The Cruise: Final Installment

I suppose I’ve dragged this out long enough. This declaration has nothing to do with me running out of story ideas. Nosirree. Well, maybe… So, let me start where we started – the part where I decided I wasn’t a cruise girl, and the why behind it, picking up after some Galveston gal named Ginger tried to do me in with her obnoxious love of Scentsy, and questionable food recommendations. (Next time, we’re going to Gaido’s. I want zero arguments on this front.)

Any of my friends will tell you I’ve always wanted to travel, and they’ll probably follow that statement up with the fact that I’m exceptionally great at coming up with excuses for not travelling. Refusing to travel because of these excuses, and therefore, having never traveled, I have learned to live rather vicariously through my friend’s adventures as they regale me with tales of the distant songs of African tribesmen approaching their lodges, of fellow German tourists incensing Chinese chefs to the point said chef felt compelled to throw a cleaver into the middle of their table, to sneaking into the Forbidden City, to their private tours of the Roman baths in Malta, to “that one time in Spain…” and to drooling over every single photo my ex-pat friend takes on her hikes around New Zealand. On separate occasions, two friends have come back from Edinburgh, and not realizing the other had said it, expressed with absolute certainty that I needed to go and would love it. Each had gone on a particular tour, they knew I would completely dig beyond reason, and they’re right. Instead, on my one trip out of the country, I went to Montreal, which was lovely but… (No offense Irina. If I’d only known you and Ben then… Well, we would have had to have received your parent’s permission to hang out with us. Is the couch still open for visits/living if I become an ex-pat myself?)

A few months before Jay passed away, I got a passport. We were going places, I was excited, we would explore the world together, and then one day in July we weren’t. And then I blew out my knee, and then Sam passed away, and all the excuses piled back up along with a firm understanding that I would always have these unrealized dreams. Forget that I have a place to stay in Japan. Forget I have a friend to hang out with in New Zealand. I wasn’t going, but I would do my best to enjoy the postcards I’d receive, and sing praises about the posted photos from friends’ trips.

So, there I was on a cruise heading to three separate ports: Cozumel, Belize City, and Roatan (off the cost of Honduras). We had excursions planned for the first two, and a relaxing day on the beach planned for the other.

In Cozumel we did a Tastes of Mexico tour where we sampled tequila, made chocolate, and enjoyed some tacos.  The tour was solid, and my take away was: I like tequila in many things, but sipping tequila, swishing it around my mouth, and holding it there doesn’t make it any better – it just kind of burns the whole inside of your mouth instead of the back of your throat, which is right and proper despite what our guide was saying. And while I appreciate that our guide’s grandmother did this daily and lived to be 200, she is tougher than I am, and she likely has no taste buds. (And also may have questionable taste – no offense.) Also, you can dress Jose Cuervo up, call it the 1800 series, and it’s still not that great (unless in a drink). I also learned I love pineapple margaritas, and have now learned how to make them. Swing by my house; I’m ready to serve! I even have the chili/salt mix to rim the glass – so much better than plain salt. We also learned that everyone at that location would like a tip, and by the time we reached the fourth tip jar, we were kind of done, which was right at the taco server’s station, and I’m pretty sure she wanted to throw tacos at our heads.

Jose Cuervo 1800 Series – “Sipping” Tequila

In Belize we drove to Xuantunich, which I mentioned is on the border with Guatemala. Here we had an amazing guide who told us about the culture, history, politics (they just recently held an election in March), and natural features of Belize. In fact, if we pointed out an animal, he’d reach down, grab a laminated info sheet, and have us pass it around. If we pointed out a butterfly, out came the laminated butterfly info sheet. I suspect, he had a laminated sheet for everything. He was kind of the Belizean Mary Poppins with a magical bag of laminated info sheets.  We learned there were two major political parties, that a disproportionate amount of critters in Belize are deadly and murderous, and the country produces a million (exact figure) varieties of mangos – along with having no zoning laws, $10/gallon gas (approximately $5 US, but still), and howler monkeys! (Also, some rather amorous lizards who perform a happy little hoppy dance at the conclusion of their good times. High claw, iguana dude! Sorry about the voyeuristic gals taking photos. Humans. Am I right?)

In Roatan, we just looked at shops, went on a nature trail, and spent the day on the beach and in the water.

And when I first started talking about the trip, all I could say was it felt as if I never left the US thanks to the commercialization, and how everything is bent around capturing dollars from tourists – all the duty free shops, the “Made in China” goods, etc. My first trip out of the country seemed like a let down – like I hadn’t gone anywhere, and I was disappointed. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have a fine time, it just felt like I’d hit the Mercado in San Antonio and slept on a boat.

While on the ship, we’d spend the nights looking for things to do, and found ourselves at places like the piano bar with a Rod Stewart wanna be who went by the name “Roddy,” and who didn’t quite get the songs he was playing – he wins for oddest version of Bohemian Rhapsody I’ve heard to date, but let’s say that by the end of the trip I was prepared to punch anyone who started singing “Sweet Caroline.” Then there was a couple of nights listening to bad karaoke, some trivia contests, a 70’s club, and a night of 80’s Rock & Glow dancing where there was a dance-off, and I was unfazed… until I stepped away from it all, so let me recap this paragraph after having time to really think about it.

While on the ship, I danced! I had forgotten how much I missed dancing. It started in the lobby one night, then there was the night at the 70’s club while I clung to my disco ball glass that I love, and ended with all of us dancing until they closed the party down for the 80’s Rock & Glow night – where we were completely decked out in every glow stick piece of jewelry one could imagine. This was the night my beautiful cousin Kim WON the ladies dance competition, and was completely robbed when she went head-to-head against the male champion. I’m sure he cheated. 🙂 The crowd, who’d formed a circle around them, knew it was “on” when Kim kicked off her sandals.  It got real in that moment, y’all. Kim wasn’t playing! At the end of it Kim said, “if I can do that, I can do anything!” Yes, she can! She was AWESOME! and AMAZING, and BEAUTIFUL!! I may have hurt my own ears scream cheering her on. Kim had been selected from the crowd after showing us all how it was done in the Thriller dance – best ladies zombie dancer out there! I also learned I need some work on the electric slide, but I’m up for the challenge!

Dancing reinforced that my knee could take it (within reason, of course) when I really thought I would never be able to dance again.

We won not one but TWO trivia contests. The last one was 80’s music trivia where we all received medals and a golden ship. Also, I need to say here I’m embarrassed for the other participants who couldn’t identify Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” from the first two notes. Come on!! I had a good showing in the Game of Thrones trivia, but really needed someone who’d read the books on my team. Pike, are you kidding me? By the way, I kind of love it that a friend of mine found me by looking at the schedule of activities and realizing, “yep, that’s where Beth is going to be.” Also, without having ever watched GoT, she helped me answer the first question. This is the same person who knew I’d be in the gym early in the morning. My friends get me.

I swam in the ocean! I haven’t donned a bathing suit in years, and there I was bobbing away and happy as I could be. I could have stayed out there all day. The ocean was the best! I love the water!

I went to Belize! I had a two hour trip to and from the Guatemalan border learning all of these things I’d never known about Belize, and I want to go back and spend time, and eat at least a ton of the millions (actual number, as mentioned before) of mangoes. Apparently, there’s a non-stop flight from Austin to Belize City, and it turns out that I have a passport. I also climbed Mayan ruins with a banged up knee, and I didn’t get winded, AND I didn’t go tumbling down, AND I didn’t have to be part of some emergency med evac as I’d anticipated.

I did abs with Gaybor, and was happy when I could keep up, including the plank part. (We will not mention here that my planks at home always get adjusted, and I may have figured out a way to easier planking. Go me! Shifting forward makes it so much harder.)

Gaybor – Exceptionally Inspirational Ab Coach (Hey, I’m old, not dead. Plus, Heather took the photo, so… well, I know my inner 16 year old cheered when she did it. 🙂 He’s a solid volleyball player, too. Just sayin’.)

During the entire trip, I had my phone off, which was absolutely liberating. I slept better than I had in months, thus ending months of insomnia. I’ll also admit, that until the super choppy day on sea, I didn’t really feel the ship move. I could tune it in or out, so I was showing off this newly found skill whenever I could. I brought Dramamine, and I never had cause to use it.

I watched the sun rise and set over the ocean.

In sum – I laughed a lot, I danced a lot, I relaxed, and I spent a solid week with my family and my friends – uninterrupted time I never get with them. I had the absolute best time I’ve had in a long time with people I love. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.  And while I still want to travel properly – wander the hidden paths, escape the commercialism and the demands that I “consume” things, I would do this all again with the same people. (Though, I’d take on an additional friend or two who couldn’t make it.)

Sunset with the Girls

So, who wants to sail with me from Miami to Havana?

Now go read the Game of Thrones series, and memorize this opening (I need you to be prepared):

Spa Day: A Fancy Cruise Story

I’m not really a fancy lady. I’d never gone to a proper spa nor had I ever had a professional massage until this cruise.  You see, spas and professional massages seemed like things fancy ladies did with their fancy disposable income. Whereas my disposable income tends to go towards things that appeal to say goofy men with Peter Pan syndrome. You know, the absolute antithesis (or arch nemesis, perhaps) of a proper “fancy lady,” but definitely someone Mary Martin could sing about.  And here I was on this fancy cruise, with my fancy friends and my fancy family, thinking maybe my fancy little back might deserve a fancy little rub on one of these “fun days at sea”. It turns out that for me, my fancy little traps, thanks to fancy leisurely rowing, are a little (lot) tight. In fact, they sense I’m typing about them now, and they’re tensing up just to get some attention (or it could be that I’m sitting at a desk and have been all day – or it could be that I threw a lot of axes last night (I’m not kidding, I totally did that) Anyway, I can anthropomorphize my trapezius muscle if I want to – you worry about yourself).

(For Heather :))

So, on Day 2 of the cruise I made my way to the ship’s spa and signed up. Now the original idea was to get a deep tissue massage, but that turned into The Manager’s Special with its promises of bamboo, hot oil, a facial, something with my feet, and the clear promise I’d emerge relaxed and fancy. Dream massage was sooo… dreamy.

My friend Heather prepped me on what to expect. See, one reason I dislike a lot of fancy things is that sometimes I fear there are certain unspoken rules, or rituals one must follow that everyone else is in the know about except for me. I mean, what if I did something wrong? I could be spa-shamed! Then that information would likely travel through the back channels of the masseuse/masseur world, and the next thing you know I’d be eyed warily every time I passed a spa, massage parlor, or sidewalk carnivorous foot nibbling fish bucket purveyor. I wouldn’t live it down! EVER!!! Breathe Beth, BREATHE! I can do this.

When I enter the room it’s pleasantly dim, smells delightful, the music is peaceful if a bit new age-y, and the masseuse speaks in a soothing calm voice. Whew. I can do this! She begins my brushing my arms and legs with a cactus bristle brush. She explains it’s used on autistic children to calm them down. I ummm… wait. What? What are you saying? Am I being odd? I don’t know. Quick check. Ok, well other than the talking in your head thing. People do that, you know. Don’t be a freak. Breathe. Make polite conversation. “Interesting.” Good one. Nice save. I can do this?

I’ll fast forward a bit, because pretty much it could be boiled down to: hot things on my body feel great, and all of my muscles being rubbed also feel great (save maybe some knots that couldn’t be worked out in my shoulders).  And being called “dahhh’ling” excessively is vaguely annoying, but tolerable because of the aforementioned hot things and massage. Then we hit part of the appointment that was the hard sell, and the hard sell went a bit like this:

Dahhhling, your back muscles are a complete MESS (in the most disappointed/horrified/silky voice ever). There are crystals forming in your back, and the muscles are LEECHING calcium from your bones, Dahhhling.  For $170 you can buy this amino acid that you just apply a few drops to your shoulders, and that will break up the crystals.

What? I’m not sure that’s even real science. (Inner voice)

Dahhhling, you may need a back massage once or twice a week, and it will never be right. It’s just a temporary fix, Dahhhling. Are you sure you don’t want the drops? No? Let me put those away then.

Dahhhling, your skin is so dry. You look old! You must moisturize. Here are (insert a host of products being lined up one by one starting as low as $45 and scaling up to about $80) that will make you look much younger. Even I use them, and I am 27, can you believe it?

No. I would have gone younger. (Inner voice)

Dahhhling, now here’s the final bill. You’ll see the 18% tip has been applied; however, you may tip more if you wish.

Bless your sweet little heart, darlin’, I do not wish, but thanks for the opportunity. (Inner voice)

By the time Heather got to me in the spa lobby, having had a wonderful massage, I was in a fetal position (on the inside) and feeling vaguely sticky, withered, like an un-moisturized husk who clearly looks every bit of 80. We won’t even talk about these parasitic muscles.

And that’s how I spent a part of the second day while trying to be fancy on the cruise, and six days later, when people asked for my opinion about the cruise, it added to what annoyed me. And yes, this always had to be the second story. It continues to set-up my initial knee-jerk reaction, but as I mentioned before, there’s always more to a story, and there’s still more to this one.

Welcome to installment part deux!

A Simple Wish

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. –Neil Gaiman

At the beginning of 2017 I was given a box that held 260 colorful envelopes filled with notes/quotes/questions/advice from my friends and family. These lunchbox notes were to accompany me each day of work and were to be opened at lunch (thus, the name).  There were instructions directing me to open one first, and it ended up containing the quote above.  These, in turn, became the things I wanted to achieve – a list of what I wanted to accomplish throughout the year – a road map – a bucket list.

So, I wrote a little more. Maybe not sketches, as I’d planned. It turns out that in this political climate my attempts at satire have too sharp an edge to them. I started turning off NPR more (sorry guys, I still love you) and sang more, replacing the news with singing – each time I got into the car.  I even made it out to karaoke, something I hadn’t done in years, and belted out a little Lady Gaga, ABBA, and Kansas. I now have a baby stereo system in the house where I repeat the show daily. (To the delight of my neighbors, Elle King’s America’s Sweetheart is my current go-to.) I made some art, and sent cards off to friends and family. To surprise myself, I entered the Warrior Dash, and I can say I was in fact surprised in the end. This one set me back a bit, causing all of the things to stop, and me to momentarily forget the list.

As I grew stronger, I was able to dive back in – writing, singing, reading, laughing, and creating.  The only one left to tackle was “kiss someone who thinks [I’m] wonderful.” So, a month ago I decided “screw it” and I re-entered the online dating world to give it a more serious try.  I went on three dates over five days. André, of the infamous meltdown, was the first. See below for a recap.

The second was Todd. I have to admit that over the past three weeks I became a 16 year-old girl when it came to all things Todd – a distracted girly mess. One of my male friends joked, “hell, I’m starting to have a crush on Todd” thanks to all of my incessant Todd talk, usually followed by, “do you want to see his picture?” It was terrible, and kind of fun, and it reminded me of staying on the phone for hours in high school, of passing notes, of having my girlfriends spend the night, of listening to music in the darkness of my room, and of daydreaming. He was a reminder that I was still alive, and still able to be reduced to a blushy, giddy little girl mess.

I met Todd a day or two after the André-no-I-don’t-want-to-drive-to-Costco-for-the-great-gas-don’t-put-your-face-near-my-face incident. I went to his place, knowing my adopted big brothers would not be pleased for safety reasons, and watched him put together a doll house for his granddaughter. He was just as beautiful in person, and also very simple in ways I won’t be able to quite convey here.

A few highlights from that evening: He told me, “I’d totally mack with you, but I’ve had a lot of coffee, and I don’t like to kiss with coffee breath.” Wow, umm… I don’t think anyone has ever said they’d “mack” with me. I’m not sure I’ve “macked” with anyone. Maybe I’m not a macker? If we “macked” would this count towards my “…kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful?” Gaiman didn’t say anything about “macking with someone.” Then Todd professed his love of the phrase “that’s what she said” and probably used it 15-20 different times. Apparently, she says a lot. Todd expressed with certainty that a whole comedy routine based on that line would quite possibly be the best stand-up comedy routine ever.  I’m not so sure. I threw in a few “that’s what she said” lines to make him happy, and he giggled gleefully (alliteration also makes him happy) while continuing to work on this dollhouse (a bit of a structural mess, but it also made him happy). I then turned the conversation to why he loved the town we’re in, because frankly it’s a sea of HOA’s to me, and I hoped he might have some insight that would make me see it differently. His response: “I’m near three strip clubs.” Oh… “Yeah, I love strip clubs and I would totally pay for you to get a lap dance.” At this I had to say, “That actually wouldn’t do anything for me, but thank you.” He smiled and offered up, “well, it would do something for me.” Ohhhh kay… (For any of you thinking a strip club birthday gift card might make the perfect gift, you should give that to someone else.) I got a tour of his apartment and the multiple 8″x10″ prom pictures proudly displayed on the walls. I have to confess, my prom pictures are still in the “vintage” envelope they came in. (Sorry David! I did put one in a photo album and used it for a #TBT thing on FB.)

We ended with a side hug, and I sighed… so pretty. There goes my 16 year old girl, and a 49 year old woman drove home – music blaring, while singing at the top of her lungs.

Two days later, I had coffee with the runner post my half marathon (where I did surprise myself). He was absolutely brilliant. Smart, engaging, a fantastic storyteller (and we all know how I love good stories), and I was none of those things in return. And while I recognize I’m not his type physically, he’s the kind of person who absolutely should be one of my friends. I was lamenting this to my aunt yesterday, and she kindly offered to call him up and explain how great I was.  “You know if you want me to, I’d do it,” which made me laugh. All I could picture was a call that might sound like, “Hi, this is Beth’s aunt. She’s really great; you’d really like her. I’m so proud of her. Anyway, she thinks you’re really neat. She has a lot of really neat friends, so if she thinks you’re neat, then there’s probably something special about you. You should really be her friend. I’m going to have a get together at Easter, and she knows she’s always welcome. You could come, too.” While I loved this idea, and it made my heart smile, I can only imagine how that would sound to a stranger. “Please reconsider being my niece’s friend. We love her.” I love my aunt, and I love that she was serious. Also, a side note to my friends: she really does think you guys are neat. Also, damnit, he was really cool.

So Neil, I failed a little when it came to living up to your New Year’s wishes.

While the year continued to hold a few more hardship, it was also one that was filled with magic, and dreams, and good madness. I read some fine books. I made some art – I wrote, I drew a little, I sang loudly and often, I laughed, and I surprised myself (half marathon!!).  I was surrounded with the best people. Old friends, new friends, and family… and though there were tears, there was more joy.

I plan to do more of that next year.  And maybe… just maybe… I’ll “mack” with someone who thinks I’m wonderful.

Dedication: This was for Tori who suggested I had another blog piece in me before the end of the year. Hears to you, kid!

Jay Anthony Utz: 2/25/1976 – 7/9/2016

There wasn’t an official obituary announcing to the world the loss of my husband. Of all the things we had to deal with that day, and for the days that followed, this was one we pushed to the side. If you planned well, or worked with any funeral service, someone will likely handle this detail. We did not. We were reeling.

I learned that in trying to settle Jay’s affairs that there are companies who really would like one to prove a death has occurred by means of an obituary. I suppose a medical examiner’s report or a death certificate doesn’t carry the weight that an obituary posted in the newspaper does.

So, I give you this – for all the people who need one…

Jay Anthony Utz

Jay Anthony Utz of Pflugerville, TX passed away on Saturday, July 9, 2016.

A memorial was held at 10am on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at Restoration Covenant Church in Round Rock with Jay’s aunt, the Rev. Marsha Emery officiating.

Jay was born in San Antonio, Texas to Lois and Samuel Utz on February 25, 1976. He married Beth Doughty on May 21, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Jay is survived by his wife, Beth Doughty; his sister and brothers Enid Celeste Kowalik, Joel Samuel Utz, and Dale Eldon Utz; his parents, Lois Margaret and Samuel Franklin Utz; and his nephews and niece, Everett, Zachary and Katy Kowalik.

Beth’s aunt, Philis Goodwin read the following on Beth’s behalf:

Today we say goodbye to a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, and a friend who left us all too soon with so many words left unsaid, so many adventures left to do, so many wry/sardonic laughs left un-chortled, and so much love left unexpressed. For me I’m saying goodbye to my best friend, my confidante, my co-conspirator, my teacher, my hero, my voice of reason, and the only adult in the house.  And today and for all the days to come, I’m also saying goodbye to my very favorite person in this world.  The best person I know.

Monday was our 202nd Monthiversary which celebrates the day we started dating – it’s a ridiculous holiday unless you’re us. It also happens to be my very favorite.  This was the day I’d try my level best to wish him a Happy Monthiversary first.  I never really told him we were in competition, but still he almost always managed to win.  

And this is also one of the thousands of things I’ll miss.

Jay was the person who stayed with me each night until I fell asleep.  Then he’d be there when I’d wake in the middle of the night to ask important questions like: What’s the difference between alternating and direct current? Tell me about stationary objects in motion.  And he’d patiently answer until I was satisfied I completely understood and I’d wander off to fall back asleep. I suspect he shook his head when my back was turned, but I have no proof.

On the plane Saturday I realized I didn’t completely understand how planes generated lift, so I made a mental note to discover this information on our ride home.

There wasn’t a ride home – not with Jay, not on this Saturday when my best friend felt he had to leave.

Someone suggested I might be angry, and if I’m angry about anything it’s at this faceless disease called depression.  I’m angry that it took away the best person I know.  I’m angry it made him feel worthless and that it blinded him to being able to realize how amazing he truly was.  I’m angry that he tried and didn’t get the help he needed to fight it.  I’m angry it made him see so much bad about himself when all I could ever see was good and kind and beautiful, and he was absolutely beautiful. It robbed me of laughs, of the one person who understood me, of a thousand inside jokes, and a thousand more kisses.  It took away our ridiculous Monthiversaries, and it took away my favorite person.

I love you, Jay. You said I deserved better, but there will never be better than you.  You are the love of my life, and I miss you so much.

Jay’s brother Dale also spoke and shared personal stories that helped further bring to life a person whom we will all miss dearly – with whom we’ll never get to share another laugh, nor enjoy another character like “Laguardia”.

December 25, 2017: My -0 Birthday

Tomorrow we’ll be six months away from my -0 birthday.  You know that birthday where I finally turn ummm… another year older-ish-esque! Happy Birthday to Me?

You’re probably wondering: 1) Why do I need to worry about it now, and 2) wait, if she’s writing about it, does that mean it’s another present grab? Dear Lord, is she three? I get it. You were born on Christmas. Bummer for you. I’ve got a family to think of! I’m out of town!

Well, 1) if Hobby Lobby can have Christmas stuff out already, then I’m actually a little behind in mentioning it, and 2) YES! You guessed it! It IS a present grab. You’re a good guesser! Also, I’d like to point out that you can see your family any time. I only turn -0 once! (…a decade. Err… bygones.) Go ahead and book your flights. No, book them to Austin. Why do you have to act this way?

So, remember 10 years ago? That other -0 birthday? There was you, me, some other people, and someone MAY have had a dramatic boo-hoo? Then someone’s friend had to hold up each subsequent present and grill the giver with a, “is this going to make her cry?” only handing the gift over only if she was assured, “ummm no? I don’t think so?” Remember? The birthday girl then gave that amazing speech (ok, that was a test – if you’re claiming there was a speech, then you’re now just pretending to have been there, and the bobbing of your head in agreement with all of my words right now is kind of hurtful. Way to be hurtful. This is why I actually cried.)

So, this birthday will be a repeat of the one held 10 years ago – same restaurant (maybe) – same rules. I’m going to ask for something that represents you. If you’ll recall the previous -0 birthday, I received an assortment of stories, photos, poems, comics, drawings, homemade bread, and CDs. I loved all of them, and I’ve saved each item, because it’s a tiny time capsule of who you all were 10 years ago. Ok, I lied. I didn’t save all of them. I totally ate the bread. Hey, it’s not fruitcake people. It wouldn’t have lasted. Don’t judge me. What if I “promise” (no reason for the quotes, nope – move along) not to devour any more presents (well, unless that’s what they’re intended for)? Fine. What if I just promise to try? We good?

Loot

Anyway, back to the present grab. This can be anything at all as long as it’s an expression of you.  It should be something that when I look at it, I see my amazing friend, or my beautiful family member – an item that says something about you in this moment in time.

The reason I’m announcing my request so early is to give you plenty of time to think. You guys are rather think-y sorts.

A quick note: There will be only one person whom I’ll ask for something very specific – the rest of you can go nuts – for that person it’s an idea I want them to play with (see quote below). (Anyone else is welcome to play off of this, too if you really want – create a picture of you? you in warrior garb? a sketch? a puppet? finger paints? whatever inspires you when you read it, but that also represents you).

Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’
The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’

I’m going to shoot for the weekend of December 16th (which is also my beautiful niece’s birthday, and I will be mindful of that so it may  be Sunday the 17th).

Oh, and before I run off. This blog post also serves as the even earlier announcement for my upcoming reverse quinceañera in a year and a half – so, start thinking about your hoop skirted dresses, your perfect tiara, and of course your sari, because Bollywood style dance, y’all! (I feel the “y’all” really sets that sentence off. Wow, I think my Dallas is showing.) I already have a fabulous stylist I’ll be coordinating with (thank you, Mere!), and think Beth + hair extensions. I KNOW! FABULOUS! (That was the adjective you chose, right? RIGHT?!?!?! Again, HURTFUL!)

I look forward to seeing you guys there. Here’s to another decade with you amazing people. I’m looking forward to many more!

 

Warrior Dash 2017 or That Time Beth…

That Hat :(


Lately there’s been the story I plan to write, and then there’s the story I actually end up writing. Originally, this particular story was going to be about conquering the Warrior Dash or at least my version of “conquer,” which would have likely been about me getting really messy and making it through exactly ONE obstacle – with luck, two. Ok, I actually planned to only miss one or maybe two, but apparently I’m “self deprecating” according to some people with names like “all my friends” and “all my family” pfft. I was ready. I’d looked at the course, sized up the obstacles, and said, “hey, you know what? That looks tough, but it’s not not doable. (Ok, that was a double negative, so English teachers everywhere started crying. Bah! Who am I kidding? When I started typing, they started crying.) Basically, it was doable (not not doable) – you get the idea. Of course “doable” doesn’t mean “easy” by any means; it was going to be challenging (or not not challenging – I promise I’ll knock that off now).

Up until the race, I’d been joking that the day would be forever known as “The Day Beth Went to the Hospital.” I’m one of those people who believe you ward off all the evil by thinking of the worst thing that could happen, saying it, and then charging forward. In hindsight, I think I’m a bit of an oracle. Call me Cassandra! But I see I’m skipping/limping ahead.

Our start time was later in the day – 12:45 pm – sometime after all of the serious competitors had found their way through it, and had likely gone a couple more rounds (you could pay a little extra to do it again and again). That night or maybe early that morning, the rains came, and when we arrived the skies were a dull grey and a balmy 50℉-ish (10℃-ish). The weather seemed to teeter between drizzle to light rain, but none of that brought us down. We were wet and cold and ready to get moving.

Earlier that morning, I’d sent a couple of rah rah texts to our team declaring “we got this!” Then pre-race, my trainer sent me one of those notes that make you tear up (well, it did “me” and if you wouldn’t have teared up, well you have no soul, and I just judged you; it’s how I roll). I’d share, but it’s my personal note; however, the gist was to believe in myself – that the only person who could tell me I couldn’t do something was myself.

It was then time to go, and we dashed out onto the course to find a somewhat muddy path, but still a doable one. As we progressed, the mud became thicker and slicker – the kind that can suck your shoes off or send you sprawling face first onto the ground. Everyone got stuck at some point, and everyone fell. I got through two obstacles, and I applauded myself for not slipping. Heck, I even slid down a bank (on purpose) and with the help of my team, made it up the other side. The whole time reciting my “I got this” mantra. Everyone was faster than me, but I trudged along concentrating on remaining upright. I thought I’d figured out the key – cling to the sides. There was still a little bit of grass there, and if I went slowly enough I could creep through the 5k. Hey, I knew going in I wasn’t competitive.

And then I ran out of grass coming around a downhill bend. I put my foot down, went immediately into the splits (the Jean Claude Van Damme kind though sans some semis and Enya soundtrack, not the body friendlier kind I used to be able to drop into in High School), and thanks to the angle I was at when I lost my balance and started going down, the bottom half of my leg wanted to go just a little further (always an overachiever), and that’s when the “pop” happened in my knee. Talking about this next part is the only time I’ve cried about the day. I fell in front of a medic and his friends who immediately stopped to assess my leg. He then ran up a hill, off the course, and flagged down one of the people watching the course, who in turn grabbed an all terrain vehicle, and a security guy. In the meantime, those guys got me over to the side in a grassy area and they stayed with me. “Can you stand?” No. “Are you in pain?” Not really, my knee feels unstable. When I mentioned the “pop” again, one of the medic’s friends said, “yep, I heard it, too” (which isn’t good when everything is loud, people are bustling about, and a part of your body makes a sound the rest of the world can hear). When the vehicle showed up, it was on the other side of the insanely muddy path, and that’s when I started telling them “no, no I can’t get over there – I can’t do that, no, uh uh” and the five people who were around me kept saying “we’ll get you over there, and you won’t have to put weight on your leg”. Nope! Not doing it. I’ll just stay right here, thank you. I’m enjoying my hypothermia and the adrenaline leaving my system. Mind if I go into a light amount of shock? All of that I didn’t say with words, but everyone understood from my body language that I seriously doubted five strong guys could move me across the treacherous mud without me further damaging my knee. And they did, and when they did the racers stopped, and about 4-5 other guys joined in to get me across the path – all being super supportive, and kind, and all making sure I got into that vehicle safely. I cannot express how grateful I was and am for everyone, nor how amazing they were to hold up their race, to get me across safely, and then to say a few kind words of encouragement as they headed back down the trail. I don’t know them, but I wish I could find them to thank them (and to hug that medic).

The long and short of it all is I have a grade 3 MCL tear. Finally, I won at something! Grade 3, I think, is classified as “the best tear” (don’t burst my bubble – I actually know what it means, thanks). Monday I go in for an MRI to determine if the meniscus is torn as well. I’ll find out those results towards the end of March. As of now, I do not have to have surgery. In most cases, I’m told, the MCL heals; however, if the meniscus is torn they will have to go in for a day procedure that will leave me on crutches for about three days. All of this will likely take about 3 months and involve rehab.

There’s actually a lot of people to thank. Friends and family who have gone out of their way to help me, and to be at the house to help with Sam (and with fun things like “moving” and “standing up”). Also, their families for letting me steal them briefly from their worlds. Friends and family who have sent flowers, offered support, and chocolate, and movie dates, and the best animal videos (to both distract from the MCL tear, and from a certain elected official who has made the adverb “very” great again). And Tori for getting “Everything is Awesome” stuck in my head, so now when people inquire about me I find myself saying “awesome” and then having to sing that song the rest of the day, because I just said that word. No wait, I’m not thanking you, Tori!!! You hear that?

Damnit.

I want to answer a few questions I’ve been getting, and because I’m me I’m just putting this out there for easy reference:
How am I doing? My knee is messed up. Ask me in three months. It won’t be magically better if you ask me again tomorrow. Now, you can ask. I can’t stop you, but you will get a sarcastic response. I come from a long line of sarcastic people. It’s not my fault; it’s DNA.
Are you in pain? No, not unless I move my knee in an unnatural way that was formerly “natural” a week ago.
You are quitting the gym, right? Nope. I’m a badass. A badass that in three months will have made inroads on her upper body to start considering rock wall climbs. Goodbye pointless T-Rex arms!

In sum – I was wrong about how the day would be forever known. It won’t be known as “The Time Beth Went to the Hospital,” but maybe “That Time Beth Horsed Around In Some Mud” or “That Time Beth Did Those Rockin’ Splits.” I’ll work on a good title.

RAWR!

1/3/2019 – A quick follow-up since its been awhile since I read this entry. Not only did I have a Grade 3 MCL tear, after the MRI the doctor determined I’d completely ruptured my ACL. I did stick with the gym, and I never had surgery. My orthopedic doctor basically gave me choices, and after PT and many follow-up visits, he said, “if everyone had a trainer like yours, I’d be out of business.” It took months to move from all upper body exercises to those where my legs could bear weight, and the day I rowed again, I cried. Now, all that said, one day I may still have to have surgery, but as of this moment I don’t have to have it. My trainer and I worked and continue to work on building up the muscles in my legs, and that helps keep my knee stable. I will never play tennis, or basketball, or run again – not really, because I cannot perform certain movements anymore. That’s ok. I wasn’t planning on taking up those sports. Of course, I also can’t get in a bouncy house or roller skate again, and once I realized that, I had a moment. Rain now scares me. Mud scares me even more, but I take joy in bending my knee beyond 90 degrees, and being able to do bar squats, dead lifts, and of course being able to row. Anyway… that’s where I am today. Tomorrow may be a different story.

How Do You Do It?

When someone passes away, amidst all the love, a lot of questions come out.  I thought about ranking them in the degrees by which they annoy me, but that seemed a tad harsh.  People are curious, you can’t fault them for that (well, you could), and for the most part they’re not trying to be annoying (although sometimes I wonder), but by golly they’re curious.  Some of that curiosity comes from knowing we’ll all be impacted by death throughout our lives, and there’s this hope that the person can shed some little pearl of wisdom that maybe we can use if we’re in a similar situation. Some of the questions come from having never been in a particularly unique situation, and they feel like they’ve pulled up to the world’s best car wreck, and screw the rest of traffic, they’re going to take their nice long look.

Let me start by addressing a few of those questions/statements by offering some advice when it comes to someone who has died by suicide.  (Now followers of my Facebook feed may feel this subject looks somewhat familiar.  I like to think of my feed as a micro-blog (because that’s a thing, right?) at times, and my followers as a focus group.  Err… I think of them as good friends, that’s what I meant. Good friends.)

Don’t ask how it happened especially of the immediate family. Ever. If the person chooses to share that information, that’s one thing, but what has happened is deeply personal, and fairly traumatic. Each retelling can open up some really large wounds, because it’s not a “story”, it’s a life.  It’s lives.  You don’t have a right to know.  Yes, I get it’s a wonderfully dramatic story, and you can’t help but to slow down and try to drink in the drama, but do that from as far away from me as you can possibly get.

Don’t run around asking if any of the immediate family (or me) is suicidal.  Yes, something bad happened, and you may be worried, but your worry seems more like gossip when you flitter from person to person planting that little seed.

And whatever you do, don’t go up to any family member (for example: me, again) and make this request: “Please don’t kill yourself.” There are no words that can ever properly convey how wrong I find that statement.  I could start with “you clearly don’t know me,” but that just lightly begins to air kiss how deeply angry I am at your words.  If you are genuinely worried, you’ll figure out a better way to approach that conversation.  As it stood, I nearly said “well damn, there goes my Wednesday plan. I guess I’ll just watch TV now. Fingers crossed wrestling is on tonight!”

Then there’s this other question I’ve had thrown my way that while I find annoying isn’t meant so. It’s mostly annoying because I’m asked it a lot, which means someone who reads this blog (maybe a few) is (are)  going to say, “oh hell, I didn’t meant to step in it with Beth.”  You didn’t.  But since you asked, I’ll answer.

How do you do it? How do you get up in the morning?

I can’t give you a silver bullet answer – something you can apply to your own lives.  I can tell you some key things about me and my situation.  The biggest thing that gets me up and moving is I was literally just born this way. I’m a “happy” person.  In fact, I’m a borderline (and sometimes not so borderline) airhead.  I’m goofy. I’m silly. I’m the kid who at five was told by other five year olds I needed to grow up. (To this day we feel sorry for any five year old that feels they need to grow up.) When it comes to a happiness ceiling, mine is really high.  I’m a whole lot like one of my aunts who when we get together, we just giggle.  Now that said, that doesn’t mean I (or my aunt) can’t be brought down or that I don’t get angry.  I actually have quite a temper, but my fuse is exceptionally long.  You just don’t want to be around when the fuse is gone. Jay would point out, when I did finally blow, that I was spending a lot of energy being really mad about a person or thing, and the object of my anger couldn’t see how angry I was – that I was wasting a lot of energy.  I can blow up like the best and most uncomfortable fireworks display.  Thankfully something shiny will usually appear, and I’m chasing it down again.  Unfortunately, that shiny thing may not appear for a day or two, but it will always appear.

Another key thing is that no one left me alone, not even when it was really all I wanted. I longed to go shut the door to my bedroom after Jay passed away.  I didn’t want to do the things that needed to get done.  Dad had me make a list, and on a normal day the list was something I could have accomplished in a few hours. On that second day after Jay left, I had only managed to do two things, and the process was absolutely the most  mentally exhausting thing I had done.  Dad then helped me make the plan for the next day and the next slowly showing me how to walk in the world again.  During all of this, I didn’t want to interact with anyone, and yet they kept appearing at my house forcing me to be here.  When you combine that with another inherent trait I have – wanting everyone else to be ok, you have a situation where I felt forced to come out and to try and make everyone else feel better. I would tell stories about Jay, and while I wasn’t fully present, it kept me present enough.

I remember when Mom passed away unexpectedly, I tried to cheer-up the hospital chaplain by telling him stories despite desperately wanting him to leave the room so it would just be the two of us.  I once fell down a staircase trying to get a bag of glass bottles to a recycling station, and when  the glass and I landed at the bottom I saw a little boy looking on in horror, and so I did what I do – I talked to him, laughed about being clumsy, got everything together, and then fell apart behind closed doors. Part of who I am is a less polished version of my grandmother. A woman who when presented with any group of people would go immediately into hostess mode.  This is what I do.

To this day, some six months later, I am still not left alone over the weekends.  I have activities through the middle of March and beyond. They’re rarely anything I’ve planned, but are things people have brought me into.

So, in short: How do I get up every day? I can get up because that’s who I am. I don’t know another way (and as one friend “gently” put it: “…because you’re not a pathetic piece of shit,” (no intended offense to those who can’t), and because I have an amazing support group in my family and friends. They don’t let me make any other choice … and I try to remain open to new situations; I try to still live and experience new things/new and interesting people. I don’t have a silver bullet.  I only have me. And the truth is I’m not always sunshine and lollipops. I still get sad, and when I do I get a tissue, and I start over again.

To my friends and family (and new/amazing acquaintances), and of course the Phalanx: Thank you for continuing to help me walk through this world. I love you more than you’ll know (because I’m apparently keeping that a secret? Who says “more than you’ll know”? Why is that a saying?) Bah, you’ll know how much, because I say I love you in awkward ways that make you feel uncomfortable, so suck it up.

You’re welcome!

Mr. Illiterate Wrong Tracks and His Jolly Dr. Pepper Spam-Eating Bride: An Autobiography

When I started this blog some 9 years ago (good grief) the main goal was to practice writing. If I could somehow amuse my family and friends then that was a bonus.  If I could force them to continue to read without amusing them (as I’ve managed to do), then that was like a super double bonus plus! Go loyalty! The focus or theme or what have you was to write-up anecdotes using the style I’ve always used – the “style” (I really feel that needs some air-quotes) being how I tend to write letters (now emails) to friends.  I’m all over the place – like this paragraph.  They never minded that bit, seemed to encourage it at times, “you write like you speak,” and thus you suffer. Shake your head at them.

I’ve been waiting for a good anecdote to share, but unfortunately an interesting one hasn’t really risen up.  I suspect it’s because I travel in the wrong circles.  That’s right friends, I’m calling you out – you and your clear lack of “right” circle-ness. There’s a geometry joke in there.  Ok, sure there was the one guy at the Humane Society last week.  His fit-pitching was fairly epic as I waited patiently(ish) to ask about a fluffy sole who was clearly calling to me behind the glass, but again not much of a story since I walked out without being helped. His fit had reached a new exciting blend of frustration and confusion over some fairly simple rules. (For the record, Humane Society rules are just not that hard, guy! You don’t have a permanent place for a cat.  One day you will, but that’s not today.)  I also managed to smash a joint on my thumb on the same day.  I keep insisting it’s purple and at least five times bigger than it was earlier in the day only to be asked by these so-called friends while comparing the thumbs side-by-side, “which thumb is it?” Uh, the big purple one!  (It’s purple on the inside?)  It still smarts – probably nerve damage.  It will likely have to be removed. Sadly, it happens to be the thumb I hit the space bar with. Soon my writing will be devoid of spaces.  Iapologizeinadvance.

So, in light of this writing lull and to keep practicing (because after 9 years there hasn’t been any noticeable progress)  I’ve resolved to write an autobiography of sorts.  I know, right?  Some of history’s most famous and infamous people have them and now we can add famous, infamous and Beth. It’s a literary milestone.

I’ll start off slow.  I don’t want to completely overwhelm you with the life and times of the lower middle-class all at once – the adventures of a monolingual speaker who has barely escaped the borders of their state much less the country.  Hey, there was that time I went to Canada.  Boy, talk about culture shock! Loonies and toonies – where do they come up with that stuff?

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (So I’m reminded in song.)

They claim this is a photo of me, but really it could be anyone. Parents, just because you wrote my name on the back doesn’t prove anything. I’m watching you!

I was born.  At least that’s what I’ve been told, and as proof I’ve been presented various papers and a book with a few photos documenting the event.  It’s all rather convenient and a bit suspicious if you ask me. Some of the photos show these youthful kidults who I can confirm did grow up to be my parents. They look a bit tired in the earlier pictures. I’m told they remained that way for approximately 18 years and then something inexplicable happened that made them look and feel lighter. I’ve never been able to identify precisely what changed, but it must have been fairly important.  Although, I admit I’ve seen the weight return over the years, which oddly corresponded with some big things in my life. Must be some sort of weird symbiotic thing.

Both of my parents were from Dallas.  Mom from Highland Park and Dad from South Oak Cliff.  If you’re familiar with Dallas, you understand the significance.  If you’re not, then to sum it up – Mom was born on the right side of the tracks (in fact those tracks aren’t even Dallas tracks, they’re tracks in their own city within Dallas) and Dad was born on the very wrong side of the tracks.  I later learned that many of Dad’s (and his family’s) numerous shortcomings had to do with his tracks (those shortcomings multiplied x10 each year post their divorce). I learned from Dad that people from the right side of the tracks (aka “your mother”) tended to marinate Spam in a lovely Dr. Pepper based sauce.  Dad wasn’t particularly good at lobbing insults.

I’m not really sure what initially drew them together.  Mom would say she thought Dad was smart, but was proven wrong; he was only social climbing – tricked her by claiming to read books. Clever guy! Dad said something along the lines of Mom was really nice and fun.  Bless his heart.

I’m personally from a trailer park in West Dallas.  Well, that’s probably not true.  My parents were both attending school when I was born, and I’m told we lived in Arlington.  There are more pictures that they claim  prove we lived there, but we could be any place, and I find these people somewhat sketchy.  I mean can you really trust Mr. Illiterate Wrong Tracks and his Jolly Dr. Pepper Spam-eating bride? (Just think, I am the product of that union; it actually  explains so much about my personality and my humor???)

Quick disclaimer to stop any gasping: I absolutely would tease my parents in this way.  In fact, I’m teasing Dad now.  Dad, you’re welcome!  To post a retort, I guess you’ll need to work on that new blog of yours.  Now you have incentive. You’re welcome, part two.

Next up, the trailer park! (In other words, I’m cutting this short and giving you a small reprieve.  There’s only so much “me” one should be forced to sit through in one day.)  And I’ll leave you with a little Julie Andrews, because I stupidly got this song stuck in my head where it is now firmly lodged.  I only have myself to blame.

A Rose by Any Other Name

My question to the group was fairly straight forward, “Has there been a proven Y-DNA link between my ancestor and a certain ill-tempered curmudgeon on the Mayflower?” I’ve been told by several people that one exists, but when I start asking for the proof what I get in return is anecdotal. One of the big family tree lessons I’ve learned from digging around on Ancestry.com is that among the good information there is a such an amazing ton of bad information, so take all information with a big grain of salt. Unfortunately, in large part thanks to the internet, the bad information easily and quite quickly hops from family tree to family tree with ease.  All you need to do is press a button.  One of my favorite examples involves my 3rd great grandmother having my great-great grandfather at the age of one according to several trees.  Think what you will about my family, I’m 99.9% (leaving that .1% to account for physiological wackiness) certain that my 3rd great grandmother wasn’t having children quite that young.

In this particular email to this group who all share my last name, I threw in a little “P.S.” asking, “Out of curiosity, how do you pronounce our last name?”  I might as well have made that the subject of the email and posted it in big, bold, capital letters, because while i got a few “no one is quite sure about your Y-DNA question and the Mayflower Association will not accept DNA evidence as proof of descent” everyone else immediately jumped on the pronunciation thing.

So, basically this past Friday night I unwittingly started a small family war.

You see, the first part of my name is “Dough”. I pronounce it the way it looks, like dough or doe. A few people chimed in with “no, it’s like ‘dow’”, or “no, it’s more like ‘dah’”. Then came the proclamations: “We here in Ohio say it…!!” or “Well, in the northeast we say…!”  This was followed by a quick shot across the bow, “oh, so when you make bread, do you make it with dow?”  They added a little wicked emoticon smiley face to soften the impact, but that comment was met with a picture of and recipe for pandowdy to strengthen the dow/food claim.  Touché, mon frère. touché! Points to the chef!

There was a brief intermission of kvetching about people adding “er’s” to our name and some general fussing about the difficulty in trying to get people to pronounce correctly.  A friend of mine suffers from a similar issue with her first name.  The issue being you pronounce your name and the person you’re speaking with repeats it back with an entirely different pronunciation despite having just heard the correct version.  In my friend’s case, her name is Anna, but when she introduces herself as Anna more often than not the person she’s speaking with changes it to Anna. You easily see her dilemma and frustration.  (Yes, sometimes I’m difficult on purpose.)

My whole Y-DNA question was drowned out by “o” and “ow” sounds..

That’s when my favorite part of this discussion appeared (although “do you make your bread with dow” is easily my second favorite).  It began with “there’s a street in London with that same name, maybe we should find out how they say it” to which a gentleman from the UK stepped up and boldly claimed, “the correct pronunciation is ‘dow’”.  Now the use of the word “correct” would be enough to send both of my eyebrows skyward, but what edged his response up to the very top as a true favorite was a truly delightful paragraph about the history of language   My favorite line being one where the author carefully explained to the American dullards what was meant by the tern “18th century” with an “or as you would say” for the rest of us who couldn’t keep up with that fancy “18th century” talk. Whoa! Easy there feller.  You’re saying 1850 isn’t in the 18th century?  But they both have the number 18 in them!!! MIND BLOWN!  He also added that the 1700’s really only covers 1700-1709, a statement with which I would tend to disagree, but hey I’m American like that – fat, loud, simple and wielding a gun just like everyone else I know, bless my heart. This fellow then followed with another fun bit that basically stated, “the reason you pronounce it incorrectly is likely because you’re making a faulty assumption about the origins of your name.”

A short note followed from another fellow in the UK asking, “what do the English know? In Scotland and Ireland they say ‘dough’” followed by even more winky smiley emoticons. 🙂 😉 😛

Half a day went by without any further response while the Americans were undoubtedly using the time to take careful notes about the whole “century” thing. “Ok, so if 1700-1799 is the 18th century, then that would mean… Holy cow! It’s all coming together now.”  And just when I thought we’d spend the rest of the weekend contemplating these latest revelations, Braden from Ohio stepped in to give his own take on the history of language, as well as a general history of the name. Then all hell broke loose as Braden went all haplogroup and Y-DNA on the guy. Oh snap! History/Science nerd smack-down DNA style!  The gist of what he said, since it was a rather long and detailed email,  had to do with discussing the moment in history when spelling became more standardized.  He used the aforementioned haplogroup to shed doubt as to whether we Americans, who share that name, have actual ties to those similarly named in England since apparently it’s an uncommon haplogroup for the area.  To finish off, he cited anecdotal evidence based on his own UK travels of places he found where folks, when presented with the spelling, pronounced our “dough” as “doe” to prove that even in the UK there’s not necessarily one “correct” accepted pronunciation.  I nearly sent Braden a “Bravo! Well said!” email, but decided to hold off.

As of this morning, the “dough” battle rages on ignited by my simple question.

My take on the whole thing, history and haplogroups aside, is that the “right” way to say your own name is the way you pronounce it.

Ancestry

It started out as a little thing.  I had heard of National Geographic’s Genographic Project through an acquaintance. The project focused (and continues to focus, there’s now a 2.0 version) on deep ancestry from an anthropological perspective and how people began to  populate the earth.  It traces DNA migration patterns using genetic mutations to follow our ancient ancestors’ path.  For my part, they only needed me to gently swab my cheek and in exchange I would learn about my mother’s family’s migration path from Africa across Asia and Europe.  Mitochondrial Eve + me? I was in!

When the kit arrived the suggestion to “gently swab” went out the door and became “enthusiastically remove your inner cheek.”  Hey, I wasn’t about to risk the chance that National Geographic wouldn’t have enough material to work with, and so I spit half of my inner face into a nice accommodating tube, only pausing a moment to admire the grossness of it all.  Then I sealed the tube, stuffed it into a padded mailer and sent my oral bio-hazard whizzing through our mail system  A few weeks later an email arrived saying something cheerful like, “Hello, K23719! (they don’t have your name on file and well, this isn’t my number, but you get the idea) Please push the magic link below for cool pictures and info about the migration of your mtDNA.”  I pushed knowing I’d finally see beyond the “… and then they left Roanoke and headed to Atlanta where they eventually cursed Sherman,” and I wasn’t disappointed. I learned my mother’s line belonged to Haplogroup U4.

Here’s a brief snippet from Wikipedia:

Haplogroup U4 has its origin in the Upper Palaeolithic, dating to approximately 25,000 years ago and has been implicated in the expansion of modern humans into Europe occurring before the Last Glacial Maximum U4 is an ancient mitochondrial haplogroup and is relatively rare in modern populations. U4 is found in Europe with highest concentrations in Scandinavia and the Baltic states and is also associated with the remnants of ancient European hunting-gatherers preserved in the indigenous populations of Siberia.U4 is found in Nganasans the indigenous inhabitants of the Taimyr Peninsula, in the Mansi (16.3%) an endangered people, and in the Ket people (28.9%) of the Yenisey River. U4 is also preserved in the Kalash people a unique tribe among the Indo-Aryan peoples of Pakistan (current population size 3,700)[39] where it attains its highest frequency of 34%.

Now, where I don’t quite get all of the science behind this, I do get enough of it that I find the information absolutely fascinating.  And every few weeks when another U4 person uploads their results, Family Tree DNA sends me an email notifying me that there’s another one of my clan members romping about. I mentally fist bump them.

Sometime after I received my National Geographic results, I regained my interest in our family tree and began playing around with it. I cleaned up (deleted the whole thing and started fresh) what I had and managed to add some new, better researched, branches into my Family Tree Maker application.  At the same time, I started poking Find A Grave, where I got lost for a bit then re-emerged with even more great family information. The best find from Find A Grave was my 2nd cousin Carol.  We had a shared “that’s MY great-grandfather” moment followed by “who are you?”  Carol is amazing and while I don’t know her, I love her to death.  She talked me into doing two new things.  One was having my DNA tested through Ancestry.com, the other was taking those results and uploading them into GEDmatch.  She said both would match me up with other relatives (and they have).

Quick aside – in contacting these strangers (aka cousins) I’ve found through these sites, I’ve learned one thing.  As a whole, Mom’s relatives are extremely unhelpful and border on rude, whereas Dad’s relatives “people” are crazy helpful and know way more than I could ever hope to know about our tree and about DNA in general.  I mention this only because it would irk Mom to know this and that irkiness would be amusing.  Hey, it’s hard when you grow up on the right side of the tracks and have to hear the lowly peasant stock are kinder people.  Mom, I’m just sayin’…  There’s a particular pain-filled story with one of Mom’s people, but that’s for another time.  Suffice it to say I managed to not repeatedly beat my head against my desk which amounted to a huge, applause-worthy accomplishment on my part. Did I mention it was a very huge accomplishment? One of my immediate relatives who also talked to this person had a similar experience – in fact, we’re all lucky that several of us didn’t have self-inflicted concussions.

That leads me to the results.  The first thing I’ll show you are my Ancestry results.  I like them because they’re simple and well, kind of pretty. They’re also straight-forward.  I like those qualities: simple, kind of pretty and straight-forward, which is like “simple” but well it’s “straight forward” – you know what I’m saying.  The results are what I expected.  I’m very British, somewhat Irish and a mix of many other things which includes my U4-iness.

Like I said, it’s straight forward and pretty

Next up are several of the different ways I parsed up my DNA through GEDmatch.  Depending on which one you look at, I’m apparently a variety of Europeans, Baltic and what have you (an unidentified and rare group of misfits)) which we all could guess. But, if you poke around even more you’ll see I have Jewish ancestry (apparently from Germany), I’m part Pygmy (Jay, I’m looking forward to those jokes – no, really – for the record, that is not where my short legs came from), Amerindian (which, if I read that right is not necessarily American Indian, but possibly their pre-ice bridge walking cousins – who knows?), Oceanic, and Iranian.  Such a weird mix. I’ve told Jay I want a Pygmy figure wearing a yarmulke to represent my people.

Also comes with an assortment of lovely pie charts. I’m many-colored.

Here’s the thing, though.  The more I am on GEDmatch, the less I understand and while I find these charts fascinating, I don’t know what they really mean.  Where they say “North_Atlantic” did my people spring forth from the ocean? Are we talking Atlantis?  On one, the results say  I’m part pygmy, but in another it shows no pygmy.  Did my inner pygmy scamper off for that test?

And well sure, I can click on the links the PhD student who put these together provided, but their splatter charts make zero sense to me. It looks like someone took a chip brush, dipped it in paint and then fanned it across my screen while saying, “see, you get it now, right?” The 4 pt. font doesn’t help either, for the record..

I read a comparison of the different DNA test information today. It looked at Ancestry, GEDmatch and 23andme and it basically seemed to say “Ancestry is for stupid people while these others are for those who are technical.”  This may be the first time I’ve felt extremely untechnical (stupid) as I look at chromosome strings and try to figure out how one of my mother’s cousins has no shared “X” DNA with me, but comes up as a match.

My relatives. I’m related to these people how? You should see the chromosome strings. 😦

Kudos to my Dad’s “people” who have tried to help with, “ok Beth, here’s an excel spreadsheet.  The strings tell you the family lines and the…” What?  My brain just cannot wrap around it.  I feel I may be doomed to Ancestry and the pretty, yet simple pictures. Hey, I’m 75% British!  Am I Welsh? Scottish? Who knows?

I suppose “pretty” is good too, right?