Posts Tagged ‘family’


The year was 1977. I was on a solo trip across America via Greyhound bus and a six-week pass. One of my first stops was a private school in the mountains of Utah where my younger sister was enrolled. My sister and I had a tumultuous relationship, but we were sisters with a sister bond and I was not surprised to be welcomed with her arms open. I met her friends and her boyfriend. We spent a weekend together. It was a wonderful time. I attended their Senior Prom where my sister posed with this man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. She wore a long blue dress.

I returned west in time to see her walk across the podium in our hometown to receive her high school diploma. She had earned all her credits elsewhere, but she was granted her request to graduate with the people she had known since 6th grade. She was radiant and expectant. I mean, really expectant.

I moved to Oregon over the summer, and we exchanged letters. She was distraught about the future of the child she was carrying in her womb. There was pressure to end the pregnancy with an abortion. Neither my sister nor I could condone such a move. The father was supportive but only to a certain point. My sister felt all alone in her decisions.  In the end, she gave the baby up for adoption, but the act marked her forever. She wanted her baby, and she mourned him.

Deni died in 2000. She contracted a bizarre autoimmune disease known as “necrotizing faciitis” or “flesh eating bacteria”. It is a staphylococcal infection that makes it way into a body through an open cut and begins to work on the flesh and internal organs of the infected person. Doctors need to be trained in identifying the infection and most small-town doctors (read: rural doctors) are not. Deni was in sepsis within 24 hours of the first symptom. The hospital was flummoxed and she was loaded onto a Life Flight helicopter to Reno, a several hour flight from Ely, Nevada.

My father called me with a desperate prayer request. I sent it on to my prayer lines. My nephew loaded his little sister into a car and drove to Reno, a five hour drive.

Deni died before morning at what was then Washoe Medical Center. She was surrounded by her husband of a few months, her son and her oldest daughter. She was never to know what had become of her oldest child, the boy born in Ely and given up for adoption at birth.

That haunted me. It haunted my father. Dad gave me all the information he had (Nevada is a “closed” adoption state). The birth date, the sex, the hospital. There was really no hope in finding the baby boy.

In the years since my father’s death (where he made me promise I would continue to search)  I have become close friends with adoptees and adoptee advocates. I know there is no way to open closed records. I favor open records. There may be a lot of pain involved in “reunions” but there can also be a lot of unanswered questions answered. Unresolved adoption trauma can be addressed. I have heard both sad stories but also a lot of wonderful stories of adoptees who found their birth family and managed to resolve both birth and adopted family history.

It doesn’t always work that way. I get that.

My “foster” sister hunted down her own birth mother and had a successful reunion. Her birth mother was present at her wedding where my father gave her away. She reunited with siblings, aunts, uncles. She created lasting relationships. We were all blown away (sorry for the 1970s language) by the resemblance between her and her birth mother: the way they held cigarettes, waved their hands while talking, walked, or expressed themselves. It was uncanny.

My father died in 2011. He felt guilty about my sister’s first born. He made me promise I would continue the search. But what can you do with closed records? I put it out on a few Nevada adoption sites but there’s really no hope.

Then comes new DNA research. I spit into a tube and sent my DNA off to two sites: Ancestry.com and 21andme.com. And I left it. It was enlightening as far as my genetic history: the Irish is minimal, the Scots is somewhat minimal, but the British and Germanic are strong. There’s even some Finnish and Norwegian. I’m basically a melting pot of Caucasian countries. White, oh so white.

I left it there. If my nephew – should he be out there – might eventually take a DNA test. My niece took one, but I knew we were related. My other nephew took one, but I knew we were related. And years passed.

November, 2022. A man in the Midwest took a DNA test for other reasons. He k new he was adopted. He did not expect to find his biological family, much less to find out that that family had been hoping and searching for him for decades. He knew there was an off-chance of finding things out. Still…

I start 2023 with my nephew. My oldest nephew. The one my sister mourned. The one my sister gave up for adoption. The one I didn’t really search for but the one who drove me to take my DNA and make it public so if he ever came searching for his family… he would find us.

Welcome to the Family, John. You have been loved, watched over, and mourned. I’m thankful for your adoptive family. They were angels. I know they loved you. I honor them this day. And I look forward to a year of learning about you and making you feel like one of the very large family you come from.

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1967. Badlands. The little girl on the left dressed meticulously in her favorite colors: pale blue with matching shorts. She was between Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade and the summer was the only pleasant part of those years.

She weighed 64 tons that summer. Yes, I wrote 64 tons. She bragged about it in the car as the family traveled from Winnemucca, Nevada, to Durand, Wisconsin, for the oldest cousin’s high school graduation (and first Melrose Family Reunion). No amount of crying “No, no, no, no! I meant pounds!” (through fits of giggles) would ever change that weight. It was recorded by the kid in the middle. 64 tons.

That little girl got out of the Worst Year in School (so she thought) early. Family vacation. Trip to Wisconsin. “We’ll make it educational.” Her cousins wouldn’t know that she peed her pants in the 5th Grade because the teacher wouldn’t let anyone, no matter how desperate, use the bathroom during classroom time. (That teacher was lucky to keep her job after the little girl’s parents found out that their daughter had been humiliated in front of the entire 5th grade.)

Lesson #1: how to advocate for your child. Notes taken.

Her girlfriends at school got their ears pierced (YUCK!), started dating (double YUCK!), and some girls even started wearing nylons. Not panty-hose – those hadn’t been invented yet: you had to wear a garter belt to hold up the nylons. She still wanted to grow up to be a wild horse and her best friend was two years younger than her.

Vacation was wonderful. We pulled a camp trailer to Wisconsin, but we also stayed in motels and swam in motel pools. When we got to Wisconsin, all the cousins had gathered. Cheryl was the Belle of the Ball, graduating from High School (she was SO Old). Pegi was almost too old to be bothered with us little ones and at one point, she locked us all out of the house. Patti and Terry conspired to torment the rest of us. Janis and I were close. Valerie and Deni. Then the little ones who got locked inside the house with Pegi: Wendy and the Holy Terror, Vicky, who ran around saying “Shit!” and “HAHAHA that’s MY — (insert name of item)”.

We ran next door to the Dairy Queen and scored on free Dilly Bars. Make mine lime.

The trip home was a denouement. The car started over-heating with the trailer. We couldn’t go to St. Louis to see the Budweiser horses. The Black Hills were out of the question, with the visages of four presidents. We managed the Badlands and the memorial for Custer’s Last Stand. I was already a nerd: I knew how the battle happened, that the united Sioux Nation was retaliating for earlier murders, and the only survivor of the U.S. Cavalry was a horse named “Comanche” (ironic, eh?). I was fascinated to see the lay of the battle – Custer wasn’t on top of the hill, but his men were spread out on the side of the hill. The Indians came over the top and swarmed them. Mutilations were mere retaliations for earlier mutilations committed by the 7th. I was only interested in the horse that survived, and we drove by his museum without stopping.

In Yellowstone, Dad embarrassed the entire family by pulling up behind someone feeding the bears and laying on the horn. Other people just stopped and took photos or drove around the bear feeders, but not Dad. He had to make a scene out of it. “Gee, Dad, why’s that guy waving at you with his middle finger?”

We had magazines at home like “Sports Illustrated”, “Field and Stream”, and “Outdoor Life”. Recent articles on grizzly bear attacks in Yellowstone dominated the articles. DON’T FEED THE BEARS was a huge campaign. Dad was a federal Officer on vacation and he used his clout (the horn) to save many a tourist from an unprovoked bear attack. Yay Dad.

The 1964 earthquake shook up the geysers, Old Faithful was off schedule and only rose to a mere twenty or thirty feet in the air. Bust. (Years later, when we revisited Yellowstone, the geyser was back to herself – impressive!)

We camped in Yellowstone. There was this bear. It was huge, cinnamon colored, and hump-backed. It dragged a bag full of trash behind it as it ambled through the camp ground and people took photos.

Remember the little girl in the photo? She was a budding environmentalist. She happily followed the bear, picking up the trash, humming to herself about what a good little environmentalist she was. When the bear settled in a small grove of trees and started to munch on its treasures, the little girl continued to blissfully pick up the detritus. Cameras clicked.

Out of nowhere – and I mean NOWHERE – the vacationing Forest Ranger appeared. He was moving at speeds that would put Superman to shame. He grabbed that little girl by the waist and tucked her under his arm before retreating – quickly – back to the camper. He didn’t say a word, didn’t spank her, didn’t have the breath to speak. She cried because she picked up on the fear.

That night, the family lay snug inside the camp trailer, listening to the same grizzly bear toy with the huge logging chain on the garbage can that was buried in concrete and locked down. In the morning, the garbage can, lid, and chain had all been pulled out of the ground.

Lesson#2. Grizzly Bears are real. Grizzly Bears are superhuman. Dads are faster.

The family returned to Winnemucca, unscathed. The little girl was disappointed about all the missed horses (Clydesdales and Comanche). She called her school friend, Trudi, to tell her all about the trip. And that was when she found out about the rest of the school year that she’d missed – fortunately.

That 5th Grade Teacher was so strict and so mean, but she made one mistake. She allowed the students to “grade” each others’ workbooks. Workbooks were passed front to back or back to front, where a friend usually sat. And said friend would “miss” some of the mistakes on a test, thus ensuring a higher grade. Of course, if it was an enemy who sat before or behind you, all bets were off.

Said teacher discovered the cheating during the last week of school and a riot act was read. Hearts sank into stomachs. Grades couldn’t be changed, but a loss of trust was just as devastating to some of us. We actually idolized that teacher (for reasons still unknown to me, except she was pretty and young, and she had her nice moments). Caught red-handed (or not, because I couldn’t bring myself to succumb to the cheating), we all felt this huge wave of guilt…

Funny – as an adult, I think it was her just desserts, but at the time… I just felt shame and more embarrassment than when I peed my pants in class. Maybe it was because the teacher really tried to make that up to me after she nearly lost her job over it. Maybe it was because it was her first year teaching and she didn’t know what to expect out of a class of 5th graders. Maybe it was because she was pretty and young and my school friend, Trudi, adored her.

Lesson #3 – Cheating never pays. Even when the teacher brought it on herself.

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Joyeux Noel

Christmas is gone and all we have to deal with is the aftermath and presents that still have not arrived at their destinations. Presents are not a big deal: they are material and fleeting. We felt terrible for the Fed Ex employee who made a last-minute delivery at our house in the middle of the day on Christmas. Really, it could have waited one more day. Don knew it was coming and he was happy just knowing.

But thank you, anyway. And we hope you made it home in time to be with your family to enjoy the treasure of their company.

A coworker asked me today what I got for Christmas. I drew a blank. There were a lot of nice things, and I got exactly what I asked for (a squirrel feeder, not your average feminine gift if you believe all the jewelry commercials at Christmas. In fact, I once warned my husband that I’d kill him if he bought me anything with diamonds for a gift. I meant it. I have one diamond and it is on my ring finger. That’s all I care for).

So what DID I get for Christmas? A lot of Christmas cards from friends and family, some of whom I did not reciprocate (I’m sorry! I’ll do better next year!). The company of Chrystal & Brian (and we forgot to take that family photo!). Fen came over and was so happy to see his grandpeople. (He was also very happy with the kibble he got for Christmas. Dogs are so easy to please.)

We Skyped (that is a new verb, isn’t it?) with our son and his three little tornadoes. He has been separated from his kids for a few months due to the military and he grinned the entire time we were on Skype and his minions were running in circles, screaming, and showing off their favorite Christmas toys. Justin’s favorite gift this year was the one from us. I can’t honestly remember Micah’s: he showed us so many. Kori kissed the phone.

We Skyped with our oldest. Zephan was too busy playing with his Legos to spend much time talking to us. Javan’s favorite gift was the airplane we sent him. Eli was too busy showing us all his toys and everyone else’s (he’s the same age as Micah). Verity just wanted to taste the phone. Arwen laughed the entire time, shaking her head at her children’s antics.

Family. Isn’t that what it is all about? Don called all of his extended family. I still need to call my brother.

We got some cards this year that went over the top, into The Best Christmas Cards Ever category.


The guilt-laced greeting from 5-year old Zephan. Ninjago is the set of Legos he wasked us to get him. He was more than pleased that he received a set (which was why he couldn’t Skype very long with us. Gotta build, build, build). He wrote his own name, bless his heart!


Javan decorated both sides of the card he sent us. You can click on the image for a better view, but I’ll just tell you what his mother’s note is: “A big net”. That’s a big net over the Spongebob crew.


He decorated the flip side with “mountains”.

Tell me my grandsons are not competitive. This is Eli’s card:


“Spiderman’s web over Spongebob”


“Lots of mountains by Eli”


Our youngest has taken up art, again. She gave us an 8.5×11″ hand drawn card.


Click on the image to read the note. I can’t write it out. It makes me all sniffy-nosed and teary eyed.

I love my kids. And by “my kids”, I include those who my children have chosen to spend their lives with.

It was a wonderful Christmas, made possible by Skype, the telephone, automobiles, and the U.S. Postal Service. We are so blessed to live in this day and age. It was *almost* like having them all here in our tiny little house.

Except we could say good-bye, turn the phone off, and the sugar-high elves were someone else’s problems. 1476352_10152134603217392_67138169_n

Korinne, shortly after we said good-bye to her. (photo by Levi)

I feel so blessed.

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Our Thanksgiving Day was pretty quiet. The babies were up too early and the men slept in. Arwen fed children and prepared yams. I got up and poured myself a cup of coffee. Walking across the kitchen, WHAM! – my back went out. Just like that. Major spasms in the upper left quadrant that abated slightly when Arwen massaged it, but which have not yet left.

The kids were not planning on eating here today. They have friends (imagine that!) who do not have family nearby and they wanted to hang out with young people who share similar goals and who have small children as well. So by 11:00AM, we were left alone with the dog. Or the dog was left alone with us.

I muddled through getting the bread dough ready, the turkey stuffed and into the oven (missed my brother’s call but he talked to Don) and then I came down with an ocular migraine. I rarely have the headache (although sometimes I get a rebound one within 48 hours of the ocular migraine), but the little halo lights are disconcerting and blinding. This one was a particularly bad one (brought on, I think, by the spasms in my back).

I’ve talked to a lot of people who experience ocular migraines and everyone describes the halo differently, so I wonder if it isn’t different for everyone? For me, they lights start as a pinprick, then slowly become a semi-circle of lights that blink like the neon lights on a ferris wheel at night, seeming to move. I lose about a third of my vision and have to stop whatever I am doing if it requires reading, typing, or driving. A dark room helps, but it doesn’t make the lights go away. In fact, they can be more intense when I close my eyes and am forced to focus on them. Such was the case today.

I was beginning to think the day was a bust all around! But the migraine finally abated and I was able to relax a little and dinner came together as planned, on time.

When the meat thermometer reached 160-degrees (F), I set the table. Out with the fine china and crystal dishes. I opted out of digging out the fine silver flat ware because of my shoulder/back issue, so we used the Oneida flatware. That also meant I did not dig out the Thanksgiving cloth napkins, and paper was the order of the day.

There’s something very relaxing about tradition and even if it was going to be just the two of us, we both wanted some trappings of traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with fine china, crystal and my mother’s antique turkey platter.

When the thermometer beeped at 180-degrees (F), the turkey came out of the oven, the sourdough bread and home-made candied yams went in. I’m really not much into cooking at any time of the year, so I confess that Thanksgiving staples around here have to be simple to make.

The stuffing comes out of a box (I sauteé onions and add them, but the giblets go to the dog. Can’t stand the giblets). The yams are amazingly simple to make: boil whole for 15-20 minutes and they just pop out of their skins. A little brown sugar and butter and bake at 375 for 30 minutes (or so). The marshmallows go on top  for the last 5-10 minutes. The jellied cranberry sauce comes out of a can as do the olives.

The sourdough probably takes the most preparation. I have to feed the started the night before and mix the dough in the morning so it will rise at least once before I form the rounds.

This year I bought a handful of brussels sprouts and nuked them in a covered container with just a little bit of water, then drizzled a mixture of butter, basil leaves, salt & pepper over them. Yummy.

We added a bottle of 2007 Bogle petite sirah to the table and dinner was ready. The turkey was yummy.

We even had company.

The band-tailed pigeons showed up right as we sat down to dine. There are about six of them in the feeder (you can see five) and one sentry in the limb above, and five or more that are not in the photo because they were on other limbs, waiting their turn at the feeder. We’ve seen as many as nine on the feeder at once, with another ten or so hovering n the branches of the lodgepole pine and the trees across the street, or sitting on our eaves. I had to shoot the photo through the window because they fly off the moment the front door is opened a crack. They are very shy dinner guests.

When I started ProjectFeeder Watch, I wondered if I would get feedback when I entered the number of pigeons at our feeder at one time. I did: “That’s an unusually high number of band-tailed pigeons at once. Are you certain?” Oh, yes, I am certain. These beautiful game birds have been coming to our feeder for about three years now. Sometimes cars stop on the street out front and people stare in amazement. I’ve seen pedestrians pause.

We are the only people in the area that I know feed birds and I think our feeder is easy to get to. The band-tailed pigeons love the forest-like feel of the neighborhood where we live and nest here during the summer. In the winter, they flock up and we see them once a day or so. They come in, take over the feeder, fill their craws and fly away to roost and “chew” the bird seed (pigeons peck small bits of gravel which passes through their system, chewing up the seeds in the craw since birds do not have teeth). (Jaci’s Simplified Explanation.)

So we dined with the flock of pigeons outside the window, Murphy curled up on my feet (why my feet?) and no children to share our day with.

Clean-up was simple and the dishes are now done, the turkey carves and refrigerated, and everything put away.

All we need is for the kids to bring us home one of the pies they baked and took over to their friends’ house. In my pie pans.

I’ve called my son and wished him Happy Thanksgiving; Don has called his parents and his brother; my brother called and talked to Don. I need to call my dad in a few. I talked to Chrystal yesterday (she had other plans today as well). So we’re good in the family department.

Thankful for a quiet day since my shoulder still hurts like a son-of-a-gun and I’m a little more than crabby. Hopefully whatever I did to put it out will resolve itself over night. Because tomorrow is Christmas Tree Day.

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