22 April 2019

Floral Fiasco

Have you ever had one of those Mondays where you wake up exhausted, only to find yourself surrounded by a field of flowers whose glorious perfume is wafting headily around you like some sort of botanical crack you can't quite stop snorting? Yeah, me neither.

Until today, that is.

Today, as we speak, I have three rather large floral arrangements deployed about my kitchen, all of which feature Easter lilies of one variety or other. In fact, it's starting to look like Easter exploded (beware Weapons of Mass Resurrection), or perhaps as though Jesus were planning to resurrect himself directly from my basement (it is a little tomb-like, after all). Needless to say, this deluge of daylilies was not remotely planned, at least not by me. I'd like to say that some hot, passionate European man was trying to win my favor(s) by showering me with flowers, but alas that's not the case. Nor am I normally so popular as to warrant possessing multiple bouquets at once. The last time I had multiple bouquets was when my cousin and sister both happened to send me gorgeous floral arrangements for my birthday this year; receiving them was especially nice considering I had a fever at the time and was busy hacking up several internal organs for fun and profit. The number of times people have gifted me with multiple floral arrangements prior to that? Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch. In other words, one less than the number of times I have voluntarily tried Brussels sprouts. Frankly, I want to be IN European countries like Brussels, not have them sprouting ominously inside my intestinal tract. But I digress.

Here's the thing: I love flowers. I blame my mother, who was so obsessed with them that I felt morally obligated to send her some for every birthday and Mother's Day once I'd left college. I love flowers almost as much as she did; I just don't love them so much that I'm willing to put in the necessary effort to grow and care for them. I overheat easily enough as it is and, let's face it, Tennessee and Georgia (where I spent most of my adult life) are not exactly friendly climes to the melanin-impaired. Nor have I been given flowers for the majority of my life. As a result, I occasionally send some to myself, especially at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Shut up...it is not sad and pathetic. (Okay, maybe a little.) Usually I prefer to order directly from local florists for the best selection and best bang for my buck, but sometimes it's difficult to resist the 25% off coupons with which Teleflora keeps wallpapering my mailbox.

Because I am excessively entranced by pretty glassware (yay, genetics!), I was particularly attracted to a flared turquoise vase used as the base of one of Teleflora's arrangements. Not only is turquoise is my happy color, I figured I'd be far more likely to use this vase over the cheap, crappy clear glass vases one usually has lying around, so a couple of weeks ago I ordered the relevant arrangement. I requested delivery for Friday, April 19th to have it in time for Easter while not having to spend all day Saturday waiting on delivery. Instead, I waited all day Friday for a delivery that never came.

You will be MINE, you fabulously flared turquoise vase.
(Photo credit: Teleflora)

Friday evening I received an email confirming delivery. Say what, now? Naturally I called Teleflora for clarification. After what felt like three hours on hold, I finally spoke to a (theoretically) real person who promptly told me that I shouldn't have gotten the confirmation and that my arrangement would be delivered Saturday instead. I expressed polite displeasure at the delay but was basically blown off. Fine. I decided to wait and see what happened.

The next day I was up by 9 am in case the delivery arrived early...which it didn't. When it finally showed up around 2 pm, I was less than thrilled. The vase was lovely but was not the fabulously flared turquoise vase I was anticipating. The flowers, meanwhile, were awful. I realize one has to make allowances between what Teleflora pictures on its website and the reality of what any given local florist may have in stock at that particular moment, but what arrived was not remotely similar to the arrangement I'd purchased, not least because its pale pink roses looked as though they'd been drained of color by a horticultural vampire before being used violently as a flyswatter. Most of the petals were tatty and raggedy as though they belonged to whatever floral dregs had been left behind at some grocery store at 6 pm on Valentine's Day.

Sad flowers are sad.
Half-dead two-day-old roses FTW! The vase and tiger lily are pretty, though.

Now normally, I'm not much of a complainer. Okay, that's a lie. I complain all the time, same as everyone else...at home. Even so, I rarely bother to complain about things at stores or restaurants and such; most of the time I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt because I've worked in both retail and restaurants before and I just don't think complaining is usually worth the trouble. Then I looked at those sad, wilty roses and thought "Yeah, no." So I emailed Teleflora (gasp!). I politely suggested that the flowers I'd received were substandard, that the vase was not as pictured, and that the delivery fee had not been adjusted to account for the late delivery. Done and done.

Naïveté is not a good color on me.

An hour later, I received a second knock on the door and was presented with a second floral arrangement from a second florist. S'cuze me, what? I checked the enclosed card, which had the exact same wording and sentiment as the first arrangement. Okay, so not from somebody else. What the fresh hell? At least this arrangement was much prettier (not to mention much closer to the original online photograph); in addition to the giant blue hydrangeas (which I now permanently associate with my sister), it had FRESH roses festively sprayed with tinted glitter and was further festooned with colorful fake easter eggs. Sadly, it too lacked the fabulously flared turquoise vase. Still, it was a vast improvement over Delivery #1.

Happy flowers.
Boring vase.

I again emailed Teleflora, using the diplomatic version of "WTH??" to inquire why I now had TWO floral arrangements (neither of which possessed the vase that was my entire reason for ordering from them in the first place) and whether or not I had been double-charged for this plethora of petals. The real irony is that as if two bouquets weren't enough, I also still had the pretty azalea I'd purchased on Thursday with the (likely deluded) belief that I would plant it in the front flower bed before it dies.

I do love me some variegated blossoms.

Happy Easter to me--what a weird embarrassment of floral riches.

Sunday evening I received replies to my two emails from Teleflora. The first apologized for the substandard product and inaccurate delivery and informed me that I would be refunded $36.83 (which happens to be double the delivery fee I paid but way less than the cost of my order, so that makes sense). The second email confirmed that I wasn't charged twice; it further stated "The recipient may do what she would like with the arrangement that was in bad quality and keep the one that is in better shape or do what you would like with them." Okay, then. All's well that ends well, fabulously flared turquoise vases notwithstanding.

But wait! There's MORE!!!

This morning as I was leaving to go to my gym, I noticed a tag hanging off the front door handle; I foolishly assumed it was advertising. When I returned home and pulled it off the door, it turned out to be a notice from the same florist who'd sent the Happy Flowers, Boring Vase (sounds like a movie title, right? Like Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger?) Apparently they'd tried to deliver yet another arrangement yesterday. On Easter. When they're closed and half the city is at church. If I'd head-desked any harder, there would be a chalk outline of me draped over my laptop right now.

Seriously???

I called the florist and told them I'd received a hangtag.

"Name?"

"Stuart."

"Oh, yeah, we've got one for you right here. We received a complaint about quality and we take complaints VERY SERIOUSLY."

"Wait, WHAT??"

Fifteen minutes later I was still trying to explain the sequence of events that had led to this increasingly ridiculous situation, including assuring the lady that her arrangement had been absolutely lovely (incorrect vase notwithstanding) and that she had no need to send me another because the "substandard flowers" had come from a different florist (who conveniently left the company's name off the enclosed card and envelope). She would have none of it. She insisted that they wanted their customers to "be happy." She did rather fairly point out that it was impossible to keep every one of Teleflora's vases in stock and wished they would notate that on their website; she also expressed a justified frustration over Teleflora always mentioning quality complaints without specifying the nature of the quality issues, but she refused to be swayed by my pleas that her business was not at fault. She then informed me that she'd send the delivery guy over with the new arrangement and the "MUCH BETTER, MUCH PRETTIER VASE" right away.  (Insert mashup of a facepalm and scream emoji here.)

"FFS" didn't even begin to cover it by this point...I was starting to feel like I was in that episode of Friends where Phoebe's bank accidentally deposits an extra $500 into her account and when she tries to rectify the situation, she ends up with an additional $500 and a football phone. Things escalate further when she gives all the extra money to a homeless woman who then buys Phoebe a soda with a thumb in it, causing her to receive $7000 from the soda company. Apparently life now imitates art instead of the other way 'round, because you just can't make this shit up.

I delayed my post-workout shower for fear that Delivery Guy would arrive just as I was lathering up; instead I ended up marinating in my skanky workout gear for an extra hour and a half before he arrived. I think it was the same guy who brought the other arrangement on Saturday because he looked decidedly less pleased to see me again; I'm hoping it was just my stank and not him being all nonplussed and branding me the complainer I apparently am, but my expectations are low.
Arrangement #3...because there can never be enough flowers in one house.
MOAR HYDRANGEAS!!!
You certainly can't fault the Berlin Blossom Shoppe's customer service...major props to them. I give them 10 stars out of 5.

The new arrangement is also stunning, just like Florist #2's previous arrangement, and the "much better, much prettier" vase weighs enough by itself to bludgeon the troll from Harry Potter insensate or to breach a small castle. (Mmmm....castles.) I felt so badly for the second florist being made accountable for something they had not really done wrong that I even dug through my trashcan looking for the cellophane which had encompassed the original floral arrangement in the hope that it would have a sticker denoting the purveyor's name. Unfortunately for me and Florist #2, said cellophane appears to have evaporated into thin air. Perhaps Florist #1 snuck into my house and absconded with the evidence in order to cover its substandard tracks. If only I'd had the Crystal Bludgeoner 2000™ yesterday to greet him.

Ah, well...I tried. Now I have three generously-endowed vases of flowers (plus one bonus azalea) arrayed about my home for the low, low price of 2/3 the original cost of the first one, all because Teleflora's left hand didn't seem to know what its right hand was doing and because a local florist was wildly enthusiastic about rectifying an error it hadn't made.

This has all gotten entirely too ridiculous, even for me--there is absolutely no way I could have made all this up on my own. On the plus side, my house currently smells like Easter, Spring, and a botanical garden all rolled into one, and I am now extensively armed with leaded crystal weaponry. Plus I have leftover Honeybaked ham and I'm not afraid to use it.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a sick loved one or someone in the hospital who needs a pick-me-up, let me know. I juuuuuuust might have an extra flower or two lying around to share.

18 January 2019

"Enjoy the Journey"

Who are you?

Do you know?

Understanding both the physical and metaphysical journeys of our ancestors not only allows us to reconnect with family previously lost to us, but helps us to better understand ourselves.

Everything about genealogy is a journey. Doesn't matter whether it's the literal tracing of your ancestors' migration pathways or rebuilding their life stories so you can comprehend why they might have made the choices they did. Genealogy is our journey as well; let's face it, much of our time is spent delving into dusty archives as we travel cross-country in our efforts to dislodge a particular ancestor from the mists of time. Sometimes they come willingly, conveniently saluting us from easily locatable records. Other times we need the the FBI and/or a fleet of backhoes to resurrect them. Either way, rediscovering them is an inestimable prize.

Knowing who our ancestors were really helps us fathom who we are. For example, solving the mystery of my birth family gave me a much-needed context for so many of my personality traits and interests. Things make so much more sense now that I understand on a more granular level that I am the product of two disparate families melded together. Their journeys are my journey.  I am the mischievous twinkle of my birth mother's eye while I simultaneously exhibit my mom's mannerisms and the lifelong love of reading with which she imbued me. I may have inherited my birth father's revulsion to alcohol and coffee and his love of words and language, but I am also the embodiment of my dad's humor and goofiness. In discovering them, I have discovered myself.

Kentucky, I am in you.

This week I've had the pleasure both literally and figuratively of traipsing cross-country, from South Jersey to Utah and from New England to the Midwest. Both voyages have brought me closer to distant friends and to even more distant relatives. I am grateful for both pilgrimages.

Every night after I've finished communing with dead people in the Family History Library, the bite of the cold January are riffles through my hair and frosts my breath, making me feel more alive than ever.

The magic of Salt Lake City and the 2019 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

Thank you, SLIG, for another epic journey.  Safe travels home, everyone.

17 January 2019

Reflections

As the last day of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy approaches, I've been reflecting on some of the things that have meant the most to me this week. While there are myriad moments from which to choose--my 'A-ha!' record discoveries included--I believe that my favorite moments this year have come from time spent with friends and colleagues; all are family history warriors striving to establish relationships between people long dead while simultaneously forging relationships with (living) colleagues who can understand their passion for genealogy like no one else.
By its very nature, genealogy can sometimes be a solitary enterprise given that so much of our time is spent alone, whether researching online or happily digging through dusty archives, whether writing reports or analyzing evidence. Therefore the opportunity to spend time touching base with colleagues can be invaluable; not only does it allow you to keep up with advances in the field, it gives you a chance to crowdsource research problems. Sometimes a fresh eye is all it takes to help break down brick walls. 

As a result, pretty much all my favorite moments this year have been those shared with others: having breakfast with Susan Hayes on Saturday morning then spending all day researching in the FHL, where she named her SLIG elk "Clyde;" being endlessly entertained by Derek Wood (a fellow theater geek) and his plotting to stage a "dream ballet" in the FHL; being approached in the elevator by a complete stranger who told me "Mary Stuart? I've heard about you!" (Turns out she's the sister of June Anderson, who has been in several of my British track courses. When her sister asked why June had never mentioned her, June pithily replied, "Why would I tell her I have a sister?? You aren't dead yet!!"  You've got to love genealogist humor); Giggling about Juli Anderson's Swedish ancestor, who lived in a small village called Gustaf Adolf (presumably after the king of the same name), a name which unexpectedly showed up in one of the bibliographies in my syllabus; listening to random "Overheard at SLIG"-type quotes like "Intermediate genealogists look at records; advanced genealogists look at evidence"/"Search for evidence, not just information," apparently quoted by the inimitable Tom Jones; meeting a guy named Bob (who has a lovely dry wit) in my class...turns out  in small-world fashion that Bob is also from the Philadelphia area and has been at two previous genealogy institutes with me without either of us knowing it; exchanging enthusiastic "good mornings" each day with the housekeeper in charge of our floor, whose infectious smile always peeps out from beneath her hijab as she invariably beams charmingly from around the door of whatever room she was currently in. Each moment is a snapshot in time I will take with me when leave, and which will cheer me when I am eyeballs deep in all the exciting new resources introduced this week.

While all of those moments were great, without question my absolute favorite memory of this week will be having dinner each night with my genealogy posse (shoutout to Abby, Susan, Derek, Juli, Heather, and Alexa!) Every evening we've gotten together someplace different to share laughter, a meal, and a brief respite between class and heading off to each of our various activities for the night. We've also taken turns going around the table to dish on what was our favorite thing to have learned that day in class, neatly encapsulating our journeys while bringing a unique perspective to it as well. It has rapidly become the cherry on the milkshake of each day, and the bow on the gift that is SLIG.

The SLIG Dinner Club (What? The 'Breakfast Club' was already taken.)
Photo credit: Abby Peart Camarato, ©2019
At the end of the day, you realize that genealogy and family history are all about people--whether living, or dead for centuries--and their stories because one way or another, ferreting out those stories is what brings us all together.

16 January 2019

SLIGth-Inning Stretch

Wednesday. Hump Day. I'll admit it; I was dragging pretty hard this morning. Given my observations of many of the attendees I saw and chatted with today, I wasn't the only one feeling it either. It's that time of the week in every institute when you've been running full-tilt for three straight days. With so many wonderful evening opportunities like SLIG Night at the FHL or lectures or the Ancestry Pro-Genealogists meet-and-greet (never mind the siren call of the FHL itself), sometimes it's hard to tear yourself away from all the excitement to accomplish minor things like doing homework, playing with all the exciting new resources your instructors have been showing you or, in my case, blogging. As a result, you might find yourself staying up entirely too late and sometimes there just isn't enough caffeine in the world to make your brain start functioning properly again.

Today was totally that day for me. Sleep-deprived as I was this morning, I managed to focus well enough, completely fascinated as I was by the Congressional Serial Set and other resources introduced to us by Rick Sayre. I also heeded D. Joshua Taylor's later admonition to make sure we didn't settle for looking only at pension files themselves, but to consider accompanying affidavits and such because sometimes they had mentions about or were written by our ancestors. In fact, so prescient was this advice that during the break I actually found just such a mention of my 4 times great-grandfather on a letter in the pension file of one Rebecca Clark, widow of War of 1812 soldier Elisha Clark. The mention had nothing to do with the pension application itself, but was instead a side note about other cases being worked by the same lawyer/agent. Best of all, the note listed a pension application number for my ancestor, which is not currently indexed on Fold3 or elsewhere.  Score!!
Meanwhile, that little triumph didn't stop me from half-jokingly telling Angie Bush before the last session of the day that she needed to hire me to work on DNA for her because DNA is my jam, after which I promptly embarrassed myself later when I stared blankly at her like a complete idiot during a case study presentation because my brain had finally decided enough was enough and apparently powered down mid-session. Sigh. Making Great First Impressions since 1965.

Such is the cycle of these institutes, though. You come in so determined to wring out every conceivable ounce of knowledge while you can--and you DO--but eventually your body just needs a break (traitor!!) or else you have to slow down long enough to process everything you've recently learned so you can remember even half of it when you go home. It's a little like Education by Fire Hose. Still, I wouldn't change a moment because every time I attend an institute such as Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I am reminded why I do what I do and I leave thoroughly fired up to keep doing it, even during those times when life tries to get in the way. Who could ask for a better gift?

After classes, I went up to my room to grab my coat before dinner and some quality time at the FHL. I glanced out the window and, to my surprise, saw mountains. Considering I'd been grumbling earlier in the week about not getting the mountain view room I'd been promised, this came as quite a surprise. I guess that's what happens when an inversion ends and clears away the clouds. Kinda poetic, when you think about it. We come here to climb the mountain, whether by trying to surmount some research obstacle or to continue our education so we can strive for the pinnacle of our profession, only to one day have the clouds clear and bring our goal suddenly into sight. What a perfect metaphor...and a much-needed boost out of my sleep deprivation (Zombie Achievement unlocked!!)

Hello, Mountains...how you doin'??
From here the rest of the week will no doubt pass in the blink of an eye, and I'll suddenly find myself on a long flight back to the east coast wishing it hadn't all ended so soon or that I could do it all over again.

Eye of the Tiger

All evening long I've had the song "Eye of the Tiger" stuck in my head. You know the one. First  Rocky Balboa does a lot of sparring with Apollo Creed to the strains of "It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight..." and the next thing you know he's standing on a beach hugging Apollo while thrusting his fist into the air in triumph for having successfully beaten his friend in a race.

With all due respect to the band Survivor, I often think that last lyric should be changed to "the thrill of the chase" because, as genealogists, so much of what we do is all about the chase...about the journey.  After all, isn't that why we come to programs such as the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in the first place? To take classes that will give us the tools and resources we need for the hunt?  Sure, the chance to network is equally as valuable and pleasurable as doing serious research, but at the end of the day we're all still hunters--fighters--striving to rise "up to the challenge of our rival" (aka our brick walls) as we "stalk [our] prey in the night." Otherwise, why do what we do?

Tonight I had the opportunity to stalk some prey of my own in the form of a Kentucky land grant for my 5th great-grandfather, a document that was previously unknown to me. However, an energetic series of lectures today from the amazing D. Joshua Taylor, during which he introduced us all to the assorted pathways and waterways by which our ancestors migrated to the Midwest, gave me tools for a much-needed breakthrough. After introducing the migration paths to us, Josh then gave us the opportunity to go back through our sources and build a timeline for one of our family groups to help us to identify the pathway this set of ancestors might have taken.  While I can't yet be sure, I think it highly likely that my 5th great-grandfather's family came straight across the National Road, especially considering they lived at several stops along that pathway. This revelation alone would have been a thrilling enough discovery for any given day, but that knowledge, combined with the new sources introduced earlier in the morning, also ultimately led me to an index of Kentucky land grants. Conveniently for me, the FHL has a copy of the index in their holdings.

Thanks to D. Joshua Taylor, I now have a shiny new digital copy of an 1821 land warrant for that very grandfather. Had I not been so tired this evening, I guarantee that not only would there have been Rocky-style fist pumps in the air, raucous singing and embarrassing dancing in the snow would also have no doubt ensued. On the plus side, my inevitable crash and burn onto the slippery sidewalks would have created brand new record sets for future genealogists to stalk.

I do so love what we do. There is nothing more thrilling or gratifying than that moment when we locate an elusive record to fill in yet another piece of the puzzle of our lives. Each success, however small, is like finding the Holy Grail all over again. If I'm going to use "Eye of the Tiger as a random analogy, I guess that would make SLIG our collective Apollo Creed, supporting us and teaching us and pushing us to succeed and to surpass.

I may not have gotten around to performing my Rocky salute, but I can at least raise a glass to the amazing staff and faculty at SLIG for helping us all be "up to the challenge of our rival."

Here's to superlative SLIGs and successful quests, not to mention 37-year-old rock songs.
(Photo credit: Abby Peart-Camarato, ©2019)


15 January 2019

Genealogy Disneyland

Three days ago I hopped on a plane to Salt Lake City, which my family has bemusedly taken to referring to as "Genealogy Disneyland." In fairness, they aren't exactly wrong--very little is more attractive to the average, standard-issue genealogist than a chance to deep-dive into the extensive holdings of the nearby Family History Library, to expand our knowledge base by taking valuable courses from the rockstars of our field, or to spend some quality time with people who "speak our language" and who will happily spend hours discussing dead relatives, obscure record sets, the mysteries of DNA, and/or telling genealogy "dad" jokes without ever once rolling their eyes at us for being the giant family history nerds we are (and proud of it!) The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, affectionally referred to as "SLIG," provides ample opportunity for all three.

This may only be my second-ever SLIG, but in many ways it already feels like home. There is nothing quite so joyful as catching up with old friends and meeting new ones; it's like going to Homecoming or having a family reunion, but without the drunk uncle in the corner. I also love hearing the squeals of excitement when a classmate is introduced to that one new resource which will end up bulldozing a life-long brick wall, as well as the genuine pleasure, support, and enthusiasm we all share for each others' discoveries because we all understand the significance of such break-throughs.

Likewise, I find something rather poetic about the majority of attendees having to make long journeys to seek their fortunes here at SLIG--whether in classes or at the Family History Library (FHL)--just as so many of the very ancestors we're hunting also had to make long journeys to seek their fortunes. Meanwhile, I'm taking a course on what amounts to westward expansion (albeit only as far as the Midwest), and I'm pretty sure my trip from New Jersey to Utah likewise counts as pretty westward expansion-y if a bit quicker than my ancestors' journeys. Clearly I was meant to take this course.

Day One is now over and already I've danced with Native Americans, been introduced to exciting new resources, gotten fired up about the future sessions on my course, and scarfed fajitas at the Blue Iguana with an amazing group of people; so far the worst thing I can say about SLIG is that I lost my good Chapstick.

It's been a very full 36 hours, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

As for the rest of the week?  BRING. IT. ON.