Yes! I’m A Neanderthal!

Barb Knowles’ Neanderthal Percentage from The Genographic Project


My dearest goal has been reached.  As you all know, one of my biggest, oddest dreams is to have Neanderthal DNA.  I just think that it is so very, very cool.  Yes, it’s a tiny percentage. Just 1.5%.  But it’s a tiny bit bigger than the average tiny bit in this project.

What does this mean?  Besides the obvious, that I’m wicked cool.

According the National Geographic Genographic Project, “As our modern human ancestors migrated through Eurasia, they met other hominin species and interbred. These “cousin” species, like the Neanderthals, are now extinct, but the genetic makeup of nearly everyone born outside of Africa today includes 1 to 2 percent DNA from these hominins, living relics of ancient encounters.”

Therefore, as far as Neanderthal DNA goes, I’m not unique.

I am an imp, though.

I want to go back in time and tell Cotton Mather, my 1st cousin, 10x removed, that he has Neanderthal DNA.  How would that have played in Massachusetts?

This Neanderthal Anglo-Saxon wants to get an ax, go to her hut and build a fire.

My goal has been achieved.

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Harry Potter Saved Me

One of the hardest things I’ve done as a mother is to drop my son off at college his freshmen year.  I was so proud of him.  And he was only going to be a 3+ hour drive away.

I went hysterical.

My husband, who knows me very well plus has a knack for self-preservation, thought this might be rough for me, so he planned for us to drop my son off at SUNY Delhi and then continue on to Niagara Falls.

For all my Canadian peeps…..EVERYONE in the US knows your side is much better, and cleaner, than ours.

I didn’t want my son to see me crying, or depressed, so I was keeping a stiff upper lip as we helped him get acclimated, checked the school out a little and then got out of his way.  He was so excited/nervous, the same way I felt when I first left for college.  He was ready to shoo me away.

He and I are very close and he’s my youngest.  His sisters did not move away and I knew this exciting time for him would be depressing for me.

I was really good until my husband and I got in the car to leave.  Before my husband turned on the car I started sobbing.  I mean sobbing.

Even I knew I was over the top.  Tons of you out there have gone through the same thing.  It’s about a family change.  As our children move to the next stage in life, so do we.  It takes an adjustment.  I was extremely fortunate because I did not have to endure a divorce at the same time, although I’m sure Tim was tempted.

I cried from Delhi, NY to Niagara Falls, Canada.  Tim was Job.  He suggested stopping to eat.  Sob.  Listening to the radio.  Sob.  Eventually he got a lawyer.  I’m kidding.  Finally, I picked up one of the Harry Potter books I had brought with me.  I had already read the first one, because I read it in Spanish, so I really remember that.  I think I brought #2,3,4 with me.

Reading Harry Potter got me through missing my son, staring the new era of our family life in the face, and being on vacation when I just wanted to cry.  It is incredibly embarrassing to think of how much I cried then.  Poor Tim.

We did do fun things in Niagara Falls.  Went to restaurants, took a ton of pictures, took the boat ride under the falls.  We went to gardens and just drove around.  And I cried and read.

We were probably gone a total of 4 days.  We had fun, but I was still really down in the dumps.  What saved me?

Harry Potter.  I finished 3 Harry Potter books in 4 days.  Total escapism.  Little sleep.  By the time we came home I was done with Harry Potter for a while, but was no longer so depressed.

I missed my son incredibly.  And then two weeks later he came home for the weekend to hang out with his friends.  I went hysterical and I was going to see him in two weeks?

Who knew?

Thank you, Harry Potter.

SUNY Delhi

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As I was in pre-op at our local hospital being prepped for cataract surgery, the nurse asked me “Do you have anything that comes out of your mouth?”  To which I immediately responded “Words.”

I felt clever when she told me that no one has ever given her that reply.  Then a little embarrassed when I realized that she meant dentures or retainers.

But I have a body filled with words.

Words pour out of my mouth, whether anyone wants to hear them or not.

Words pour out of my mouth, whether anyone wants to read them or not.

Words represent ideas and are unstoppable.

addiction, adhd. Alaska, alcoholism, ancestors, authors, awards, babies, baptism, bereavement, birth, BLOGGING, blogs, books, brothers, Canada, Catholicism, children, Christmas, culture, death, DNA,  Ecuador, editing, Education. English, ESL, facebook, families, family, fantasy, Game of Thrones, genealogy, genres, George RR Martin, girl scout cookies, grammar, grief, health, heaven, high school, history, HUMOR, kichwa, languages, life, lifestyle, literature, love, marriage, MEMOIR, memories, music, netflix, opinion, parenting, politics, prayer, reading, religion, Simon Winchester, sobriety, Spain, Spanish, students, teachers, TEACHING, technology, USA, vacations, Vermont, WEST POINT, WordPress, writing

Words pour out of my mouth.

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Taking a Trip Through Love Canal: The Residuum

While I’m still hoping that all of you check out my Discover Feature , I had to share this incredible post currently featured on Discover. I remember the Love Canal catastrophe in the 70’s, but as most of us, I have been complacent about chemicals we use in our households. Which is the one area where I can immediately affect change. This is a spellbinding article and an important one.

Jack Caseros

About 2.5 years ago, I heard Lois Gibbs speak. Her story, as a resident affected by the environmental disaster at Love Canal, NY, served as a touchstone for the work I do IRL—as an environmental scientist, a large part of what I do is contaminant remediation. As I mark five years of doing my best to reduce contamination and the risks it poses, I see Love Canal rise in the news again.

People often hear “environmental scientist” and automatically translate this to “environmentalist” (I need a whole other post to explain what’s wrong with that misnomer). Moreover, people usually think my main focus is climate change. To the wary public, I am the guy who wants ‘everyone to live as if we were in the stone age’.

I have very little defense to that, besides sighing quietly to myself.

I am not of the inclination to hold…

View original post 2,205 more words

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What Makes A Family?

Yesterday, after school, I was hanging out with a colleague for a little while.  We were talking about my blog (believe it or not, she actually brought it up first).  I told her a story about when I had reblogged a post from one of my favorite bloggers, which is hysterical, and later another friend of mine told me it was the best and funniest blog post I had ever written and she was sharing it with her friends.

But, of course, I hadn’t written it.  Paul at The Captain’s Speech had written it.  The post is about going to a restaurant with friends and I guarantee that every person reading this can relate to it.

In typical Barb Knowles style, I’m making this story a little longer than it needs to be. AT ANY RATE, when my colleague read Paul’s blog, she saw his profile picture and said “Is he your son?  He looks just like you.”

I fell out.  Paul is from Canada, I’m from the US.  If we did our DNA our ancestors would be from different parts of Europe.  But he does have black hair, as I did.  And he’s around the age of my kids.

But the point, I think, is that I know him pretty well now and think of him as my “blog son” (somehow, as happens sometimes, this is becoming Barb’s blog featuring Paul). Which made her laugh out loud.

Now maybe I’m actually getting to the point, our conversation became how charged the word family is.  Is Paul my family?  No.  But I interact with him more than with some of my nieces and nephews and I never hesitate to give him unsolicited advice as I do with my own children.

Many of my students are like family members and I still have contact with parents of students of mine who graduated long ago.  Are we social friends?  No.  But we share a bond.

What makes a family?  As I do our genealogy, I’m drawn to these ancestors of mine. “Blood is thicker than water” is an expression for a reason.  But there are many people in my life, as I’m sure there are in your life, with whom we share a familial relationship.

Acquaintance:  Have you met my sister so-and-so?

Me:  I didn’t know you had a sister!

Acquaintance:  Oh she’s not my real sister, but she’s like a sister.

Family is defined as a blood, DNA, biological bond as well as a personal, tight bond of affection.

My colleague thought Paul was my son, and that we look alike, because of the way I spoke about him.  And yes, he has black hair, but he does not have my smile.  Well, maybe he does a little.

I have no biological sisters, although I used to beg my mother for an older sister.  I do, however, have friends who are like sisters to me.  And, actually, we probably get along much better than biological sisters because we don’t carry the emotional crap from a shared childhood.

So what makes a family?  Love, friendship, support during good and bad times and knowing that the other person will always be there for you and you for them.  That is found biologically and socially.

And, sometimes, seen through warm words while looking at a picture.


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I’m Being Annoying

I know, I know….I’m being annoying.  WordPress sent me a better link to drag you all, I mean to encourage you, to read my interview on Discover.  Not only to check out my story and links, but I have links to two other bloggers I’m really impressed with with whom I’m really impressed.  So…….here it is:

Thank you for your support.  Especially when I’m being annoying ❤

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Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Come one, come all and check out my hot-off-the-WordPress interview on Discover!

It’s waaaaay cool.


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Music Comes In Many Shapes And Sizes

Teacher:  What’s your favorite type of music?  Classical? 

Student:  I don’t have a favorite kind because music comes in all shapes and sizes.

My co-teacher and I looked at each other.  What wisdom.  And what a perfect description and a wonderful perspective of music.

Is that how you feel?  After mulling his statement for weeks, I realized that I associate certain genres of music with certain instrument or events.

We are a musical family.  My mother was especially gifted, although she had arthritis in her hands so I rarely heard her play our piano.  The annoying thing about her was that she had perfect pitch.  A perfect ear for music.  So when I was practicing in the living room, she would scream out “That’s supposed to be A FLAT not A.”  Sigh.  She was always right.

Making music with my brother.

My brother didn’t read music.  He could sit down at the piano or guitar and play what he heard.  He had a rock band and you’d never know he couldn’t read music. Another very talented musician in our family.

And then I came along with a strong love for music and a mediocre ability.  I can read and transpose almost anything (yay me!).  In my heyday,  I was an avid piano and guitar player.  I’m not being humble.  I loved playing both, hated practicing and was definitely better at guitar.  But Eric Clapton didn’t have to worry about any competition from me.

As many students do, I sang in our high school chorus.  Eventually our chorus director realized I was an abysmal alto, but a pretty good tenor.  So he moved me over so I was in the tenor section but next to the girls in the alto section.  My voice thanked him, my ego not so much.

My favorite instrument is the viola.  And that I was pretty good at.  But once the guitar came into my life I dropped the viola like a hot cake.  Guitars were cool.  Viola meant 365 days of practice if I was being a good girl.  Guitar was whenever.

For the piano, I enjoyed classical music, holiday music and “Top 40” hits.  Guitar was strictly folk and rock.  Viola was classical, mostly because I couldn’t figure out any other music.

Thanks to a recent Game of Thrones Music Concert, I am buying a viola and starting fresh.

Why?  Because music comes in all shapes and sizes.

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The Best Idea That I’ve Ever Copied

The Best Idea That I’ve Ever Copied Non-Award goes to Gabe at (Almost) Unsalvageable.  It isn’t an award, it’s me giving him credit where credit is due because I totally related to his post  I am so sorry for myself, I no speak in this language very much.

He refers to problems when you don’t know a language well but are trying to fit in. His post is hysterical.  I have LOADS of examples of that in my personal life, but even more in my students’ lives.

I’m sure I’ve made many embarrassing mistakes, but the one that is so crystal clear in my brain that I even remember what I was wearing that day, occurred when I was in college.  I’m 63 now and was probably 19 then, so this gives you an idea of how completely humiliated I felt.

To give you a little background, I’m 100% suburban New York, born and bred in the US and only fell in love with another language in 7th grade.  We had to take a “foreign” language at school and I chose French.  My older brother took Spanish, so he told me not to be an idiot, but to take Spanish so he could help me.

This new language and I started our love affair the first day of class and it continues to this day.

As a Romance Language major in college, a lot of my classmates were native, or first generation, Spanish speakers.  I always felt a little out of my league, but I read and write fluently and have good listening skills.  My deficit is being timid speaking with native speakers.  Not counting my students with whom I do not feel intimidated at all.

At any rate, at one point I had to give an oral presentation in a difficult college Spanish class.

Side note: In this class, there were 4 essay questions on the midterm.  Question #2 was “Write a brief history of Spain.”  Seriously?

After my presentation, and I have no idea what the topic was, my professor asked me a series of questions pertaining to the presentation.  I have no clue what I was trying to say, but it was along the line of “As a ______________ yourself, you are much more of an expert than I” or something like that.  In the blank spot, I called him a “chuleta” which is a pork chop.

The entire class fell out.  He was staring at me open-mouthed until he realized that I wasn’t being rude, just had made a horrible mistake.  I will never, ever forget that moment.

Now we live in the world of Google Translate.  I tell my students that if they use Google Translate they will fail my class.  I love it when someone tries to be slick and use it and they end up with a nonsense sentence and swear it’s their own.  I mean really, be honest and say you didn’t know how to write it correctly and I’ll help you.  Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing when you so obviously don’t.

And then a new student from China arrived.  Uh oh.  How do you say good morning in Mandarin?  I didn’t have one of our Mandarin/English dictionaries handy, so I quickly….you guessed it…..looked up “good morning” in Google Translate, English to Mandarin.  And wrote it on the board.  I have no idea what I really wrote, but it was obviously not “good morning.”

This very quiet, stereotypically reserved non-English speaking, Asian student looked up at the board, doubled over holding his stomach until laughter erupted unbidden from the depths of his soul.

O.M.G.  What did I write?

He is too polite to ever tell me.

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Did My Parents Laugh?

Lying in bed last night, I realized something.  I don’t ever remember hearing my parents laugh.  They smiled a lot, but I don’t remember them laughing.  I can immediately call to mind the sound of all four of my grandparents laughing, even my taciturn grandfather. I smile automatically when I think of my brothers laughing.  But not my parents.

Did they stop laughing because by the time I came along their relationship was not one that inspired laughter?  My father definitely did not have a sense of humor.  If my brothers and I ever told jokes 1) he wouldn’t get them and 2) he’d be annoyed.  And as we all know, nothing ruins a good joke more than having to explain it.

My mother was sort of just physically there, more than emotionally there, when I was growing up, so maybe that’s why I don’t remember her laughing.

My family now has conversations where we laugh so hard that tears form.  Holiday dinners, even with the stress that every family on earth feels with holiday gatherings, still end up with memories and shared stories of when our kids were little and the room fills with laughter.

My husband can be in the living room watching a movie and laughing so hard that I go in to see what’s up.  I can burst out laughing reading a book, an article or a blog so loudly that it startles my husband who is sitting next to me.

Laughter is a great healer.  I hope I’m wrong.

I hope that my parents laughed.


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