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?


Why I No Longer Watch Tom Cruise Movies

By being coddled by Scientology, he’s complicit in human trafficking.

Let me start off by saying that there are many Tom Cruise movies that I have enjoyed quite a bit in my lifetime. I think the man is a very talented actor (except when he’s not), and he’s not hard to look at (if he’s your type). So, when Dear Husband asked me if I wanted to see Cruise’s latest film, Top Gun: Maverick, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about, and which is also doing obscenely well at the box office, I inwardly cringed.

Because I can’t. I just can’t do it. Yes, the movie would probably be freakin’ fantastic. Yes, my little boycott isn’t going to make the least bit of difference to Tom Cruise. It’s just that morally, with what I know about what this man represents, I can’t give him a penny, let alone a portion of a ticket sale. I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror afterward. So I sent DH off to the movie with his best friends. Here’s why.

I’m not one who is particularly obsessed with celebrity, but I’ve written about Tom Cruise before. I have focused on him quite a bit, but not because he is who (or what) he is. It’s because he does what he does, and I’m forever attempting to understand it.

Tom Cruise is the poster child for Scientology. And Scientology is one of the longest running, most destructive cults in the world. (The only two American cults that have lasted longer are the Ku Klux Klan and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

I have to admit that I’m obsessed with cults. No, I don’t want to be in a cult. In fact, when I was in my 20’s, a friend of mine got sucked into a now defunct cult called Lifespring, and tried to pull me in as well. It was a very scary time, and it took me a while before I could trust strangers again, for fear they were recruiters. I wrote about this experience here. If you want to know one of my biggest regrets, if you want to know how it was possible for me to ruin someone’s life even though I had the very best of intentions, then check out that post. My friend disappeared off the face of the earth after I did that. I have been unable to find her to this day, and 35 years have passed. She has left no internet footprint whatsoever. I fear the worst.

I read and watch everything I possibly can about cults now, in an effort to understand how people get trapped within them. I want to know how cults work, and I have noticed that they all use a similar playbook. (Even Trump uses it, which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.) I also want to know what it takes for someone to leave a cult, and how/if they’re able to rebuild their lives in the aftermath.

I find anything that causes one to alter one’s thinking to be quite fascinating. Since 2016, it has become increasingly clear to me that a lot more Americans are susceptible to these alterations than I had previously thought. And maybe learning all I can about cults is a form of atonement as well, for the debacle with my friend. It’s complicated.

Speaking of having the very best of intentions, let’s circle back to Tom Cruise. My working theory used to be that that he hasn’t intentionally become such a detrimental force in the world. I genuinely believe that he himself is buying what he’s selling when it comes to Scientology. He has become so isolated from the real world, so sheltered and coddled by Scientology and its many lies that it’s easy to think that he has no idea what an evil organization he is propping up. He was a celebrity before he became involved in Scientology, so he has never seen its dark side like its non-celebrity members do (until he did.)

The truth is (and you can find this anywhere on the web if you take just a moment to look), Scientology’s only purpose is to separate you from your money. And they will do anything and everything to reach that goal. As in, they will take every penny you have ever had, and help you to defraud credit card companies to get more money from them, leaving you under a mountain of debt, and even then, they’ll continue to pressure you for money.

You may love your family very much, but if you join this cult and they do not, it’s very likely that you’ll never get to see or talk to them again. Anyone not in Scientology, and anyone who speaks out against them, is considered a Supressive Person, and they must be shunned, although the actual term for shunning in Scientology is “disconnection.” In fact, if you were born into this cult, or managed to talk your family into joining with you, then you will all be taught to spy on one another, and report any deviations from what Scientology deems acceptable.

One thing that Scientologists find to be unacceptable is anyone questioning Scientology. So if your twin sister starts asking questions, you will be expected to report her, and you will then be expected to shun her. She will be put out on the street with no money, no work references, and if she was young enough when she joined, no education to speak of. She will be all alone, and thrown away like garbage.

And heaven forbid you join the Sea Org, which is purported to be comprised of followers so dedicated to Scientology that they sign a billion year contract to become employees slaves. They are then given room and board, and something along the lines of $75 dollars a week as an allowance. And the living conditions have been reported to be as horrible as a prison cell in a third world country. The food you get will be disgusting, unhealthy, and in quantities that keep you on the verge of starvation.

In exchange for these “perks,” you will work about 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and will be beaten and/or punished if you don’t follow the multi-volume, very detailed rules of Scientology. And one of those rules is that you have to obey every whim of those who have a higher rank than you do, which will be pretty much everybody. If someone asks you to scrub a septic tank with a toothbrush, then that is what you will be expected to do, without question.

Women, if you are pretty, you may be told by the higher ups that you have to be someone’s girlfriend, with all that that implies, and you will have no other choice. If you become pregnant while in the Sea Org, you will be forced to have an abortion. If you already have children when you join, you will leave them with total strangers in the organization, and might get to see them for an hour every few months, if you’ve behaved.

If you become problematic in any way, if you have violated any expectations, you will be sent to what is called the Rehabilitation Project Force, which is reported to be no better than a prison camp. You will do hard labor in the hot sun while wearing solid black boiler suits. You will attend a re-indoctrination program. You will be locked up, often in hot trailers, and deprived of food and water for long periods. You and your cellmates will be encouraged to beat each other up. You will be “audited,” which is another word for interrogated, 5 hours a day. You will not be allowed to see or talk to even those family members who are fellow Scientologists.

You will want to leave, but you won’t be able to. You’re locked up when you’re not working. The windows have bars on them. When you’re outside, you’re surrounded by a razor wire fence that points inward as well as outward. If you are even allowed to make a phone call, someone will be listening in. There will be guards everywhere. Most of these facilities prison camps are located in the middle of nowhere, so running is quite a challenge.

It’s safe to say that Cruise was never subjected to that side of Scientology, but by promoting it, he causes others to enjoy those many pleasures. If you’re famous and popular and you promote a movement, for example, Naziism, it doesn’t matter at all if you’ve never seen a concentration camp, never fired a gun, or never invaded another country. You’re still a Nazi.

What caused him to get sucked in? He claims he has been a Scientologist since 1986, and his first wife, Mimi Rogers, encouraged him to join, saying that it would help with his rampant promiscuity. (She denies this, by the way.) But given the matching set of blondes I saw on his arms when he walked right past me in Las Vegas while he was filming Rain Man the same year he married her, I’m guessing he hadn’t been cured yet. Not by a long shot.

But he is the perfect target for a cult. He practically had “Welcome” tattooed on his forehead. Obviously, I don’t know the man personally, but from what I’m reading, he came from a broken home and his father was physically abusive. He attended 15 schools in 14 years. He planned to be a priest but got kicked out of seminary for drinking. He had dyslexia. And he’s 5’7”, which is never fun for a guy. I suspect that all this made for a major cocktail of insecurity and a desperate need for love. Cults feed off of people like that.

He was already famous before Scientology. Risky Business and All the Right Moves had made him a household name. And Scientology loves its celebrities. They give them the royal treatment and they love-bomb them for the rest of their lives, because these people are their best advertisements for new recruits. So you might say that Scientology does work for them, although it sucks as much money as possible from them in the process.

Despite his previous fame, Cruise believes that he’s gotten where he is because of Scientology. He even says that Scientology “cured” his dyslexia. Poor man.

In 1990, the current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, was laser focused on Cruise. He didn’t like the fact that Cruise was married to Mimi Rogers, because Rogers was not keen on Miscavige. So Miscavige decided the couple needed to be broken up. According to this article, Miscavige moved heaven and earth to throw Nicole Kidman into the mix. Sure enough, Cruise and Kidman had an affair, and he divorced Rogers and married Kidman in the same year, 1990.

Miscavige’s plan worked a little too well, though. He thought Kidman would be a homewrecker, but he wasn’t planning on her turning into a wife. Her father was a Supressive Person, having already left Scientology himself. So this union made him nervous, as well it should have. In 1993, Kidman had finally convinced Cruise to leave Scientology. I’m sure the fact that once you reach one of the higher levels of the cult, you are told about Xenu was a big help, too. It’s quite a story.

According to Wikipedia, “Xenu, also called Xemu, was the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as ‘Teegeeack’) in DC-8-like spacecraft 75 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology scriptures hold that the thetans (immortal spirits) of these aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Unless you’re L. Ron Hubbard.

Anyway, Tom and Nicole backed way, way, way off the cult from 1993 to 2000, but the leader of Scientology wasn’t about to let go of his cash cow without a fight. By 2000, Cruise was sucked back in, but Kidman wasn’t. They divorced in 2001. Their two children, now adults, are still Scientologists, and therefore most likely have no contact with Kidman. This is the point when I really, really lost respect for Cruise.

By now there’s no possible way Cruise hadn’t heard some of the Scientology horror stories. He wouldn’t have been actively discouraged from looking at the internet during his 8 year “vacation” from the cult. Clearly, conversations must have taken place about it to get him to stay away that long. And yet he continues to promote this harmful belief system.

He also must know how different he is than the young man just starting out in Hollywood, before Scientology got its hooks into him. Check out this interview with Rona Barrett from 1984, when he was 22 years old. In it, he appears humble, family-oriented, intelligent, and quite articulate.

Now, contrast that with his interview with Peter Overton in 2005. That’s the Tom Cruise we know today. Arrogant. Full of himself. Defensive. Utterly sheltered/isolated by an entourage. Completely deluded (again) into thinking that everyone admires Scientology. Positive that he has all the answers and that we do not. Very adept at responding to questions without saying anything of substance.

And then, if you really want to see him out on the lunatic fringe, check out this video, which Scientology is desperate to quash. In it, he’s incoherently sure that the empty words he is spewing are real. He talks about helping the world. He talks about stopping to help when you see a car accident (but if someone that famous does such a thing, it hits the news. I looked. Nothing.) He talks about knowing, but doesn’t explain what he knows. (And I found that particularly sad, given that he seems to be oblivious to the world’s negative perception of his “religion.”) He talks about doing something, and getting it done, but doesn’t tell you what “something” or “it” is. I think he actually believes he can do all the things he does in his action films.

What I find most appalling about Cruise, what makes me not want to financially support him in any way, shape, or form, is that, by allowing himself to be coddled by Scientology, he participates in human trafficking. Check out this article and this one for more details, but suffice it to say that Scientology has used Sea Org members, those starving, 20 hour a day workers with the $75 dollar a week allowances that I mentioned above, to remodel motorcycles, sportscars, and even an airport hangar for Cruise. When Cruise was wooing Kidman, a group of Scientologists were made to till a field from midnight to dawn and plant it with wildflowers. And when it didn’t pass muster, they had to pull all that up and replace it with grass. One Scientologist was made to be his personal chef. And you don’t seriously think he does his own housework, do you? And you don’t seriously think Scientology would allow him to surround himself with a household staff that wasn’t comprised of Scientologists, do you? And if any of those people screw up in the slightest way, you don’t think David Miscavige doesn’t punish them physically and psychologically, do you?

Slavery is what that is. Pure and simple. I refuse to knowingly support slavery.

If you want to learn the truth about Scientology, straight from the mouths of people who have escaped it and are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after this cult reduced them to rubble, I highly recommend the series called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Even if you think Remini is biased, she interviews 3 seasons worth of devastated people, and it would be impossible to maintain a conspiracy that large. Impossible. Just as with the January 6th hearings, how many people have to step forward before you realize they are telling the truth?

With so many witnesses to the destructive power of Scientology, why is this organization allowed to maintain a tax exempt status, forcing taxpayers to support its antics while David Miscavige and Tom Cruise live luxurious lifestyles by standing on the necks of slavishly devoted cult members?

Because, when the IRS was investigating them, Scientology used its money and its mindless minions to bog the IRS down in 2000 frivolous lawsuits, and targeted individual IRS agents and made their lives a living hell. For years.

Scientology is not a religion. Legitimate religions don’t force you to give up your life savings and ruin you financially for their own gain. Religions don’t destroy families if they philosophically disagree. They don’t isolate you and tell you every single thing you should do and think. True religions don’t exist only to benefit the few at the top. Religions can tolerate questions, and don’t savagely attack those who ask them. Religions don’t jail, interrogate and torture their members. The wives of the leaders of a religion don’t mysteriously disappear for 15 years, like Shelly Miscavige has, probably because she knows too much.

But don’t underestimate Scientology’s power. Many people have taken the free personality tests that they offer, “just for fun,” and 500,000 dollars and many years later, they look up to see that it was all a harmful, life-ruining illusion. Tell everyone who will listen to avoid Scientology like the plague.

Also avoid Tom Cruise, Scientology’s main attraction. He is a slow-motion train wreck that I can’t seem to stop watching. In this internet age, when everyone can find out everything they want to know, social media is causing cults to circle the drain, for the most part. When Scientology finally dies out, and it will, I wonder what will happen to Tom Cruise, a man who has wasted his entire life in its promotion and pursuit.

When faced with all the lives he has ruined by being so visibly complicit, how will he handle that? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, please join me in resisting the temptation to watch Tom Cruise movies.

Do you enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book!

No Two Churches Are Alike

Like visiting different families on the same holiday.

Now that many churches are putting their services online due to the pandemic, I had the opportunity to virtually attend two services in one day. I’m a Unitarian Universalist, so naturally I chose two churches of that denomination.

I won’t name the congregations in question here. And I’m not attempting to proselytize. That goes against everything I believe. You should choose your own spiritual path.

But I will say that it was really interesting to compare and contrast the two services. They each had basic elements in common, but the vibe was totally different. One was more organized, more tech-savvy, and I got the impression that the members are perhaps more professionally successful and much more formal. The second group was very laid back and relaxed. They were more casual, and their topic was a bit less mainstream than the first one. They joked around more. The service didn’t run quite as smoothly, but it was fun.

Both congregations were warm and welcoming. Both services were comforting during these isolating times. But it was rather like visiting two different families on the same holiday. They each had different dynamics, a different history, different bonds, and different ways of coping. After all, churches are made up of the people who attend them and the people who lead them, so no two are exactly alike.

If you’re feeling isolated and in need of fellowship in these highly stressful times, I suggest that you reach out, online, to whatever group, be it religious or secular, that you feel fits best with your personality and values. You’ll be surprised how helpful that can be.

Stay safe everyone!


Hey! Look what I wrote!

Incredible Kindness

Okay. Hoo. I’ve got something in my eye.

Okay. Hoo. I’ve got something in my eye. Sniffle.

One of the most unexpected perks about getting married is that I’ve acquired a whole lot of new amazing family members. One of my favorites, Jenna, recently posted something on her Facebook page that moved me so much that I had to share it with all of you.

“Took the kiddos to a busy park today and watched a mom lose her temper at her kiddo…in a loud yelling, arm yanking kind of way. Another mom walked up to her, put her hand in hers and said, “Hey, we’ve all been here.” Then the super young mama went from red-faced anger to tears. They hugged, and then another mom joined, and another, then a dad joined them, and another, then there were like 10 parents, in a group hug around her. I cried from the sidelines trying to keep a close eye on my little ones, but It was astonishing to see the diversity of parents show their compassion, rather than judgement. We need to rally around our vulnerable parents. Lift them up, and give them strength. This kid raisin’ business is hard. #bekind #ilovemycommunity #tucsonkindness

I’m not one to fill my blog with Facebookishness, but this really hit me in the heart place. In a time when we’re all feeling so polarized and divided and downright depressed, this kind of behavior gives me hope. It is still possible to love thy neighbor. We can support each other. Si se puede. We can be a force for good.

Just sit with that for a while. Let it sink in. Let it be your thought for the day. Namaste.

Group Hug

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!


Who knew?

Buy one, get one free. Everybody knows that’s a screamin’ deal. That is, if you want two. But who doesn’t want two? Two is always better than one!

Similarly, good things come to those who pair up, it seems. The second we got married, my husband’s auto insurance rates went way down. As did our health insurance rates.

And of course, we now have two incomes to pay for one set of utilities, one mortgage, one wifi bill, etc., etc., etc.

One family AAA membership costs less than two individual ones. The same can be said of the family plan for one’s phone. And hey, now we can shop at Costco! (I didn’t do that when I was single because the portion sizes were way too big for one person.)

And then there’s the social aspect of coupledom. Suddenly you have twice as many friends, and twice as many opportunities to have fun. You have twice as much family, too, which fortunately is turning out to be a wonderful thing in my case. (Your results may vary.)

You don’t really think of the implications of all this when you’re single. The world is really set up for us to go two by two, as if it’s one big Noah’s Ark. When you get married, you give yourself an instant raise, and you join a much wider support system.

I hope I’m not turning into one of those obnoxious people who try to force relationships upon everyone. I’m just pointing out that it’s really a completely different world on so many levels. Who knew?

king penguins

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

12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

I’m getting married for the first time at age 53, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. But I’d like to think that my age is a plus. I’m not impulsive. I believe in doing my homework. I am all about looking before I leap.

Lord knows I’ve seen enough marriages fail to get a strong sense of what kills them off. It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It also helps to know the other person’s hopes, dreams, and expectations in advance, and decide whether you’d be willing to help them achieve them.

Here are a few things you may wish to consider talking about ahead of your big day:

Money. This one is huge. Is one partner bringing a mountain of debt into the union? It’s only fair to bring this out in the open. How will you handle finances? How much credit card debt can you tolerate? What level of discretionary spending are you comfortable with? What are your plans, if any, for retirement? What are your expenses? How will you cope with financial emergencies? What are your long term financial goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Children. Do you both want them? How many? Do you already have some? Who has custody? What is your philosophy regarding discipline, and child-rearing in general?

What goals do you have for your future? Do they align? If you want to travel and your partner simply wants to retire and watch Jerry Springer all day long, that’s a problem. What do you consider to be a successful life? What is most important to you in terms of a future? Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to have? What types of vacations do you like to take? What are your priorities? What are your expectations?

Sex, Intimacy and Fidelity. It’s okay to be who you are. But it’s only fair that you spell it out. If one person is asexual, and the other expects a high degree of intimacy, that’s a problem waiting to happen. If your philosophies regarding fidelity don’t align, it’s a recipe for disaster. If one person hates public displays of affection, and the other feels rejected if her partner won’t hold her hand, this is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Is pornography a big part of your life or do you have any sexual habits that your partner might find unusual? Discuss what you need to feel loved and sexually satisfied now, or your marital ship will sink like a stone.

Individuality. You don’t have to be joined at the hip. You don’t always have to like all the same things that your partner likes. You don’t even have to have all of the same friends. Becoming a football widow isn’t a big deal if you have interests of your own. Are you both comfortable doing things alone? If you have different expectations in terms of togetherness and attention, it’s best to work that out now.

Vices. If you smoke and your partner does not, you should find out if that will become a deal-breaker. If you have a drug addiction, your partner has a right to know. How much do you drink alcohol? How much is too much? You should even put your quirky habits out there. One person’s quirk might be another person’s intolerable oddity.

Health. Does your partner take health as seriously as you do? Are there any ticking time bombs with regard to family health history that you need to be aware of? How will you cope with a medical catastrophe?

Religion. What are your spiritual philosophies? Atheists and Fundamentalists can marry, of course, but they’d have to be extremely tolerant of their differences. If one is expecting the other to make a dramatic, very basic shift, and the other person isn’t willing to do so, then that will be a problem. Also, what holidays are important to you, and how do you celebrate them?

Politics. I’ve seen couples thrive in spite of political differences, but if politics is a huge part of your life, it rapidly becomes a definer of the content of one’s character. And in this current atmosphere of division, it’s not like you can ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will you be willing to agree to disagree on the issues? It’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with expectations that your partner will change and come to his or her senses.

Family. Unfortunately (or luckily, as the case may be), when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family, too. Everyone has a few nuts in the family tree. Having insane in-laws is not necessarily a problem unless you discover, to your horror, that your spouse expects said crazy relative to live with you in his or her dotage. Will you be okay with that? What does family obligation mean to you? Best to figure that out in advance.

Communication and Conflict Resolution. How do your resolve disagreements? If one is a shouter and the other tends to withdraw, you’ll never be able to meet in the middle. It’s all about respect. Talk about issues before they get out of control. Listen to what your partner is saying. Nip things in the bud as often as you can. Don’t stuff things. Don’t get hostile. Don’t just hope things will go away on their own. Take the initiative. How do you plan to talk things out?

Cleanliness. Can you tolerate your partner’s level of clutter? Can your partner stand your obsessive compulsive need for a spotless home? And how will the cleaning tasks be divided? This is 2018. You can’t assume that both of you are on the same page regarding basic chores. Talk about it.

Communication about all of the above is key. It’s important to know as much as possible about the foundation on which you are building your relationship. A solid foundation leads to a long-lasting home.

Are there any other topics that I’ve overlooked? Please share them in the comments below!


Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

Grieving through the Holidays

If you’ve lost someone you love, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. All those memories. All those traditions. All those people, still alive, who insist that you to carry on all those traditions.

How can you be expected to decorate a tree when every ornament reminds you of the person you’ve lost? And it takes so much energy to put on a brave face at family gatherings. I know more than a few people this year who were forced to retreat to the bathroom to weep.

There is a great deal of pressure at this time of the year to be joyful. That makes your utter lack of joy feel even worse. And no one wants you to figuratively (or literally) pee in their eggnog. “Can’t you see we’re trying to fa la la here? Don’t ruin it!”

And then there are the well-meaning gifts, designed to memorialize the one who is gone. They were given in a spirit of love and support, but they feel like little stabs to your already wounded heart. No one knows the right thing to say or do, because there is no right thing to say or do.

Even in a good year, the holidays can be exhausting. But they seem positively soul-sucking when you’re dragging around a tractor trailer of depression. It makes you feel detached at a time when everyone is coming together.

For me, it’s like having to take a huge breath and plunge into the ocean, in hopes of coming back to the surface again before you drown. That was Thanksgiving. That was Christmas. That was my birthday. What a relief to get through it all and come up for air!

One more to go… the dreaded New Year’s midnight, when no one will be kissing me. I’m supposed to overlook the fact that I’m completely and utterly alone. I’m supposed to feel happy for everyone who is being kissed. I’m supposed to look forward to the new year, and feel nostalgic about the past year.

That’s a heck of a lot to ask. I’ll probably try to go to bed at 11 pm and hope the neighborhood revelry doesn’t wake me up. While you sing Auld Lang Syne, I’ll be trying really hard to pretend it’s any other night.

If you know people who are grieving, ask them what they’d like to do or not do for the holidays. Ask them what they want to talk about or not talk about. Don’t apply pressure. If they are ready, offer to help them create a whole new tradition, perhaps one in which dancing and romance aren’t flaunted.

But most of all, be patient. And don’t force your fa la la on them until they can get through it without weeping in the bathroom.


Even in the face of grief, there are things to be grateful for. Check out my book on that very subject.

I Miss the Saturn Experience

I’ve had a lot of cars in my lifetime, but I’ve only bought one that was brand new. It was a 1998 Saturn SL2. I loved that car. Not only because it got me from point A to point B, but at the time the Saturn folks were embarked on this radical new philosophy in car sales, and I felt like I was on the cutting edge.

Back then, when you bought a Saturn you were joining a family. The list price was the price. There was no haggling, no pressure, no feeling like you might be getting ripped off. I found that extremely refreshing. And when you signed on the dotted line, every employee in the building stopped what they were doing and they came out and cheered. It made you feel like a rock star. Somewhere I still have a picture of me standing next to my salesman at that moment.

And afterward, you were still considered family. They had parties. Bar-b-cues. Classes. You got cards in the mail. People often went to Tennessee to tour the factory. When you took your car in for periodic maintenance, they knew you by name. They welcomed your dogs in the waiting room, and offered you doughnuts and coffee. When they’d finished working on your car, they would wash it and leave candy or a cut flower on your seat.

I was really proud to be a part of that, and I suspect that if Saturn still existed, I’d be a customer for life, even though the cars themselves weren’t sexy or innovative or award winning. I’m sure that had a lot to do with their downfall. But it’s a moot point. Sadly, Saturn is no more.

I don’t know which came first, their financial decline or their philosophical decline, but I did notice that in their last few years, suddenly there were no more flowers, no more parties, and no one took those factory tours anymore. It made me sad.

You just don’t see that level of customer service anywhere nowadays. Yes, all those little extras take time and cost money, but they are priceless. They are unforgettable.

I’m glad that I got to stand at the very pinnacle of the car buying experience, if only for a brief, shining moment. I’m not ashamed to say that when my Saturn was t-boned beyond repair, I shed more than a few tears. I would probably still be driving that vehicle today if it hadn’t been for that.

When I lost that car, I lost a family too. The fact that no other organization seems to be trying to create that kind of family feeling shows how short-sighted corporate America can be.


First Things First

I take pride in having my sh*t together, but if I’m honest, I haven’t really had it together in quite some time. I’m not quite sure when I lost all sense of organization, but it was, oh…decades ago? Because of that, when the occasional crisis happens, as they do, I tend to feel extremely overwhelmed.

So when my niece’s husband broke his neck and I started a GoFundMe Campaign for him, for about a week there I was bouncing around like a pinball. A lot of things got neglected. Oh, the dogs were fed, and so was I, and I remembered to put on clean undies, but pretty much everything else fell by the wayside.

I wasn’t returning phone calls or responding to e-mails, which made me feel guilty. I HATE it when people do that to me, after all. And I had to wash the same load of laundry three times because I’d keep forgetting to take it out of the washer and by the time I remembered, the clothes did not smell at all good. My already piss-poor diet got even pissier and poorer.

And the deadline for publishing my anthology is rapidly approaching. And my bills need to be paid. And I have promises to keep, and miles to go… yadda yadda.

I now understand why squirrels will freeze in the middle of the road when a car is bearing down on them. There are so many things that need doing at that moment that you just don’t know where to begin.

But then a friend reminded me: first things first. Rather than try to look at and do everything at once, sometimes you have to focus on one thing at a time. What is most mission-critical?

That’s easy. Family. Always. Every single time. So I focused on the fundraiser, and let the laundry worry about itself. And lo and behold, the world kept revolving around the sun.


Another Story–About Saying Yes

I told yet another story at my local storytelling group, Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, Washington. I’m becoming addicted to this group and all the wonderful people in it. I never would have imagined that I’d take to standing in front of a group of 150 people and exposing my soft underbelly, but there you have it.

The theme this particular month was “Say Yes”.

Here’s the recording of the story, but if you are unable or unwilling to hear a sound file, I’ll put the story below it. Let me know what you think!

Quite often I call myself an only child with siblings. There were three girls in my family, and I love my sisters very much, but one was 10 years older than me and the other was 9 years older, so by the time I stopped being a self-absorbed little brat, they had already left home.

We had different upbringings. Their childhood was spent with my abusive, alcoholic father and my still hopeful mother in Connecticut, mine was spent with my abusive stepfather and my by now despairing mother in Florida. Our politics and spiritual beliefs and accents were completely different.

I kind of looked at them as more mature pseudo-mothers who were rarely there. I spent half my life desperately trying to get their approval and never quite feeling as though I had. In fact, when my oldest sister had my nephew, even though I wasn’t present for the birth, I called her up and said, “It’s really strange. I’ve never even seen him face to face, but I already love him anyway, so I want you to know that if anything ever happens to you, I will be there for him.”

She responded, “I think we both know that’s a bad idea.” Among other things, I lived in sin with someone for 16 years. Scandalous.

As my nephew grew, I visited him as often as I possibly could. I took pride in being the cool aunt. The one he could ride roller coasters with, despite my white-knuckled terror. The one who would listen. Someone who would love him no matter what.  I also wanted to sort of sneak other points of view into his life. Which went well as long as I didn’t get caught.

Then one day in 2007 I got a phone call from my sister to tell me that she had pretty advanced cancer. My nephew was 18 at the time. Too young. Too young.

A year went by. Toward the end, she said to me, “I need you to do something for me. I need you to promise me that you’ll be here for the funeral. Ryan is going to need you.”

Of course I said yes. This was the first time that she had really trusted me with anything. Ever. This was huge.

Two months later, she was gone. I bought my plane ticket so I’d be there in plenty of time for the funeral. I was going to fulfil her dying wish.

Unfortunately I had to change planes in Memphis. And there was going to be a delay. A 5 hour delay. A 5 hour, funeral-missing delay. They were gluing a new antenna on the plane, and it would take 5 hours for the glue to dry. And of course there was no other flight available. Oh, no. “Sorry, but here’s a 6 dollar lunch voucher…”

Have you ever had one of those soul-tearing, chest-heaving cries that leave you completely exhausted and Incapable of functioning? Well, I had one, all alone, right in the middle of the airport, with an audience of hundreds. For all the good it did me.

There was a tiny bit of good news, though. Her husband called me and said that his employer had missed the same flight, so when the two of us finally made it to Kansas City, we could share a rental car for the hour drive to his house. So that’s what we did.

When I met this total stranger, I must have looked horrible. Red, puffy, snotty, my hair all tangled. Depleted. Needless to say, he drove. As we got on the highway, he said to me, “So, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

Are you kiddin/g me right now? Can we all agree that there’s a time and place for that type of conversation? I:?t took every fiber of my being not to jump out of the moving car. I took a deep breath and said, “Look, I know you mean well, but I can’t have this conversation right now.” The rest of the trip was in awkward silence.

And when I got to the house, it was filled up with in-laws whom I had never met. I walked in and everyone stopped talking and just stared at me. Finally, my brother-in-law’s father said, “Well. Glad you could finally make it.”

I felt like I had been struck by lightning. So I just turned, went upstairs, and closed myself into the guestroom. I sat in there feeling like an utter failure. The one thing my sister had asked me to do, the one thing, and I couldn’t do it.

Eventually, my nephew got back to the house. He hugged me while I cried. He comforted me. This 19 year old young man who had just lost his mother comforted me. He calmed me down. He told me to take a shower and try to get some rest.

Later that night, I lay in the dark in that house that already felt empty of my sister, a house I knew I’d never return to. I began to accept the fact that some things are just going to be out of my control, and any approval I need has got to come from within.

I looked at the ceiling and I said, “You know, you have nothing to worry about. He’s going to turn out just fine. Just like I did.”

Since then, I’ve watched my nephew grow into an amazing man with my politics! Yay! And he also has integrity, compassion, conviction and decency. He happens to be visiting me, and he’s here tonight, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.