab me as I drive through condo and townhouse communities. Enter patience...I'm okay with this time out. I'm okay living like a gypsy girl skipping here and there... listening for that place to call my name.

Familiarity Means Comfort When Traveling

I like familiarity and dependable places when I travel....which I've done a lot of over the years for business and pleasure. I visit California and Michigan frequently; so I'm happy to know front desk staff whom I can call and just say "I'm coming" when I need to book a room. They have my information, reward numbers, credit card and preferences...and honor my loyalty with low rates and room choices.

There's more....the Ventura Airport Shuttle at LAX has delivered me safely for ten years and I'm delighted when I have the same drivers time after time. James refers to the women aboard as M'lady and usually prefers the Pacific Coast Highway route over the freeways. The Budget Rental Car facility at Detroit Metro Airport also has regular shuttle drivers who ask about a family member or if I want a red SUV again. Imagine....big city airports, thousand of people coming and going daily and shuttle drivers recalling your background!  If you're a people person....this is what you do; dedicated workers who enjoy their jobs.

I visit Ventura's Pierpont Beach area, staying 3-4 times a year at the Marriott Beach Resort Hotel.
Most of the staff have been in place for a decade; same housekeepers, restaurant servers and managers. My favorite thing about this hotel? We could ride our bikes right into the hotel and into our room! I can ride for miles along the promenade to connecting parks and beaches; or go in the opposite direction to eat and browse at the harbor shops. There's an outdoor pool where our granddaughters and I can order drinks and snacks, a larger-than-usual workout room and the full-service Pacifico Restaurant and Lounge. We've memorized menu favorites over the years, and often one of our server 'friends' knows just what we'd like. If it's the same chef at breakfast time; he sees me coming....'aha' the woman who likes a plain omelet, well done with no salt!

In Detroit, I rent a car and head across the state to my hometown..."Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo!" Here's where we went to college, married, found our first jobs and had both our's home. For as far back as I can remember, we've loved the Best Western Inn and Suites on the west side of town. Roomy space for bringing along a few grandkids; each room has a pull-out sofa in addition to two queens or a king. Some rooms  have a closed-door bedroom for privacy or early-to-bedders and a front room that holds the television, sofa and small kitchen area. This location is currently undergoing room renovations and upgrades; I peeked into a few and was impressed; the workmen have gone down to bare bones and are completely redoing each one.

I consider the staff here good friends. My usual housekeeper is Sue, always sweet and efficient. Numerous times she's tracked me down to return items I left behind; one time an armload of hanging clothes! Luckily I was still in the comfy lobby waiting for a ride. Another time it was my paperback book; and last month, she turned in my old worn pajama bottoms to lost-and-found. I retrieved them the next day a bit embarrassed; but I looooove these flowered, baggy sleepers.

The front desk folks are the best. Manager Steve and Assistant Manager Debra are warm and can tell they enjoy this place too! Debra has heard my life story, met my husband and kids and enjoys reading my blog. Steve does what we principals call walkabouts...checking the TV volume, business center, stairwells, pool area and nooks and crannies throughout the building.  He stops and engages with everyone large, small and furry and readily offers solutions for any concerns. The friendly ladies who prepare breakfast in the mornings keep it well stocked and attractive. I bypass the hot meals for freshly cut fruit and yogurt....but indulge in half and half for my coffee and an occasional sweet roll sometimes! This is my home away from home; this feels like family.

These are just two of the favorites places I recommend to folks every chance I get. There's also the Fairfield Inn in Livonia, Michigan.....near Laurel Park Mall where I can meet girlfriends.  All the years I've stayed there...sometimes just once a year...I always love visiting with Sharon; the one in charge of breakfast! She's been there through numerous renovations and managements! How comforting to come down for coffee and see her familiar face.

There have been great stays at larger hotels around the country; The Row Hotel in NYC's theater district, the Loews Hotel (formerly the Graves 601) across from the ballpark in Minneapolis, the Hyatt Regency along the river in downtown Chicago.....even the Holiday Inn in the Rocks section of Sydney, Australia. These were one-time visits but memorable experiences that left good impressions.

If you're attending business workshops or conferences, you'll stay at a designated place that's usually pretty cool! But on your own, research the vast variety, read the small print and seek suggestions from friends. I also call and talk to the concierge or front desk manager before I decide. These folks have local knowledge about safety, walkability and current events that may interest you. My stay in New York last fall began with a hug from a new friend....the handsome concierge who recalled chatting with me!
 I have to say it feels really good when traveling to arrive at your destination where someone offers welcoming arms and are genuinely glad to see you again. Thank you dear friends.

Why I Got Rid of My Husband's Things

After I made the decision to sell the house; I began looking at everything as a keeper or a give-away.
Most of my things will be sold or donated and when I'm relocated, I'll get whatever I need for a new beginning. But three things that mostly belonged to my husband are now gone...and here's why.

Even though he's deceased, I still ask his opinion and sure enough, he always guides me in making good choices. His favorite things are all in loving new places making someone else happy! This morning it was....

Our Cat:

Burney now lives with my sister. I took him down the road to her large, rambling house in a wooded lot. He's been an indoor cat ...but she'll let him roam outside as soon as he's comfortable with her and his aging canine cousin.
 I've never been a pet person. I learned to care about cats from my husband.....almost 50 married years with them in our lives. After our last one passed away, he decided one more cat was needed. He and Burney became best buds, but this black-and-white ball of fur quickly became mine as we both grieved in this lonely house. I'm thankful he snuggled with me on cold winter nights and entertained the kids by swiping and swaping toys, but now he'll have a much livelier life playing with a Golden Retriever and getting constant attention from my cat loving sister. Best of all, the grandkids can see both their favorite pets in one visit.

After a successful garage sale last month, I looked around and thought, how can I make this space hold two cars again? Make it more appealing for potential buyers?

The Workbench:

My son-in-law's parents recently moved from their home a few states away to our neck of the woods here in the south. One thing his father still needed? A workbench! This 18 year old make-it/fix-it/store-it spot was my husband's go-to place for everything. Paint stained and nicked from wayward saws, it was often cluttered with groceries, balls and just-in-case junk until it was cleared and cleaned again. The cupboards held seasonal things and the pegboard made it handy to grab tools while reaching across my big SUV. We stored our Holiday decoration containers underneath; but in it's new home.....the homemade workbench now has spiffy new shelves to hold garage treasures. My kids are certain their Dad is smiling down on his old friend getting a new lease on life!

The Family Painting:

First to go was this original oil painting from the early 1900's. It hung on the wall of the lake house where he grew up; painted by an ancestor and already decades old when we married. We had several pieces of Oliver Chaffee and his wife, Ada Gilmore's work. The only one that mattered was this nautical scene of the coastal town in Collioure, France. It was perfect for our years living on inland lakes, then near the beach on the Atlantic.
 Hanging alongside our big screened TV, I found myself staring at it one night instead of the shows I watched to take my mind off money worries. Do the kids and I still want it? Was there a buyer or museum that would appreciate this valuable piece of art? Researching potential interest, I found it was either the famed Provincetown art colony or our hometown in Michigan...also Ada's hometown! I'm delighted it's now in good hands and I can visit it when I'm settled back home.

Do you sense the timing? The positive outcomes? How my husband's help from above made everything work out for the best? I'm becoming stronger and more confident I know, but's good to know he has my back from afar.

Selling and Saying Goodbye

The sign went up today.
Eighteen years of life well-lived is for sale.
An empty-nest ranch on a quiet cul-de-sac grabbed us at the first drive-by.
Within the first year, our daughter graduated college and came to stay awhile.
A few months later, our son and his family moved in with our first grandchild.
Loving and living and laughing; we made it work.

In the blink of an eye, along came another baby girl and another son through marriage!
Our kids found their own homes; and it was just us again....
To build a garden wall, plant flower beds, design and construct a deck
Full time jobs didn't keep us from babysitting, having sleepovers and spoiling our granddaughters.
Swim, bike ride, carnivals, fairs and Disneyworld...all through the eyes of children again.
We were having the time of our lives.

Missteps and health hiccups finally caught up with us, but again we made it work.
Working from home in his wheelchair, then a walker and finally a cane....
Grandpa orchestrated and oversaw the house renovation project.
Wood floors, new appliances, added windows, French doors, Berber carpet.
As his health and mobility improved, we did a switcheroo....
He took over the household chores and I the yard work.
Great fun with our grandson running around most days!

Just when we thought it couldn't be a more wonderful life,
The twins came along! Retirement quickly followed and now....
It truly was a Grandma and Grandpa house with double the stuff and double the fun!
Sandboxes and slides, swim gear and skateboards filled the garage.
Portable cribs in the kid's room, games and books in the den and lap trays for those
Breakfast in Bed mornings with grandpa's famous pancakes.

All five grandkids had pals in the neighborhood.
The twins lost their fear of dogs from the gentle shelties who lived next door.
The man across the street lent a hand for trimming too-high hedges.
Every Halloween, there we were; sitting out front. In costumes. With gin and tonics.
Catching up with neighbors while we passed out goodies was the highlight of fall.
Our yard-decorated front, back and side; had the most witches, scarecrows and ghosts
Thanks to Grandpa's bargain shopping!

Same at Christmas time. Oh, how many freezing Decembers we took turns on the ladder,
Putting up colored lights and hanging wreaths;
Blinking Santas and snowmen, polar bears and a family of ducks. The after-holiday-clearance
Stuff was all right here in our beautiful yard. "The more the merrier the holiday," he'd say.
And inside was no different.
Over the years we acquired quite a collection of musical decorations;
Imagine them all playing at once!

From the time they were little, the kiddos planted garden flowers and veggies every year.
We called them our Gardenyardigans. Carrots and strawberries were a favorite.
And the flowers; learning to cut and gather throughout the spring and summer is such joy.
We helped them hunt for bug and leaf specimens; and watched as they ran and shrieked
Catching fireflies on a warm June night.
With the stone wall and the oversized deck, there isn't much lawn to play on.....but there's a hill!
Great for coming down in winter snow; slippery fun running down into the summer sprinkler.

No Christmas decorations this past year. No sitting outside at Halloween.
The kids are busy with sports and clubs now and have all become great swimmers.
Sleepovers are in the big bed now, and it's donuts for breakfast, not pancakes.
It's become a Grandma-only house; not the same. Just not the same without him.
Both the inside and the outdoors have lost something;
The other side of shared work, accomplishment, pride, enjoyment and love for this house.
A brand new place 18 years ago that became a lived-in home filled with happiness.

Soon, the time to say goodbye will be here.
Time for this ranch to welcome another family to live and laugh.
 If I could wrap my arms around this house;
I'd thank it for letting us become grandparents, letting us grow old together,
And eventually, for giving me the strength in it's soul to grow peace in mine;
Giving us both hope for a new future.

Our Family Tree

The Measure Wall 


Starting a New Beginning

Norman Vincent Peale wrote about dealing with life's troubles. In an old piece I came across recently, he suggests we may unknowingly like our trouble..."a convenient alibi for failings and shortcomings." In my case, I blamed my writer's block on grief and melancholy....I did enough on the sad theme about becoming a widow and poor me!  But what's really holding me back is my fear of sharing that I can and DO find happiness; I AM trying another beginning. "The spirit of man enables him to surmount his sorrows," Peale states….it’s okay.

I focus on moving forward; learning to live on my own and keeping my husband’s light burning for family, friends and all those in the world whose lives he touched. I still deal with grief and loneliness two years later.  I feel the pain all over again when friends lose a spouse....the heaviness holds me down so close to depression and it wears me out pushing it away. Know what I mean?

 But I am grateful for each day that I'm here and healthy. I can make decisions now. I can laugh and have fun and enjoy things even though I lost a part of my being. Underneath the sadness is hope, hope begets curiosity and strength.  It's strange feeling content and steady, but lost and wobbly at the same time. Does it ever go away? Should it? I like this kind of vulnerability. It keeps me balanced: two steps forward selling my house, traveling, thinking about another man; and then one step back with memories and tears and longing for my husband's touch. It works in perfect rhythm most days, until I trip and step back too many times. Just like on Dancing with the Stars....I have to stop whining and try again the choreography of life’s neverending starts.

All my life I had beginnings, but the path was laid before me pretty much. College/dorm life/degrees came with plans and I conquered them all. Marriage was the best beginning because it came with a partner! Together we figured it out through 47 years of living, raising kids, cross country moves, new jobs, homes....loving and learning and laughing all the way. We welcomed grandparenting with open arms; left alone with the first newborn, we stared at each other in awe. How did we get here? Are we ready, willing and able? Apparently not as well as we thought because there were no instructions on the swing set that cautioned baby girl may throw herself onto the floor at the split second you lay her in and start to fasten straps! She was fine but we were not. Her parents were understandably upset. Not our first life-time goof....but one that stuck. We learned to tag team and face this new beginning hand-in-hand; another granddaughter, then a grandson!  By the time the twins arrived, we were having the time of our lives! We loved each other even more....not because we'd been so beautifully rewarded for raising two kids.....but because we'd reached old age while we were still young and fun and onboard with a fast-changing world.

There was even a plan for death. Funeral arrangements and wills and bundles of red tape are all explained in solemn binders. People magically appeared to take my hand and guide my way. But then it's over. It's done. And days and weeks turned into months and seasons and I floated along automatically; not quite here, but functioning. Time went by, but I was still at the beginning.

There are no rules for widowhood. No right or wrong for dining or traveling or living alone; no plan for finding friendship, companionship. Yes, there are websites and what we used to call mixers, but that’s not my style. Seventy, senior and single seeks comfortable and understanding; another wounded soul on this same I want someone else wandering and wondering what the hell do we do now?  

 No rules on how to behave. I joined a grief group at my church which was quite comforting in those early months; yet it frightened me to see so many widows still there ten years later with sad eyes. I have five young ones who miss Grandpa and I am HIS cheerleader now!  I am the go-to grandma for fun and games, sleepovers, skating, they realize how much I need this too?  

Should I stay or should I go? I’m going to sell this home full of joy and love. I want a fresh place, a new environment and an old village if you will. I am blessed to have many villages and tribes of pals who’ll welcome me with open arms. But the naysayers say stay; your house is your nest egg, you haven’t waited long enough. How long is enough? No rules here either. I’m not the best regarding financial matters, but I do know staying here and now is not for me…..I want to go and do and be! My five little giggle buddies….ages 7-17 (who tell me that our ages “match” now that I’m 71!) are my strength here also….going through files and photos, old trophies and sports memorabilia. These kids have done some heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, in helping me prepare for a garage sale. Not one is saying “don’t go, we’ll miss you”…..they can’t wait to visit wherever I land!

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to change. I was wishy-washy for a long time; then gradually becoming sure of my decision to move. I told my family I felt a sense of peacefulness now. Bless my granddaughter who gently whispered, “peace means you are ready and you are doing the right thing, Grandma.” I spend days going through things room by room. Each closet or shelf or drawer I open is a peek into the past. The old woven jewelry basket I've kept filled with old photos is absolutely ‘my life in a box!’ I’m taking my time; but once the sign goes up, it’ll sell pretty fast.  Finding a place to relocate is not easy either; have you ever felt like being blind and wide-eyed at the same time?  I am learning as I go.

 Besides peace and strength, I have faith; faith in God’s plan and faith in myself. You too, will realize someday that you are stronger and ready for change, big or small. You’ll learn to tuck the past safely in your pocket, forget about so-called 'right' rules and look ahead to something new. “It’s hard to start again this far along” as the song written by Mary Gauthier goes. “Brick by brick, the letting go, as you walk away from everything you know.” But I can tell you this….beginnings also bring anticipation. Every new start I've made helped build the chapters of my life and now I get to start another…."live the hell out of life" my husband used to say. You got it, babe! Will do.