Category Archives: life

Connections

It has been over 3 years since my last blog post, but today is New Year’s Eve, and it is a time for reflecting back on the year that was and looking ahead to the year to come.  2018 has been a year of exciting connections. 2019 promises to be a year of exciting adventures.  I’d like to share what has been the most exciting part of the past year, and why I am looking forward to this coming year with such anticipation.

New Year’s Eve a year ago, I had sent my DNA in to Ancestry.com and was awaiting the results.  As an adoptee, I had always wondered about my ethnicity and about my birth parents – what they looked like, what their personalities were, whether they were even still living. Shortly after the new year, I got notification that my ethnicity results were in.  They have since been refined, but it turns out I am mostly French, with Ireland/Scotland being the next biggest part of my DNA.

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Then I started getting notifications about blood relatives.  It was mostly distant cousins, but without knowing any information about family names, it wasn’t clear how we were related.  And I wasn’t entirely sure how accurate Ancestry could be about 3rd, 4th, or even 5th cousins, just from some saliva in a tube.

Each match provided an amount of shared DNA, expressed in “centiMorgans”- the higher the number, the closer the relationship.  So, for example, someone who is listed as a 2nd cousin shares 640 cM with me. (I later figured out he is actually a first cousin, once removed – meaning he is first cousins with my birth mother.  That would explain why the cM number is between 1st and 2nd cousin ranges.)

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Imagine my reaction when, about 3 weeks later, I was notified that I had a match much closer than that!  This one listed the relationship as Parent/Child, with extremely high confidence. The centimorgan number was 3,479!

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Since I have never had a child, it appeared this must be my parent.  There was not a full name, though – just a screen name, but it did indicate that it was a woman, so it seemed this was my birth mother.  She had created a family tree on the website, and I was able to see that she was married and had 4 daughters – one of whom was not connected to her husband.  That was me!

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After several days of heart-racing excitement and a little anxiety, I reached out via direct message to ask for confirmation.  It took her several days to write back, but I received the confirmation I was looking for – I had found my birth mother!   I had done a little digging using her family tree to determine her name and location, found her on Facebook, and looked at photos she had posted of her family.  I can definitely see a family resemblance, especially to her middle daughter.  My dream of finding family that I looked like was coming true!

In writing back, she shared information about her journey – that she was 22 and a teacher when I was born, but not married and not in a position to care for me, so she put me up for adoption.  She was from Prince Edward Island, had gone to live with a family in New Brunswick while pregnant, and then moved to the west coast of the States right after I was born.  She did not have contact with my birth father after that.

She met and married another man after moving and went on to have 3 more girls.  She had shared with her daughters that she had had a baby back in 1964 who was given up for adoption, and that she often wondered what had become of me and whether I was OK.  One of her daughters gave her the DNA kit for Christmas, so it turns out we submitted our samples within weeks of each other!  We communicated several times throughout the spring and summer.  While the messages have gotten fewer and farther between since the initial flurry of information sharing, I still hear from her on special occasions such as my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Top add to the excitement of that discovery, later in the spring, I had another close match show up. This time, the cM number indicated it was likely a half-sibling – another sister.

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She also had created a family tree going back many generations.  Because I could see the name of her father, I realized he had passed away (Ancestry.com does not publish names of living people).  But from her tree, I gathered that I had 4 more half-sisters.  Growing up, I had always wanted a younger sister.  It turns out I have a total of 7!

She and I have since been in touch.  She was not aware of my existence before this, but she has embraced the idea fully.  It turns out that her mother knew – her husband had told her before they married that he had fathered a child a few years earlier, although he did not know if it was a boy or girl, and did not know where I ended up. He stayed on Prince Edward Island, raising his family there.  My birth mother has also confirmed that my father was indeed that person.

This sister has shared photos of her dad as well as of herself and her sisters. Again, there is definitely a family resemblance. But beyond that, she shared that he had been a teacher and then a school counselor before passing away 20 years ago.  I had learned many years ago that both of my birth parents were in the field of education. Imagine my amazement, though, when I found out that my birth father had, in fact, taught math for part of his career!

Having made connections with both sides of my birth family has given me a sense of completion.  I have had a wonderful life – the parents who raised me provided lots of opportunities and love.  But my life was a bit like a puzzle with pieces missing, and I am beginning to fill in the gaps.  So many questions have been answered, but there is more to find out.  My sister in Canada has invited me to visit and so I am planning a trip to meet her, her other sisters, and their mother.  I hope to learn more about the extended family and work on piecing together the puzzle that is me.  Perhaps, one day, I will also get to visit the other side of my birth family and be able to finish filling in the missing pieces.  But for 2019, I will be content with the excitement of the adventure that awaits!

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The Seven Days of Chalica

I am coming out of blogging silence to share today’s inspiration.

Each December, Unitarian Universalists celebrate a relatively new holiday known as Chalica.  It is held from the first Monday of December through the following Sunday (7 days) and honors and celebrates the 7 principles of the UUA.  I posted a status update on Facebook today and mentioned that it was the 5th day of Chalica.  A friend commented: “on the 5th day of Chalica, my true love gave to me…

That got me to thinking what the end of that sentence would be, and what the other verses (1st day, 2nd day, etc) would be.  I decided to give my creativity a try and came up with words to The Seven Days of Chalica, sung to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, with each verse about the principle for that day.  I am thinking it might catch on!

The Seven Days of Chalica
Sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas

On the 1st day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 2nd day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 3rd day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 4th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 5th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
De-mo-cra-cy,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

On the 6th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
A Peaceful Free World,
De-mo-cra-cy,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

On the 7th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
The Earth Which We Value,
A Peaceful Free World,
De-mo-cra-cy,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

4 years? Where has the time gone?

I received notice from WordPress that today is my 4 year “blog-iversary” – I can hardly believe it!  So I decided to look back over my (122) posts.  I did the math (you are welcome) and over 48 months, I am averaging about 2.5 posts per month.  That is pretty pathetic, but if you realize that the first month, I published 12 posts (some were poems written long before I began blogging), and start with the 2nd month, the average per month drops to 2.3.

After the 1st year, it gets even worse.  During December 2010 (my first year blogging), I was posting nearly every day with a “Month of Gratitude”.  Granted the posts were short, but it raised my average considerably.  If I just do the math for the last 3 years, I posted a total of 52 times over 36 months.  Barely over once a month!

I started this blog to chronicle the journey I was traveling as the daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient – focusing on the “Spirit Within” both him and me.  It has been an outlet for me to express both gratitude and sadness, joy and grief, frustration and silliness.  But I am not sure there is much of a theme to it.

I read other blogs and am impressed by the writers’ ability to convey their message, whether it is sharing information, detailing their struggles, or offering humor.  I follow quite a few, and enjoy reading about the lives of people – some I have things in common with, others I feel I learn a lot from, many who make me laugh.  I don’t have many followers myself, the number of views I get for each post is limited, and I am not sure I am really contributing to the blogging world.

I am sitting here pondering the last 4 years, during which Dad passed away, and thinking there isn’t much more to say.  I may decide to start a different blog – if I find myself with something to share – but for now, I think I will just let this one fade into the void of the interwebs.  I’m not going to shut it down, but I am going to say good bye.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the handful of you loyal readers and commenters – I’ll be in touch if I decide to start a new blog so you can decide if you want to follow it!

When I remember Grandmommy’s house…

When I remember Grandmommy’s house, it’s always Summer.  Or maybe Spring.  It’s at least warm enough to be outside.  We played outside a lot.  I have memories of poking underneath her azalea bushes, looking for Easter eggs with my cousins; running to the front yard with a dime clutched in my hand, trying to catch the ice cream truck as it made its way down the block; and catching fireflies after dark, putting them in an old mayonnaise or pickle jar with holes poked in the lid.  I suppose we visited other times of year, or perhaps it would be raining, because I also have memories inside the house, although this particular story took place on the brick patio outside the kitchen door.

Current view of Grandmommy's house courtesy of Google Street View (it hasn't changed much at all!)

Current view of Grandmommy’s house
(it hasn’t changed much at all!)

When we would visit, there was never a need to bring our own toys – Grandmommy had things for us to play with.  There was the stuffed dog – long, like a dachshund, but with blue velvet around the middle – I liked to sleep with my head on his middle part.  And the babydoll with a squishy belly and hard rubber arms, legs and face – I carried her around all the time, giving her bottles and rocking her to sleep.  It was the babydoll that got me in trouble one time – the only time my grandmother ever got mad at me.

The family next door had 3 girls – two, a few years younger than me, and Susan – a couple of years older.  Susan was tall, pretty, and most importantly the oldest.  She often decided what game we would play.

One time, I took the doll outside and met them in Grandmommy’s side yard.  Susan wanted to play operating room – she would be the doctor and her sisters and I would be the nurses.  So we got a butter knife, some Band-Aids, and a permanent marker.

Susan laid the doll on the patio table and pretended to cut her open with the butter knife.  When she was done, we put bandaids on her belly, and then drew scars and stitches on her arms and legs.  With the permanent marker.

When Grandmommy found out what we had done, she got mad – angrier than I had ever seen her.  She sat me down on her red kitchen stool – the kind with the steps that folded up underneath the seat – and scolded me for what felt like a long time.  She told me I was not allowed to play with the babydoll any more, and couldn’t take any toys outside.  I was more upset that she was mad at me than that I was being punished – I hated disappointing her.   But I’ve always wondered if Susan got in trouble too, since it was her idea!

Mixed Emotions

We are coming up on 2 important anniversaries.  Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death.  I think about him every day, and miss him more than words can say.  Fortunately, when I look back on my life, I have many special memories of our time together – riding in the car on road trips or just to his farm in Maryland, dancing to big band music at the officers’ club on a ech college gradnearby military base, moving me into my college dorm, the smile on his face when I graduated, and the hug he gave me the last time I saw him.  I am grateful for those.  They usually bring a smile to my face, albeit often with tears in my eyes at the same time.

I know I am lucky to have had him in my life for 48 years.  His life was a long, successful, happy one.  He worked hard, provided well for his family, and loved me unconditionally.  I know it is selfish to want him back, but I do.  Even with the Alzheimer’s robbing him of his memory and his intelligence, I miss his gentle smile and warm eyes.  But then I remember that several of my students over the past few years have lost fathers to cancer or heart attacks or other tragic causes, and I feel terrible for feeling so sad about my dad.  At least he got to see me grow up.  He got to know me as an adult.  And I got to know him too.  My loss isn’t easy, but it isn’t as tragic as these other men who were taken from their families, their daughters, too soon.

I know I will miss Dad every day, but I don’t want to go through the rest of my life as sad as I have been.  The problem is that I don’t know how to miss him without feeling sadness too.  I think I am afraid that if I let go of the sadness, it will feel like I don’t miss him enough.  I try to focus on the fact that he would not have wanted to go on in his condition at the end.  But it is still hard to let go and move forward.

Moving forward is what the 2nd anniversary is all about – processing inSunday will be my first wedding anniversary!  I have mixed emotions about that too. Don’t get me wrong – I am beyond thrilled to have married the love of my life!  It was a long time coming.  I am just sad that it didn’t happen years before, when my dad was still able to travel and could have been there to give me a hug and to welcome Jeanne into the family as my wife.

Recently, I have become obsessed fascinated with the idea of a medium being able to channel loved ones from the “other side”.  I am beginning to believe that the spirits of those who have passed remain with us, sort of like guardian angels, hovering over and keeping tabs on what we are doing.  The one positive thing I can hang on to about my dad passing away 3 days before our wedding is, as our Best Woman put it, that was the only way Dad could be at the wedding with us.  It isn’t quite the same thing as if he had been there in body, but I do hope that he was there in spirit – and was as happy for us as we were for ourselves.

Never Say Never!

Memphis, Marriage, and Mocha – the lesson we have learned from these 3 things is to never say never.

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A way to honor those who gave unselfishly

Heroes are those who go above and beyond. They put their lives on the line for others, sacrifice much for the good of all, show courage when most of us would run from danger.  I am no hero.  I’m not sure I would run into a burning building or charge down an airplane aisle to tackle a bad guy.  I never served our country by joining the military (although I have family members who did and I am extraordinarily proud of them).  But I can try to go above and beyond.

I heard about the 21-day kindness challenge on another blog that I follow.  The blogger, Jane, says this about doing random acts of kindness:

Admit it. When you give someone a gift, big or small, and it makes them smile, you feel pretty good about yourself. Am I right? In a way, this seems a bit selfish. Doing nice things for people in order to make you feel good. And it is selfish. But in a good way.

I have done small things for people – paid a toll for the person behind me, offered to drive a friend to an event, helped someone load groceries in their car when they had a child with them – and it does make me feel good.  But as Jane wrote on her blog, these random acts have been few and far between, occurring when it was easy and convenient for me.  I pulled out an extra dollar when paying my own toll, was going to the event anyway, had the time to help.

This 21-day challenge will involve a more deliberate effort, as well as some creativity, to find opportunities and come up with ideas of how to brighten someone’s day.  But if it brings a smile to someone’s face, or encourages them to “pay it forward”, it will be worth the effort.  And maybe, just maybe, I will develop a habit that will change the world for the better.

Are you in?  Let’s honor those who gave everything 12 years ago by giving just a little now.

Road trips make me nervous

I love road trips.  I love everything about being in a car on the open road.  The scenery. The music on the radio.  The time to visit with each other without having a million interruptions.  But road trips make me nervous.  I usually have the nagging worry at the back of my head that something is going to go wrong.  Because it always does.

The very first road trip that Jeanne and I ever took together should have been a sign.  We always end up having adventures when we travel.  Over the years, we have had some crazy things happen.  One time we had to sleep in the car when we couldn’t find a single vacant hotel room for 400 miles.  Another time, we were caught in a hailstorm that left dents on the hood of the car.  And there was that time we had rented a car for the trip. We had mechanical trouble before we even got to our destination, had to trade the car in, and then were rear-ended on the way home, so ended up in a 3rd vehicle before the trip was over. But the first trip – the one we’ll never forget – is the story we still tell when we get talking about weird travel stories.

My mother had won 3 nights at a hotel in Nashville, and knowing we both loved Country music, offered the certificate to Jeanne and me.  She even offered to let us use her car for the trip, but mine got better gas mileage, so we didn’t take her up on it.  That was our first mistake!

I was teaching in Northern Virginia at the time, so we hit the road during my spring break. Our first stop was Atlanta to visit a cousin of mine; from there, we made our way towards Nashville, by way of Chattanooga and a couple of famous distilleries (to take a tour and see how the whiskey was made).  After visiting these tourist stops, we got back on the interstate headed for Music City.  All of a sudden, we heard a popping noise, and then smoke started billowing out of my engine.  We pulled over, knowing something was terribly wrong.  Not having any idea what we were looking at, we raised the hood and decided we had better see what we could do about getting some help.

Keep in mind, this was long before either of us owned a cell phone!  Fortunately the next exit was within view and at the top of the ramp, we could see a service station.  We locked the car and started walking.

When we got to the gas station, the mechanic asked what he could do for us.  We pointed down to the side of the highway and said – see that car?  We need to get it towed up here because something is wrong.  He didn’t have a tow truck but he did have a phone for us to call AAA and arrange for one to come.  The closest one was located 20 miles north of where we were, had to drive past where the car was to get to the next exit and turn around, and then could tow the steaming car about ¼ of a mile up the exit ramp.  When it finally got delivered to the mechanic, he told us the water pump had blown, that he would have to get a part from another town and that he couldn’t have the car ready until noon the next day.

He then directed us to a motel down the road – the only one within walking distance.  The Smoke House was more than just a motel.  It was a restaurant, gift shop, motel … and wedding chapel!  Over the course of the next 24 hours, we took advantage of all of these – except the wedding chapel, of course.  We had only been dating about 3 months at that point!

I googled the Smoke House recently.  The motel is still there – it is now a Best Western, and I don’t see the wedding chapel mentioned on their website, but the restaurant and gift shop look exactly the same.  The rooms, though, have been updated.

19 years ago, when we walked into our room, the first thing we noticed was a floor to ceiling mural on the wall in front of us.  Larger than life, it depicted a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass of whiskey on the rocks.  The rest of the room décor also seemed to remind us of our earlier stops.  For one thing, the bedside table was a whiskey barrel!

There wasn’t much to do, since we were without transportation, so we spent a lot of time in the gift shop and restaurant.  Once we had looked at every knickknack on sale and eaten lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day in the one restaurant, we still had some time to kill before the car would be ready, so we decided to walk across the street to the local winery.  Their sign advertised tours of their operation – we have always enjoyed learning about the manufacturing process, whether it is the CocaCola museum in Atlanta, the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis, or in this case, the Monteagle winery in Tennessee.

The tour cost the lively sum of $3, which we figured was a bargain for something to do that day.  We were hoping it would help the time pass quickly and that we could get on our way soon.  We waited with a few other “tourists” by the head of a flight of stairs.  When the employee opened the gate that was blocking the way, he indicated it was a self-guided tour and we should just proceed down the steps.

We reached the landing at the bottom and quickly realized that we had overpaid for this particular “tour”.  Standing on a landing with windows on either side, we were facing a handwritten sign on the wall in front of us that told us to look to the left to see the pressing process and look to the right to see the bottling process, and “thank you for touring the Monteagle Winery”.  The only saving grace was that we were given a free wine tasting when we got back upstairs.

Whenever we get ready to go on a road trip these days, we always know there will be an adventure awaiting us along the way.  Some good, some not-so-good.  But if nothing else, we know we will get a story out of it!

Some day, I’ll tell you about the year I went looking for a new job and had a story to tell after each interview.  It would be almost enough to fill a book!

How do you show your love?

Today is that overly-sweet, hearts-and-flowers, you-can-only-show-your-love-by-spending-oodles-of-money, “Hallmark Holiday” known as St. Valentine’s Day.  In the 19 years we have been together, I can count on one hand the number of times that Jeanne has given me a gift for this occasion.  I know she sent flowers one year, and a “candy bouquet” another.  I think she gave me my favorite moisturizer one time, but if there were other gifts, I have forgotten them. And that is OK.  I don’t need a gift to know she loves me.  When I left for work this morning, she told me I looked pretty – that was gift enough for me!

We usually buy each other a card at least, although this year, we are trying to cut back on unnecessary expenses, so we are going to do what some friends do.  Go to the card store, browse the racks of pink and red sentiments, choosing just the right one that expresses our love, show it to each other and say “Honey, this is what I want to say to you today.”  We’ll put the cards back, walk out of the store, and congratulate each other on saving $5 on a card that would end up in the trash can in a week.  And then go out for our annual tradition – Chinese food!

May you be surrounded by love today and always.

Feeling thankful…

In 2010, I posted a gratitude per day on my blog.  Last year, I tried to do it on Facebook, but couldn’t keep up.  This year, several friends are participating in the Facebook meme of posting something they are thankful for as their status every day. The month is more than half over already and I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon!  Since Thanksgiving is just a day away, I thought I would just write one blog post about being thankful.

Despite having lost my Dad a couple of weeks ago, there is a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, I am extremely grateful for the care he received, both last year in Memphis and this past year in Delaware.  The staff at Cadbury, particularly the nursing staff, was amazing, caring for his physical needs while treating him with the kindness and respect that he deserved.

I am thankful that I was able to see him as many times as I did this past year.  The cost of travel, especially by air, can be quite prohibitive, but my mother made sure I was able to get there several times by paying for my tickets.

I am incredibly lucky to have a job that, first of all, allows me to have time off in the summer and secondly, offers family medical leave during the school year so that I can spend time with my parents when they need my assistance.

I am always grateful for my loving wife (I can say that for real, now!), who loved my dad almost as much as I did and who supported my need to spend time with him.  She has been my shoulder to cry on when the grief threatens to overwhelm me.

I am thankful for my brother.  Even though we don’t have a lot in common and rarely talk, we know we have each other’s back and that counts for a lot.  I hope he knows how much I love him.  I am also incredibly thankful that he met and married his wife.  She has become one of my dearest friends – I can call her any time, day or night, and know that she will listen, offer advice when asked, keep my confidences if I need her to, and give generously of her time and talent.

I am also grateful for my students, who teach me something every day, if only how to be a better teacher.  They are kind, smart, interesting, caring, amazing young women who will help shape our community and our world in the years to come.

I am thankful that I am making healthier choices (most of the time) when it comes to what I eat and the activities I participate in.  Over the past year, I have made many positive changes and hope to continue in my journey towards fitness and health.

I am thankful that I have found a family of choice so far from my family of origin.  Without relatives closer than 800 miles, it could be very lonely here in the south.  But I have some wonderful friends who treat me like family and for whom I would do just about anything!

One of the best parts of this past year was the privilege I had of marrying the woman I love.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the members of the LGBT community and all the allies who have fought for marriage equality over the years.  Without their hard work, we would not have been able to legally declare our love and commitment.  As it is, we still have work to do, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of history – I have faith that some day (soon), we will be able to look back and say we were there.  And that the next generation will be able to look back and think “what was the big deal?”

As we head into the frantic holiday season, filled with TV ads, mailbox-filling catalogs, and incessant Christmas music from every conceivable corner of retail locations, I took a moment today to just sit.  Sit in silence, looking out at the water in Lewes, DE, and contemplate all that I have to be grateful for.  That includes you – my readers.  Thanks for reading about my life here in this little corner of cyber space.