June’s Wrap

Looking back at June in terms of the whole “trying new things” objective, I see a real mixed bag from new restaurants to new people to new experiences, (which incidentally did not include Edinburgh, Scotland; Wellington, New Zealand; Chicago, IL; or even Franklin, TX (YOU CAN PET A BABY OTTER THERE!!!!! It squeaks and nibbles fingers (aka “has a taste for human flesh! But that’s ok, because OMG BABY OTTER) I’ve seen the video!)). So the new things in June remained fairly local.

I’m going to detail them while also recognizing that reading them might come off like reading someone’s favorite grocery list. “And on Tuesday, I bought organic fruits, then I went down the aisles in a completely different order. I saved produce until the end!! I KNOW!!!! Really stretching my wings!” In other words: bear with, you little trooper. (Oh, and huge thanks if you’re going to daringly press forward and continue to read more of this. If you don’t, no worries. Your only take away should be: Beth did some more stuff.)

Axes, Polvos & 2:30 AM

I threw axes! Only this time it was on a shorter course, which really had no noticeable effect on my “skill” level; it’s still terrible. However, the video taken of me throwing said axe happened to show one of the maybe three times I stuck the axe into the back wall. Who cares that it’s nowhere near the bullseye or even the painted-on target, I stuck it IN A WALL! AND… it happened to be the wall I was aiming at (GO ME!!). I am a mighty axe thrower not to be reckoned with. (Or maybe avoid reckoning with me if I happen to be wielding an axe; there’s a 1 in maybe 50… 100… 135 chance that I might hit you. I’m like “stormtrooper with an axe” bad. Hrmm… maybe stormtroopers should have really given axes a shot? Imagine how that would have changed the movies.) Anyway… that’s the best way to describe the odds that the blade-y bit might actually take purchase; I could definitely hit you with any other part of the axe, though. Err… that sounds menacing. I don’t actually want to throw axes at people or particularly you. You don’t deserve it. You’ve lived a reasonably good life. Plus, you’re still reading this, and that would be plain bad manners to throw anything at you.

I tried a new beer, a blonde ale whose name I forget, which wasn’t particularly hoppy. (Hoppy is a bad thing for a beer to be if I’m sipping it.) I then went to Polvos Mexican Restaurant, which was fantastic, and I had a coconut margarita, which is maybe my new favorite type. Move over pineapple! I’d link the restaurant’s page here, but it’s really upsetting my antivirus software. Sooo maybe go for the food and stay off their website?

I also got home around 2 AM, which for a person who wakes up at 4 was crazy late for me, but the evening, for the conversation alone, was worth it. The axe throwing, the beer, the margarita, and the food just added to the delightful flavor of the evening. I want more evenings just like that.

Reunions and DNA

A cousin of ours always knew in her heart that her father wasn’t likely her actual birth father. So, a couple of years ago her daughter decided to have her mother’s DNA tested with the hopes of discovering a family they never knew. After over 70 years of wondering, the DNA results confirmed her suspicions. That’s when the family learned my father was her closest relative on her father’s side (predicted to be her 2nd cousin). Fast forward a bit to June 2019 when the two of them finally met; it was absolutely fantastic. I had previously met her son and daughter, but for this occasion, my Dad came into town and we met her son’s wife, their children, and his wonderful mom who had come to Texas from Chicago. They spent a day on the road just to meet us, and everyone was all smiles and laughs; it was truly a great day. Plus, I got a little bonus time with Dad. Don’t tell him, but I kind of adore him.

We have narrowed down the family line we share but still haven’t figured out who her dad is among the likely suspects. If any of you know Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and he owes you a favor, could you call that in on our behalf? Thank you in advance!

Y’know, people have asked why take a DNA test? It doesn’t change who you are. I understand where you’re coming from; however, my response is, “No, while it doesn’t change who I am, it does help give me insight into my family’s journey. It hints and teases at the paths they chose that ultimately led to me, and it has given me the opportunity to meet people I would have never known – people I’m glad to call family. From Bluesy to Carol to Rashann, Chianna, Francine and the rest of their amazing family, you’ve made my world bigger and better.

Swimming

I’m still doing it. My regular instructor returned, and she’s not as eager to bounce me up to the next level as the substitute teacher from a few weeks ago, which is a good thing. I still need to improve my pitiful stamina, but I continue to get better. Yesterday, we worked on treading – 30 seconds on, and 30 seconds off. She helped another student who is a bit uncomfortable in deeper water, then looked over and asked where I was, and if I was coming up on my 30-second break. I said, “I’m on four minutes.” I continued for an additional minute and decided to take a break, but I’m pretty certain I could have gone three more minutes without much struggle, which would get me to eight minutes. My goal is 15. Fifteen gets me into the actual row class.

For the record, my swim instructor leaves in July as she prepares for her first year of college. She’s adorable! I kind of love her, and love/appreciate her patience working with the elderly.

The Work Article

An article appeared in our office newsletter about “wellness,” which featured me and covered my intimate affair with the gym focusing on my various hardships (losing Jay, blowing out my ACL), and my love for my trainer. The article was sent out to thousands of employees, and the day it was officially published I received tons of emails cheering me on (one from a woman who is a rower at the club I want to take classes through; I may love her best), and some saying I inspired them. It was pretty fantastic. One question that stood out made me pause a bit: “How much can you lift?” All I could think to respond with was, “Which way? With what?” before I finally decided she either wanted to know about deadlifts or maybe how much I could throw over my head? or press? I gave her all the answers. I’m sure when I finished she thought, “Thank you, spectrum Beth; that was a lot of unnecessary information.” “You’re welcome, lady! Next, let me tell you about the weight I use for my tri-cep extensions. It’s equally unimpressive, but I think you’re going to dig it just the same. Why are you running away??? Come back!!!”

Let me just throw out here: I’m not a power lifter. World’s Strongest anything is not going to knock on my door EVER. I am also not in danger (or luck?) of having any protein powder company hunt me down. Damn. Throw a girl a bone here, people!

A Certification

In February I took a week-long class to prepare for a certification in my field. I then proceeded to spend the next few months piddling around instead of actually studying thanks to not really having a handle on how to approach the material. In my defense, there was (is) a lot to learn – a lot I didn’t have familiarity with. And let’s face it, one of my colleagues, in an attempt to be helpful, made me freak right on out. His mid-hallways pop quizzes were supposed to spur me on, “What the port for DHCP?” Dude, I don’t know. 23? 443? GO AWAY! “Have you read the book I recommended, yet?” You see, he had previously failed the test, but eventually passed it on his second attempt. At the time he decided to “encourage” me, he was our interim director – someone who is an expert in the subject at hand and a leader in the field. Actually, people failing seemed to be a theme. When I took the class, several of the people, who again had been in this field for years, admitted to having failed the test on their first attempt. *dramatic gulp* Clearly failure was kind of expected, and who was I to think I wasn’t on that same path? Plus, a failing grade on this test amounted to getting less than 83% of the questions correct. I’d have to basically make an 83.33 or higher to pass.

Also, something I perceived a hurdle was the fact that the minimum requirements to take the class are two years in this field. Well, I’m not “in” the field, I’m “near” the field. My only related experience was in networking and desktop support, which I hadn’t done in about 18 years ago – so, pretty recently? 😦

I didn’t meet the credentials to even sit in the classroom.

Thankfully, I knew I had until the end of August to take the exam, and as those weeks ticked away, the helpful colleague would appear with advice on how to approach it. The biggest piece was, “You need 45 days to thoroughly prepare.” So, imagine my surprise when the company who offered the class said, “End of August??? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Foolish girl. No, you’ll have it done by the end of June or we’ll potentially charge your company extra.” That gave me basically three weeks. Three weeks to read a book, three weeks to take practice quizzes, three weeks to do the labs, and three weeks to study volumes of material I didn’t know.

I made a plan: 1) Spend x number of hours after work and each weekend to study (that quickly blew apart as I’m a notoriously distracted monkey), and 2) prepare your supervisor for the failure. For the last part, I explained that I hadn’t put in the time, then I tried to put a positive spin on it by saying the test results would allow me to get a baseline of where I am and where I would need to focus for the next test. I tried to point out all the people who had failed that were in the field – people who had again been over our department. My supervisor, who is exceptionally understanding, responded with, “What you’re telling me is that my faith in you is misplaced?” Umm yes? no? maybe?

Let me speed up this story here so we can get to the end a little more quickly. You deserve that since you’ve stuck around this long. The test was Thursday, and I hadn’t put in the time. I hadn’t read the study guide. I hadn’t taken any of the labs, and I definitely hadn’t taken any of the practice tests. No, what I had done was make a 50-page study guide that I really dove into over only a few days. Then I walked into the testing center on Thursday armed with a couple of testing tips:

  • Save all scenario questions until the end, and
  • Only spend 25 seconds on any one question; people run out of time on this test

I had heavy-sighed at my boss the night before when he wished me luck, and I told myself it was ok to fail – professionals in the field had failed, and I had not put in the time. I promised myself ice cream for enduring the day. I promised to do better next time. I played “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons before exiting the car after “Party in the USA,” of course – HB, I had to!

The test started and, in an hour and a half, it was over. I watched the last seconds tick away. The results weren’t immediate; I had to enter demographic information: “I’m a lazy, not educated as much as I’d like, old, white gal.” They promised the results once I hit the “Submit” button on the demographics page. I sighed, reminded myself it was over, that it really hadn’t been as bad, but more than 83% was asking a lot – though again, the questions really weren’t the horror show I expected.

I hit “Submit”.

“You have passed.”

I stared at the screen, and tried to figure out if I had lost my ability to understand words. I read, then re-read, and re-read the words again. I was in complete shock. And that’s when a tear spilled down my cheek followed by some tear friends. I gathered my things and headed out of the room where the receptionist lifted a head and said, “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“You take your time. You see, I just passed the test, and I didn’t think I would, so I’m going to cry at your desk. I hope that’s ok.” She glanced up again, “congratulations,” then went back to what she was doing. And I cried quietly. Once I had my purse returned and the printout declaring that I’d passed, which I re-read multiple times just in case, I walked to the car and ugly cried – big, heaving sobs. I then texted the world starting with my boss who was in a meeting.

John’s Response

About an hour later, my boss got out of his meeting and called me.

John: Congratulations.
Me: Thank you.
John: Now apologize.
Me: … I’m ummm sorry?
John: Apologize for suggesting I had misplaced my faith in you.

Thank you, not just to John, but to the rest of you for continuing to believe in me when I don’t always believe in myself. I’m also thankful that my brain works the way it does (thanks DNA, thanks upbringing), and that I could approach this test the way I did and still pass. (Incidentally, I had 87% of the questions right. It’s not stellar, but it counts. A pass is a pass.) I’m now officially certified in my field, which helps open a few more doors.

Oh, and I did go and get ice cream. A promise is a promise.

That was my June. How was yours?

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?