An Open Letter to a Professional Genealogist

From one of a dying breed who is desperate to keep the candle burning.

Dear Ms. Smolenyak,

I just read the CNN article entitled, “Her name is on a pub, a boat and an AI platform. But what happened to the Irish teen who arrived at Ellis Island in 1892?” I found it quite interesting, particularly in regard to the work you did to answer that question. From there, I found your website, and am enjoying it quite a bit, too.

I was hoping you could give me some advice/perspective/insights regarding my unique situation.

My name is Barbara Abelhauser, and there’s a very good chance that by the end of this century, no more Abelhausers will exist. I should be put on some sort of an endangered families list. It makes me sad. And I am at a loss as to what to do to help preserve the legacy.

Currently, there are only 8 other Abelhausers left on the planet. Here is their status:

  • I know my paternal aunt and uncle. They’re the only other American ones, and they both have dementia. They have never met any of the others.
  • I have met one distant cousin briefly, but have since lost touch. He was very ill when last we spoke. I met his three children once when they were small, but I’m sure they don’t remember me. They are all in Canada.
  • That cousin’s sister resides in Greece, and I’ve tried to get in touch with her but have had no luck.
  • There’s another distant cousin in France who has authored a book or two (as I have), but I don’t speak French.
  • And yet another distant cousin in France who came to the last name by marriage, and her husband recently died. (I wish I had had the time and resources to meet him. Now I deeply regret not having done so.) The two Abelhausers left in France don’t know each other. (I am Facebook friends with this one, but we’ve never met or spoken. She speaks French. Thank goodness for Google translate!)
  • All of these Abelhausers are quite old. The only two who are younger than me, (and I am 58) are the two children I briefly met. They are now adults. I’ve tried to get in touch with the young man, as he is the only male Abelhauser of childbearing age, and I’m not sure he realizes that he’s the last Abelhauser hope. But I have not been successful in tracking him down. I have no idea if he intends to have children.

The family name came from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, which throughout history has sometimes been part of Germany. And I’ve found two other families with the last name Abelshauser and Abeltshauser (as if 10 letters weren’t enough!), in Germany. I corresponded with one of them briefly, decades ago, and was told their ancient ancestors were stone masons. Well, mine were bricklayers. That is quite a bit of coincidence. But I have been unable to genealogically link us in any way.

Have I tried hard enough? Probably not. I was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and that explains a lot about my lack of follow-through. I’m easily overwhelmed.

Please understand, I’m not concerned about bloodlines or anything like that. We’re all related within 100 generations, aren’t we? No, it’s more about the name. I would dearly love to give it some sort of immortality before our flame flickers out for good.

Not that I’m looking for fame, although I write a blog and have self-published a book. I just want people, someday a hundred years from now, to stumble across the name somewhere and think, “Huh, that’s an interesting last name. I wonder what they were like?”

I have done a few modest things toward that end.

  • I paid to have The Abelhauser Family added to the wall on Ellis Island, as the American branch did arrive through there.
  • I have my self-published book, which is a collection of my blog posts related to gratitude, but it’s not going to ever make a best seller list.
  • I have put part of our family info on the website. (My lack of follow through is my worst enemy, though. Even the book would never have come out without a lot of help.)
  • I have blogged about the family name a time or two.
  • When I married for the first time a few years ago, I kept my last name.

I realize that there’s no reason anyone else on earth should care about the extinction of the Abelhausers, and therein lies the heartbreak for me. I’m sure everyone wants to leave a mark on this world. For me it’s doubly important because I fear that 70 years from now, the name will disappear and no one will know that any of us were ever here. But we were here, once upon a time.

It’s all so impermanent, isn’t it? When I hear of some animal going extinct, I think about how lonely the last one must have been. What must it have felt like to have your mating call go unanswered? If other animals were capable of seeing the big picture, how sad the last of each species would be to know that once they are gone, that’s it.

I was hoping you might have some creative ideas for me in terms of getting the Abelhauser name out in the world for future generations to see in places other than cemeteries.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have. And have you ever come across any other endangered family names? How common is this?


Barbara Abelhauser

One of a dying breed, desperate to keep the candle burning.

If Ms Smolenyak responds, I’ll update this post, dear reader!

The headstone of my grandmother, to one day be joined by my uncle and his wife.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?


Schoolyard Picks

I suspect the ball bounced off my foot.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me, as I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

Having been born so close to Christmas, I was always the youngest, smallest kid in my class. Picture that, then add a heaping helping of undiagnosed autism to that tiny little sundae. What you’re left with is a kid who is all but invisible when it’s time to do a schoolyard pick for any sport.

Kids are cruel at the best of times. But always being the last person to be chosen for a team is an extra-special level of excruciating and humiliating. Autistic kids already get the message that they’re not good enough without having to participate in a daily bit of rejection theater for all the world to see.

But for one brief, shining moment in elementary school, I got to be picked first. It was a pure accident, but in one particular soccer game, I kicked the ball so high and so hard that it flew halfway across the field, over everyone’s head, and landed neatly in the net. Gooooooal!

I was just as shocked as everyone else. As per usual, I had been in my own little world. I suspect the ball bounced off my foot. I know it wasn’t dispatched with any intention or skill or forethought on my part. But because of that spectacular fluke, for the next two games I was picked first.

Those teams lived to regret that decision, because I never again duplicated that move. In fact, right after that epic kick I was instantly back in my dissociative state, probably imagining some scenario from the book I was halfway through reading and longing to return to. That incident certainly didn’t motivate me to try to be some kind of a soccer star.

Oh, you’re picking me first now? Wow. Okay. Yeah. Anyway. . . La, la, la. . .

I don’t think schoolyard picks are the best idea. There are already plenty of opportunities for kids to be mean to one another. Gym teachers shouldn’t give them one more.

Instead, why not draw marbles or something? Everyone takes one, and they’re all revealed at the same time. Black marbles put you on team A, white ones on team B. Nobody gets picked first or last. Not only would that be more kind, but it would be a teaching moment.

Kids shouldn’t learn that it’s okay to rank everyone from superior to inferior. They should learn to play with the cards that they are dealt, or in this case the team that they wind up on with little personal input, because that’s how life usually is. They should learn to assess strengths and weaknesses, and work together to make lemonade out of lemons.

That idea probably came into my head when I should have been concentrating on something else. But I view thinking outside of the box as an autistic strength. If you think that skill is not valuable, then go ahead and pick me last for your think tank. You won’t know what you’re missing.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?

Newsflash: Your Kids Aren’t That Fragile

Stop using false childhood fragility in order to try to force your agenda on the world.

I am sick to death of children being used as an excuse for our horrible behavior. They’re used as pawns in nasty divorces. If we want to eat junk food, we claim we bought it for the children in our lives. Those children also become a handy excuse to get out of social obligations. Adults hate to admit to breaking things, so they blame it on the 3-year-old.

All those things are unacceptable, but even worse, in my opinion, is that we use children as political chess pieces as well. Want to control what people learn? Ban books and prevent certain subjects from being taught by saying that children might get their feelings hurt or be confused or get the wrong idea about what’s appropriate. If you wish to marginalize the LGBTQ+ community because they scare you, all you have to do is claim that they might just indoctrinate your children, as if anyone can run counter to one’s own orientation just by receiving some sort of nefarious (and completely fictionalized) pep talk.

These political shenanigans may seem like they’re on the rise these days, because hate speech and manipulation have become more mainstream since 2016, but the truth is that we’ve been carrying on like this for decades, if not for centuries. For some reason, this song from the Music Man just popped into my head. Yes, ya got trouble. Allowing your kids to play pool will corrupt them for life!

We’ve also claimed that dancing leads to fornication, and that kids who watch too much television become autistic, and that strangers are always much more dangerous than relatives. None of these claims are true, but once you throw the word “kids” into the mix, logic flies right out the window. We have to protect the children!

Protecting children is one thing. Sheltering them from the real world is quite another. Learning to coexist with people who look and behave differently than you do is mission critical if you wish to become a fully functional member of society. Teaching children intolerance makes them spend their lives attempting to exist within a narrow set of rules, and watching everyone around them break these rules on a daily basis will simply make an intolerant child turn into a bitter, reactive, selectively judgmental adult.

Your kids are a lot more resilient than you think they are. If you ever get the opportunity to be around kids that aren’t your own, in that moment when they’re able to drop the façade that they’re forced to wear when they are around their parents or guardians, you’ll quickly see that they are, and will always be, their own people. They will form their own opinions whether you like it or not. You can try to force them to go through life with blinders on, but that will only cause them to turn their heads at sharper angles the minute you leave the scene.

It is much healthier to expose your kids to as much as you can in life. Give them the opportunity to think things through and ask questions while they have caring adults in their lives to help them figure things out. Allow them to approach life with curiosity and enthusiasm rather than hate and fear. Instill in them the importance of having a moral compass and compassion for others, and then trust that they will be capable of making good choices for themselves.  

Otherwise, you are forcing them to become hollow vessels that can easily be filled with fear and hate. You’ll turn them into tools to be manipulated, and believe me, there will be plenty of people out there who are willing to manipulate anyone who has not been shown how to think critically. That’s no way to go through life.

Here’s an example from my own life: I lived with someone for 16 years without getting married. My born-again Christian sister (who had been married three times and used to live in a hippie commune), informed me that her kids wouldn’t be allowed to come to visit me anymore because we were living in sin. My response was, “If you do that, I refuse to take part in the lesson you will teaching them, which is that people who do not have the exact same belief system that you do should be shunned, avoided, and judged. That sets them up to become intolerant of the vast majority of the people in the world, and will cause them to have lives that are much more puny and monochrome than they deserve.”

We continued to visit eachother a couple times a year, and the subject never came up again. I doubt my sister got the lesson, though. I just think it suddenly occurred to her that she really wouldn’t fare well if I started throwing stones at her glass house.

The reason I’m thinking about this subject is that I just stumbled across a fascinating article on the History website about how some major cities were banning pinball machines in the 1940’s. Politicians decided that pinball was a menace to society. The article goes on to say:

“While law enforcement and civic groups looked askance at pinball for its gambling connections, churches and school boards also argued that it corrupted the morals of America’s children by encouraging them to steal coins, skip school in order to play and even go hungry by wasting their money on the frivolous pursuit.”

Imagine. There was once a time when police in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee were raiding candy stores, movie theaters, and bowling alleys, confiscating pinball machines, and then smashing them with sledgehammers. This, of course, simply drove pinball machines underground and gave them seedy reputations that they didn’t originally have.

The Republicans attempted to sully the reputation of a Democratic Presidential candidate by claiming he was closely linked to pinball. That candidate was John F. Kennedy. It’s amusing how yesterday’s scandals seem so ridiculous today.

It seems that sucking the joy out of children’s lives is a heady, powerful feeling for some. Not since Burgermeister Meisterburger have we been more shameless in our pursuit of control at the expense of our children than we seem to be at present. See his irrational proclamation in the image below. It’s a difficult responsibility, indeed.

But here’s an idea. Stop being a bully. Pick on someone your own size. Don’t use false childhood fragility in order to try to force your agenda on the world. All you’ll do is narrow every child’s horizon to match your own narrow mind.

Instead, teach them to cope with the complex, diverse, ever-changing world in which they will be living. Change is inevitable, no matter how many tantrums you throw. So set your progeny up for success, and mind your own business when it comes to minors who aren’t under your supervision. Then maybe you’ll get lucky and your sons and daughters won’t look back at you and bitterly laugh at the rigid and ignorant world you attempted to force upon them.

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!

This News Will Give You Butterflies

For the past two years, monarch numbers have been on the rise. Let’s continue this trend!

One of my many travel dreams has been to visit central Mexico where the monarch butterflies migrate. Seeing their giant orange clusters overhead would be awe-inspiring, and it if I timed the trip around Halloween, it would also give me the opportunity to witness Día De Los Muertos in the many village cemeteries in that same region. It would be such a cultural and environmental treat to bear witness to these things.

So many travel dreams, so little time.

I had all but given up on this particular dream due to global climate change and other environmental disasters. The prevalent news in recent years about monarch butterflies has been that they’re fluttering towards extinction. It is upsetting to contemplate.

As we humans encroach on their habitat, there has been less milkweed for these butterflies to consume. Our overreliance on the weed killer called Roundup is destroying not only milkweed but a whole host of other native species, and it’s migrating into the food chain. (Please, please, PLEASE do not use Roundup! Ever!)

Then, add deforestation, roadside mowing, real estate development, and water diversion, and you present these creatures with some pretty insurmountable hurdles to fly over. And human-caused climate change, with its droughts, fires, and mega storms, has been a disaster for monarch populations as well.

But there is some moderately good news. For the past two years, the monarch numbers have been on the rise. The most recent count was 335,479 monarchs observed in the known overwintering sites in California and Arizona. That’s a stunning increase over the mere 2,000 counted two years ago. The next count was 250,000, which was exciting, but more than 335,000 is miraculous.

Unfortunately, monarch migration is still considered an endangered biological phenomenon. These recent counts, while encouraging, could be a minor blip in the statistics. These numbers can vary drastically from one year to the next. To maintain a stable population, we would need numbers to be in the low millions, preferably for ten years in a row.

There are ways we can help, though.

  • Do not use Roundup or insecticides. (EVER!!!)
  • Plant milkweed that is native to your area. Join me in purchasing seeds from Save Our Monarchs. They even provide ways to get free milkweed seeds from them, but if you can afford to pay, it will help their cause.
  • Only buy FSC certified wood for your construction projects. Illegal logging in Mexico is destroying monarch habitat. Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council ensures that you’re not purchasing wood from these forests.
  • Educate others about the plight of monarch butterflies.
  • Volunteer for the Monarch Count here.
  • Support all pollinators by joining the Xerces Society.

There’s still so much to do.

So, will I be taking the Mexican butterfly journey of my dreams anytime soon? Well… it’s complicated. I’m struggling with the concept.

Part of me thinks that if I ever want to see this migratory miracle, I should go now, because it probably won’t last much longer. (That’s also how I feel about seeing glaciers and islands that are barely above sea level.) It’s discouraging, feeling like you’re racing against a destruction clock to see the beauty of the natural world. But there is something to be said for bearing witness while one can. If that were all there was to it, it would lead me to think that I need to go sooner rather than later.


Tourism is one of the very things that is pushing these butterflies off the cliff. The oyamel forests of central Mexico get 150,000 visitors each year during monarch season. These people pollute. They trample the soil, they cause erosion and forest degradation. And more and more businesses are created to cater to that tourist trade, using up more resources and creating even more pollution. In our own special way, we are loving these butterflies to death.

So maybe I should set aside this dream permanently, for the sake of the butterflies. But then I won’t be able to blog about the experience and educate a wider audience. I don’t know. I’m so conflicted. Where should I draw the line? What do you think?


The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!

Solar Shenanigans

Big doings on old Sol, it seems.

What we don’t know about the sun is a lot. I find this mildly disturbing, since we rely on the sun for our very survival. But at some point you just have to accept the fact that some most things are beyond our control.

In early February I was reminded of a blog post I wrote in 2013 entitled, There’s a Freakin’ HOLE in the Sun! It sprang to mind because the sun is acting all weird again. This time, however, social media (and, in fact, media in general) took this information and ran with it, whereas in 2013 it was a mere afterthought. I think that says more about the evolution of our sources of information than it says about the evolution of the sun.

But on February 2nd of this year, scientists observed something going on with the sun that they’d never seen before. It started fairly routinely, as a solar prominence. These happen all the time. It’s those loopy, jet-like bursts of plasma that shoot out into space from the sun’s surface, only to fall back again and subside. They almost look like a breaching whale, if both the whale and the water were on fire.

There was nothing special about this particular prominence. As a matter of fact, they seem to burst forth from the sun at this location, around 55 degrees latitude, every 11 years in the sun’s 22-year cycle. But this one decided to get creative. Part of the plasma broke free of the jet and got sucked up toward the sun’s pole, causing it to get caught up in a vortex, and then it completely circumnavigated the sun at about 60 degrees latitude.

It seems that the sun is experiencing some frightfully stormy weather, because when scientists measured how long it took for this plasma to circumnavigate, it was determined that it was traveling at the rate of 60 miles per second. Holy moly. You wouldn’t want to be crossing the street when that sucker blasted past.

I think this event is pretty cool in and of itself, but the media had to take it to a whole new level. The headlines were screaming that a piece of the sun broke off. Poppycock. It was plasma. Saying that the sun broke apart under these circumstances would be like saying a piece of Hawaii broke off when Mauna Loa erupted. Everybody calm down.

Scientists aren’t sure why this polar vortex happened, but we learn more about the sun every day. We do know enough about it to predict that it is approaching the solar maximum in its cycle, and that will most likely happen in the summer of 2025. During this time, the sun’s magnetic poles will switch places. Again, this is routine. It happens every 11 years.

But the sun has been unusually active during the last few years of this cycle. As in, it’s acting up way beyond all scientific expectations. Big doings on old Sol, it seems. So yeah, there’s that.

For current images of the sun, check out the Solar Dynamics Observatory website. And hold on to your sunglasses, dear reader. Who knows what surprises the sun has in store for us in the next couple of years.


Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

The Fate of the Art from Guantanamo Bay

We are unwilling to loosen our grip on these men for even a second.

I was casting about for some good news, because, you know, one can only take so much. One of my most reliable sources thereof is the Good News Network. I find it interesting that much of the good news that they share gets very little press elsewhere. It’s as if mainstream media finds that good things aren’t noteworthy.

While browsing through the stories on that site, I came across one that intrigued me quite a bit. I love art, and I’m a firm believer in freedom of expression, and this story ticks both boxes. It was entitled, “Pentagon Reverses Ruling on the Release of Art Made by Guantanamo Bay detainees.”

As proof positive that humans are complex, I was astounded to discover that there are quite a few talented artists amongst the Guantanamo Bay detainees. That someone can be an alleged terrorist and still create beauty in the world is a little hard to comprehend. Our government would prefer that we view these men as evil personified, completely devoid of any shades of grey. It’s less messy that way.

Naturally, we all now understand that a lot of these men, who have been detained in Guantanamo for decades without even being formally charged, may not even be criminals. But even those who are innocent must be awfully bitter by now. And yet their creativity never dies, even though art supplies are awfully thin on the ground.

Apparently, released prisoners had always been allowed to take their art with them, and even have their work displayed in art exhibitions. Then along came Trump. I’m sure he couldn’t stand the idea that something might be improving the morale in Guantanamo. He couldn’t have that. And it must have been annoying to him to discover that, unlike him, most adults know how to color within the lines

So in 2017 it was declared that all art made by the detainees was actually property of the US Government, and couldn’t be displayed at all. This flies in the face of copyright laws, but Guantanamo is where laws and human rights go to die. It is also a blatant disregard of freedom of expression. And it’s rather ironic that these detainees, who haven’t even been formally charged with anything, can be so restricted when even American Death Row inmates can share their art with the wider world.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that any art that depicted the layout of the prison should be released to the public. I’d also be hesitant to allow art that releases the names of other prisoners or the names of prison guards. Security should be foremost.

But as you can see from the images included in this article, most of the art isn’t even political, let alone a threat to national security. All you see in these works is quite a bit of talent. I want to see what else these men have created.

So it’s good news that much of the foolishness regarding the Trump era restrictions have been reversed. But according to this article, the pentagon kept their wording vague enough to where they can still exert as much control as they want, at any time. For example, prisoners can now take their work with them, but it must be a “practicable quantity”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. And that quantity will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

And even though the art (or some quantity thereof) will now get to remain with the artists, the Department of Defense still considers it all to be the property of the US government. So it’s hard to tell if these artists will be able to profit from their work or not. Even on the issues that would have minimal impact on our country, but would mean everything to the artists in queston, we are unwilling to loosen our grip on these men for even a second. Absolutely not.

So is this still good news? Yes. Kind of. In theory. Let’s see how it goes in practice.

But I have to say that any glimmer of hope that our humanity is starting to creep back in is welcome news to me.

Untitled work by Ammar Al-Baluchi (currently detained at Guantánamo) 

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

Autistic Invisibility

Autism might be “all in my head”, but that doesn’t mean I’m making it up.

Human beings have a hard time taking things seriously if those things can’t be seen with the naked eye. At least that’s been my experience. Mental health issues? You’ll be fine, until such time as you strip naked and walk down the middle of the interstate, or gun down some unsuspecting strangers. COVID? Invisible, so no need for masks. Global warming? Nah. It still snows.

Since my recent Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, the thing I’ve been struggling with the most is the sheer invisibility of this condition. If you saw me walking down the street, you’d assume I’m neurotypical 99 percent of the time. You might think I was a little odd because I don’t always make eye contact, and I often have a blank expression.

You’d probably find me to be nitpicky about things that you couldn’t care less about if you take the time to get to know me. You might think I overreact sometimes. You might accuse me of being anti-social and rather rigid in my beliefs. But I doubt you’d look at me and think, “There’s someone with a neurological difference who needs some support or the occasional special accommodation.”

Because of this, my needs are shunted to the side, and on the rare occasion that I do “act all autistic” it shocks or irritates or scares or annoys those around me. Autism might be “all in my head”, but that doesn’t mean I’m making it up. I certainly can’t turn it on or off when it suits me.

Even the people closest to me seem to be struggling with this concept. They can read book after book or article after article, or watch video after video, and it will seem like they understand, but then I’ll have an autistic meltdown, and they’ll instantly revert right back to assuming I’m being manipulative and childish, and that I’m throwing a tantrum. That reaction then increases my frustration and makes the situation 1000 times worse. But in fairness, it’s a lot to ask of anyone that they instantly shift their perspectives about me. There’s bound to be an adjustment period.

Insisting that you’re not being manipulative or childish is a fruitless as saying “I am not a crook.” Once someone has that image of you, it’s all but impossible to get them to see you differently. It’s really hard for me to imagine that someone can hold such a low opinion of me and yet love me at the same time.

I struggle to love people that I don’t respect, so I can’t comprehend how someone else can do it. Do I really want the love of someone who thinks so little of me? Not really. Maybe that’s an autism thing, too. But don’t most people want to be loved just the way they are?

Would I have an easier time of it if I were in a wheelchair? Definitely not. But at least some people might cut me a little freakin’ slack every once in a while. At least I hope so, or I’d lose all faith in humanity.

Why is it so hard for people to believe that I’m not willfully misbehaving? Why do they find it so difficult to trust me when I say that I’m not being intentionally rude? I can guarantee you that I’m trying a whole hell of a lot harder than you think I am.

Another thing that those around me can’t really see is that my energy reserves are all but depleted. That means I no longer have the strength to try to convince people that my autism is real. After a lifetime of not being taken seriously, I lack the momentum to get up every day knowing I’ll be called upon to prove myself or explain myself. I am no longer up for this fight. Sadly, there’s no alternative.

I know I’ll never fit into the narrow view of what is normal in this culture, and it shouldn’t be a requirement. But to function in this society, I have to navigate around all the things that nobody else sees. I don’t get to take a vacation from autism. I live inside every awkward interaction. I am forced to accommodate the impatience and irritation that others seem to feel because I am not fitting inside their prescribed boxes.

When someone accepts me and allows me to be myself, it’s such a rare occasion that I feel the need to thank them for it. Do neurotypicals get to take that sort of treatment for granted? I have no idea.

All I know is that I just want to be either accepted for the person that I am or left alone entirely. Take your pick. At the very least, don’t invalidate my disability simply because you can’t see it. When you do that, it feels like you’re invalidating me. Of course I’m tired. I have to resurrect myself from invalidation multiple times a day.

Believe me, I’d snap out of it if I could. I’ve been trying to do so for a lifetime. And I’m really, really tired of being reminded that I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful despite those efforts.


Contraceptive Implants and Reproductive Rights

I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up.

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s nice to know we deserve a day, but there are so many women’s issues that are still yet to be resolved that it boggles the mind. When casting about to find a topic for this blog post, I was quickly overwhelmed. I could have easily written about gender bias, sexism, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, female genital mutilation, and that’s just scratching the surface. (Heck, I could give you chapter and verse on mansplaining. A coworker once tried to explain to me how to flush a toilet. The email was 3 pages long.) But at a time when reproductive rights are being attacked at every angle, I felt that this particular topic was appropriate. I hope you agree.

From 1992 to 1998, I worked at a county public health department in an inner city in Florida. To be clear, I did not work in the clinic. I have no medical training. I was in administration, so I was more focused on policies and procedures. I interacted with all the departments, and based on my observations, the medical staff had the best interests of the patients at heart. Unfortunately, they were forced to make some questionable choices due to budget restrictions and the political environment in which they were forced to operate.

They gave out condoms for free, and that was admirable, but they went for the least expensive condoms they could find, and they had the highest failure rate. I suspect that many of the people who helped themselves to these condoms might not have had as much confidence in them had they known. It could be argued that a substandard condom is better than no condom at all, but I believe that giving people the opportunity to make informed choices is even more important than that.

Birth control was one of the primary functions of that clinic, as it should be. Every woman should have access to all the information and services she needs to maintain her health in general, and her reproductive health specifically. She should be able to decide how many children she wishes to have, if any, and how she’d like those children to be spaced in age based on her own individual circumstances.

I know that during the 90’s, many women walked out the door of that clinic having chosen Norplant as their primary source of birth control. Implantable contraceptives such as this are 99 percent effective, and they can last up to 5 years. The only birth control method that comes close to that level of effectiveness is the IUD.

During my long commute to work the other day, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a word about Norplant in a long, long time. Granted, I’m no longer connected to the health industry in any way, but surely I’d still have heard something about Norplant, if only in passing. So out of curiosity, I decided to do some research on the subject.

I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up for myself. (Why, oh why do I always say to myself, “This should be an easy topic to blog about,” only to discover that there’s so much more to it that it requires days of research? Once I figure that out, though, I’m already hooked on telling you everything I’ve learned. Anyway…)

First of all, I should explain that Norplant is a Levonorgestrel-releasing implant that came in tiny little rods that were inserted under the skin of your upper arm. They were extremely low maintenance, highly effective, and easily reversible. They were also easily concealed, so the choice to use this method rested squarely with the woman. (As it should, in my opinion, because she is the one whose body and life are most impacted by pregnancy.)

Needless to say, there are certain elements of society that would rather not see women having that much power and control over their own lives. So much so, that even though contraceptive implants are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control,  the Mayo Clinic, Planned Parenthood, the World Health Organization, and weirdly enough, the American Civil Liberties Union, you can no longer get Norplant and its new and improved version, Jadelle, in the United States. Fortunately, you can still get an etonogestrel implant called Nexplanon which is equally effective. That is, as long as we Americans are still allowed to have access to it. And with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we are all reminded that nothing is guaranteed.

The first website I encountered during my research was rather hair raising in its bias. It was from a crackpot organization called the Population Research Institute. After looking into this organization, I came to the same conclusion that Wikipedia does, and since they put it so succinctly, I’ll quote them directly:

“The Population Research Institute (PRI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Front Royal, Virginia, US. The organization opposes abortion. They believe that overpopulation is a myth, and oppose hormonal birth control in females and vasectomies in males. In addition, the organization issues opinion pieces questioning the veracity of human driven climate change and the natural origin of COVID-19.”

Even without the Wikipedia assist, PRI’s ridiculously extreme and hysterical article on Norplant made it obvious to me that it shouldn’t be taken it seriously. It claimed that this creepy organization had “driven a stake through the heart of Norplant,” and that “population controllers have long dreamed of chemically sterilizing women for extended periods of time”. They go on to say that this contraceptive was so harmful that it could cause you to go blind or be bedridden for months on end, and that when women asked to have these implants removed, the “population control officials” flatly refused to allow it.

C’mon. Seriously?

Yes, some women suffered side effects, as some people do when taking any medication. (Check out another factually warped article by Human Life International, with its laser focus on the remote chances of side effects. It’s like reading the script of a badly written horror film.)

But I think it was PRI’s media campaign that encouraged women to engage in class action lawsuits, and even though Wyeth, the company which produced Norplant, never lost a single one of these lawsuits, after a time they chafed at the expense of these legal proceedings and started settling out of court with 32,000 women.

That blew the side effects thing way out of proportion, causing a media frenzy which scared a lot of people, and the upshot is Norplant/Jadelle are still approved by the FDA, but they’re no longer sold in the United States. They’re still available in more than 60 countries and they are used by 7 million women worldwide.

The Population Research Institute would have you believe that those 7 million women were merely “easy targets” that “lacked the means to fight back legally.” And just in case you aren’t buying that argument, they also say that it causes women to conceive children which are then aborted after the egg “fails to implant in the uterus.” In essence, they believe that life begins at the zygote stage.

A zygote is a cell. The skin you are shedding even as you read this are cells, too. Does that mean that any time we scratch an itch, we are committing murder? Should we hold funerals for every skin-derived dust bunny under the bed? If so, I’ll be busy for years. There’s no nervous system or brain in a zygote. It’s not sentient or viable. It’s about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Anyway, it was awfully nice of PRI to close off yet another avenue of family planning for American women. Talk about population control! This organization, if given the opportunity, would force you to have children whether you like it or not.

Fortunately, it appears that most American women aren’t buying what these crackpots are selling. Check out this report by the Guttmacher Institute if you are curious about the statistics regarding contraceptive use in the US. Given its efficacy, though, I wish the percentage of women who chose implants when seeking birth control were higher.

Sadly, not only do you have extremists who would like to eliminate all forms of birth control on one end of the reproductive rights continuum, but on the opposite end, you’ve got the equally scary people who would like to exert control over women by forcing them to have implants as a punitive gesture. Women’s rights, under these circumstances, might be considered moderate middle ground.

According to the ACLU, Norplant is one of the many types of “contraception that enhances the reproductive freedom of women and men,” but they go on to say that it can also be “a vehicle for infringing on the reproductive autonomy of women.” Not good.

It seems that many judges and legislators attempted to mandate Norplant’s use by some women or groups. Some states wanted to give women convicted of child abuse or drug use during pregnancy a choice between Norplant and jail. (Let me state the obvious: Women on Norplant can still abuse children and use drugs.) Other states wanted to give incentives to women on welfare if they agreed to use Norplant. Still others wanted to require women who received public assistance to either use Norplant or lose their benefits. For a time it was quite popular to offer inmates reduced sentences if they got an implant.

I don’t want the government to decide anything about my childbearing capacity or decisions. It smacks of eugenics. I want all the available information on all the available birth control methods so that I can decide what to do with my own body. Men are never forced to medically acquiesce to politicians. Male child abusers are not forced to have vasectomies. Men’s public assistance is not contingent upon his birth control or lack thereof.

This article by the Guttmacher Institute reminds us that every woman’s birth control choice should be fully informed and completely voluntary. That is a fundamental right that accorded to every human being. Even though our rights are constantly being infringed upon, it’s still shocking to me to contemplate that so many people would deprive us of these rights.

The article goes on to describe the horrific history of sterilization abuse in this country, which is against the law now, but has still taken place as recently as 2013. Then it goes into further detail about the many controversial Norplant proposals. Then it reviews the many ways that countries the world over have attempted to control a woman’s reproductive choices by either prohibiting pregnancy because of overpopulation, or prohibiting birth control out of a desire for more workers, soldiers or patriots, or to comply with certain religious beliefs.

The bottom line is that we women are caught in the middle between groups who want us to reproduce whether we like it or not and groups who want to deprive us of the right to reproduce even if we want to. It’s all about control. It’s all about power.

A worldwide commitment to reproductive rights is the only way women can control their lives and futures. Toward that end, please support the Center for Reproductive Rights. The statistics below, which can be found on their website, make it perfectly clear that for many of us, these issues are a matter of quality of life, and, unfortunately, the potential for death. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to make those types of choices on my own.

  • 74 million women living in low and middle-income countries have unintended pregnancies annually.
  • Every year, 215,000 pregnancy related deaths are prevented by modern contraceptives.
  • The rate of maternal mortality in the US is 24 women per every 100,000. That’s more than three times the rate of most other high-income countries.

Make the choice to read my book!

A Most Excellent Side Hustle

Needing flexible hours or wanting to supplement your income? This could be the job for you!

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a store and you can’t find what you’re looking for. You notice an employee stocking some shelves, so you ask them. Their reply is something along the lines of, “Sorry, I wish I could help, but I don’t work for this store.”

Odds are, you’ve just met a Retail Merchandiser. I was one of them for a while there, and it was actually kind of fun.  It’s been years, but I still get contacted by various companies, begging me to take a job. I’m surprised I haven’t blogged about this before, because it’s a great way to pick up extra money. All you need is to be an able bodied adult with reliable transportation, attention to detail, the ability to meet deadlines, and a smart phone with enough data to send in photographs and reports.

The beauty of this job is that you’re an independent contractor, so you can take as much or as little work as you want. And you work flexible hours. These gigs do have firm start and end dates, but mostly you choose what hours you go to the store to do the work.

For example, I once took on a gig for a company that wanted its clothing displayed in area Costco stores. The job entailed taking inventory, setting up the display, visiting and neatening it up 2 times a week for 3 weeks, then tearing down the display and having it shipped to the next location.  

Once I accepted the gig, they sent all the materials to Costco. I would go to the store dressed in a plain golf shirt and dark pants and a vest they provided me. I’d sign in, and a store employee would get the materials from the back for me.

Next, I’d take a photograph of the unopened boxes so the company could see what shape the materials were in when they arrived. Next, I open the box, and take an inventory of all its contents. I’d then take a photo of that inventory form to send to the company.

Then I’d set up the display, based on a “Plan-o-gram” that was sent to me. It’s basically a map describing exactly how the display should look, showing you were each item should be hung. Once I had set up the display I’d take a picture of it and send that in as well.

Of course, the whole time I worked on the display, I’d be interrupted by customers trying to find stuff, and I’d have to cheerfully explain that I didn’t work for Costco. But if that’s the only thing I had to complain about, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

After that, I’d visit the site the prescribed number of times each week to neaten things up. People are such animals. Often it would look like a cyclone had struck the display, but it wouldn’t take long to straighten things out. This included taking a quick wander around the store to see if some fool left some of your merchandise in the cereal aisle or some other stupid place. Then, again with the pictures. At the end of the gig, I’d take a final inventory, tear it all down, pack it precisely the way the company indicated it should be packed, take another picture, and send it on its merry way. Then I’d get paid.

Easy peasy. I’ll share pictures of a few of my displays below. While I tended to get clothing and accessories most of the time, these gigs could be for just about any merchandise you can think of. One time I rearranged and restocked an entire potato chip aisle in a grocery store, along with a dozen other independent contractors. It paid well for 2 hours of work.

Another time, I was stocking frozen foods. I’ll never do that again. By the time I was done, my hands felt like two blocks of ice. A friend also told me to avoid greeting cards. The boxes are heavy, and the displays take forever to set up and are annoying to maintain. Dealing with store managers can sometimes not be fun, but mostly, they point you in the right direction and let you go about your business. The only other challenge I had was trying not to spend my earnings on the merchandise, because I’d get rather attached to it.

A fun gig that I never got a chance to do was setting up and decorating artificial Christmas trees. Apparently their plan-o-grams are so specific that you know which ornaments to put on which branches. My autistic brain appreciates that. It might drive you neurotypicals nuts, though.

Retail Merchandising is the perfect job for a college student, a retiree, or for someone who needs flexible hours to supplement their income. It would be perfect for someone who is a single parent because you could schedule your site visits for when the kids are in school. This job definitely allows for a bit of freedom as long as you take their beginning and ending deadlines seriously.

If you live in a big city with lots of big stores, that’s an advantage, because these companies need all the help they can get in a metropolis. And if you are rural, but there’s one big store nearby, that’s also an advantage, because these companies have a hard time finding people to service stores that are out in the boonies. The flexible schedule works great if you like to travel, too.

As desperate as these companies are to find reliable people to do this work, you’d think that the job would be more well known. On the contrary, it’s practically a secret. If you’re like I used to be, you assume that all the merchandise in a store was set up and inventoried by the store’s employees, with the possible exception of soda distributors. Nope.

So, how do you break into this market? Well, it used to be extremely easy. There was an organization called NARMS, the National Association or Retail Merchandisers, and it was like a hub. They had videos to watch for training purposes that cost practically nothing, and once you completed one, they’d give you a certification that would give you access to certain kinds of jobs. The more training, the more jobs you’d have to choose from. Various companies would post their gigs on the site and you’d then take the ones you wanted.

Unfortunately, the NARMS website seems to be dead. They still have a presence on Linked In, but it seems rather neglected as well. I imagine they were killed off by the pandemic, but it’s hard to say.

But all is not lost. I did find a company called Retail Merchandising Services, Inc. which looks pretty legitimate. I can’t personally recommend them as I have no experience with them, but it seems that they train you, and they work in big name stores such as Macy’s, Target, Barnes and Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and REI. I think that would be an excellent place to start. I’m sure there are other resources out there, too, if you’re willing to do your homework.

So, if you’re looking for a flexible side hustle and you don’t want to be an Uber driver and have strange people in your car, check out Retail Merchandising. It fits the bill perfectly. Good luck!

Here are a few of my displays. It’s funny, even after all these years, when I look at these pictures, I’m proud of them.

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!

The Size of Your World

As long as you’re content, its size should be up to you.

I used to feel sorry for people who had never been more than 50 miles from the place where they were born. They’re missing out on so much! So many sights to see! So many new experiences to have! So many different ways to live. So much to learn. But then, travel is my reason for being.

But over time, and especially in light of my recent autism diagnosis, I’ve changed my perspective quite a bit. Appreciating neurodiversity means understanding that not everyone sees things the way I do. Who am I to dictate the size of anyone else’s world?

I feel that the primary criteria should be that you’re basically content with your life. Of course, we all have good days and bad days, but in general, if you don’t have any current regrets, then your world is the perfect size for you. It’s not reasonable to expect there to be a one size fits all rule for the breadth of everyone’s horizons.

Many would consider my world to be very small. I work by myself on a drawbridge. I come home to my husband and my two dogs. I don’t socialize much. I don’t like big crowds.

When I do see people, I prefer it to be a one on one or two on two type of thing. I’d probably be out there a little more if I had as many friends in the Seattle area as I did in Florida, but it’s hard making friends as an adult. People have lives. Besides, I much prefer a few deep friendships to a lot of shallow ones.

For some reason, it seems to be culturally acceptable here in the Pacific Northwest to cancel plans at the last minute. I find it hurtful and disappointing, but it happens so often that now I am hesitant to initiate anything, and no one else seems willing to take the lead, so there you have it. Socializing is not really important enough for me to put much energy into it. In fact, too much socializing sucks the life force out of me.

But I don’t think of my world as small at all. I’ve been to 22 countries. I’m hoping to fit in 5 or 6 more before my time is through. I communicate with several people who I care about every day, either by phone or by Facebook or by text. That type of contact has value for me, too.

The bulk of my contentment stems from my ability to feed my curious mind. I love learning new things. I love hearing about other cultures, and I find international news fascinating. (On the other hand, I’m woefully lax in keeping up with local news.) I’m currently on an exciting journey of self-discovery, and I’m really looking forward to what I learn in 2023. The day I cease to be able to learn is the day I’m effectively dead.

I am not very good at living for today. I can see why that can be a good idea much of the time, as the past often comes with bitterness or nostalgia, and the future can come with stress and uncertainty, but one’s attitude about mindfulness is just as much of a value judgment as one’s opinion about world size is. Still, I love history and science, and can spend hours delving into the past. I also enjoy contemplating the possibilities of the future. So my world is gigantic in terms of time.

I can also get lost in my imagination. I can live inside a book or a movie, to the point where everything else fades away. It’s my way of traveling when I can’t afford to travel. I may seem expressionless and inactive on the surface, but I assure you, there is always quite a bit going on in my head. My inner life keeps me hopping.

So, if you’re a social butterfly, more power to you, as long as you’re content. But there is no need to measure my world by your yardstick (or vice versa). Yes, it is good for me to push my outer envelope from time to time, and it’s even better to make some compromises to accommodate those in my inner circle, as long as they are willing to reciprocate, but in general, I like the cozy life I’ve made for myself. It feels quite full to me, and it fits.

I can appreciate why people would like me to find contentment in the same ways that they do, since it works for them. I used to apply that same caring pressure to those who have never left their own county. It’s wonderful to have people in my life who want me to be happy, but this new autism diagnosis is teaching me that I don’t need to conform to some unspoken norm. It’s new and exciting to be able to let go of that outer pressure as well as that inner guilt. It’s wonderful to finally realize that it’s okay to just do me.

May your world fill you with contentment, Dear Reader. If it doesn’t, then pare down or expand your horizons, if your circumstances allow for that possibility. It’s never too late to live your best life.

I just hope that you never settle for dissatisfaction, because regardless of your circumstances and your opportunities, your choices will go a long way toward shaping your world and the size thereof. Take what you’ve got and, according to your tastes, make it into something that you see as beautiful.

As long as dogs are allowed and pizza delivery is available, I’m quite sure I could settle into this room for the duration. But I’m also sure the owners would have a problem with that.

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book!