Shaking the Branches

Originally posted: 4/6/2014 – not sure why it re-posted in 2017.

Sooo… I haven’t received the response I hoped for in my family tree search or really any response and it occurred to me, I have a blog. Then another thought occurred to me, search engines index blogs (and well, the whole internet). I know this because I am one of the top spots for people who hate Houston. Again, Houston haters, I don’t actually hate Houston. SPOILER ALERT: the post was really to address a friend who had told another friend, “Beth hates Houston”. Sure you had to read between the lines, but there you have it. Anyway, back to the indexing and my thought pattern. My final thought, a lot of genealogists use the internet to research their families. Since there is a fee associated with, which to me is 100% worth it, some researchers don’t have the resources or simply haven’t chosen to invest in that particular tool.

I have been lucky on my quest for information, as least on my Dad’s side of the family. I have met two amazing cousins who I never would have known if I hadn’t been doing genealogy research. One on my Dad’s father’s side, whose every email brings a gigantic smile to my face. She is truly the best treasure to have come out of shaking the branches of my family tree. The other cousin is on my Dad’s mother’s side where she is just waiting for me to start working on that branch so she can share all she knows. Through both of them, I’ve received stories I’ve never heard and seen pictures I’ve never seen. It’s amazing! The experience has made me quite giddy.

My mother’s side is a different story until I get back to my great-great-great grandfather and talk to the descendants of my great-great grandmother’s half siblings’ descendants – truly lovely people who are exactly where I am when it comes to the giant gap in their trees between this common ancestor of ours and me. We don’t have stories or photos or in some cases full names.

This brings me back to internet searches. I’m going to go ahead and list the people I’m searching for in the hopes someone will take a chance that I am not an internet stalker or identity thief or whatever nefarious thing they might think when I ask “can you tell me my great-grandmother’s full name?”

I actually want this to stand out, so I am going to put all of this in the post that follows.

UPDATE: Since this post moved, the “post that follows” no longer follows it, so here is a link to that call-out of relatives: Calling All Swinsons



As I sat in LAX on July 9th I thought about how I finally had a few adventures to share on my blog. I had tales of being an extra on a set in LA – I would talk about the glamor of sitting outside in a tent for three straight days with 200 other people.  Tales of brown bag lunches with mayo packets that shot out this clear yellow stuff.  Share stories of crazed super fans name dropping their stalker-y hearts out while making me feel shame for possibly being a fan-girl poser.  I was also really looking forward to coming home. I’d called my husband the afternoon before my flight whimpering that I was exhausted, and just wanted to come home. You see, I adore my husband and being away from him for five days was a bit much.  I was looking forward to sharing my adventures with him, and showing him my ridiculous pictures – “look, Myrna Loy’s footprint!”.

Instead of Jay picking me up at the airport as planned, I got a ride with our local police department who took me to my home which was now covered in police tape.  Officers stood on my driveway while a victims services team waited for me.  I cannot possibly describe in adequate words just how absolutely horrific that was.  I had lost my husband, my best friend, and my favorite person.

I wish I could describe him in a way that everyone would understand just how amazing he was, but again words fail me – they’re strings of adjectives trailing after him, flitting to and fro unable to paint a complete picture. He was my world.

What I can tell you is he was beautiful, smart, kind, funny, and clever.

I remember sitting with him on a curb outside of his office talking about how bad my world had become.  He told me to throw out all of the extraneous things and boil down what was really bothering me – that once I got rid of all the fluff, I could begin to focus on the real issue. That conversation led me to the realization that I needed to make some huge life changes, and one of those was to be with him.  That was nearly 17 years ago, and it is still the best decision I’ve ever made.

We never argued – no raised voices, no knockdown drag out fights. We’re both pretty easy going, Jay more so than me – both laid back sorts, which isn’t to say we were never disappointed or frustrated, but where I’d work out my issues by launching into super house cleaning mode, Jay would become more quiet, and at the end of the day we’d work whatever we were frustrated about out.

Every night Jay would tuck me in, and wait for me to fall asleep.  I can’t begin to tell you how hard sleeping has become after 17 years of having someone sit with you, and talk to you every night. The house is suddenly too quiet.  As a night owl, he’d almost always be awake if I woke up late at night, and he’d answer the most ridiculous questions I’d have that had suddenly perplexed me keeping me from sleep – usually basic physics questions about how the universe worked (I’m more a biology/physiology/anatomy kind of girl).

Every day, several times a day, he’d tell me he loved me and we’d thank each other, “thank you for being with me.” That’s not an exaggeration.  It was important to me (I think I can say “us” here) that we always let each other know how much we cared – how lucky we felt to have found one another. I was looking at a card on my desk at work yesterday – one that had once accompanied a bunch of flowers on our anniversary which simply read, “I love you! Thank you for being with me!” I still have an email from Jay in my inbox which has this animated, ridiculous looking red blob that blows heart kisses. Suddenly, it’s the most important email I have.

I loved being with Jay and always knowing I had made the right choice all those years ago.  

Jay_KawasakiNow I’m adrift left without the one person who could tolerate my craziness, laugh at my jokes, calm me down – the one that made me feel lovable – that made me ok in this world when I’d tell him how lonely I sometimes feel.  The person I could go to on a bad day, and he’d listen patiently.  The person I could go to on a good day, and I could make him laugh. The one who was just as nerdy as me. The one who was a thousand times smarter and would patiently and thoughtfully explain things.

I never expected nor wanted to write his eulogy.

During this hard time, there have been a lot of people who have helped out. I want to offer my gratitude to Restoration Covenant Church who donated their beautiful space for Jay’s memorial service – to Jay’s Aunt Marsha for driving from Georgia to deliver a beautiful service – to all of my relatives who, despite their personal grief, came out to help and support me, thank you for sitting with me for hours and sharing your love for Jay and your stories about him – to my brother-in-law Dale who I cannot begin to thank enough for everything (you’re my favorite and best babysitter/handyman – also, thank you for standing up and telling a story about him at the memorial) – to Aunt Philis and Kim for finding the space for the memorial and making it so beautiful –  to all of my friends for your words of support, your wee hour visits, your personal sacrifices to make sure I’m ok, and all of that food (good grief) – to Officer O’Neil for skillfully keeping me calm in a bad situation – and of course to the good neighbors.  I’m lucky to have all of you in my life; you’re all amazing, and I love each and every one of you.

Of course, a few people have said some inappropriate things, too – things that made my stomach flip, so a thank you to all of the relatives and friends who offered to help hide their bodies. 🙂 You are truly the best.

One day I may tell all of my goofy LA stories, but for now I’m missing my favorite person, and not having him around breaks my heart. I will miss him for a long time to come.  Boy, thank you for being with me.  I love you!

A poem read at the service:

Gone From My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,

spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts

for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck

of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”

there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices

ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying…

— Henry Van Dyke

Another Gym Update

I know, I know, you were hoping I’d give an update on the gym. You probably looked at your computer just this morning and offered up a silent prayer, “let today be the day Beth updates me on the gym.” Well, here it is – the long anticipated (sometimes known as “not anticipated at all, oh dear God, I hope she doesn’t ask if I read it”) gym update.

I may have mentioned (“may” because I’m not going to re-read my first gym post – I’m like you, I don’t want to read my stuff either) that initially going to the gym was intimidating. I’m a big girl. A big girl who had done research on gyms by Googling things like “best gym for fat people,” which gave results that showed exactly how disgusted (and vocal) some people were when it came to obese people at the gym. Those Google results quickly ended my search/desire to join a gym for a couple of years. I didn’t want to be the fat girl people would sneer at for having waited too long to address my issue. Thankfully, and with the help of a co-worker, I got over that. (Well, over it enough that I can continue to go to the gym and not worry about what everyone else is thinking (on most days)). I’m told, I’m not actually at the forefront of everyone’s minds when I enter a room. My take away is: I need to step-up my entrances, clearly they’re too bland.

I’m now on seven months of regularly going to the gym. I go five days a week before work. I was that person who was there on Thanksgiving Day, and I would have been there Christmas morning, but I was told that gym folks like their holidays, too. I can count on one hand the number of days I’ve missed, and those have mostly been due to things like holidays or that time I had a cold, and figured it would be kind not to gross the gym universe out or spread germs. I’m now stronger. I’m slightly smaller; however, that said, I have a long ways to go. I have bad habits that still need to be addressed. Hey, I didn’t get here by snacking on jicama and lettuce leaves. Who knows, in a couple of years I may post before and after photos where you can say, “I definitely see a difference” versus if I were to post them now and you’d be left with, “Is this the before? Or is this is the after? Before? Or after? I think I see it. I mean yeah, I totally see it. Ummm… How about those Longhorns? Huh?”

My one gym regret is I didn’t start sooner. Oh, and that I allowed the negative posts to impact me in the way they did. I really let them get in my head. (Truth be told, they’re still in my head. They’re just a little more muted.) That held me back far too long. In fact, when I find myself getting too worked up about it, which happens less and less frequently, I take a note from my trainer – I look around the room and ask myself, “are there people in better shape than you?” Of course. “Are there people in worse shape?” Well, now that I’ve opened my eyes a bit, yes. “You’re not the best nor are you the worst, you’re just one person among many who is working on themselves.”

If I could magically go back in time, I’d show myself all the support I continuously received. The times I’m wearing my Flash t-shirt (because I’m really fast – no wait, I think it’s because I love irony) and Debbie (because now I have gym friends) has shouted, “GOOD MORNING, GORGEOUS!!! You’re looking great!” The times I’ve had trainers stop me and say, “you’re doing so good; I’m impressed with how hard you work. Keep it up!” The times I’ve had people stop me and ask about my routine and my training. In fact recently a woman came up and said, “hi, my friend and I have been watching you to get ideas about how to improve our workout, and I wanted to stop by and tell you that you’re an inspiration.” I was literally blown away. Me? An inspiration? She didn’t seem drunk and there wasn’t any obvious snickering. I was so taken aback and flattered; I think I smiled all day. I had one woman tell her trainer while pointing at me, “I want to be like her.” I was covered in sweat, hair plastered to my face  (in other words looking gorgeous) doing my chipper (an evil thing). “She’s always has a smile on her face and is happy to be here.” I tried to explain, between stepping up on a stool and wheezing “I’m an idiot, I actually don’t know any better,” but inside I thought how cool it was that I could present a cheerful image, one that people aspired to be more like, while simultaneously wanting to face plant on the mat. Clearly, I’m a multi-tasker with a big, goofy grin on my face!

Maybe I’m just lucky, but I’ve truly met some of the nicest, kindest, and most encouraging people at the gym who keep me going – whom I look forward to seeing each weekday. The intimidating horror show I had braced myself for turned out to be a welcoming environment. And I want to put my post out there for anyone who is overweight, and has concerns about being judged when they walk through that door. The gym can actually be an inviting place, and the longer you go and become familiar with it and the regulars, the more you’ll find it can be a place filled with encouragement, friendship, and even inspiration. There are definitely gyms out there that are designed for people who are pretty hardcore, and there will always be judgmental people, but there are also just as many gyms, if not more, that cater to a broader range of body types/abilities – with people just like you. Walk in, walk around, and then really look at everyone there. You’ll likely find you’re not alone.

(I type these warm thoughts while simultaneously thinking, “I will cut that couple tomorrow if they hog the rowing machines again.”  Realizing “cut” in Beth is really “seriously stink-eye” while muttering fussily, “oh, come on!!!” Hey, the gym can be a fairly cut-throat place and the rowing machines are prime real estate at 5:30am on a Monday. Also, it turns out your trainer will not beat up row machine hogs.  She claims it’s not a thing. Hmph.)

In the Land of Cotton (or Clay)

My family is Southern. I’ve tried and tried to start this story without a declaration, but there you have it; I’m at it again. My family is Southern. They hail from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, but mostly Georgia and Alabama. I’m sure some slipped into Mississippi and Louisiana along the way, but if they did, they didn’t stay long as they made their way to Texas or they were disowned. Who’s to say? (Yes, there’s a Southern hierarchy and no, we’re not even going to talk about Arkansas.)

In researching my family and chasing down all the branches, twigs and stumps, I found I couldn’t hit the early 1860’s without discovering every able-bodied male – every “great” (from grandfathers to uncles) fought for the South in the Civil War. It would be more challenging for me to find someone between 14-60 who didn’t. I have relatives who were injured at Shiloh after their regiment was nearly cut down to the man, relatives at almost nearly every major engagement, and then a relative who died at Ft. Delaware as a POW. After the war, there was a great who named his son John Wilkes Booth (+ the family last name) and then I see John Wilkes ooth went on to name his own son John Wilkes Booth, Jr. I believe there’s even a III. I guess the song “Let it Go” hadn’t hit the charts then. Needless to say, I cringe a lot when I do my research, and each time I come across the JWB’s anew, I cringe like it was the first time. (Then I announce it to my husband like it’s new news and usually get, “you’ve told me that before”. “Oh? Well, can you believe it? John Wilkes Booth?!?” Then I let time slip by so I can repeat it again.)

With relatives from Atlanta, I’ve grown up with stories like the time the Union soldier approached my great-great grandfather as a boy and asked him about the shoes he was so proud of. My great-great took those shoes off to show him and the union soldier dumped them down a well. Then there was the time that Sherman took over one of our family’s homes and marred the wooden secretary as he wrote out his orders before burning Atlanta. That secretary is still in the family. To the older Atlanta relatives, Gen. Sherman wasn’t just Sharman, he was Sherman and a little spit – like that was his full name. Gen. Sherman Patooey, and you could only mutter or growl it out. I can use scalawag correctly in a sentence. FYI, it’s also followed by a patooey when correctly used. Various members of my family had slaves (just like Ben Affleck’s family only a Sony leak isn’t how you’re finding out, and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.’s job isn’t on the line because of it – great job there, Ben). I can’t answer to this other than to say it bothers me to the core, because I want to believe my family stood up and said, “this is wrong, this is unjust,” but the truth is they didn’t. They named their kids “John Wilkes Booth.”

But, let me stop here a sec and make the declaration that I’m not Southern, I’m a Texan, and more importantly, I’m a US citizen. Which brings me to this weekend. We have a family cemetery and church out in East Texas; it’s well into the piney woods where the earth becomes a soft red clay. (Not the most ideal earth to bury someone in, but hey… it’s what we got.) Every year, for decades and decades long before I was around, the families have come together over Memorial Day (and Labor Day, but that stopped who knows when) to clean up the graveyard, which used to just be dirt. We’ve got grass now! At these events there’s usually a ceremony of some sort to talk about cemetery business, then there’s sometimes a raising of a flag while music is piped through a tin-y sounding speaker system, there’s often a speech or two (sometimes by the more upstanding family members like that one gal who was a dentist) and then we can get to the real business – the potluck. While it’s a bit amateurish, it has its own charm and it brings us together. I expected this year someone would raise the US flag, we’d recite the Pledge of Allegiance, talk about the upkeep of the grounds and then, you know, get to the food bit. I’d at some point brave the port-a-potty and then swear off of it, trying not to take in any liquids for the remainder of the hot day. (Hey, it’s at least better than the outhouse, which is also available.) You know, the usual Memorial weekend day routine. Then this happened..

The Battle Flag of Northern Virginia, one of the Confederate Flags and most commonly associated with the Confederacy.


and that’s when my jaw hit the floor. I was gobsmacked, because “gobsmacked” is the best way to describe my reaction. Oh, Dorothy, we’re out of Kansas, girl. This isn’t the same ol’ Star Spangled Banner, saluting the flag of yore.

The Black Roses (part of the Daughters of the Confederacy) in the Texas heat and humidity (you may have heard we got a little rain recently)

Black Rose bowing to the grave of one of the soldiers.

Now let me back up and say that I think it’s wrong to not honor and recognize Confederate soldiers. They fought, bled and died for what they believed was right at the time. But I can’t deny how uncomfortable I felt nor how that feeling skyrocketed after we were asked to honor the Confederate Flag after we had pledged allegiance to the US flag and the Texas flag (hey, I’m a Crockett). At “now face the confederate flag” my hands dropped to my side and I stared at the reenactor. I’m never saying, “…and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands.” Maybe I’m taking it too seriously (I have that habit, ask my friends; I’m the unfun one), but to me you get into this funny little grey area where you’re pushing treason. Did I mention I’m not Southern, I’m Texan (and that’s only on days when our governor isn’t threatening to secede or you know, openly talking about how we’re all going to be round up into Wal-Mart detention centers). Still, this gal broke into Dixie and started doing a little dance when she picked up the tempo and all of what I see as craziness became “the best cemetery clean-up day ever”. And they did honor the three Confederate veterans with a 21 muzzle loading gun salute who did fight the fight they felt was just.

21 Gun Salute

But holy cow!

A photo, because I just liked him best…

(Complete aside – I posted one of the photos on Facebook with the comment “So, this just happened”  to comment on the surreal nature of the event, and immediately one of my cousins responded with the best line, “OMG. There is grass.”  Which is truly one of the craziest things to be seen in the photo and made me burst out with laughter.)

Texas Proud

I’m a Texan. By all accounts (or just the more reliable ones) I’m a “proud Texan”.  I was born here, I was raised here, and if my lack of motivation and drive persists, I’ll die here.  I’m good with that.  As a Texan I was indoctrinated at an early age to love Texas – the good and the bad.  A bit like I love my momma, apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet.  Ok, I don’t actually care one way or the other about Chevrolet – I’m indifferent – that’s the word! They’re fine and all, I’m sure.  I mean no offense to anyone driving one.  Oh, and while we’re at it if we could turn apple pie to some sort of cobbler and maybe replace baseball with tennis, that would be swell.  Now the love of my Momma still stands, except let’s call her “Mom” or “Mother”, that would be more fitting.  Whew.  Got all of that out of the way.  I love Mom, peach cobber, tennis (if I have to pick one) and car companies ending in “a”. And Texas! Don’t forget Texas.

As a Texan, I get to defend Texas to my out-of-state friends more times than I’d care to.  Yes, in education we rank among the lowest, but many of us are fairly state-aware, despite what you were taught in whatever place you came from. And hey, we rank low in a lot of areas! TEXAS PROUD! We’re # (shoot, I don’t have that many hands)!

I feel like I’ve beaten this dead horse before, but let’s face it, I’m too lazy to link back to some post where I defended Texas.  It’s out there.  I’m sure my ire was up.  I probably typed a few sentences using heavy, angry keystrokes. No, I won’t link those two adjectives with a contraction, and I’m aware that I’ve now ended a few sentences with prepositions, but that’s how I’m rolling today. I’ll make 32 other egregious grammar errors before I get through this post.  Blame the Texas education system and a poor attitude.

Here’s the thing – Texas is my family.  I can pick on it, but God forbid someone outside of it start – thems fightin’ words.  Until last week…

Normally, I don’t like to get into my politics on my blog.  I ust like to throw random anecdotes at you until you cry for mercy. Those cries herald an extended blogging sabbatical while I wait for the next thing to inspire me.  Normally, I shrug off what comes across the national news about my state.  It’s rarely good. It’s never an “atta boy, Texas” with no trace of sarcasm. Normally, I don’t cringe.  Did I mention, “until last week”?

Let’s talk about Operation Jade Helm 15. You know that thing where Obama was planning to come to Texas to institute martial law.  I think we were going to be rounded up into Wal-Marts and then who knows what would happen next.  That story.  The one where Governor Abbott sent the Texas National Guard to keep an eye on the US military.  State officials from both sides of our state government sent the Governor notes basically saying, “what the…?” This played out in the media for a bit.  Towards the end of last week we were notified by Gov. Abbott that he’d been briefed by the Pentagon and he now felt assured we Texans were not in peril.  Whew! I’m not a huge fan of Wal-Mart.  Bullet dodged!

I was gobsmacked..

I can handle being called out for my drawl.  I can even handle my out-of-state friends being stunned that some Texans have had book learnin’ and can keep our drool from spilling down the front of our shirts.  But this… this… I’m at a complete loss of words.

So, where I normally would avoid politics and in turn avoid posting other people’s thoughts on politics, I felt I had to be called away from couch sabbatical and post something – sometimes – other people’s words – people who are better at expressing themselves about this lunacy than I.

Strong Language Warning:

From the Stonekettle Station Blog:”Jade Helm: The Insanity that Ate Texas”

“Paranoia is a mental Illness, not a super power.”

And Jon Stewart, who is always brilliant:  You can start at 4:45 if you just want to cut to the Jade Helm chase.

I’m such a proud Texan….

The Commercial

Last September our little gang got together to hang out and goof around (I mean work hard and shoot a few commercials). Our friends Janet and Steve had recently opened up a computer repair shop in their town and had asked all of us  (Richard, Topping and myself) to write a few commercials.  We all ran off and started typing away.  I came back with this vague idea of a Fox and Mulder (X-Files) or Sam and Dean (Supernatural) bumbling detectives spoof – where sadly technology always gets destroyed in one way or the other.  There’s actually a series of these featuring our head slapping heroes and our favorite cackling bad guys (unshot – but they live on in MY MIND!).  I was able to wrangle my friend Jonathan (the James Franco to my Seth Rogen? The Bruce Campbell to my Sam Raimi? (I flatter myself, go on me)) involved and then managed to trick several of the cast from our Batshyt Crazy puppet gang to come and play, too. HOORAY!

It will never air anywhere except my video feed, but it makes me happy. Plus, I have a running Hutto gag in all of my sketches, so the fact this was actually in Hutto and my actors say “Hutto” makes my heart dance.

From the director’s commentary on the never-to-be-released, because it would be less than a minute long DVD, and well, that seems kind of silly to make a DVD that short:  One of the best parts for me when I’m pulling together a shoot and creating my prop list is to add ridiculous things that you may or may not see in the scene.  There are a few here (not all of them were caught on camera).  However, some you can see live behind our intrepid detectives.  The “most wanted” pictures are made up of pictures of several cast,and crew members who worked on all of the commercials (there are four). Oh yeah, before i get shanked, some very dangerous puppets are also up there. (Of course, to see them in their commercial acting debut our folks need to get to editing and posting for the world.  This is a hint, people!)

As always a huge thanks to everyone who works for food and agrees to be part of my goofiness.