Commas Are The Bane Of My Existence

I love to write.  Love, love, love to write.  I can write my blog posts very quickly.  Usually in 15-20 minutes.  Except the memoir essays.  They take a lot longer and are usually emotionally grueling.  But a post like this?  20 minutes tops.

And then comes the editing.

Minimum an hour.  Not counting posts that are only 1-3 lines.  I still check those a bunch of times.  It would be pretty embarrassing to write a two sentence blog article and screw it up.

Formatting is part of it, because how it formats on the “add new post” page is not exactly how it looks on the laptop, or kindle, or phone.  I go for the laptop.  People reading my blog on smaller devices are on their own.

It’s the commas.

Taking graduate English and Linguistic classes, I learned that the biggest grammatical error writers make in the English language is a dearth of commas.  When I heard that, I wanted to be all “So there, friends of mine.  I was right.”

When I start to edit, I read my article slowly before I preview it, and after several times, and several corrections, I read it out loud.

Then I hit Preview.  *sigh* Go back and…..

1.Fix spelling.

2. Fix formatting.

3. Worry about commas.   Whaaaaaa?

4. Delete a comma or two.

5. Read Preview again.

6. Add commas back in.

7. Read again.

8. Add more commas.

9. Curse at commas.

And, ladies and gentlemen and all readers of any age, gender, race, religion or political conviction, I am not addressing the Oxford comma.

I was trained that it was not to be used.  I’m guessing a post-colonization issue?

No matter what you say, you will rarely, if ever, find an Oxford comma in my writing.

Side note:  I once got into an argument with a close friend and colleague about the Oxford comma.  It ended up with me hurling the F-bomb.

Over a comma.

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How Genealogy Changed My Perceptions

As anyone who has read my blog knows, I have disappointment and anger toward my mother, which I have worked to put into perspective.  Right now a large number of females reading this are shaking their heads in agreement from similar experiences.

But I am fortunate.  It took a horrific event to help my mother and me have a relationship. No one should have to suffer the way she suffered.  But one good thing that came out of it was emotional healing for us.

When I was 21, my mother had massive strokes from which she never fully recovered. She had double vision and had to have a patch over one eye except when she slept. Her face had fallen on one side and she could only drink liquids through a straw.  She could not walk unassisted except at home and still used a walker and then a wheelchair.  She was depressed and embarrassed.  She would say she wanted to die.

I stopped hating her.  I still hate many of the things that she did, or allowed to happen, but her strokes made me grow up.  Instead of being a whiny little girl in a young adult’s body, I started to get to know my mother.  She was definitely different as her mind had been affected.  And her long-term memory was better than short-term.

My mom in the late 1930s, early 1940s.

My mom in the late 1930s, early 1940s.

Most of all, due I think, to the part of her brain that was destroyed, she had no desire for alcohol.

For the first time in my life, my mother didn’t get drunk.

From 1975 until her death in 1994, I forged a relationship with my mother.  I was able to forgive her for most things and most importantly, to realize that she was doing her absolute best.  We never had serious talks about the past.  I don’t think she could mentally do that.  But through stories and through physically helping her deal with her disabilities, little by little I changed.

But it took my genealogy to put our relationship, and my parents’ relationship, in some perspective.

Cemetery at West Point, NY, where my grandfather, father and mother are buried.

Cemetery at West Point, NY, where my grandfather, father and mother are buried.

I’ve done AncestryDNA and have my family tree done on FamilyTreeNow (which is free, by the way).  I’ve worked on our family’s genealogy on and off for a couple of years.  I’m now moving everything over to Ancestry.com.  Ancestry.com seems to have bought out, or at least cornered the market, on many of the documents needed to prove lineage.

And that has been transforming for me.  Have any of you worked on your genealogy or seen any of the old documents?

I weep.

Seeing scanned copies of the original census of where my great-grandparents were living in 1875 makes me emotional.  Not a dry report.  Details of where they lived, with whom they lived and what they were doing.  Making them come alive

Seeing the German birth record of my 2nd great-grandfather who was born on 21 Jan 1818 in Recklinhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany amazes me.  And then I wonder why my grandfather, my mother’s father, on census records stated his father was born in Germany, which he was, and then changed it in 1925 to say his father was born in Holland.  It shocks me.

We were always told that this side of the family is from the Netherlands.  Did he change because Germany was our enemy in WWI?  How did this affect my mother growing up? My grandfather’s father immigrated here at the end of the 19th century.  Why the need for subterfuge?

My maternal grandmother’s family came here from England in the early 1600’s.  Seeing these photos and documents and seeing that I am from real people, with real lives and real occupations, not just “ancestors” has changed the way I view my parents.  And now I can teach my children that they are part of this huge history of immigration, love, life and death.

Reuben and Mary Russell Atwater. my 7th Great-Grandparents

Reuben and Mary Russell Atwater. my 7th Great-Grandparents

My mother’s and my relationship is but a tiny part of this long line, the seeds of which go back so many, many generations.

It is humbling.

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Top #10 Favorite Movies

Let’s see if we agree.  Here are mine.  Not in order.

  1. Laura
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Rebecca
  4. Remember the Titans
  5. The Hunger Games
  6. The Godfather
  7. Saving Private Ryan
  8. Behind Enemy Lines
  9. The Last of the Mohicans
  10. The Family Man
  11. Star Wars
  12. Munich

You can see that Top #10 became Top #12.

Caveat:  I don’t generally like movies.  I get bored about half-way through and want to go home.  I like the popcorn, though.

Caveat #2:  I saw Star Wars  7 nights in a row when it first came out.

 

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Memories Burst From Our Hearts

We have hundreds of memories bursting from our hearts.  The problem with writing about them is if we don’t have some perspective, a modicum of humor or some healing around them, writing about them doesn’t help and readers would be snoring or turning the page to get away from the angst in one minute.

The last thing I want is for someone to think “Oh my God get over it already.”

And then, I started to get over the most difficult experience of my life.

Megan Barbara McCaffrey entered this world around 8am on December 23, 1981.  She was my second child, second daughter and a true Christmas gift.  I was tired, but so very happy, and wanting to rest until she was brought up to my room.  In those days, at Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY, babies born by cesarean section went immediately to the neonatal ICU for a couple of hours (for reasons that still escape me….a difficult birth for the moms but the babies are basically lifted out).

My pediatrician was on vacation and another doctor was covering for him.  While my ex-husband was making the phone calls that our very healthy, almost 7lb baby girl was born, our pediatrician entered my room with a grave expression.

I couldn’t understand why he was there when he was supposed to be on vacation.

He told us that Megan wasn’t able to breathe.  That there was something wrong with her heart.  That she wasn’t going to leave the ICU.

Then, the single most terrifying sentence that was ever uttered to the mother of a newborn came out of his mouth.

“Do you want me to call a priest.”

Time stopped.

I’ve always, no matter how traumatic a situation I’ve been in, lived with the adage that what’s the worst that could happen?  That thinking has gotten me through many bad events in my life.

For the first time, the worst that could happen, happened.

During the late afternoon of December 24, 1981, Megan died of cardiac arrest during open heart surgery.

Time does heal in some ways.  After weeks of virtual immobility, I realized the garbage needed to be emptied and I started living again.

One day, when Megan would have been 7, I was at her grave on a Saturday afternoon.  I was cleaning around it a little and leaving flowers.  It was a beautiful spring day and I was happy/sad to be at the cemetery.  It’s always bittersweet.  I heard a commotion at the church and turned around to see the kids who had received their First Holy Communion pour out of the church with their lacy white dresses and little veils.

Like a punch in the gut I realized this was Megan’s year.  She would have been pouring out of our church with the other children.

Not back to square one, but I wanted to collapse with grief again.

Life went on.  I had two more children, a divorce happened, I went back to work, later remarried, and my children and I all got older. Our family has grown and my children and grandchildren are awesome.  We have lived with joy and happiness and weathered normal squabbles and frustrations.

I think of Megan every day and sometimes still get blind-sided as I did at the cemetery that day.  I know that she is in heaven and isn’t feeling the grief that I feel.

Ok, so at this point in my story, I have no perspective, no humor, nothing but angst. Have I lost you all yet?  I hope not.

Last year, at 62 years old, I dreamt that Megan was alive and 2 years old.  That she was with my grandmother and 100% healthy.  My grandmother was handing her back to me. This was probably the happiest moment of my life.

And then I woke up.  It was as if she died all over again.  People at work were asking me what was wrong.  I was stuck back in my grief anew.

Until…..here comes the healing part.

I went on a women’s retreat at my church.  Over the course of the weekend I was filled with the Holy Spirit and it hit me that for the last 35 years, Megan has wanted me to be happy.

How is it that never occurred to me before?  She has been doing whatever little kids in Heaven do.  And trying to tell me to be happy.

God put me at the cemetery the day she would have had her First Holy Communion as a tiny inkling of the joy she has had since her death.  We celebrate her birthday as we celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  How cool is that?!

It took 35 years and a weekend retreat filled with God’s love, for Megan’s message to get through to me.

I’m not sure how time is measured, if at all, in Heaven.  And I hope beyond hope that I still have a lot of time here on earth.  Like a lot, a lot of time.  A lot.

But I’m guessing that it will be in the blink of a moment to her when she will greet me in Heaven.

megans-candle-close-up

 

 

 

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Lesson Learned

I’m learning a lesson as we speak.  It is impossible for me to write a good article while waiting in the busy service area at the Ford dealership.  That’s all folks.

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Best Reasons To Work, Best Reasons to Retire

I’m going to start with retirement first, because I see that in my distant future.

Do you agree that we’ve all been conned since we were little?  What did we want to be when we were little?  Teenagers.  They stayed up later, they did cool things, they liked cool music.

Then what happened when we became teenagers?  We thought our parents were out-of-date, we didn’t get to do what we wanted.  Our parents were on our backs about one thing or another.  They were flushing the country down the toilet and it was up to us to fix the world.  What did we want to be?  Over 18 or 21.  We could do what we wanted, no one could tell us what to do or think, we’d finally be adults.

Then what happened?  We had to work to pay our rent, our electricity, for the cars we needed to get to work.  We couldn’t stay out late because we had work the next day, we had to get up early.  We had to do what our bosses said plus still deal with our parents who were telling us how to do what we were doing better.

Then kids came.  Too much to go into, but even though you love them to the moon and back, they are up all night, you worry constantly and going out to dinner once a year is a dream.  Their teenage years are your nightmare.  And then you continue to worry about them when they are adults.

Now I’m at the end of that cycle and as retirement nears, I will finally be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.  My husband and I can move wherever we want to.  I can get a part-time job if I want to, doing anything that my heart desires and is legal.

I can sleep late….oh I can’t do that anymore.  Physically I need less sleep and always wake up early.  I can sleep all night…oh no I can’t, I have to get up and go to the bathroom.  I can vacation whenever and empty out my bucket list.  Oh no I can’t.  I’ll be on a fixed income.

Why I really want to retire?  Top 5…

  1. Write
  2. Read
  3. Do stuff with my church
  4. Frequently see my grandchildren but on my schedule, not be their babysitter
  5. Watch Netflix
  6. Knit
  7. Attack my Goodreads list

Ok, it was 7.

 

My best reason to continue working?

  1. Money

 

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Valentine Special – Worst Fictional Characters – Any Gender

How cool of a Valentine special is this?!  I thought as an antidote to the chocolatey, mushy Valentine stuff, it would be fun to throw in an unsweet, unmushy topic.

Let’s hear it for Worst Fictional Characters Ever!  For me, that means those that I like the least.  Not evil (necessarily).

We’ll go for Top 5, okay?

1. Holden Caulfield.  Althoughe this fictional character says in the book The Catcher in the Rye, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it,” which is my favorite quote ever, I can’t stand Holden Caulfield.  I understand teenage angst….I once was a teenager and I have taught teenagers for almost 20 years.  But really?  I can’t.  I just can’t with Holden.

2. Jay Gatsby.  Do I have to say more?  Shallow, obnoxious, bleeeeeeech.  I  don’t like him or the novel he rode in on.  Let the record reflect that unlike me, my husband loves The Great Gatsby.  Is it a guy thing?

3. Ramsey Bolton from Game of Thrones.  His smile makes his insane evilness more perfect, but he is such a despicable character.  He’s supposed to be despicable, though. Holden Caulfield and Jay Gatsby are not.  But I could have nightmares about Ramsey Bolton.

4. Daenerys Targaryen.  I know, I know.  I’m the only person in the entire world who doesn’t like her.  Throughout the  A Song of Ice and Fire books I thought her storyline was the most boring.  DON’T THROW TOMATOES AT ME.  Even I don’t understand why. I love the medieval aspect of the George R.R. Martin series.  I felt that the storylines in the exotic locales featuring Daenerys should have been in another book.  In the HBO series, the dragons are completely cool and I see, now that her storyline is meshing with the Westeros Houses, it could be good.  I’m the biggest GoT fan alive, but that character never interested me.

5. Scarlett O’Hara.  And I thought was spoiled.  She must be a character that I love to hate, because I’ve read Gone With The Wind more than once.  I totally get that she’s a product of her time and upbringing and that she has strength and willfulness.  But she’s too much.

Man, does this whole thing sound negative!!  Who are in your Top 5 of Worst Characters Ever?

Okay guys…..let it rip.

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Favorite Male Characters

The other day we looked at favorite female characters, and my Goodreads list grew by leaps and bounds from your comments.  Hopefully, you all got some good suggestions from people posting here as well. Now it’s time for male characters.  And not real life people that you think are characters.  Here are three of my favorites.

1. Definitely Jon Snow from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.  Even from his petulance at the beginning, which obviously comes from growing up as a bastard with a “stepmother” who hates him (and who can really blame her when she sees her husband’s infidelity every time she looks at him), I adored him.  Then as he grew to a leader of all and defender of his family, he became the consummate hero. a_song_of_ice_and_fire_book_collection_box_set_cover

 

 

 

 

My personal copy of The Hobbit

My personal copy of The Hobbit

2)  Frodo, the bumbling, adventurous hero from the shire in The Hobbit by Tolkien is a favorite character of mine.  The shire is awesome and I want to live there.  Frodo is everything I’m not.  I don’t even like to go outdoors in the dark.  Adventures?  No thank you.  But I so admire those that have them.

 

 

 

3) Harry Bosch  from the Michael Connelly series.  I love detective novels and if you like reading about a tortured soul who gets the job done, Harry Bosch is the detective for you. From the first Harry Bosch novel The Black Echo, I have been drawn to this character.  If you like series and like finding interesting characters, this series is perfect.  I have never watched the movies or tv show (I don’t even know which it is) because I don’t want to ruin how I imagine him to be and act.  There are very few novels where I have seen the movie and thought it was as good as the book.

Photo from Goodreads

Photo from Goodreads

Okay.  Your turn.

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The DNA Results Are In….Surprise!

In December, I was so excited to find out what my AncestryDNA would be.  In my post Still Obsessed With DNA I said I would share my story and results.  My first look at my Wheel of Fortune showed that unlike my guess of 50% Ireland,  35% Great Britain, 14% Western Europe and 1% Surprise, my real results were very different.  Hellooooo what happened to Western Europe?

Instead, my composite is 70% Great Britain, 10% Ireland, 7% Scandinavia, 3% Eastern European, 3% Iberian Peninsula, 2% Asia, 1% Italy/Greece and trace amounts from Africa, and Northwest Russia.

Wow.  I guess I won’t make quite as big a deal about St. Patrick’s Day.  The AncestryDNA disclaimer is that there is a lot of overlap, the regions and percentages are all subject to debate, and history and conquests tell us a lot.  For example, the 7% Scandinavian DNA I have running around in my cells could be from Viking invasions in France and England. Since I’m currently watching “Vikings” on the History channel, that’s kind of cool.

I can trace my relatives on my mother’s side of the family back to England and Germany.  Germany is pretty much missing from my DNA so I guess I don’t take after that grandfather.  My English ancestors came here in the early 1600’s, quite literally on the ships that sailed right after the Mayflower.  They arrived in 1624.  How annoying is that??  My husband gets to lord it over me that he is a Mayflower descendant.  So there is lots of info about my early, immigrant relatives.  On my father’s side, both his mother and father were from Ireland and came here during the potato famine.

Conclusions?  It is really interesting.  But I want to know more.  Of course, I could have a lot of DNA from one specific grandparent down the line of a kazillion grandparents. What does your DNA show?  Or what do you think it shows?

Now I want to do the more specific read expensive tests, especially the one that shows Neanderthal DNA.  I realize we are breeding that out in each generation, but for some reason I’m really hoping I’m at least part Neanderthal.

My goal in life is to be part Neanderthal.

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That Time I Was Left In The Grocery Store

When I was little, I’m guessing four-years-old, give or take, we were visiting my grandparents in Vermont.  Various family members were there, although I was too young to remember now exactly who was there.  We all met up at the grocery store in the village.  Everybody divided up into two groups, each group going on a different outing.  Each of my parents went with a different group.  And each assumed I was with the other one.

They forgot me.

Who does that?

Part of this adventure for me was being hungry, and seeing The.Best.Thing.Ever.  Jars of Bosco on the bottom of one of the shelves.

 

My “Bosco” incident was in the late 1950s, so I would have seen this commercial which I found on YouTube.  Crazy, right?

I sat down on the floor and opened a jar of Bosco.  I was scooping it out with my hands when I got caught.

First of all, how is it that I could open the jar when now it can take me hot water, a towel, all the strength I have and still have trouble opening jars?  Secondly, who ratted me out to the manager?

I clearly remember looking up and there was a man in grocery store garb, looming over me.

The rest is a mystery.  I don’t know how long I was there.  It seems like it was 7 hours, but that is my child’s brain speaking.  It may have been one hour.  At some point, I must have had to go to the bathroom and eat something other than Bosco.  But maybe not.

I knew my grandparents names, “Mamoo and Granddaddy,” but that wouldn’t have helped much in locating them.

Do you know the long wooden bench inside grocery stores (or used to be) that run across the front of the store?  Where they used to stack the various newspapers?  I was sitting there waiting, probably under strict orders from the manager, until my family reconvened and my parents realized that I hadn’t been with either of them.

I don’t think I was scared, but I was scared of everything back then, so maybe I was.  But I was 100% sure they were coming back for me.  It was like Home Alone, without the antics.

And I had Bosco.

 

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