31 December 2012

Goodbye, 2012

The dawn of a new year approaches, and it's time to say goodbye to the old.  As years go, 2012 was a pretty basic year with some ups and some downs and mostly a lot of average.  Still, as the old year passes, I'd like to tip my hat to it by recognizing ten of the more significant events which transpired during its course:

  1.  I lost a mother.  (God freed my 80 year-old-mother from her Parkinson's
       and dementia in April.)

  2.  I found a mother.  (I made contact with my birth mother a mere 47¾
       years after being given up for adoption.)

  3.  I lost 40 lbs.   (And by "lost," I mean "forcibly ejected from my person.")

  4.  I made new friends.  (Who are still willing to talk to me.)

  5.  I hung out with royalty.  (Which just means I'm cooler than you.)

  6.  I didn't break anything new.  (At least not on my body.)

  7.  I traveled.  A lot.  (I became a road warrior, and not just because I had to
       use public restrooms in 12 different states during my trips.)

  8.  Someone actually paid me to sing at a wedding.  (That'll teach 'em.)

  9.  I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  (Which contrarily
       won't let me use my very "period" real name for my persona, because it
       also happens to be the name of a historical royal person.  I can
       anachronistically sneak my iPhone to events and wear brassieres under my
       garb, but I can't anachronistically use my real, historically accurate name.
       Party poopers.  On the plus side, I've met a lot of cool people and can now
       do the Bayeux stitch, not fall over while attempting to bow [mostly], and
       can talk about watery tarts with swords and their viability in government
       all day long without people looking at me strangely or asking if I forgot to
       take my meds.  So I'm calling it a WIN.)

10.  Someone even let me write a guest post on her blog and didn't run away
       screaming in horror.  (You can read it here at the amazing Kristen's blog,
       Four Hens and a Rooster.)

So thanks, 2012, for the highs and even the lows, all of which serve to remind us that we are still alive and have the opportunity each and every day to do more, to be more and to help more.

As for the new year?  I'm ready for you, 2013--BRING IT.

28 December 2012

The Most Epic Christmas Gift Ever

Another Christmas has come and gone.  All over the world people are clearing up the detritus of another year's holiday, carefully putting away decorations, moaning over the extra pounds gained from holiday snacking, trying to find places on already teeming shelves for this year's haul, and opening the refrigerator only to roll their eyes in disgust at the prospect of leftovers for dinner yet again.  Like everyone else, I still have a refrigerator full of leftovers. I have gifts to put away.  Decorations will come down, probably next weekend after Epiphany, assuming they don't drive me nuts before then.  And I confess to having slapped on a couple extra pounds from holiday noshing, in spite of the fact that my thoughtful daughter went out of her way to find Weight Watcher-friendly snacks for my stocking this year.

As things get packed away, most people's focus inevitably returns to creating another list of New Year's Resolutions, which those same people will start to ignore three days after the holiday is over.  Life will go on, as will we, secure in the knowledge that we have survived one more would-be (Mayan) apocalypse and are therefore able to begin another year afresh.  Everyone will start thinking about work or school or chores or whatever and forget about the holiday just past.

Normally, I would too.  This year, however, I am still a little obsessed with one of my Christmas gifts, which I received two weeks before Christmas.  And that's okay, because this is a gift like no other, nor is it one I was expecting to receive in time for Christmas (if at all).  This year, I was given the most epic of Christmas gifts. I was given back my history--my heritage.  And that's a priceless gift.

Some of you may not realize it, but I was adopted when I was only five weeks old.  Sometimes my mother claimed she picked me because I had a cold and she felt sorry for me (probably because she thought she was being funny and/or noble) and sometimes she said it was because I had red hair (which is probably more accurate--she was obsessed with redheads).  At any rate, the call came that a little girl was available and so they drove to the children's home to collect me. They had to stop on the way home for supplies because the call had come so unexpectedly that they weren't entirely prepared; the only baby things in the house were my brother's, none of which would fit me since he was 10 months old when he was adopted.  So after some minor scrambling they got me and the supplies home, and thus my life began.

I always knew I was adopted; my mom went out of her way to make sure we knew long before we were old enough to understand what adoption really meant. Because this information was never hidden from us, it became commonplace and I grew up not thinking much about it one way or another.  It was just another random fact, as much a part of my everyday identity as my freckles or eye color or auburn hair or height.

As I got older, I did occasionally get curious about my birth parents, or more specifically about my genetic background.  I used to fantasize that one day I'd pose as a Gallup pollster (back when that was still plausible) and would "interview" my birth parents to answer all the questions I had, such as who liked to draw or who liked music or what country they were from or who had blue eyes. Afterwards, I'd pack up my clipboard, shake their hands, and quietly leave with nobody the wiser.  After all, I figured that, for whatever reason, they'd made a difficult decision in giving me up and there was just no reason to upend everyone's life by pursuing the matter when I could simply do an informational hit and run to satisfy my curiosity.  Or so I thought.  Obviously, such a plan wasn't very realistic for a number of reasons, not the least of which was whether my birth parents could even be found and were still alive, never mind willing to talk to a "stranger" about something so personal or that they might prefer forgotten.  But then that's how childish fantasies often work.  Most of the time, though, I was reasonably content with my lot.  I never felt abandoned by my birth parents; if anything, I felt (perhaps naïvely) that they'd given me up because they wanted me to have a better life than I might otherwise have had. So I never held a grudge.

Life continued.  I went to college, I got married, I had a child.  Some days I'd still wonder about where I'd come from, some days not.  I became interested in genealogy through B's grandmother, who had traced her family back several generations (which was impressive in the days before Ancestry.com).  She was convinced that the family had descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie (they didn't) but she could never find the direct link between her family and Charlie. Years later, after my daughter was born, I became much more interested in pursuing my origins if for no other reason than to glean medical information that suddenly seemed infinitely more relevant with an infant at home.  After several inquiries the only new thing I was able to discover was the time of day I'd been born; everything else I already knew from the adoption papers my mother had given me before she and Dad moved to New Mexico to retire.  At the time I was told I could pursue my origins if I were willing to petition the courts or pay for a private investigator, but that was about my only shot since all the records were tightly sealed.  Funding an investigation was not an option at the time, so I let it go.

Every now and again I'd still wonder about my ancestry, but mostly I went on with the daily business of raising my child, which kept me plenty busy.  Sure, I often amused myself by making up my ancestry on the whim of the day.  One day I'd be French since my maiden name was French, and another I might be English.  On St. Patrick's Day (my birthday) I was always Irish, along with every other person trying to make up an excuse for drinking green beer.  My supposed Irishosity seemed more plausible, I thought, given such an auspicious  birthday and my leprechaun coloring.  Certainly I immediately discarded  several possible ethnicities because of my pale skin; my friends' prevailing opinion was that I was either Irish (possibly Scottish) or German.  Maybe both.  Anyone's guess was as good as mine.

In April, though, things changed.  In April, my mother passed away at age 80.  I know that she wouldn't have begrudged me wanting to search for my birth parents, but I also know she would have been hurt; the one time I said anything about searching back in high school she became depressed.  She wanted me to be happy, but I think she was afraid of having to share me or of losing me.  No doubt it sounds opportunistic of me to start searching for my birth parents right after my mother died, but that's not exactly how things happened.  I wasn't even thinking of searching at the time.  My mother died and I grieved for her, though I was glad that she was finally free of her dementia and at peace with my dad. It wasn't an immediate thing, this search.  One day in August I was cleaning up piles of stuff on my desk when I ran across a clipping of  Mom's obituary.  I started to file it away with my adoption papers and my other genealogy stuff.   Of course as I did so I had to look through them all again.  After rereading my adoption papers for maybe the 100th time, I thought to myself "I should try again.  I'm getting older.  Medical information could prove useful."  So after playing with the magic Google I did some research,  found some links, and submitted some forms with the requisite fees to the Indiana Department of Health.

A couple weeks later I got a letter back from someone named Darcy.  Darcy informed me that I had used an incorrect form and was therefore returning my check.  She also noted in her letter that if I was interested in continuing my search, she could suggest a couple of options.  I admit I was intrigued.  I thought about it for a couple of days, then decided "what the hell" and called Darcy.  Darcy suggested that I register with the state's adoption database because if my birth parents were likewise registered then the database would find the match and I could then get a copy of my original birth certificate.  She also told me that another option would be to hire a Confidential Intermediary (CI) who could be appointed by the court to research my case and make initial contact with any living birth parents.  It seemed unfathomable to me that some 47 years after my birth I might finally be able to discover something about my origins; I found the prospect both frightening and exciting. I followed Darcy's advice and immediately registered with the Adoption Registry and Database.  In a follow-up letter thanking me for registering with the database, Darcy also sent the names of several available CIs in case I chose to pursue the matter further. So back to Google I went, letter and names in hand.  Next thing I knew I was looking at the Facebook page of a woman named Jill who worked as a CI for an law firm in Indy which focuses exclusively on adoptions and adoption law.  The whole thing seemed entirely too easy.

A few days later I nervously called Jill.  She told me how everything worked and how much it cost.  For $500 plus court costs I could potentially find out something about my birth parents--an amazing thought after all these years.  The cost seemed reasonable compared to that of hiring a private detective, with the added benefit that Jill could personally access the court records.  I gave Jill all the information I had regarding the adoption and she filed a petition with the court to be made my CI, warning me that it would take around a month to be processed.  I sent off my fees and proceeded to wait.  In October I got a call that Jill had been officially appointed and could begin searching on my behalf.  Jill told me that if my birth mother was deceased (as well she might be considering my age, never mind hers), then both my original birth certificate and hers would be released to me.  A part of me almost hoped that would be the case; not to be all macabre, but it seemed to me at the time that it might be easier under those circumstances because I could get the information I craved without having to potentially deal with awkward situations...I didn't want to rock anybody's boat.  Of course, that was before I met my birth mother.  Everything was just happening so quickly.  But I tried not to think about it.  I told Jill that my primary objective was to get information and that while I was not necessarily opposed to any relationship that came out of this, it was also not the main goal.  She told me she was happy that I was "managing my expectations."  Good Ginger.  Gooooooood Ginger.

Two months went by.  I kept busy.  I knew it would probably take awhile to discover anything, so I wasn't too concerned by time passing.  Then earlier this month it occurred to me that I hadn't heard from Jill since her appointment as my CI, so I shot her a quick email to check in and ask if there'd been any progress.  I didn't want to be pushy but figured I should remind her I was still out here waiting patiently.  She called the next morning to say that she was "so close."  My heart skipped a beat.  Jill said she knew who my birth mother was, who her brothers were, and everything about her and was trying to make contact but had been unsuccessful so far.  Talk about dangling a carrot in front of someone's face.  She said she was glad I had called because it gave her the impetus to push a little harder by trying to send a certified letter, etc., etc.  Okay.  Whatever.  Excuse me while I go twitch in a corner for several hours.

The next morning I was in my room working out.  As I sat on the floor stretching, my phone buzzed with a message from Jill to call her because "I have good news."  With my hand shaking a little, I called her back and was told "I FOUND her. And she's HAPPY."  I sat there, stunned, not quite sure what to say or feel.  Jill, meanwhile, was positively giddy with excitement because she "loves it when they're happy and not slamming doors in my face."  Well, who could blame her, really?  Jill told me I'd need to send her an email, as would my birth mother, stating that it was okay to release personal information. I agreed to send one immediately and off Jill ran off to see about getting a court date so she could get records released.  I was flabbergasted.  Later that night Jill called again to inform me that there had been an "interesting development."  I couldn't even imagine.  This was all becoming quite a roller coaster ride.  Turns out she called the family of the person she thinks is my birth father (I gather he has a common name so it was not 100% sure) only to discover that he was dead and that his daughter was more than a little freaked at the possibility her dad may have fathered an unknown child.  Jill asked what she wanted me to do, as though I had the first clue.  Let's face it--it's not every day someone asks whether or not you want to strong arm a potential sibling.  We decided to back off on the birth father search for a bit and see what happened with my birth mother, thinking perhaps more information would eventually surface as she and I chatted, after which I could decide how and if to continue pursuing my birth father.  Besides, it seemed only fair to give the girl time to process the possibility of a half-sister; after all, I certainly didn't want to traumatize anyone because of my search.  That was never my intention.  Everything was becoming real (with a capital R) at breakneck speed.

On Wednesday morning, December 12, Jill called to inform me that she could "now release information."  She gave me the name, phone number and email address of my birth mother NJ and asked whether I was going to contact NJ or whether she should contact me.  I drew a blank.  How does one answer that?  I hardly knew where to start after nearly 48 years of limbo.  I told Jill that I would contact NJ either sometime that day or the next but that first I wanted to think of some questions so I wouldn't sit on a phone and stutter stupidly like a fool since there was no way to know how I'd react in such uncharted waters.  I ended up emailing NJ later that night, making it clear that I was looking primarily for information because I didn't want to mislead her and telling her that if anything more was to come of this it would have to happen slowly over time.  As a result, I wanted to start from the safe distance of email and go forward from there.  Once my missive was sent, I proceeded to sit on tenterhooks while waiting to see how long it would take to get a reply.

Meanwhile, I shared this stunning revelation with my "Posse" of friends in our online forum.  They were thrilled for me even as they advised caution initially.  While I was chatting with them I looked up and saw that an email from NJ had suddenly appeared in my inbox.  I gaped at it in awe.  Then I read it.  And read it again.  And again.  NJ very respectfully answered my email just as carefully and cautiously as I had approached her in my own.  The irony that her message came through at  12:30 am was not lost on me either...perhaps NJ was also a night owl, I thought.  I soaked in her words, marveling at them, then answered her back immediately.  It took longer to get a response the second time and I was surprised to find myself so twitchy and antsy with anticipation while awaiting her next email.  I nearly had to tie myself down to keep from calling her immediately.  So much for dignity and caution.

With the dialogue between us freshly opened, we emailed regularly back and forth the next several days.  Within a mere 48 hours, questions I'd held in my heart for nearly half a century were finally answered.  Then suddenly NJ's emails stopped.  I didn't think much of it at first, since sometimes it took a while for one or the other of us to answer (particularly as her laptop wasn't working and she was still getting used to a new smartphone), but when I didn't hear anything from her for a couple of days I began to worry that I'd unintentionally said or done something to upset her.  It seemed cruel that a door so suddenly opened should be slammed shut just as quickly.  After 3-4 days I finally sent her another note saying that if she needed some space to process things that was fine, but could she please let me know she was okay?  I got a message back the next day; turns out her phone and laptop had been stolen so she'd been largely incommunicado while trying to deal with insurance for the stolen items and for a fender bender she'd had the previous week.  I was relieved, far more than I might have expected.  I was starting to like NJ.

Over the last two and a half weeks NJ and I have slowly been getting to know each other.  It's been difficult to think of much else, really, especially before the girlie got home for break.  How could it not be?  I have rarely faced more monumentally life-changing events than this. I expect this has all been as much a miracle for NJ as for me;   it never really occurred to me before now that my birth mother might have just as much curiosity about me as I did about her.  (You know how selfish children can be.)  This has already been a fascinating journey, and the more I get to know NJ, the more I respect her--and not just for giving me life at a time when unwed mothers were largely vilified.  Now that I've had the opportunity to talk with her, I'm grateful she is still around to put my history into context with stories of real people and real family members.  We are both getting long-sequestered questions answered and curiosity slaked as we each discover the type of woman the other is.  We are uncovering hidden connections between us, such as that NJ is indeed as much a night owl as myself.  Along the way I've been plugging in new information to Ancestry.com as it comes; for the first time in my life, I have a genetic heritage.  I can look online and see the progression of generation after generation and know, even if I never met any of them, that I am still a part of them.  That half of my legacy is no longer unknown.  I have a past--well, more of a past.  I have a nationality, one which I no longer have to guess at or make up.  I am learning my medical history.  In short, I have knowledge, a knowledge I can now share with my daughter so she'll know the rest of her history too.   And it's brilliant.

Now, three days after Christmas, three days after a lovely day with my family during which we opened fun and festive presents (one of which was a new, non-possessed laptop--squee!) and spent quality time together, I am still unwrapping the biggest and most mind-boggling gift I've ever been given (short of my daughter's birth) and no doubt will be for some time.  And it is a gift, a gift of epic proportions--one which has already changed my life and will probably continue to do in ways I can't yet comprehend.  None of this changes the fact that I loved my mother or that I miss her or that I am equally the product of her nurture as I am of NJ's genetics.  I consider myself more than fortunate to have been raised by a woman generous enough to love another woman's child as her own; now the selfless woman who gave me life in the first place has been selfless enough to give me (and my child) back our history.

I am twice blessed.

Now--bonus--a poem I've had on my wall for years, one which seems infinitely more relevant and poignant in light of this month's blessings:


Once there were two women 
Who never knew each other. 
One you do not remember, 
The other you call Mother. 
Two different lives, 
Shaped to make yours one. 
One became your guiding star, 
The other became your sun. 
The first one gave you life, 
The second taught you to live it. 
The first gave you a need for love, 
The second was there to give it. 
One gave you a nationality,
The other gave you a name.
One gave you a talent,
The other gave you an aim.
One gave you emotions, 
The other calmed your fears. 
One saw your first sweet smile 
The other dried your tears. 
One sought for you a home 
That she could not provide. 
The other prayed for a child, 
Her hopes were not denied. 
And now you ask me
Through your tears, 
The age-old question, 
Unanswered through the years:
"Heredity or environment,
Which am I the product of?"
Neither, my darling, neither--
Just two different kinds of love.


22 November 2012


Today is Thanksgiving, that day when family members far and near descend upon one house with the sole intent of stuffing themselves stupid while attempting not to kill each other.  You know it's true--there's always that one relative somewhere who creates drama or makes you crazy by criticizing everything.  And yet, we wouldn't have this day any other way.  Even though we make ourselves crazy cooking for a small army or those loved ones may drive us to drink (more than usual, at least) Thanksgiving is a chance to get everyone together for a short while, particularly those we don't get to see as often, and share delicious food and fellowship.  On the one hand, I suppose there is something inherently wrong with building up a culture based on shoveling an overabundance of food down one's throat (which might explain why the US is, as a country, probably the most overweight in the world), but then again nothing brings people together like the sharing of good food.  Comfort food.  Food which reminds us of simpler times and problems as we nestle safe in the bosom of our families.

Thanksgiving with my in-law's was always a pretty epic throw-down.  When I was first married, I loved the party atmosphere of it all because it was so different from anything I knew.  Though my mother came from a very large family, her relatives were always prohibitively far away so we usually celebrated with just the four of us.  It was nice, but very quiet.  Then I got thrown into a world with multiple parents and grandparents and siblings and cousins.  My first Southern Thanksgiving included no less than 15 people, all strategically placed around the dining and kitchen tables.  If you were "important" or "interesting" in some way, you got elevated to the dining room with the grandparents.  That's where I spent my first TN Thanksgiving--being grilled and evaluated by B's grandmother while his grandfather smirked at the other end of the table.  I became fascinated by the tiny crystal dishes set near each place, discovering later that they were "salt cellars."  Personalized salt settings??  How decadent!  We feasted on turkey and rolls and honey ham and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and jello salad and probably 5 kinds of desserts and sweet tea and green bean casserole and probably a few other items I'm forgetting.  It was glorious.  I so enjoyed partying with my new family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, because with so many people, it truly was a party.

Nobody parties like the Peanuts party.
 As the years went by, more and more tables would get set up.  In addition to the dining room and kitchen tables, folding tables would be added in the den and living room as the family grew.  By the time B's grandparents passed away, there would be (when everyone was there) upwards of 30 people.   I was in charge of deviled eggs, often making two dozen eggs' worth.  Eventually I became responsible for pies as well; I was appalled that they usually lacked the traditional pumpkin pie, generally eschewing it for pecan and/or mince pies.  So I started bringing pumpkin and apple pies.  Sometimes I brought cherry.  Invariably, though, in spite of telling me repeatedly that "no one likes pumpkin pies," that would be the first dessert obliterated.  Nor did the eggs ever last.  The kids in the family particularly enjoyed them, sneaking into the kitchen to scarf down the "debilled eggs" when no one was looking.

Fresh pumpkin pie, straight out of the oven to cool.
Sometimes it was annoying to be expected at these occasions every.single.time, whether Thanksgiving or the traditional Christmas Eve dinner/get-together at the grandparents' house.  Sometimes I wanted it just to be my little family and other times I felt bad that my own folks got short shrift, even if it was largely the result of geography.  Now that all the grandparents and all four of our parents are gone, however, I appreciate those traditions even more.  All of our siblings are scattered, so we rarely get to see them all now.  The giant family gatherings of old are no more.  We have become the older generation, and frankly, we suck at it.  Our world is moving so fast that we can barely keep up.  We have trouble making the time for each other, and we are all to blame.  Granted, it's a bit more difficult when everyone is spread over four or five different states, but still.  Now I have come full circle, and Thanksgivings these days tend to consist of just the three of us (if you don't count the Greedy Moocher Dog) and are once again rather quiet.  Not that that's an entirely bad thing, mind you; a little down-time is sometimes necessary to recharge our over-stimulated brains.  But I do miss the parties.  On the plus side, if I want to sit at the dinner table in my pajamas with my Don King hair at Thanksgiving, I can now do it without anyone pointing or shaking a head while uttering the infamous "Bless her heart."

Meanwhile, I am ecstatic to have my girlie home for the holiday and to be able to cook "real food" for her.  This is the essence of my holiday--getting to look after her once again, even if only for a moment.  I get a chance to hang onto old traditions even while celebrating all that's new in our lives and the woman she is becoming.  But I still miss those Stanton shindigs.  I still miss all the joking and laughter and teasing and tickling and eating and complaining and arguing and, well, loving.  I can only hope that I provide my girlie with even a shadow of all the joy and love I felt during those family holidays so that her great-grandparents' legacy lives on.  Perhaps that's part of what it means to be thankful--we aren't just thankful for what we have right this minute, but also for what's gone before and for what's yet to come.  We are thankful just to be.  At least I hope we are.

Sometimes I think that's an important thing to remember, especially after the last couple of weeks here, which were decidedly NOT "quiet weeks in Lake Woebegone."  Not even a little. In the past couple of weeks I voted in a presidential election, twisted an ankle, pondered if I could back-date enough posts to catch up on BlogHer's NaBloPoMo for November after my continued writing delinquency, been accused of discrimination over an (I thought) innocuous grammar joke, given myself junior whiplash, had a "freckle" biopsied, worried about friends with major medical issues, traumatized my dog--who apparently suffers from PTSD whenever I try to use my FIL's exercise bicycle, and more or less been given the heave-ho by the unstable minister at my current church, simply because I chose to leave the service (discreetly) before his sermons, even though the majority of the congregation (choir included) didn't know why, if they'd noticed at all.  Needless to say, it's been quite a couple of weeks.  Well, like I always say, go big or go home.

"Woe--Be gone!"
Since all that happened I have written and re-written blog posts chronicling everything several times over (in my head, anyway) and once even wrote an actual draft.  (What most of you  probably don't know is that I actually mentally write blog posts daily--I have a running dialogue in my head; I just sometimes suck at the discipline of setting them down on the page and actually publishing them.)  What I wrote never seemed quite right, though, and as much as I love a good rant I ultimately decided to let it all go. Complaining wasn't going to make a biopsy come back negative or a man in serious need of psychological help suddenly "get it" or convince a friend to have approached me in a less negative way.  In fact, ranting about those things would probably have only made them all worse.  Besides, all I could think about while crafting these missives was how inappropriate posting them would be during a month with the theme of "thankfulness."  So I didn't.

Instead, I'd like to wind up this post with a nod to the pervasive internet meme in which everyone says something they are thankful for each day.  As usual, I'm running more than a little late.  (I like to tell everyone my daughter was born two weeks late and that neither of us has been on time for anything since.)  Doesn't make me any less thankful, though.


Day   1:  I am thankful first and foremost for my lovely, brilliant daughter and for the joy she gives me
              and inspiration she is to me each and every day of the year, even when she is driving me nuts.
Day   2:  I am thankful to have a husband who, in spite of everything, puts up with most of my bullshit and
              indulges me far more than I probably deserve.  Of course the same is true in reverse, even if
              he won't admit it.
Day   3:  I am thankful that my daughter has found both a wonderful church family on campus and an
              SCA family to corrupt her and protect her and challenge her and harass her much as I
              would myself.  It's very difficult to be so far away from her so much of the time, but it helps to
              know she has such remarkable friends nearby to support her.  Or torture her, as the case may be.
              (What are friends for, right?)

My kid is now part of the Mongol horde, and a royal one at that.
(Maybe now I can get away with telling her when she's being royal pain...)

Day   4:  I am thankful to have been promoted to Director of Irony because it allows me to appreciate
              the humor in life's stupid situations, such as when I go to Bed, Bath and Beyond the day after
              all three of my coupons expire, only to get home and find a fresh one in my mailbox or when
              I perfectly cook a turkey and pies but manage to burn the ridiculously no-brainer pop-up
              cinnamon rolls because I'm too busy writing this to pay attention to them.
Day   5:  I am thankful for a democratic process in my country that allows my voice to be heard.  I will be
              even more thankful when it is over.
Day   6:  I am thankful for this anniversary of my parent's union, for without them I wouldn't be who I
              am today.  (Sorry about that.)
Day   7:  I am thankful for friends who care enough to educate me about potential biases, even if I'd
              sometimes prefer they find more positive ways to do so.
Day   8:  I am thankful for the snoring dog under my desk because she keeps me company each day in an
              otherwise empty, quiet house.  Plus it's really entertaining to watch her paws twitch and flick while
              she's dreaming.
Day   9:  I am thankful for the crisp autumn air and for beautifully colored leaves which make my heart sing
              (and some of which match my hair).
Day 10:  I am thankful for leftover Lortab and for its ability to allow me to sleep in spite of frozen neck
              muscles.  This does not make me a drug addict; my only crack is candy corn, which is not only
              tasty but can be used for building creative models of Stonehenge.

Cornhenge:  Because life is always less boring when you can play with your candy.
Day 11:  I am thankful for technology, even though it frequently gets me into trouble by sucking away all my
              time and making me "ooh, squirrel" even more than usual, because it allows me to stay connected
              to family and friends far away and magically enables me to see my girlie every Sunday night from
              1,000 miles away.
Day 12:  I am thankful for the smell of cinnamon, which reminds me of snickerdoodles and cinnamon
              rolls and is way the heck better than any number of old lady perfumes that surround me
              on a daily basis.
Day 13:  I am thankful for the opportunity to attempt to sing beautiful music every Tuesday night.
Day 14:  I am thankful each and every day for friends far and wide who dare to love me in spite of my
              inherent weirdness. Or maybe because of my inherent weirdness, though I'm not sure what
              that says about them.
Day 15:  I am thankful for dear choir friends who surround me with love and support when things suck.
Day 16:  I am thankful for loose pants.  I don't mean pants that are sexually promiscuous, but rather pants
              that no longer fit so snugly on my body.  I mean they could be sexually promiscuous; I don't
              really keep up with what my pants do when I'm not wearing them.  For all I know, they're getting
              a leg up on each other and panting in the closet.  Dirty, dirty pants.
Day 17:  I am thankful for all (almost) types of music, which can make my heart and spirit soar and can
              make almost anything better.  I am also thankful that so much music lends itself to my off-beat
              parodies, even (especially) television theme songs.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,
              right?  Just today the girlie shared a pic from FB which read "If you're happy and you know it,
              share your meds."  Naturally, I spent several minutes singing this and creating additional verses
              to the song.  (Don't look at me that way.  Please--like you're not singing it in your head right 
              now.)  Sometimes drugs make Thanksgiving better, too.
Day 18:  I am thankful for books and the ability to read them.  I like big books and I cannot lie.  I also
              like small books, medium books, lame books, profound books, mystery books, science fiction
              books, classical books, chick lit books, philosophical books (why do I suddenly feel like I'm
              singing "Jellicle Books?"), and educational books.  I like being transported to different times and
              places and being challenged with new ideas.  Also, in a pinch, books make good door stops and/or
Day 19:  I am thankful to be home and healthy, and not in a hospital recovering from an appendectomy
              right before Thanksgiving like last year, even though it was kind of fun to boss around my family
              over the dinner and subsequent Christmas decorating.
Day 20:  I am thankful for the means and ability to purchase ample food each and every day, not just
              for Thanksgiving.  Of course, that might explain some of my weight gains over the years, but still.
Day 21:  I am thankful to see numbers on my scale that I have not seen in close to 10 years and that I have
              a place to hide this normally judgmental scale from the results of my Thanksgiving overindulgences.
Day 22:  I am thankful to have my lovely daughter home from college and to be able to cook for her again,
              in between taking time to both hug her and make fun of her in equal doses.

Yes, I know there are 8 more days of November left.  Those are a story I have yet to write.  Does your thankfulness end on Thanksgiving?  Will it get lost in Black Friday and the mad, chaotic rush to Christmas?  How will the rest of your November thankfulness story finish?

Before I write the rest of my story, though, it's time for me to make the potatoes and stuffing.  I wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings, full of family, friends, food, and fun.  With love from Lake Not Woebegone, where all the Gingers are strong, all the husbands are reasonably good looking in spite of being a half-century old, and all the children are flamboyantly above average in all things whether you want them to be or not.

06 October 2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Travel days are always interesting for me.  Sometimes that's because everything goes right, and sometimes that's because everything seems to go wrong.  Every time it's because the people-watching, especially at airports, can be spectacular.  And because the Atlanta airport is so enormous, people-watching sometimes takes on a whole new level of strange, kinda like the travel version of People of Walmart.  I often feel like the fashion police, sitting in judgment (as if my wardrobe allows me any remote right to judge anyone else's sartorial choices) over the guys with panama hats, cargo shorts and black socks with sandals or the women in skin-tight sweatpants with "Juicy" and other suggestive monikers emblazoned across their ample backsides.   I see young men with diamond stud earrings bigger than my wristwatch and the obligatory pants down around their ankles (because everyone enjoys seeing a half-mile of your underpants, dude...), and I see adorable young children dragging their little mini-me roller suitcases behind them (judiciously decorated with the Disney character or superhero of their choice) while clutching tightly to their favorite doll/woobie/stuffed animal/pillow/etc.  I find the airport the fastest way to observe a very broad cross-section of America.

Anyway, yesterday B and I headed off to the airport to go visit the girlie during her Fall Break, during which we'd be attending one of her SCA events.  We had to leave a little early to drop the dog at the kennel first, then we hit the road for the airport, which is around 90 minutes from our house.  We made it about halfway there when I remembered I'd forgotten my belt and belt pouch to go with my garb.  I guess I was so busy trying to remember all the attire for both myself AND my husband that I completely spaced on grabbing that last couple of items.  Well, crap.  You'd think it wouldn't be a big deal, but it kinda is because even after having taken in my dress, it's still a bit on the blousy side and needed to be taken up by the belt; also, hauling modern purses around an SCA event is just. not. done. so I needed the pouch to hold my membership card, entry fee, and anachronistic cell phone.  Sigh.  Always gotta be something.

We made it to the airport in good time.  I invoked my friend Gwen's inestimable "parking karma" and, sure enough, after a few unsuccessful passes through the front lines of the parking lot I drove to the other side till a very nice gentleman started pointing to where his vehicle was and told me to drive around the other row to take it when he left.  So I did.  We ended up with a spot almost on top of the parking garage (which is the hourly and short-term parking), right at the end of a row in the economy/long-term section.  Five minutes later, we were in the terminal.  Score!

After zipping through the baggage check I made a pit-stop and started to head down the shortcut to the security lines.  Unfortunately, there was some old dude in a vest blocking the path so nothing doing there.  I thought it was weird since that path isn't usually blocked, but figured they were cleaning up over there or something.  We headed back the other way to enter by the food court, which was also blocked off.  That NEVER happens.  Atlanta's airport may be huge, and the security lines can be painfully long, but I've never ever seen it that extreme.  The scale is a little difficult to describe, but I'll try.  You know those black "rope" barriers they make you thread through like rats in a maze at any airport before you get to the actual checkpoint and subsequent scanners?  Triple the length of those.  That's how many there are in Atlanta (though rarely are they all full at any given time--usually you can skip through at least half of them).  So there is something like 50 feet of barrier tape before the first Security checkpoint.  From the edge of the food court to the end of the barriers is another 50-100 feet.  From one edge of the food court to the other is another 50-100 feet.  (Just so you know, estimating distances is something I pretty much suck at, so it could have been much farther.)  We joined the line for security at the far end of the food court where it was starting to wrap around to the farthest baggage carousels. In spite of the incredibly long lines (which I gather were present at all the other airport checkpoints as well--there are three different checkpoints in the Atlanta airport--I've still no idea what was going on to cause the backlog) we moved at a reasonable pace and fairly zipped along once we hit the tape walls of the barrier maze.  Good thing we got to the airport 30 minutes early, since that's about how long it took us to clear security.  Better yet, in order to keep the excessive lines moving, all the metal detectors were open for a change, so I got to go through one of those instead of the Zap-Or-Fondle.

Once thru security, we made our way to the tram for the quick trip to Concourse B then stopped at the food court to grab a bite of lunch there.  After eating, we headed towards our gate, with me stopping off at the restrooms on the way.  When I finished and went to the gate to meet B, I couldn't find him.  Also, the plane at that gate was apparently heading towards Flint, MI.  Wtf?  I waited a minute, but he didn't show up so I looked up my itinerary on my phone's Delta app only to discover that somewhere between the time we checked our bags and got to the concourse, Delta had changed which gate our plane was at.  How thoughtful.  So I walked the two gates down to where I was now supposed to be and asked B why he didn't just text me...then I saw his fingers working the keys on his phone.  If it takes my little nerd boy 10 minutes to eke out a text, then we're gonna have to figure out some way to speed up his typing.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to think I have some form of travel Tourette's, because I seem to lose all concept of "filtering" when I'm in the airport.  I stand around blurting out random (and wildly unrelated) observations because I'm bored or because the people surrounding me are weird and/or interesting or because I'm a word nerd and the words I see on signage or the names I hear over the loudspeaker capture my attention.  For example, in the course of about ten minutes, I went from yelling at B about not texting me the gate change to commenting on the giant alien Big Brother eye suspended from the ceiling (TSA is watching us all, you know) to staring at and sneaking pics of a young Adonis at the gate because I was fascinated by a live Greek statue wearing a polo shirt to playing free word association when someone with the last name "Frolo" was called over the loudspeaker for standby.  Frolo...Frodo...Froyo...  Let's face it--the entire airport is one big "squirrel" for me.

TSA sees you picking your nose and building pipe bombs.

Hello, Hot Guy--wanna be my new Pool Boy?

After my insipid stream-of-consciousness commentary, we were allowed to head down the gangplank to the plane, as usual getting wadded up in a line while waiting for the people in front of us to stow carry-ons and get situated.  While standing there, an airport official suddenly whisked by us shouting "On the left!  Excuse us--please move--on the left!" as he briskly escorted a teenager with a skateboard tucked under his arm.  Um, okay.  Then some dude a few people behind us started going on and on about why that skateboard didn't count as a weapon since it was 2 1/2 feet long and could be used to bat people.  (Same reason my 12" mini-spears eyeball skewers knitting needles can go on  the plane but my nail clippers can't--you're assuming TSA is 100% logical, dude.)  I was having a really hard time not laughing out loud at this guy's apparent concern over a skateboard ("Look out--he's got WHEELS and he's not afraid to use them!!") so I had to keep my mouth covered to contain my snickering.  The people next to me started to giggle too, especially when the dude accosted the Delta agent on his way back up the skyway to demand "in all seriousness" why a 2.5 foot "bat" wasn't considered a weapon by TSA.  The poor agent was completely taken aback...somehow I don't think "death by skateboard" is a concern that has been voiced particularly frequently thus far.

While the man continued his little rant, I squirreled again, telling the lady in front of me that her purse was cute.  A stranger!  Talking to me!  In an AIRPORT!!  What if she's a terrorist?!?!?!?  Seriously, though, while a bit spooked at first, the lady proved to be quite pleasant and told me that it was actually from an outlet store somewhere in Rochester.  Before I was done I had 2-3 other women in on the conversation, all of whom were sharing valuable information about where to buy inexpensive knockoffs, what school our kids were going to and why was it so freakishly hot in Atlanta?  (Because you're from NEW YORK, that's why.  Amateurs.)  Meanwhile, Aspie-boy just stood off to the side shaking his head at my inexplicable need to accost strangers.  (He was probably just afraid he might have to contribute to the conversation.)

At any rate, we boarded the plane and had a reasonably pleasant trip in spite of the brief screaming of a small child behind us and the cracked inner window by our seats (because that's not unnerving at all) which was hidden behind the pulled-down shade.  Turns out the panel was just pushed in and up so B reseated it--after the plane landed in NY.  On the plus side, I asked him if the planes were getting bigger or if it was just that I was getting smaller...it's quite a novel sensation to feel like the limited space around you is suddenly marginally less cramped.  I could get used to that.  Yay, weight loss!

After we deplaned, B went to collect our luggage while I made yet another pit stop (weight loss is great, but all the extra water does have its drawbacks).  Surprisingly, he was already collecting our bags by the time I got to the claim, which is a bit unusual for the Rochester airport because it usually takes freaking forever for the ground crew to unload luggage. Now re-bagged, we went out to the curb to wait for our "chauffeur" to arrive in her limo Saturn and deliver us to the hotel to drop off our suitcases.  Because I am awesome (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it), I not only scored a free 4-night stay at the hotel with my hotel points, I also got upgraded to a mini-suite with a river-side view!  Yay, me!!  I love this hotel--the Staybridge Suites.  Not only is it conveniently located right next to campus, most of the people on staff here are just really, really nice with the exception of the weird night clerk who sits around all night watching TV in the lobby (not that I blame him...no doubt it's boring at night) and assiduously ignoring the front desk.  Plus he's kinda creepy.  But everyone else is cool. One of the main day clerks remembered my name after my first check-in with her, and now each and every time I come back, she greets me by name as if I were one of her oldest friends.  The lady's got skills.

Once upstairs we deposited our belongings and relaxed for a few minutes before heading out with the girlie to what has become our traditional first-meal stop:  Outback Steakhouse.  The girl does love her Outback...where she gets a chicken Caesar salad every single time.  Because it's a steak house.  I just can't imagine where that girl gets her exaggerated sense of irony.

After an enjoyable meal, we stopped at Wegman's (awesome grocery store of the northeast) for me to load up on fruit and water to have around meals while there, then we headed over to Joann Fabrics so I could procure some garb-like materials to MacGyver a new belt and pouch for the big SCA crown tournament the next day.  I spent 2-3 hours hand-sewing said pouch and finishing a belt, making this my third day in a row of only getting 4.5 hours of sleep.  (The previous two I spent making myself a cloak and a kilt shirt for B.)  But it's all good.  The belt and pouch came out functional, and sleep is for the weak, right?

"This is the way we jury-rig stuff...jury-rig stuff...jury-rig stuff..."
Ah, well.  Who cares if I got enough sleep because I got to hug my girlie for real, instead of just sending cyber hugs over Skype.  That makes anything worthwhile.  Compared to that, navigating the wilds of the airport just seems frivolous.

05 October 2012

The Mystery of the Polka Dots

Did you ever have one of those days when something weird happens and you can't figure out what's going on?  Well, that happened to me a couple nights ago.  I spent the day doing some chores and stuff, then took a shower and started to get ready for choir rehearsal.  I got dressed, did my makeup, then grabbed a bite to eat.

A little while later, my friend came over to catch a ride to practice.  I headed to my bathroom to make a pit stop before we left.  On the way I noticed something orangey on the dining room floor, but just figured my nail polish had flaked off and figured I get it later.

As I walked into my bedroom, I saw a trail of nickel-sized pink dots on my carpet going from the door to where the dog sleeps by the side of the bed.  I had no idea where they came from, and they hadn't been there earlier when I was showering and such.  The ground outside is red clay, so the color wasn't right for the dog to have tracked in mud, much less in near-perfect circles.  And unless she's suddenly developed the ability to work a juice bottle, I couldn't find any explanation for the dots.

My friend heard me muttering in the bedroom and came in to see what was going on.  She, too, was flummoxed.  Then she wandered off to make a pit stop of her own while I grabbed a rag and attempted to clean on of the spots off the carpet.  Unfortunately, I only succeeded in smearing it more.  Oh, well--I needed to get the carpets cleaned this month anyway.

I put the rag away and got ready to leave with my friend when it finally occurred to me what had caused the spots.  Earlier, when I was putting on my makeup, I dropped my blush on the floor.  You know how when your makeup gets worn down in the middle until there's nothing left but in the corners?  Well, at the time I could have sworn one of those corners popped out of the blush, but I never could find it on the floor so I decided I'd just imagined it.  Apparently I couldn't find it because I'd stepped on it and promptly stamped it all over my bedroom carpet and into the dining room.  Go figure.

So now I have my own mini-Twister game on the floor.   Because I'm just special like that.  ::headdesk::

It wasn't me, Mom...I swear.

04 October 2012

Pax Interruptus XXXVI

Tomorrow I get to fly north for the girlie's Fall Break, north to the land of shortened vowels, of brisk and crisp October air and of trees that understand how to do fall foliage properly with their flaming swath of reds, oranges, golds and yellows.  Fall is one of the things I miss most about the Midwest; in both Memphis and Georgia fall seems to last approximately ten minutes and the trees go pretty much from green to dead with  little color change in between.  To be fair, Georgia does display marginally more color than Memphis did, but that's not saying much considering the change still only lasts a few days at best.

Fall in Rochester.

Now that the girlie's SCA knight has been crowned king (and the whole time he was heir too, really), she is at an event almost every weekend.  As a result, this means we'll be going to the Crown Tournament his weekend with her since it's virtually impossible to pry her away from the SCA even to visit with us.  Sometimes I worry that she spends far too much time focusing on her SCA stuff and friends at the cost of giving a full 100% to her studies, particularly since that's what's she's actually there for and it ain't cheap.  The travel back and forth alone costs a small fortune.  Ah well...once a parent, always a parent--the worrying never ends.  Still, she's an adult now and has to make her own decisions as well as live with the consequences of those decisions, both good and bad.  But she's a good kid.  And, near as I can tell, she still manages to do quite well with both things, but then her 80% has always been more akin to everyone else's 100%.  While frustrating, it's hard to argue with someone for not giving it their all when they get those kinds of results without trying.  Sigh.

But I digress.  Anyway, I figured since we'd be in NY for another of her events, I should probably catch up with my delinquent write up of the previous event.  In early July I flew up to visit the girlie during her research internship and spent a couple of days attending Thescorre's Pax Interruptus event.  A couple of days before I flew out I had minor surgery done on my toe; that's when I unknowingly received the staph infection that tortured my poor digit for the next two months.  (After six weeks of antibiotics, it's finally doing much better and once again looks almost normal.  Almost.)  So you can imagine what I looked like trucking through the Atlanta airport with a giant Q-tip for a toe and while carrying 7 dozen snickerdoodles for the girlie and her SCA peeps.  I fully expected to have the cookies confiscated on some trumped-up charge by hungry TSA agents, but I was miraculously passed through security without incident.


When I arrived Thursday night, the girlie picked me up at the airport (nothing like a little surreal role-reversal to liven up the weekend) and we headed to the hotel to drop my things, after which we grabbed some dinner at Outback then went to her fighter practice so I could see her in action.  Afterwards we went back to the hotel to chill.   I purchased some drinks for the evening's TV watching and the girlie picked out a snack.   She inexplicably chose to get chocolate chip cookies, in spite of the fact that there were DOZENS of snickerdoodles sitting upstairs in my room.  Silly child.

Because everyone should be able to do the Worm in armor at practice.

Friday I occupied myself in the hotel while the girlie was at work, after which we "suited up" in our garb to head to the event's Friday night festivities.  I know she does this in part to save time, but also because she likes to see the looks on everyone's faces as we walk by all decked out like refugees from a Ren faire.  I have to admit, some of it's entertaining, like when a little girl gaped at us and asked her mommy if we were real princesses. Priceless.

Once at Pax, we hung out with Arsalan's (the girlie's SCA name) household and I learned all about the "chili chair," which was apparently a fold-up camping chair on which Sir Khalek's young daughter Siri had spilled some of the evening meal.  As I looked around, I could totally see where the whole "anachronism" thing comes in.  On one end of the campground was Khalek's ger (which is more or less a Mongolian yurt), while on the other end were assorted pavilions and period tents intermingled with LL Bean and Coleman's finest.  I took great pride in contributing to the anachronisms of the weekend by gifting Khalek's older daughter Talia with one of those drawstring backpacks made out of Doctor Who fabric (she's apparently a big Who fan too).  Inside was a small Lego-like figurine of the 11th Doctor, which Arsalan later told me Talia kept taking apart and putting back together, squealing with glee because the "Doctor comes apart!" and because she could "Decapitate the Doctor!!"  Talia wandered around all weekend with that backpack slung over her Medieval garb.  It made me giggle every time I saw her.  Anachronism indeed.  And yet, it seemed somehow appropriate, not the least because some of the port-o-johns were blue and looked suspiciously like Tardises.

Anachronisms FTW.

Later that evening, we went down to a Torchlight Tournament marshalled by Khalek.  All of the fighters had to battle each other in an area set off by torches, with the fighting to continue till all the lights had extinguished or till all the fighters wandered off, whichever came first.  Khalek's wife Branwyn was press-ganged into service as the MOL (Mistress of the Lists); you can only imagine how difficult it was to keep up with who was winning when you could barely see the fighters.  I sat beside her and helped.  And by "helped," I mean "frequently told her the wrong person because several of them looked alike in the dark, using vaguely descriptive terms like 'the skinny dude won.'"  She was very patient and gracious with my ineptitude, however, and we had a pretty good time.  I really like her; she's quiet, but very sharp and very funny, and she patently ignores the fact that I'm incapable of remembering to bow and say things like, "Hello, your Highness."  I also particularly enjoy the bemused but knowing look I've often seen on her face when people are getting silly around her.  As for Khalek, I've gotta give him major props for taking his chivalry seriously; I would have been content to sit on the ground beside Branwyn since there was not enough room for us both at her little camp table, but after a whispered word to Arsalan, my girlie went scampering mysteriously back through the dark, returning with a camp chair for me.  Score!

Arsalan, Fabulous daughter and Squire Exraordinaire

Armored up and ready to fight.

Arsalan fought till the bitter end of the tournament (because she's wildly and weirdly enthusiastic like that), even winning several matches.  The ultimate winner, however was Thorsall (which I am probably misspelling), an epically polite and gracious fighter who won by easily 60 points over his nearest competitor.  After the fighting, we cleared up and headed back to hang out at camp, where I got to watch my girlie act all punch drunk on Dr. Pepper and her fighting high.  We were also treated to rousing frat choruses of "My camp is louder than yours!" by the drunken household next to us, which escalated shortly afterwards when the campers started bellowing "My dick is bigger than yours...my dick is bigger than yours--hey, camp next door--tell us about your dick!!"  Randall (Dave) handily replied, "It likes poetry and long walks on the beach!"  Raucous laughter ensued.  At some point that evening I made a comment about something, though I can't remember entirely what.  It had to do with the me teasing the others about using some modern conveniences or something, to which Khalek promptly asked (speaking of anachronisms), "Am I harshing your medieval mellow??"  Yup.  The guy's quick, I'll give him that.

Eventually I went back to the hotel, since it's rather hard to pack a tent in one's plane carry-on.   The girlie opted to spend the night at the camp since she had the first shift of retainer duty the next day.  She didn't plan ahead very well, however, and had not packed clothes, a blanket, a sleeping bag, toiletries or anything else and so she spent the rest of the evening bumming the required items from others.

The next morning was it was pouring down rain, so I admit I took my sweet time getting ready to head back over to the event site.  I even planned ahead by asking the breakfast lady if I could get a small piece of saran wrap.  She looked at me like I'd grown two heads, so clearly this is not a request she hears often.  I told her I wanted it to wrap around my toe to protect it from the rain since I couldn't yet wear regular shoes.  She was horrified that I might suffocate my toe and that it would fall off from lack of oxygen as though it were a dog in a box or something.  I assured her I would leave an opening for it to breathe and she finally complied.  Garbed and armed with my toe's cling-wrap condom, I headed back to the campground for the days festivities, though not before flipping out that I'd lost my phone (I needed it for the GPS), only to discover I'd shoved it in my bra while carrying everything else since I lacked pockets.  Smooth move, Ex-lax.

I pulled into a parking spot on-site and watched in amusement as another garbed lady zipped by in a little Smart car.  ("One of these things is NOT like the other...one of these things just doesn't belong...")  It took a little while for the fighting to begin, so I coated myself in sunscreen since the sun had come out and headed over to the field with the chili chair to find a good spot from which to watch the action.  As I sat there in my shades holding a drink, I had a sudden flashback to doing the same thing while hanging out at the girlie's sporting events and thought how bizarre it would be to sit in my modern chair with my modern sunglasses and wearing medieval garb while sporting one of those beer hats with the straws that go down to your mouth, only swapping out the requisite beer cans for goblets of ale.  Rabid fans partying SCA-style...with my ale hat and a pot of woad with which to paint myself, I'd be all set.  Yeah.  These are the weird sorts of things that pop unbidden into my head on a regular basis. 

Obviously I'm gonna be needing this.

Most of the fighting that day was practice for the Pennsic wars so I got to see several different types of battle instead of just the one-on-one bear pit sort of fighting I've seen thus far.  It was most educational, both on and off the field.  First I got to see guys dropping trou right and left as they armored up, but that wasn't a big deal...I used to do a lot of theater and after watching 12 guys in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" bent over in their tighty whiteys to pull up their pants, nothing much fazes me anymore.  Incidentally?  Tighty whiteys??  LEAST sexy garment on the planet, especially if paired with black socks.  I'm just sayin'.  I also saw an unfortunate amount of side boob as women with slightly too loose garb wandered around braless as per the custom of the times.  Sorry, I'm not yet quite that dedicated to the dream.  I'm sewing loose armholes shut and hoisting these suckers up with steel and hydraulics and you can't stop me, garb or not, at least not till I find someone who can teach me how to properly fit medieval garments. 

While sitting on the sidelines, I got to watch some "mundane" campers wander in with cameras to take pictures of the action.  I also got to see some guy walking around with silver duct tape on his crotch which, while no doubt handy, made for a rather shiny and flagrantly obvious wardrobe malfunction repair.  I  saw a lady in garb that reminded me of Charlie Brown's shirt, as well as someone with a giant wooden spoon who looked like an aging Miss Muffet.  At one point the guy next to me asked for my assistance in duct taping his armor on because one of his clasps had broken.  Sure, buddy, I'll strap you in.  I'm not doing anything...just chillin' in the middle ages with my anachronistic camera and my water bottle.    But nothing topped this one chick decked out in a gambeson made in the back to look like a naked woman wearing nothing but a red thong up her butt.  Long yellow braids streamed down her back and she had metal Madonna cones on her chest.  My first thought was "Wow.  Okay then."  But after a couple minutes I thought to myself, "Good on you, lady--wear your fighter femininity loud and proud!"  Then I found out that Madonna was really a GUY who likes to wear his alter-ego "Helga's" attire to make some sort of point about things he doesn't like.  Or something.  Okaaaaay.  Suddenly I was a whole lot less impressed.  But hey--whatever rocks your world, Helga.  I'm in no position to judge someone else's quirks when I have enough of my own to fill up Montana.


In spite of some of the more unusual sights, everyone I talked to seemed really nice and I really enjoyed looking at all the bright colors of everyone's clothing and/or armor, as well as all the flags and pennants wafting aloft in the breeze over the period pavilions.  I could see how people get caught up in the pageantry of it all, especially after watching Khalek himself on the field.  I must say, he looked very impressive and striking as he strode across the field with purpose, all tall and straight and carrying himself as if he really were royal.  I've seen him do the same thing off the field.  There's just something about the way he holds himself that seems to draw people to him.  But then I don't suppose it hurts that he's also pretty easy on the eyes; apparently one of his nicknames is "Sir Hottie."  Nor does it hurt that he always looks very put-together.  He clearly looks after his armor and has been doing this long enough to have amassed a good bit of spiffy garb some of which is presumably from his previous stint on the throne, so he never appears as tattered as some of those forced to create garb or armor out of a mixture of mundane clothes and plastic or whatever else they can cobble together with the funds available to them.  Not that I can talk, mind you, considering I wore trumped-up bedsheets to my first event.  I can see why Khalek's so well-respected...he doesn't just look the part, he is the part.    Admittedly, it's sometimes difficult not to get jealous that he and his wife get to spend so much time with my girlie every week while I have to be satisfied with maybe 2-3 hours every Sunday on a grainy Skype screen and not seeing her in person for months at a time.  Still, I can't really be upset about it because Khalek and his wife are awesome people both in and out of the SCA and they have become a second family for my daughter.  Knowing that she has good people to whom she can turn if she ever has any difficulties while so far from home is an amazing gift, and almost as good as if I could be there myself to help her when she needs it.  Almost.  But they love my girl and they look after her and encourage her, and for that I will be forever grateful.  What mom could ask for more?

Khalek observes the battle.

Anyway, while I watched the battles I got to see people waling on each other in melee battles, on bridges and in little skirmishes elsewhere.  I saw "maces" flying through the air like Olympic hammers and weird projectiles that looked not unlike juggling pins shooting all about for some unknown reason.  I later discovered that these were "arrows" shot by the combat archers.  It was all very fascinating until some dude in red and with a peeling imperial eagle on his shield started yelling at some other guy to "step it up and hit harder."  Two or three of the guys started acting very childishly and began baiting each other, causing tension to escalate rapidly.  Drama!  Eventually it all got sorted out, but I remember thinking at the time how appropriate an event name like "Pax Interruptus" was considering all chaos caused by the testosterone poisoning of those 2-3 guys during the battles that afternoon.

Melee battle.

When the fighting was mostly over, or at least devolving into conflict, I wandered back to the camp.  It's highly entertaining to sit around listening to people randomly spouting bits of history, and very accurate history at that, in much the same way other people might chat about brands of coffee or the school board.  And that's pretty awesome when you think about it.  I still feel kind of awkward sitting around hanging out without doing anything to help, though, but every time I asked everyone said they were good.  It kinda made me feel like a guest, like when everyone is really nice and polite but not entirely sure what to do with you.  Funny--my kid turns 20 and is off at college and still I'm "Arsalan's Mom" instead of Ginger, instead of a person in my own right.  Heck, it happens down here, too.  Like I said, once a parent, always a parent.  I sometimes think you surrender your identity with your placenta during childbirth.  Par for the course, I suppose.  Don't get me wrong--everyone was perfectly nice, it's just that they just don't really know me as anything other than Arsalan's mom yet.

Not long after I went back to camp, court started.  I made sure to get a seat up front (on the ground, since I had no chair of my own) so I could actually see and hear what was going on since I couldn't the last time.  By the time court stated, the blazing sun had gone down just enough to cool things a little, aided by a lovely breeze.  In spite of slicing open yet another toe on some bit of twig on the ground, I was quite comfortable sitting there and proceeded to work on the hem of one of the girlie's garments while court continued.  Court lasted quite a while, though, and eventually my back started to hurt from hunching over my hemming while sitting there on the hard ground.

Court was very interesting, though.  I got to watch the local Baron and Baroness conduct their business, then the King and Queen conducted theirs.  Khalek and Branwyn, as the heirs still at that time, mostly just sat around and looked important (or bored).  Meanwhile, I watched as different retainers kept popping up behind them like there was a revolving door behind their thrones.  It was almost as amusing as watching the off-duty retainers loll about in the grass behind the royal pavilion like a bunch of drunken Romans while awaiting their next turn at retaining.  I also got to see three people elevated to the peerage.  While long, it was an intriguing process.  Someone from each of the orders had to speak up on their behalf, as well as someone royal.  I think there was a fifth person as well, but I can't remember.  The last guy to go did a whole lawyer-up schtick, saying he'd been accused of acting like a peer when he really hadn't been, so they ended up elevating him to solve the problem.  Ba dum bum.  It was pretty funny at first, but he had more than the normal number of people to speak for him, so it did drag on a bit.  It was still interesting, though.

HRH Khalek

HRH Branwyn

After court Arsalan and I went back to camp and got to eat Dave's delicious KC-rubbed steak.  Seriously--it was amazing.  (I snuck a second piece.)  Khalek and Branwyn were detained by business relating to the afternoon's drama but eventually made it back to camp and their dinner.  Later that night, we sat out under the stars listening to the sounds of a racetrack in the distance and guns and fireworks nearby.  Slowly people started pulling out assorted instruments, including assorted drums and bodhrans, an Irish flute, an Irish harp, and Khalek's oud, which is a lute-like stringed instrument.  He's quite good, actually.  Eventually a couple of other drummers from another camp stopped by and joined in the music.  It made me really wish I knew some appropriate medieval (or even Mongolian) songs to sing, since I can't really play any instruments.  Sadly, since I didn't know any songs, I couldn't share the one thing I can do.  Perhaps another time.

During the music, one member of the household started belly dancing (she was also quite good) and we even had a few passersby take turns jumping over our firepit.  Jokes and stories were told, and at one point I laughed so hard that my tears almost ran down my leg.  While court was perhaps the most interesting and educational part of the weekend for me, sitting out under the stars surrounded by laughter and music was by far the best part.  Since I had no songs to contribute, I sat gazing skyward much of the evening, or into the dancing flames and thinking to myself, "I get it...THIS is why they do this."  And you've gotta love a Society that fosters such tolerance and diversity among its members.  So maybe my "medieval mellow" wasn't entirely harshed after all.

Arsalan and I left later that night, somewhere between midnight and 1 am.  Back at the hotel I discovered I'd gotten more sunburned than I thought; in fact, one of the disadvantages to wearing modern undergarments under one's medieval garb became readily apparent when I was changing into my pajamas.  As soon as I peeled off my bra and gravity reasserted itself, I discovered that the red "V" down my neck and cleavage, courtesy of my dress' neckline, turned into a forked red snake tongue trailing down my chest.  Awkward.

I spent the rest of the night trying to think up interesting SCA names for myself, but the best I could come up with at the time were "Ginger the Red-Necked" (no way I'm going with "Ginger the Snake Tongue-Breasted") or "Gingaire the Woefully Uncoordinated."  (It's more medieval spelled that way, doncha know.) Clearly I'm gonna have to work on that some more.

That was all in July, and this Saturday I get to do it all over again, though we'll all be day-tripping instead of camping so no music by starlight.  Boo.  And I'll also have the anti-social Aspie boy in tow, so that should make things more interesting.  On the other hand, I'll get to feel like a queen because he'll be perpetually following some three steps behind us, waiting to see what we tell him to do.  I think I'd rather have a real pointy hat instead of Prince Phillip.  But whatever.  In preparation for our visit, I made B a shirt to go with his kilt, since the polo shirt he normally uses might be rather pushing it.  And I'd hoped to make myself some new garb today as well since I'm getting a little tired of wearing the same dress up up to New York all the time.  I doubt I'll have time, though, because I've been dutifully writing all day instead and I have a few chores to finish before we leave.  (And the Procrastination Express once again rears its tardy head.)  Oh, well.  I don't really want to make lots of garb anyway till I figure out who I'm gonna be so I don't have stuff from several different eras and besides, while I'm losing weight it would be a pain to make new stuff only to take it all back up again.  Maybe I'll just spiff up the old dress with some new trim instead.  We'll see.

Regardless of my clothing issues, I'm looking forward to seeing all the girlie's peeps again and hanging out with them and with their adorable toddler, who reminds me very much of my own girlie at the same age.  (They have my sympathies...heh.)  Now, off to sew for what's left of today, then tomorrow I get to hug my girlie in person!  And after that, I get to see a future king crowned.  Not a bad way to blow a couple of days.

03 October 2012

Ancestry and Adoption

In February of this year, Ancestry.com was featuring a 2-week trial to encourage people to get hooked try out their services.  After thinking about it, I decided "what the heck" and signed up to give it a whirl, figuring I could always cancel two weeks later.  After all, two weeks should be plenty of time to suss out a family ancestry, right?   I spent probably 3 days straight staying up till 4 am filling in little links in my husband's and daughter's family trees.  I stayed up late several other nights as well, though perhaps not quite till the wee hours.  A week and a half in, I looked at B and told him point-blank that we would be needing to continue the membership because there was absolutely no way that I would ever be done in time because his family never ended.

Eight months or so later, I'm still not done.  Granted, I haven't exactly been working around the clock on it because my in-laws' line goes on freaking forever--and that's just on the one thread I've followed through so far.  Heaven only knows where the other threads will lead once I've sifted through them all and clicked on every little green leaf waving wildly at me with yet another "ancestry hint."  The damn things are like kudzu; just when you think you've knocked them all out you find them swarming somewhere else.


So far it's been an interesting journey; turns out my lovely girlie and my spouse are related to any number of European royalty (assuming of course that Ancestry.com is at all accurate), including but not limited to several Plantagenets (including the king who signed the Magna Carta), Robert the Bruce--High King of Scotland, Brian Boru--High King of Ireland, Llewellyn the Great of Wales, William the Conquerer, Eleanor of Aquitaine (think "Lion in Winter"), not to mention assorted other nobles and a few Crusaders as well.  That's the funny thing about genealogy; once you get far enough to connect with one royal, suddenly you're connected with metric crap-ton of royals because they were forever intermingling families for political reasons.  Also--bonus--there is a heck of a lot more recorded information about them.

My grandmother-in-law was big into genealogy and spent years tracing her husband's (B's grandfather's) family history long before the magic Google and interwebs came into being.  She even journeyed to England to look at old records and eventually wrote a book of family history going back several generations.  This record has proved invaluable in my own research efforts.  For example, she insisted that there was a family story that Bonnie Prince Charlie was, in fact, one of her husband's relatives.  The problem was that she could never find any proof.  Years ago I looked into it, but it never seemed entirely plausible because the timelines didn't jive.  There was essentially a generation off between where she'd traced back and where Charlie's line came forward, making it extremely unlikely that the family is directly descended from him (never mind the fact that he was far too busy begetting illegitimate children while in exile in Rome to be taking ship to Virginia where the hubby's relatives first came over).

Interestingly enough, I solved this mystery just the other night, some 20 plus years after I'd first heard the legend.  Turns out there was a relevant Charles in the family tree, just not that Charlie.  Still, good old Chuck was fairly important after all, because he largely bridges that generation gap between documented family history and royal descendents rather nicely.  Good to know that my husband is apparently the 20 gabillionth in line to the throne of England.  (I'd better start packing my pointy hats...)

Pointy Hat of Scotland

This history is fascinating and exciting and intriguing and even a little depressing, at least for me.  When I start with the girlie on the family tree, I can see her dad's name and his family line shooting off across the room on a genetic rocket and back into the middle ages.  It's impressive, really.  Meanwhile, I look down at my name on her tree and see the great, white nothingness that follows it because I was adopted when I was only five weeks old (yay, me!).  I've never had any complaints about being adopted; I always figured I probably came out ahead in the bargain and could only imagine how torturous the decision to give me up must have been for my birth mom even if she was a knocked-up college student as seems to have been the case.   Because I knew I was adopted before I was old enough to really comprehend what that meant, I didn't grow up with any random identity crises or anything like some kids do.  Sure, I sometimes wondered where my various attributes originated--like who in my family had blue eyes or red hair or liked to draw or sing or read.  I also wondered what my ethnicity was, though given my pale complexion it was easy enough to rule out most countries.  But that still didn't stop me from making up nationalities as the mood suited me.  Sometimes I was Irish (hello, red hair and freckles!) if for no other reason than that I was born on St. Patrick's Day.  Sometimes I was French, because I liked the language and because "LaRue" is French.  Being French somehow seemed exotic, at least until some kids at school asked one day what "LaRue" meant.  When I told them it was French for "the street," my darling classmates promptly decided what I'd actually said was "the streak."  Lovely.  I was "Mary the Streak(er)" for the rest of that year.  Kids.  Sigh.

For the most part, though, I never really thought much about finding my birth family.  As far as I was concerned, I already had a family so I didn't seem to be missing anything, nor did I have any great desire to upend either my life or that of my birth parents.  Besides, it's hard to miss what you've never known, and I'm pretty used to the anonymity of my past.  When my girlie was born, I thought more about digging into my past because  a family medical history suddenly seemed infinitely more relevant.  It was one thing for doctors to scrawl "ADOPTED" and slash lines through the family medical history section in all my medical charts, but I didn't want them doing that to my daughter.  Unfortunately, all I could ever uncover was "non-identifying" information, most of which I already knew from the records my mom gave me when I was in my 30s.  These records helped me fill in a very few blanks, such as the height and hair/eye color of my birth mother and "putative" father (it feels so special to know someone was "alleged" to have sired you...as though your existence were somehow a crime).  Because Indiana law does not allow for open adoption records at the time of my birth and because I wasn't in a position to hire someone to pry open the records back then, I filed the new bits of information away and went on about my life in relative peace, at least till I had to keep staring at that giant abyss of blankness behind my name on Ancestry.com while hearing the voice of Duncan MacLeod (of the Clan MacLeod) on a loop as he repeatedly demanded of his adoptive father "Where do I come from?  WHERE DO I COME FROM????" from one of the Highlander episodes.

Who cares where you come from, so long as you come over here.

Perhaps part of my renewed interest is because my adoptive mom passed away in April and I am now (sort of) orphaned.  Suddenly I find myself wanting to know more about who I am and, like the hot Scot above, where I come from.  Everyone deserves to know who they are and what their history is.  Not only do I want to fill in the pieces and thus satisfy my own curiosity, I also the information for my girlie who likewise has a right to know the half of her history she's missing.  So recently, when Ancestry.com started offering limited invitations to DNA testing, I jumped at the chance.  I realized that for a paltrey $100 their testing is not likely to be as thorough or complete as I might like, nor exactly was it gonna turn me into the next Alex Haley.  And that's okay.  But I figured any information about me at this point is far better than the none I currently have.

Eventually the test packet arrived; instead of being provided with cotton swabs with which to scrape my cheek, I was given the dubious pleasure of hocking up a nice juicy loogey into a little plastic test tube, after which I was required to dump in a stabilizing agent, seal it in the provided envelope, and send it off.  Once I'd closed the package I started to get paranoid because I realized belatedly that I wasn't supposed to eat or drink anything for 30 minutes before performing my spit-take, which was suspiciously tinged pink.  Hello, Crystal Light!  I feared that I'd screwed up the test and that the scientists over at Spit Genes backward R Us would be sitting around wondering why I'd felt the need to bleed fruit punch into my sample and would ultimately charge me for another one.  Whoops.

Afterwards, I checked the Ancestry.com site every couple of weeks to see if any results had been posted, which they never were.  Watched pot, and all.  I was supposed to get an email when they were ready, which I also never received.  Then one day I happened to be playing around with the family trees and I happened to look over at the testing section on a whim. I was stunned to see their little pie chart all colored in and with percentage numbers emblazoned on the page, informing me that 60% of my DNA was genetically tied to the British Isles and 34% to Northern Europe.  Probably not surprisingly, there was also listed a  6% of "unknown."  Heh.  As if I needed confirmation that I've always been an "unknown quantity."

Is it just me or does that pie chart look a little like a blue Pokemon?

On the one hand, this information is not in the least surprising.  As I've already mentioned, my physical appearance fairly screams Irish or Scottish, and I've had several people over the years comment that my coloring and build also resembles someone from Northern Germany.  Maybe Boris Becker is my long-lost cousin.  So yeah, DNA peeps, good call on those percentages.  On the other hand, even though this information was not exactly earth-shattering news, I was still not prepared at all for the wave of emotions which hit me the moment I saw those results.  It's one thing to make up crap over the years about where you're from, but another thing entirely to have it confirmed in reality.  And it's yet another thing to see the names and faces of people who are genetically tied to you.  I have 4th and fifth and sixth cousins--blood relatives.  Who knew?  Obviously I knew I had relatives somewhere, but before it was always too abstract to take seriously.  Now it's real, and that kinda blows me away.  Mind you, I can't exactly run over to their profiles and start comparing branches on the family tree because I still don't have birth names to share.  Until I do, contacting any of these people to hunt down members of my family tree is largely pointless.  But I'm not gonna lie...just knowing there are actual people out there in the world with my DNA blew me away.  I cried.  I did.  I felt a little like a fool doing so, but I still did.

Now I want even more to pursue my history.  I want more than just a vague "you were here" red dot on a map.  At 47, I don't necessarily have a burning desire to meet or start up a relationship with my birth parents, even assuming they could be found (I'll cross that bridge if and when I ever come to it), but I do want information.  I would like to find out their names and backgrounds so I can plug it all in at Ancestry.com and maybe have a prayer at long last of making all those connections for my own line.  I want to build my own history as a gift both to myself and to my daughter.  I want to be able to stop hiding behind all the masks I've made for myself over the years and discover instead those bits of myself I've been missing all this time.  What would it be like to see my face on someone else for the very first time in my life?  I've never looked like anyone before, not really, even though I'm constantly hearing from strangers that I look like their ex-wife's cousin's brother's mailman or whatever.  But that's not the same.  What must it be like to exchange a lifetime of pseudo-anonymity for a better understanding of one's own history?  Likely nothing will come of it all, but who knows?  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  Chances are I won't be related to royalty like the girlie and hubs; more likely I'll descend from a McDonald's fry cook or from a long line of people who spent time in the stockade for being a wise-ass.  Wouldn't that be poetic justice?  Still, I'd take it all in a heartbeat, just for the luxury of knowing one way or the other.  Perhaps someday.

In the meantime, the following is a poem I found a long time ago and have always loved; it's dedicated to all my fellow adoptees out there.