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Several months ago, a cousin near DC suggested a family reunion in Savannah, GA. This involved a whole lot of cousins we had never met before. This is a geographical area we (my Bebe sister and I) had always wanted to see, so we went back and forth about if we could do this, but the powers-that-be and some very generous loves in our lives made this work out.

This reunion exceeded our expectations. The new cousins we met were amazing, and reconnecting with old cousins felt like home. Now that the entire generation above us is gone, this is more important than ever. This trip solidified that.

We had the opportunity to start in Charleston, SC, but I want to discuss this gothic, historical city of Savannah first.

https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000003693589“>Savannah video

I loved Savannah. Now we were there in late October, and I have a feeling that I would hate it in the summer (I hate San Diego east county in the summer). The hot humidity of that area would kill me.

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What I loved: the public green squares throughout the city. Twenty-two from what I read. The quirkiness of the city. Interesting people abound, much like in San Francisco and New Orleans. “Characters”, a polite way of viewing people who maybe don’t fit the mold of what is considered normal, but who make life far more interesting. History, of course. Savannah was spared during the Civil War from being torched to the ground unlike Atlanta, so the historical aspects go way back. There is amazing architecture throughout. And the beauty of the trees and Spanish moss. And the food. My new favorite, as simple as it sounds: Savannah rice. I loved it.

I love the gothic ghost stories that abound. The city has a very deep and dark past, with many bodies buried under the town, and many atrocities. The slave trade is the top of those dark histories. The houses of worship are very historical, with the the oldest standing house of worship: First Baptist Church, Savannah (1833), located on Chippewa Square. Other historic houses of worship in Savannah include: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Roman Catholic), Temple Mickve Israel (the third oldest synagogue in the U.S.),[4] and St. John’s Church (Episcopal). We had the opportunity to go inside the St. John the Baptist Cathedral and it was gorgeous.

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Our cousin who arranged this reunion told us that Savannah has the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the U.S. after New York City. During that time, in March, the flowers are in bloom and the city becomes alive (and more pricey).

The founder of the Girl Scouts is from Savannah. As is Flannery O’Connor, whose books I have never read. But I will soon. I must do that now.

Savannah is a place of true Southern charm. I will visit again.

 

 

 

 

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Source: The End of Secrets, or More Confusion?

As someone with an interest in genealogy, I enjoyed this article about one woman’s confusing results from her DNA test, and then her several-year quest to solve the mystery. Who Was She?

In short, she received ethnicity reports that differed from what she was told all her life, discovered her paternal aunt and uncle, and thus cousins, were not related to her at all, and then discovered her father was switched at birth in 1913. Her Jewish father was raised Irish Catholic. The Irish biological son of her “non-grandparents” was raised Jewish by people who turned out to be her father’s biological parents. It led to some confusion, but also led to meeting new family members with whom she connected.

One of these services, 23 and Me, does warn that “unexpected relationships may be identified that could affect you and your family.” With all this new information, the article also states that “the 2020s may turn out to be the decade that killed family secrets, for better and for worse.”

Personally, I think it’s for the better, because everyone should have access to the truth. My personal DNA results did not provide any major revelations, but it did contain some ethnic results I did not know about, and I found that fascinating. Because of that I pushed the Husband to also find out his roots. As this article mentions, the self-seekers are open to finding results, but those who have it thrust upon them, might not be happy about it. That was the case when the Husband received his results.

There was nothing as dramatic like the woman in this story — no revelations about paternity that he didn’t know about, but he was taken aback by the breakdown of his ethnicity. His biological father, who was not a part of his life growing up, had told his mother that he was anywhere from 25% to 50% Native American — Chickasaw, to be precise. His mom told him that at a very young age, and he took great pride in that. He studied Native American history, philosophy, and culture. He chose Native American art, and he most identified with that part of his background. The results came back that he was not Native American at all. Zero percent. He was very disturbed by that, and felt a part of his identify was robbed from him.

He has since reconciled with the facts. From my perspective, I question if these things really matter to who we really are? When our ancient homo sapien ancestors first developed in Africa 200,000 years ago, we were as we should be: one human race. Ethnicity really came about from migration patterns and evolution.

Do you think ethnicity matters in your own self-identity? Would you be negatively impacted to find out something surprising about your own ethnicity?

Again, the story I have linked above was about more than ethnicity, but a surprise finding about family history, which of course can upend someone’s viewpoint. But as the woman in the article, Alice noted, she does not regret finding out the truth. Because as the article states at the end, “it is the truth, after all.”

 

I’ve neglected this whole blog thing for more than six months. Bad me. So with all the crap going on this crazy world of ours, I want to discuss the benefit of make-believe Fairy Princess role playing. I did it last Wednesday, and I had a blast. But pictures are worth a thousand words, as they say. Here are my two princesses.

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One of the sadly disappointing aspects of late has been the downfall of civility. While I do believe that most people are mostly good, there has been a marked increase in mean-spirited rants and cruelty to our fellow human beings. Blame social media if you wish; like any Pandora’s box, there is good, but with it came hateful, cruel trolls who hide behind anonymous names and their screens. But as of late, the lack of civility has come out face-to-face in the public square.

Today, the husband was driving in Alpine when a construction worker from a company working on adding sidewalks inadvertently hit the husband’s truck with an extension ladder of which he lost control. The only damage was to the passenger side mirror on his truck. Nothing else, and nobody hurt, so a very minor glitch in the scheme of things. He parked and talked to the man, who was very apologetic and kind. The worker (Man #1) couldn’t have been more polite, took him to his immediate supervisor (Man #2). The second man was also very professional and courteous, as the husband said he just wanted to get insurance information to have his mirror replaced. Man #2 said he needed to go see the supervisor, Gus (Man #3), who was in his truck further away. When the husband went there with pen and paper in hand to get that information and inform Man #3 about what had transpired (because Man #3 had not seen the incident at all since he was away from the scene), Man #3 immediately started cursing at him. He screamed “I’m not paying, you’re paying, you tried to kill one of my guys. Fuck you!” Man #3 did not ask what had happen, let alone talk to Man #1 or Man #2 who would have corroborated the husband’s take on things, but just went off on the husband. Man #3 whipped out his cell phone and said “smile, I’m taking your picture and I’m going after you.”

Now you have to understand that the husband is not the kind of guy who encourages confrontations in any way. He’s mellow and reasonable. He is polite. He holds the doors for older people at stores and banks. He says “ma’am and sir” to elders and is often asked if he is from the South because he is more polite than most Californians. He was shocked and taken aback by this reaction. He ended up going back to Man #2 who gave him the insurance info, the name of a contact at the company to call, and Man #2 was more than happy to give him Man #3’s name: Gus. From my many years of experience working for a living, I know that someone who would treat an outside person like that has probably been a total dick to his co-workers, especially those in a subordinate position.

This comes after so many stories I’ve heard of hateful conduct. Many in the media based on marginalized groups in our nation who have been threatened, and it’s happening daily at my school. But the husband is not in a marginalized group. He’s mostly white (a large percentage, but not totally), heterosexual, and does not advocate any religious affiliation. A woman from my childhood neighborhood recently had an encounter at a market in which she was there with her service dog and a man came up to her and said, out of the blue “Fuck you and fuck your dog.” Again, she is not from any marginalized group. So there you go – it’s happening everywhere regardless of who you are.

Now, I may sound like a really old person when I say that “back in my day, you’d never, EVER hear of anything like this.” But it’s true. People would never have behaved in public like that. Certainly in any job I had in the past, any person who behaved like Man #3 would have been fired immediately. And any man who behaved toward my childhood neighbor would have been escorted out of the store with the authorities called.

For the record, I am NOT someone who is nostalgic for the good old days. There was plenty of bad in those days, and I believe in progress and relish the strides we have made in our society. But this lack of civility is killing me. I believe in my heart that a tide will turn, but I don’t have any answers on how to conquer hatred and just plain rudeness. Any thoughts you have, I’m all ears.

I had the opportunity to photograph an event at SDSU today in which Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali was the keynote speaker.

IMG_8069.jpgThe legacy of Muhammad Ali, and the one that his widow now preaches, is community service. The famous quote of his is: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Lonnie Ali said she and the family heard this every day. Every day…every single day! But she said she always took it to heart, as that was the way she was raised. Where they grew up, you knew your neighbor, and you lent a hand.

She commented on how service was now down, and criticized social media to an extent. She asked “how many of you know your neighbors”? I must admit, I know a few, but not all.

She struck me as a no-nonsense woman. I liked that. She was to the point and not pretentious. She believed in her mission. She stressed that service didn’t need to be too complex. For students, it could be as simple as helping out a fellow student in math tutoring.

She and Muhammad started a community service organization before he died called Ali75. It calls for everyone to devote 75 hours of community service in honor of Muhammad’s 75th birthday in January. Again, it can be simple things. You don’t have to join the Peace Corps to do this, but maybe just help out a neighbor in need.

I’m not a sports fan. But I like what Ali started in spreading service to others, and I like that his widow is continuing this legacy. She struck me as a classy human with little pretense.

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Recently, the President shared his summer playlist, and it became an instant hit on Spotify and other music sites. As a person who spent her childhood allowances on records (the vinyl kind), music has been a major influence in my life and thoughts. I wish I played, but I didn’t have the discipline. I am, however, a true music lover.

Steve and I will soon be embarking on a road trip to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary (how the hell did that happen)? Music brought the two of us together, and we’ve shared many adventures with various soundtracks to our history. To add to our enjoyment of being on the road again*, we are creating two separate playlists for this journey.

No politics here, but let’s face it: neither one of us are as cool as the President. And I’m sure that our personal playlists will not shatter Spotify or iTunes sales. But many of these songs resonate to our life together. Many have special meanings to various times and events in our lives. Others are just songs I love. So here goes. I’m going to list my playlist first, because Steve is still working on his.

*(the note is that the first song in Steve’s playlist happens to be Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again,” so this is a spoiler for the next post).  

Sharon’s 2016 Road Trip Playlist

  • Feelin’ Good – Nina Simone
  • Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys
  • Us and Them – Pink Floyd
  • Home – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • As – Stevie Wonder
  • Say Hey (I Love You) – Michael Franti & Spearhead Say Hey (I Love You)
  • Two of Us – Aimee Mann and Michael Penn
  • Get Together – The Youngbloods
  • Darkness, Darkness – The Youngbloods
  • America – Yes
  • Boom, Like That – Mark Knopfler
  • Minutes to Memories – John Mellencamp
  • Summertime – Janis Joplin
  • Aganjú – Bebel Gilberto
  • She Came in Through the Bathroom Window/Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End/Her Majesty – The Beatles
  • For a Dancer – Jackson Browne
  • Love is My Religion – Ziggy Marley
  • Samba Pa Ti – Santana
  • Stairway to Heaven – Rodrigo y Gabriela
  • Southern Cross – Crosby, Stills and Nash
  • Cathedral – Crosby and Nash
  • Country Girl Medley: Whiskey Boothill – Crosby, Still, Nash and Young (mostly Neil Young)
  • Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Joe Cocker
  • So What – Miles Davis
  • Defying Gravity – Idina Menzel (from Wicked)
  • What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
  • The Story – Brandi Carlile
  • Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show (plus the Jeremiah Perrine version!)

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I  have been thinking a lot about the possibility of leaving “America’s Finest City” — San Diego. I was born here. Grew up here. But I grew up in the East County city of El Cajon. Certainly not “America’s Finest City” there. In fact, it is an armpit of the area. Extreme poverty, drug abuse, homeless population, and a plain old pox on the area. I have hated El Cajon since I was young, and hate it even more today. It’s a sad, zombie-infected place.

But I moved out to the best of East County in 1988: the mountains. I love these mountains, but sadly, they are decaying because of the drought, the tree beetles, and lack of water. So I’m searching for other areas with water, trees, and a better quality of living.

I feel San Diego, specifically the East County of San Diego, has lost its value, its soul. I love Descanso, where I live now. But there are several things pointing me to leave: water issues; drought;  insane prices.

But the things that drive me to stay: family, number one!

Descanso, number two. An amazing community of diverse humans. I really do love this community. It is home to me.

The “San Diego lifestyle”, number three. Though honestly, I am not a part of it, and realistically I would be more into it when I visit a few times of the year. We never go to the beach. Though I do love me some fish tacos.

So, will I stay or will I go?

In ten days, I’m off to explore with my Bebe sister some Pacific Northwest towns. Maybe we’ll fine some we want to move to, or maybe not. We’ll see. If not, my Bebe sister and I will have a great adventure up north.

 

 

 

The May issue of Vanity Fair had a sisters theme, not the typical theme for that publication, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved reading about some of the famous sisters who stuck together through thick and thin, and some who did not. There was some honest feedback about the triumphs and tribulations that comes with loving that female sibling, because even though it is rewarding beyond measure, it can often come with issues/conflicts/resentments.

I was blessed with two sisters: one much older (13 years older, and who left home at 16), and my Bebe sister, who is 6 years, 8 months, and 20 days younger than me. I specify because when I say “six years younger” she always says “no, seven years.” She’s such a bitch (I say lovingly, to that bitch).

IMG_1514Lisa, Marion and Sharon in Virginia April 2013

As you can see, there was almost a 20-year age span between the oldest and the youngest. Marion, the older sister, gave birth to her two sons even before Bebe sister, Lisa, was born (the reason she left home at 16 was to become a very young bride and mother). Lisa was born an aunt. I was the ripe old age of three when I became an aunt.

There was and still is a bond between us, though we could always drive each other crazy. We often didn’t have the same world view on many issues, or music, or food. But we always had a connection.

This week is especially poignant, because it marks the third anniversary when Marion received the diagnosis that she had Stage 4 cancer in her lungs, stomach and liver, which had metastasized from the breast cancer from five years earlier. She was given that news on June 4; by July 3, she was dead.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my older sister Marion. I still, to this day, have trouble processing that she is really gone. She was such a presence in our lives.

Lisa and I will soon be going back east for a celebration of life for our cousin Tommy on our mother’s side. We go to honor him, but mainly to be with his sister, our cousin/sister Carolyn. We three sisters always bonded with Carolyn as one of our own; now it’s just Carolyn, Lisa and me to send her brother Tommy off. Just the three of us to honor our ancestors before us. Carolyn and Tommy are the children of our mom’s twin sister, Adelaide, aka Addie. Two sisters, born in 1921, close as twins but oh so different.

EleanorAddie20-21MonthsOldOur mother Eleanor (left) and her twin sister Adelaide (right) as toddlers, about 1923.

 

021_19Adelaide, Lisa, Sharon, and Carolyn, 2005

Now, there are two new sisters who dominate our lives: my muse, Maylee (The Moose) who I often post about, and her new baby sister, Adelynn Rose, aka, Addie (Lisa’s granddaughters).

IMG_6443Maylee and Adelyn Rose, May 2016

Yes, another Addie is now in the family. I predict these two girls are going to be as thick as thieves. They will grow up with those bonds that nobody can destroy, as it should be. They are lucky to have each other, just I was lucky to have Marion and Lisa in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Roberta Steampunk

There are people we meet in life, through business, social situations, family and friends — the ones who are the loud, boisterous people who dominate a room. They speak to hear themselves speak and try to impress anyone who will listen. Then there are the quiet ones. Those who don’t say a lot, but once you get to know them, they awe you with their talent, their intellect, their kindness, and their humanity.

Roberta Niederjohn was one of those quiet ones. She was so amazingly talented with her art, her writing, her Photoshop skills, and her love of animals, that she left you in awe. She was incredibly quiet. Humble. Kind. Gentle.

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So much so, that I didn’t know she passed away a year ago until just recently. She didn’t announce her cancer; not a word was ever said. She didn’t announce her absence from work. Nobody at SDSU, where we were colleagues, ever said a word about her sickness. And sadly, nobody said a word about her passing. She didn’t get the major hoopla those in the power seats get. Not the major news story. Not a single word.

She was one of the most gentle souls I had the privilege of working with. A kindhearted human who did not speak ill of anyone. She loved animals, probably more than humans — but what sentient human doesn’t?

Roberta won many awards at the Del Mar Fair for her artistic endeavors.

Roberta, you were loved, admired and appreciated more than you know.

Top photo: Roberta received an Honorable Mention at the 2014 San Diego County Fair for this Photoshop portrait of herself in a Steampunk fantasy land. She titled it “Madame Awaits Her Airship.”

Bottom photo: Kim Lamke Calderon, Sharon Penny, and Roberta Niederjohn after presenting at the SD/PEN Program Meeting in July, 2014.

 

 

 

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