Signs from Loved Ones: Is there life after death?

Looking for signs after the loss of a loved one is comforting – challenging our loved ones to communicate with us can be reassuring .

Keeping an open mind, I believe we can find signs from our loved ones if we accept that it is possible.

My latest sign came from my mom on Mother’s Day.  I spent the day with my sister.  This is our third year without calling mom or sending her flowers.  We didn’t get to have lunch with her so we made plans to visit the Sarasota Jungle gardens and go to lunch with some of our family members. We both miss our mom so a sister is a good substitute.

In our family we have pretty much agreed that seeing a red male cardinal is a visit from our dad.  I don’t see them as much here in Florida, but that is our sign.  For my mom, we got a bit trickier.  She sends us white dolphins.

When the butterfly landed on my beer can and started sipping as I sat in a poolside lounge chair in Thailand on the first anniversary of Mike’s death, I took that as a sign that he was still with me. I visited a psychic medium a few months after Mike died and she told me that he send me blue jays.  Sure enough, I used to see one fly in front of my car on my 3 minute commute to work every day.  I don’t see too many blue jays down here in Florida.

Immediately after he passed, his cousin and mother started finding dimes in the craziest of places. They felt strongly that these were signs.

I spent an amazing summer weekend with the Forever Family Foundation in Connecticut the first year after my husband died. I had a positive experience bonding with other people going through grief. Several certified psychic mediums did group readings and I was fortunate to have Mike come through with messages for me during those sessions.

After the weekend, I bought a book by five year anniversary of our first date and it is true, life goes on.

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When is it Right for a Widow to Move?

Should a widow move after the death of a spouse? Consider financial, emotional and social needs of each person before making major life changing decisions.

This question has been burning in my mind since August of 2015 when Mike died. Do I stay in our home, or do I move? The answer is different for all widows and much needs to be considered. Here is what I know.

While widows and widowers all have one thing in common, everyone has a different story and a different situation. The one bit of advice that I found helpful after the sudden tragic loss of my husband was to wait a year before making any major life changes.

FINANCIAL

For most widows, finances will play a pivotal part in any decisions made after the death of a spouse. If a large life insurance policy is available, it may take a few months to have access to the money. Using that money to pay off a home mortgage and other medical or credit card debts will be most helpful.

If the spouse was over 60, social security monthly payments may be available which will help secure money to be paid for monthly bills.

In my situation, we were both only 51 years old, so I was facing a loss of half our monthly take home pay. We still had a very large mortgage, a son just starting college and plenty of monthly bills as well. I used the small life insurance policy to help make the monthly payments, anticipating that it would only be enough for a year or two.

EMOTIONAL

Each widow feels differently about her home after the death of a spouse. Some refuse to sleep in the same bedroom and may leave his things exactly as they were. Others clear it all out soon and try their best to put it in the past and not dwell on the loss.

Memories of the home and raising a family together can be comforting or painful. The photos and reminders are always there.

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I wrote a book for widows: No Simple Highway

Last summer I saw a post that read “write a book in 30 days”. The idea of writing a book has appealed to me, but getting started seemed to be the issue. I enjoy writing stories in my blog. Wouldn’t that be enough, I wondered.

But I signed up for the 30 day on-line writing program last July before I moved to Florida. Each day I spent 1-2 hours writing. It was cathartic since the book is a memoir and tells the story about the night Mike died and the few years afterwards.

My initial idea was to write a self-help book to help other widows deal with the sudden loss of a spouse. I had been through it and maybe my words could help someone. That is what I have tried to do over the years writing this blog and people read posts daily from my Pinterest page so I know others are looking for guidance. I know I was looking for advice and even a “how to” book as a new widow. I threw the literal kitchen sink at my grief journey trying everything and anything to keep moving forward every day.

But once I started writing my story, it took on a life of its own. Sure, I had to deal with all the issues that an unexpected death entail. I planned a funeral service and met with lots of people. I figured out ways to handle the finances despite a delay in obtaining the death certificate and thus any life insurance money. I processed my grief with the support of professionals when necessary as well as my own precarious health circumstances at the time.

But I had one more issue to deal with that not all widows do, though many believe it to be true:

My husband wasn’t supposed to die that night.

When Mike left the beach to use the restroom at the beach clubhouse, he should have been able to walk out of that building without being assaulted and killed. It took two years for us to see the surveillance video of what happened that night.

Pursuing legal action isn’t easy but sometimes it has to be done. With the help of friends and family and a good legal team, I took the road less traveled. We pursued the truth and sought justice for Mike. My book will tell that story.

Stay tuned for chapter one and an opportunity to get “No Simple Highway” on Amazon!

9 Amazing Reasons to Visit Alaska in Spring

Visit Alaska in Spring and drive – It’s a grand adventure

No one ever suggests visiting Alaska in the spring. I searched and searched for information to no avail. Is summer the only time to go? Sure it’s dark and cold in winter, but what about spring!?!

My son went to Alaska last summer to work at a fishery as a seafood processor. He stayed for the winter and was planning to return to the lower 48 in the spring, so I felt compelled to visit before he left. But what do we do in the spring in Alaska? Is everything fun closed? I found out one of Alaska’s biggest secrets. March is a great time to visit Alaska!

1 – DRIVING

Big city driving tends to stress me out and that is something you do not need to worry about in Alaska. I arrived in Anchorage and found the streets to be well labeled and easy to follow using directions on my maps app. Turo is a newer car rental company similar to Airbnb. You rent someone’s car at a predetermined rate. Some insurance companies will not cover Turo in different states, but Geico does cover car insurance in Alaska so I tried it out. The Ford Explorer I rented from Jonathan was clean and in good condition. He left it for me in the airport parking lot and that is where I returned it. No shuttle busses or cries of “sorry we ran out of cars” for me. I appreciated the convenience.

OUR PLAN

The roads in Alaska were pleasantly wide and relatively empty during my visit.

Day 1 – Anchorage – Lakefront hotel (Convenient, good breakfast and just OK)

Day 2, 3- Girdwood -Alyeska ski resort (Awesome! ski rentals in hotel and walk to ski lift)

Day 4 – Soldotna – Airbnb (Awesome! – love the view)

Day 5, 6, 7 – Palmer – Airbnb (Awesome! – love the view too)

Day 8 -Anchorage – Hotel Sheraton 4 Points (cheap and sketchy – not recommended)

We took the thirty minute drive south on the Seward highway from Anchorage to Girdwood and Alyeska ski town. Although known as one of most dangerous highways in America, we had good weather and no rock slides the days we were there. It’s hard not to be distracted with all the amazing views. We spent three days in Alyeska, two skiing and one on a fun snowmobile tour.

Next we drove south to Soldotna for one night after skiing to visit a friend who hosts a fabulous Airbnb. The next day we drove to Seward to the Sea Life Center on the Kenai peninsula, then up past Anchorage to Palmer.

We took a day trip for dog sledding and lunch in Talkeetna for views of Denali. Another day drove up the Hatcher pass to ski at the new Skeetawk ski area. Meant to get to hike Matanuska Glacier, never made it. Did see the Northern Lights from the Airbnb in Palmer though!

Who doesn’t love traffic free roads? Just beware of falling rocks, avalanches and potholes.

2 – WHERE TO STAY

Spring is considered off- season so rates can be better this time of year. I stayed in three hotels and two Airbnbs during my visit and I would highly recommend the Airbnb experience in Alaska. Traveling with my son it was nice to have a place with a kitchen and two separate bedrooms. The people renting out space in their homes are genuinely kind and thoughtful. They are willing to help you plan an unforgettable trip with recommendations for dining out and places to visit. I tend to look for places that also have a view and my search did not disappoint on this trip.

The hotels in Anchorage were a bit on the run down side. I would recommend staying in the best hotel which may be the Cook hotel. Parts of Anchorage are indeed a bit sketchy and since the vacationers are limited in March, some areas are down right deserted except for homeless people who will approach and ask for money. The Lakefront Hotel near the airport was acceptable and had a good breakfast. Do not book the Four Points Sheraton in downtown Anchorage, enough said.

View from Airbnb in Palmer

3 – NORTHERN LIGHTS

This is a great time to see them in Alaska. After spending a week in Iceland with my sister on a tour specifically designed to see the Aurora Borealis, we were disappointed that we never saw them. In the summer the sky in Alaska is too light, and earlier in the winter it is super cold! Tours are available if you want to pay to sit in a van out on a field for many hours waiting. We used the app on our iphone to help know the best time to look outside. Just fair warning: In real life they are not as crystal clear as some photos you may have seen. Still awesome to witness.

Someone else’s photo – but what we saw one night

4 -WHERE TO EAT

Most restaurants are open year round and we did not have to wait to get service. We had good luck with Brewery type places. In Anchorage, we tried the pizza at Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria and it was very good.

Reindeer sausage pizza

At the Alyeska resort, there is a high-end restaurant called Seven Glaciers you can take the gondola up to but it is only open for dinner a few nights each week. It wasn’t open the night we stayed there but we did dine at Sakura Asian Bistro which was a great sushi place where everyone sits together at a huge table. Something different.

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Good Times at Yoga Teacher Training 200

Yoga teacher training 200 for an over 50 group proves to be more challenging and rewarding than expected

It’s recommended that we never stop learning and we can keep our brains from turning to mush after retirement by learning something new. I’ve tried courses available online including the history of Egypt and some writing courses. I attempted knitting but did not get very far on that venture. Pete is teaching me how to golf and I do enjoy getting outside on the course in our golf cart, but I needed something more.

One day an advertisement showed up on my Facebook feed, which I admittedly spend too much time scrolling through, for an over 50 yoga teacher training program. The yoga institute is located six miles from my house in Florida so that was a positive. I never imagined myself as a yoga instructor. Aren’t those people super flexible and skinny? Don’t they emit vibes of pure Zen and light to all who meet them? And they speak a foreign language with all those Sanskrit terms? Who do I think I am – ha ha!

So I took out my credit card and signed up for the program. All I knew was that the class would meet on Tuesdays for about six months and I would take a weekend class in my choice of aerial or chair yoga certification. I’d probably opt for chair I figured as I hit enter on the application.

I arrived for our first class in October well-rested and excited to learn. Entering the grounds of Heartwood Yoga Institute and Retreat Center is like driving into a hidden rain forest filled with oversized palm trees and Live Oak trees covered in Spanish moss. The buildings blend in nicely with the landscape. I parked and immediately was welcomed by two friendly border collies hoping I’d toss them a ball, which I did. I followed another older woman as we walked towards an elevated porch-type room with all windows looking onto the grounds.

Chakra garden at Heartwood

Denver taught us our first ninety-minute gentle yoga class and I felt pleased that I could do all the movements, especially that last resting pose called Shavasana. Her mother and owner Ginny Shaddock met us after class and gave us a tour of the property which includes a labyrinth, a chakra garden, an indoor yoga studio, a firepit area, meditation pavilion, a library, a small gift store, and enough rooms to house people who sign up for intensive classes and live on the property for up to three weeks.

The 14 classmates and I ate lunch together at picnic tables under the shade trees and then started the lectures and learning that would take up much of our time during the program.

Posture Focus:

We diligently opened our binders and took notes as the instructors broke each pose that many of us knew from classes, into bits and pieces. The most difficult for me then and now is remembering the Sanskrit term for each pose: so much easier to say “extended hand to big toe pose” than “Utthita Hasta Padangustasana” – in my opinion anyway.

We learned what parts to straighten and which parts to press into. Keeping the spine long and shoulders back, lifting the belly and dropping your tailbone are just some phrases we could use to help people do the pose correctly, if we did teach. Learning how to provide modifications for each pose or variations were given as well as how to use props. We asked to know the benefits for each pose which are plentiful and may eventually sink in as we teach. After the lecture, the opportunity to teach each pose to a small group of classmates was interesting and we began to bond as a group in our attempts at sounding like a yoga teacher.

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Amazing Elephant Encounter in Florida

Myakka Elephant Ranch in Florida – an exciting experience to get close to elephants

Oh if only we could travel to Africa or Thailand to see happy elephants! When will COVID be over!!

With the elimination of circuses and pressure from agencies like PETA in the United States, exotic animals have had to find new homes and Florida is the place to retire for humans and animals alike.

The Myakka Elephant Ranch opened a little over two years ago as a conservation and educational program. The ranch is a nonprofit organization supporting global elephant conservation efforts. In November 2020 the owners began inviting the public in for elephant education encounters to help support the animals and work in connection with the International Elephant Foundation. Some of the money goes towards the foundation to support the preservation of wild elephants by building look out towers and anti poaching stations in Africa.

My sister and I excitedly drove the 20 minutes from our Bradenton, Florida neighborhood to the ranch. We signed up for the hands on spa encounter to spend the afternoon bathing the elephants. After the bathing portion, the 3 elephants, Lou, Carol, and Patty came out for snacks. During the one hour educational session, people ask questions and are invited to interact and pose for photos with the elephants and then we move outside to watch them in their own play yard.

Just like people, elephants each have a unique personality. In the wild, groups of elephants are led by a matriarch. Lou, the African elephant, has taken on that serious and dominant role in this trio. She was brought to the US in 1986 at 1 1/2 years old. She is now eight years retired from her work in the entertainment business. Her jobs included birthday parties, county fairs, circuses and fundraisers. She is used to being around people, so her daily baths which are important to moisturize her dry skin, give her additional enrichment. Her big trick is to reach out and use her trunk and the “two fingers” at the end of the trunk to accept a banana and apple from someone in the audience. Lou purrs when she gets her bath and happily poses with tourists and people willing to pay to bathe her.

Carol and Patty are both 49 years old and came to the United States from Thailand when they were two. They are both Asian elephants so have smaller ears, the shape of India instead of Africa. Carol was a movie star in her younger years and had a role as a youngster on Smokey and the Bandit 2. Patty doesn’t really care to get up and personal with humans but is devoted to her trainer of nearly 40 years. The elephant’s skin is very sensitive and they can feel a mosquito bite. Their hearing and smell are better than a hound dog. The Asian elephants do have tusks, but they are small and covered. In the hot weather, they stay cool with water and mud.

Two months ago, Myakka Elephant Ranch was able to install a new waterhole for the three elephants. It’s been a bit cold this past week in Florida, so they did not go swimming but instead enjoyed the electric heaters in their stalls.

Young Lou who is the son in the family visited Africa to learn more about elephant conservation efforts with the International Elephant Foundation. They work to support actions to eliminate the illegal killing and poaching of elephants. I was surprised to learn that only 300,000 African elephants now live in Africa, down from 10 million in 1930. 100 are killed every day. Additionally, only 40,000 Asian elephants still roam freely. Due to a loss of habitat, last year elephants killed many natives in Sri Lanka, and the natives killed elephants as well.

Raising awareness of the importance of conserving elephants and their habitats is what Lou and his dad Lou hope to achieve here at Myakka Elephant Ranch. Expanding their property to include more elephants and possibly breeding in the future is something they would be interested in. The White Oaks Conservation center in Northern Florida has taken a herd of 12 elephants with plans for an additional 20 retired Ringling Bros. elephants to it’s 17,000 acre property. Plans for breeding there are hopeful as is a trip for me to visit!

Lou, Carol, and Patty are bathed daily and minerals are painted on their toe nails. We took turns using a hose to wet down the pachyderms and then scrub their bodies with brushes. After the bath, and the hay, we had a hands on opportunity to pet their trunks and take photos. Then, the bathed ladies had a chance to ignore us and head out to the paddock to roll or toss dirt all over their bodies. They will be ready for tomorrow’s spa treatment.

Entrance
Lou getting a banana from visitor
Carol
Patty
Lou giving educational program
Scrubbing Lou with special soap
Rinsing soap off Carol the elephant
Lou outside near new watering hole

Retirement Year One – 5 Takeaways

5 Takeaways from year one of retirement like you are not your job. Life after work does exist.

You are not your job

One of the hardest things to decide was when to leave my job as a kindergarten teacher. Most of the time I loved my job. Once I was in the classroom, it was a wonderful little universe that I had created just the way I wanted. The children were happy and learning. I was having fun and being creative. I had an important purpose teaching young people to love reading and school.

What would I be if not a teacher? Isn’t that my identity and fulfillment in life? Due to COVID and changes in my life, I made the decision to exit the work force earlier than originally planned. Once vaccinated, I came back to my school as a substitute and kindergarten screener which gave me some closure from my 21 years in that school district, but I still wondered, what do I do next.

After hours and hours of scanning want ads for teachers, both in New York and Florida, I discovered, I don’t need to be a school teacher right now. I was curious as to what was out there, but it didn’t take too long for me to engage in new activities and pastimes which are rewarding and have nothing to do with my former job! It takes a bit of adjustment for some of us, but I’m happy to declare, I am not my job. When to Retire?

It’s OK to rest

We have pride in this society in being busy. As a working mom, I spent the past 25 years very busy. My job could be demanding at times and there was no “down time” in the kindergarten classroom. Home life was busy with after school sports, lessons and scouts to attend, not to mention cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, shoveling snow etc. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

Suddenly with retirement comes some space in your daily schedule. What to do? Maybe nothing. Discovering that just being is enough. This can be a huge adjustment. What a luxury to have time to rest. You will eventually fill that time and find balance, but it is certainly OK to take some time to take a break.

Relocation is an adventure

This is a scary thought for people who do not like change. We have comfort in the known even if it is not perfect, we at least know what it is. Originally I thought I would hold onto my home in New York and do the snowbird thing where we live in Florida for 6 months, and then NY for the other six. But one day it occurred to me, I was ready for a change. I was starting a new chapter and it was OK to close the page on the last chapter. It sure was a good one in many ways, but there is more to this story.

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Procrastinating during the holidays is Sometimes a Good Idea

Procrastinating during the holidays can help the widow deal with grief and loss on her own time.

After Thanksgiving it’s easy to get caught up in the rush and frenzy of Christmas. Keeping busy may be helpful, or maybe you just don’t feel the holiday spirit after the loss of a loved one.  It’s Ok to not do anything somedays.  Other times, you may find yourself lost in a copy of the book that resembles, “If you give a mouse a cookie” by Laura Numeroff and spend the day chasing squirrels.  That is OK too.  Widows get a pass on living up to the expectations we women have burdened ourselves with.  It’s been six years for me now, but I enjoyed reading my post about the second year when I wanted to get back into the swing of the holiday season, but needed a little help.

Decorating for Christmas was definitely on my to do list, I just kept putting it on the bottom.  The idea of digging out all my favorite memories that I had collected over the years for the Christmas tree, kept me frozen with apprehension.

My first year as a widow I avoided the Holidays and traveled. I ran away and didn’t participate in many of my favorite traditions. The cruise during Christmas week to the Caribbean with my 2 sons was perfect for the first year. I never put out any decorations and I was fine with that. A Different Christmas is OK, especially after the loss of a loved one.

The decision was made to decorate on this year 2 and I was planning to do it.  I was going to do it… after I made myself some breakfast.

While I was making home fries, an omelet and coffee, I searched for a piece of paper so I could make a to do list.  After brunch, my puppy started barking.  I was sure he needed a walk so off we went.

When I got back from the walk I noticed that my yard needed a good clean up.

I took out the power tools – a noisy leaf blower.  I started blowing leaves all over the back yard. Once the deck was cleared and the rest pushed to the sides of the yard I thought I would start decorating inside.

But then I noticed the bird feeder was empty.  I have a thing about blue jays and cardinals.  I feel like  my husband and my dad send them to me to comfort me.  It was time to get some bird food.  That was really important.  So I found the car keys and put on a hat.  Off to  do some shopping.

At the garden store, I picked up 20 pounds of bird seed, 75 feet of white pine roping and a 15 inch fake Christmas tree.  I wasn’t ready to pull out all the boxes of ornaments but felt that the small tree with some pretty new decorations would spruce up the house.

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Working with the Florida beach horses

I roll over and see the light starting to sneak through the blinds. I’m about to turn over when I remember: I have work today.

Whoopee!

I smile as I get up and grab my phone and glasses. The coffee pot is ready, so I push the button and check the weather for today. Sunny and hot in Florida. No thunderstorms until late in the afternoon. Great. The coffee pot dings and I can sip hot, caffeine into my veins.

I gather some lunch snacks and refill two water bottles. I dress in my black tank swimsuit, black biking shorts and a pink tank top. I’ll ask them for a company tank top today.

I pack a change of clothes and two towels. One for ‘work’ and one for after if I decide to swim at the beach, 5 miles further down the causeway.

Pete makes me a delicious protein-rich breakfast and I take Harry out for his morning walk. I kiss all goodbye and put on my pink baseball cap. I’m heading out to work.

Florida Beach Horses was looking for guides after many of their workers went back to college after the summer. They invited me in to train. I did two rides with the supervision of an experienced guide and was asked to come back. I guess I passed the interview process!

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Must widows change their name?

Must a widow change her name back to her maiden name? Or do we keep the married name?

Growing up in the 1960s, I hated my name. I was the only girl in my school, at that time, named Kristin. My teachers were confused. They insisted on calling me Christine. Some people called me Christian. They spelled it wrong either starting with a C or ending with “en”. Even my last place of employment, where I worked for 21 years, made the consistent error of spelling my name with an “en” despite my many efforts of correction.

I really wanted to fit in and have a name like the other girls ending in the “eee” sound. Why couldn’t my mom have called me Julie, or Debbie, or Heidi? Years later when I asked her about this, she told me she thought people would call me Kristi. Really? No one ever did. I think you have to initiate that nickname if you are the mother, I told her.

To top it off, my mom decided to use her name as my middle name. Another name I was sure no one except for Austrailians have heard of. Adelaide. Kristin Adelaide was the most obscure name and I was embarrassed to share that top secret information with others.

Of course, my mom never went by Adelaide with her peers. Only her sister called her Adelaide, and it always sounded like she was saying it in a most mocking manner. My mom went by Addie, so even she preferred that “eee” sound at the end of her name. She was popular, and never had an issue fitting in!

Then I grew up with a famously infamous last name. Once people heard the name Sanders, they immediately asked if I was related to the KFC colonel and had a good chuckle over their cleverness. It was easy enough to spell and pronounce, but I did not like that I was always near last when things were done in alphabetical order in school. Being a first born and natural high achiever, being last was not my favorite thing to be.

When I was married at 25 years of age, the idea of women hyphenating their name with their husband’s was all the rage. I considered this fad, but having a background as a teacher, I decided it would be easier for our children if we all just had the same name. Coming from a family of traditionalists, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I changed my middle name from Adelaide to Sanders, and my new last name became Divers. It was easy to spell. Surprisingly, people often had trouble pronouncing it – like they expected it to be some strange sounding word like Dee-vers. No, I would explain. Like a scuba diver. Best of all, I was thrilled to be listed near the front of the alphabet, whenever that was relevant.

For 30 years I taught in elementary school and I was known as Mrs. Divers. I taught kindergarten for 21 of those years in the same neighborhood where I lived. Lots of families remember their child’s kindergarten teacher. I would often walk through the supermarket and be stopped by 3 or 4 families with a look of excited surprise as they would see me and exclaim, “Mrs. Divers” across the store. I didn’t always remember the child’s name until I was driving home. It was a bit like how movie stars must feel, and I soon started to do my grocery shopping in the next town after 9pm.

Over the years, generous parents created signs and bags with the name Mrs. Divers on them. I had name stickers made to insert into my collection of children’s books that I would let colleagues borrow as needed. On occasion, the secretary would announce over the PA system, “Mrs. Divers please call the main office”. I was Mrs. Divers, and Mrs. Divers was me.

After Mike died, I didn’t really think about my name much. I had lots of paperwork to deal with and everything was in both of our names. Taking him off the bank accounts, credit cards, car loans, and mortgage took time and effort. Changing my name back to my maiden name was never considered.

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