I Am an Abelhauser

Arguably one of the rarest names in the world.

Recently I had dinner with a distant cousin. So distant, in fact, that our first common ancestor was our great great great great grandfather. This got me thinking about my name and my ancestry and my legacy. So I’m sharing an open letter with you, Dear Readers, that I’m sending to NPR’s Radiolab. I’m hoping they may be able to help me with a subject that becomes increasingly urgent for me with each passing year. My last name is so rare that it will most likely disappear by mid-century, so I’m looking for ways to immortalize it. If I get any response, I’ll be sure to let you know in the comments below!

Dear Jad, Lulu, and Latif,

My pitch to you, in broad strokes, is about legacy and what it would be like if an animal were self-aware enough to know that it’s going extinct. What would it do? I am that animal. Can you help me before I disappear?

My name is Barbara Abelhauser, and I’m 56 years old. I am one of only 3 Abelhausers in the United States. The other two are my uncle and his wife, both in their late 80’s. There are only 10 Abelhausers in the entire world, and only one of those is a male of childbearing age, and his name is hyphenated with another (as if Abelhauser isn’t enough of a mouthful!)

The name originates in the Alsace Lorraine region of France, where for centuries our family owned a hotel called La Pomme d’Or. We were hoteliers, or “hausers”. I’ve never met my European cousins face to face, but one of them has traced our family tree back to the 1700’s.

My last name is so rare that it will likely disappear by mid-century, so I am always looking for ways to immortalize it. Not the genetic line. I couldn’t care less about that. I believe all of us are related within 100 generations.

And I’m not looking for personal immortality. I have a daily blog that you can find here. I’ve self-published a book, which you can find here. My interview has even been made into an animated short by StoryCorps, which you can find here. That’s plenty.

What I want, more than anything, is for the Abelhauser name to continue on in some form or fashion. I’d like something to be named Abelhauser. I heard an episode where you said there are thousands of species of flatworms needing names. I’d even go for that. I’d go for it being carved on a rock in the middle of nowhere. Anything. Preferably multiple quirky things. I want there to be some sort of message in a universal bottle that says, “There once was a family named Abelhauser.”

Any ideas?

Do I wish my name were Smith? No. I like being one of a kind. I just want to know that, long after we Abelhausers are gone, someone will stumble upon the name in whatever odd context and think, “Huh. I’ve never heard that name before. I wonder who they were?”


Barbara Abelhauser, of the nearly extinct Abelhausers

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

I Am My Mother’s Mother

I come from a long line of strong, risk-taking women.

Recently, I watched an amazing movie, Life Itself. I highly recommend it. It’s a multi-generational tale, and it shows how the actions of one generation impacts the next and the next and the next. We all are intertwined, part of a legacy. We each carry with us the choices of our forefathers. Here’s a quote from one of the characters in the movie, Elena Dempsey-González:

I’m not sure whose story I have been telling. I’m not sure if it is mine, or if it’s some character’s I have yet to meet. I’m not sure of anything. All I know is that, at any moment, life will surprise me. It will bring me to my knees, and when it does, I will remind myself that I am my father. And I am my father’s father. I am my mother. And I am my mother’s mother. And while it may be easy to wallow in the tragedies that shape our lives, and while it’s natural to focus on those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees, we must remind ourselves that if we get up, if we take the story a little bit farther… If we go far enough, there’s love.”

This got me thinking about my own family. I’ve written a lot in this blog about how, at age 49, I moved all the way across the continent to Seattle, a place where I had never been and knew no one, just to start over. People tell me that this was brave. I just thought I had nothing to lose, and it turned out that I had everything to gain. But I am not the first person in my family who has taken a leap like this. Far from it.

My mother, at age 48, moved us all from Connecticut to Florida. She, too, felt she had nothing to lose. I wish, for her sake, that that risk had worked out as well for her as mine did for me. I landed on my feet and then some. Her situation became much, much worse, in terms of finances and lifestyle and location. It’s really heartbreaking to think about. She deserved so much better.

Her mother, my grandmother, came through Ellis Island when she was 23. She learned English on the way over, using an English/Danish dictionary and the Saturday Evening Post. She had $10.00 in her pocket, and she was met in New York by a Danish minister. Her husband, my grandfather, worked his way over on a Danish ship.

My great grandmother and my great great grandmother on that side seem to have never left their home places, but my great great grandmother’s husband committed suicide, leaving her with seven children, and that must have been a challenge all its own.

My great great grandmother on my grandfather’s side was born in Sweden but moved to Denmark in her 20’s. That may not seem as extreme, but back then, I’m sure it was still a huge transition into the unknown. It would have been a language change. She went there looking for work. She most likely brought the BRCA1 genetic anomaly to our family as well, and many of us have been paying for that ever since. (Not all legacies are good ones.)

I don’t know as much about my Father’s side of the family, but I do know that his mother came to America from Ireland, young and single, and hoping to make a better life. She met my grandfather because she was a waitress in his restaurant. He liked to say that he only married her so he could stop paying her. In any case, he left her with 4 children to bring up on her own, which was far less than she deserved.

We each carry on a legacy. We each add to that legacy. I come from a long line of strong, risk-taking women. Sometimes those risks worked out, and sometimes they didn’t. But I’m grateful for all of them, because they led to me.


Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


I’ve never understood the instinct to demolish and destroy.

Barely a day goes by without some young fool putting graffiti on my drawbridge. I’ve also noticed that if something is breakable and it’s accessible to the public, it will be broken. Signs are defaced. Stickers appear everywhere. Human beings seem to love to trash things.

I’ve never understood this instinct to demolish and destroy. It makes me angry. I don’t see the point of it.

When discussing it with a wise friend of mine recently, he said that he thought it was people’s way of making their mark. Everyone wants to be able to say, “I was here.” “I existed.”

Okay, I can understand having that instinct. It’s why I blog. It’s why people have children. It’s why we create art. Everyone wants to have a legacy. We want to have something to show for having lived on this planet.

When it comes to youth, I suspect they feel as though they will never have an impact, and therefore this petty destruction is their only outlet. They don’t realize that they’ll grow up. They don’t comprehend that there will be other opportunities, but that some of those opportunities will take hard work and sacrifice. Graffiti, on the other hand, happens right here, right now.

I think it’s really important that we teach young people to be positively creative. We should give them projects and outlets for their energy. They should be taught to build their communities. They need to learn to problem solve, not problem create. And dare I say it? The worst, absolute worst educational trend is that of defunding art and music programs in schools.

Producing beauty is essential for everyone who wants to make a mark on this world. Otherwise, ugliness will prevail.


An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Barn Razing

Things Fall apart. The center does not hold.

For 100 years, this barn looked over a field in Kent, Washington.

The barn.jpg

It was a proud barn, a working barn, for much of its life. Before its retirement, it was home to two horses, lovingly referred to as “Mr. Ed” and “Mr. Red”, along with a crazy four-horned Jacob Sheep (“Jake”), a small goat named “Billy”, and an aggressive goat called “Beavis” (because “Butt-Head” seemed too rude.) The barn kept them warm, and sheltered them from storms.


And then, one day, just like that, the farmer and his animals went away. The land was sold to the city with the stipulation that it remain an undeveloped public park, and the barn stood alone and abandoned for the next 9 years. But its neighbors still loved it, despite the meter-high mounds of pigeon poop that had accumulated inside over time.

Inside barn.jpg

The city was not nearly as in love with the barn as its residents. They feared squatters and arsonists. They feared liability if anyone were to break in and get hurt. So they scheduled it for demolition.

As the clock wound down toward its demise, someone removed the upper barn door. For many months the barn looked as if it was cold, wounded and crying out. Save me. I don’t want to go.

Barn Door Missing.jpg

Winter barn with no door

Soon, some of the wood on the side was stolen, and graffiti artists moved in. It was an undignified end for such a grand structure. Some people have no respect, and no sense of history.

Barn graffiti

And then, on the thirteenth day of March, 2019, it happened. The barn was torn down, piece by piece. Here’s a time lapse of it.


It was a sad day. It was strange to see how quickly it all ended after such a long-standing legacy. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

The one bright light in all of this is that the wood and the rusty metal roof were salvaged and will be used to build yet another barn somewhere in Eastern Washington. So in a way, our beloved barn lives on. There will be animals for it to shelter once again.

Some day, years from now, people will walk their dogs across this field and not even realize what came before. But some of us will always see this as the place where a beautiful barn once proudly stood. And, oh, it will be missed.


A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Drunken Karaoke

It’s funny, unless you live next door and are trying to sleep.

I don’t drink, myself. And I’ve written about the havoc alcoholics can wreak. It’s actually one of my most popular posts.

But I don’t begrudge you your right to partake. Unless you get mean when you overdo it. There’s nothing worse than a mean drunk. If drinking lowers your inhibitions, and that was the only thing standing between you and being violent or destructive or cruel, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. I have zero tolerance for that.

People frequently use drinking as an excuse. “I was drunk. I’d never do that, normally.”

Well, I don’t think alcohol invades your body and turns you into someone else. I think it strips you down to your bare essence. Drinking lowers your mask. It’s kind of sad when what’s underneath isn’t pretty. (That, and nobody held your nose and poured the vodka down your throat. You chose to drink, so you need to take responsibility for your actions.)

I must admit that I do find happy drunks kind of amusing, within reason. I know some who like to have a party once a week in which everyone gets drunk and sings karaoke. They don’t drive. They don’t mean anybody any harm. They appear to be relatively functional the rest of the week. It’s funny, unless you live next door and are trying to sleep.

I know others who get all romantic when those inhibitions take a hike. Not that they can follow through, but at least it’s positive energy. That counts for something.

But when all is said and done, you need to make very sure your behavior isn’t negatively impacting others before you indulge. If you aren’t capable of doing that, then you should take a good, hard look at your life. Because it’s not only about how much fun you have, it’s about the legacy you leave behind.

http _farm1.staticflickr.com_175_475042639_3ba8b7e0a8_z

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Letting Go

When my mother died, I hung on to this bottle of deodorant she had given me until long after it had been used up. Because she gave it to me. I think I got it into my head that getting rid of that bottle would be like losing my connection with her. I just couldn’t do it. Not at that point.

I have other things that belonged to my mother, of course. Jewelry. Family heirlooms of one kind or another. Photographs. These things make sense. But an empty deodorant bottle? Come on, now.

Then, four years ago, my boyfriend died quite unexpectedly. Since we weren’t legally married, I was left with very little of his to cling to. Once again, I had a bottle of deodorant. This wasn’t a gift to me. But it had belonged to him. It smelled like him. Again, I held onto it for years.

Finally, several weeks ago, almost without thinking about it, I reached into my medicine cabinet with my eyes closed and threw that sucker out. Just like that. Just like I had eventually done with my mother’s bottle. It was time. My life is moving on.

And guess what? The world kept right on spinning. The sky didn’t crack open. My connection is every bit as strong. My memories are intact. All continued to be right with the world. And now I have more room in my medicine cabinet.

It’s okay to let go of things. Things aren’t people. Things only have an emotional charge if you give one to them. Yes, hold onto those photos and heirlooms. They are part of a family legacy. But don’t cling to someone else’s clutter. Make room in your life for your life.

No pressure, though. You’ll know when and if it’s time to let go. Only you can decide that.

Since the deodorant disposal (not because of it), my life seems to be progressing at a rapid pace, and I love the direction in which it’s going. So just the other day I decided it was time to let more go. It was time to scatter the last of Chuck’s ashes.

The fact that I even have any in the first place is a pure miracle. Some of his relatives felt I didn’t deserve any after “living in sin” with him for four years. Others, though, who knew how much we loved each other, liberated some and slipped a tiny bottle of them into my purse. So I had this tiny bottle, and have cherished it ever since. But it was time to set Chuck, and myself, free.

Where would I do this, though? He’d never even been to Seattle. He’d have had a love/hate relationship with it. I think he’d have loved it this time of year, but not in the winter. I think he’d have loved the many things there are to do, but not the politics.

He’d have loved the water and mountain view at my work. So that’s where I decided to do it. When I got there, though, it occurred to me that the only window that actually opens out over the water is the one in the bathroom.

You had to know Chuck. But trust me, he’d have appreciated that irony. He’d have thought it was freakin’ hilarious. So, after depositing a tiny bit of him in a perfume locket that I have (where he’s encountering my mother for the first time), I held the bottle in my hands and opened the window.

“Chuck,” I said, “I love you. I think you know that my life has become magical and wonderful again, and it’s time to let you go. I truly believe you’re happy for me. I’ll miss you. I’ve still got pictures and memories, and you’ll always have a piece of my heart. But I’m still alive, and it’s time to live again. It’s time to embrace the joy of the here and the now and the future. I know you get that. You probably get it more than most people do. So here goes. Safe journey.”

And as I scattered the ashes, a sudden gust of wind blew some of them back into my face. The bathroom and I were now covered in Chuck. I laughed as I cried, because he’d have laughed. I could hear him in my mind, that wonderful, infectious, breathless, delighted chuckle of his.

And it was good.

http _1.bp.blogspot.com__lZ_d9bAB7FI_S6sred-u3UI_AAAAAAAAHJQ_E52PJGoUcjM_s1600_____Desert_____by_HIIA.jpg

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Hefner Spin

Jeez, Hef is barely cold, and he’s already being immortalized. I just heard something on NPR, for chrissake, that said that his magazine sparked the sexual revolution. I almost choked on my M&Ms.

Okay, I’ll concede this much: His magazine made sex an open topic for discussion. His magazine normalized nudity. And sometimes, at its pinnacle, before it became the joke that it now is, it really did have good articles. Really.

But this spin that he liberated women? Omigod. Where to begin.

Playboy bunnies are seen as great successes by those who are into that stuff, but not for their brains, honey. Not for their achievements or their societal contributions. Not for any other reason than making the decision to shuck off their clothes in their early 20’s, as if the choices one makes at that age are consistently rational. Gimme a break. If anything, that liberated them to become objects.

You never hear anyone talk about the fact that his magazine helped perpetuate the body shaming that still exists to this day. Very few of us can live up to the standards that his Barbie dolls set. Even fewer of us are in our early 20’s. I actually had to give up on internet dating sites because the men my age are looking for skinny young women. You might be an old sleaze, but that doesn’t make you Hugh Hefner, buddy. Get real.

And by the way, who owned the damned mansion? Not the women whose flesh gave Hugh Hefner so much profit. He might have let some of them live there, and gave them allowances in exchange for unprotected sex, but the fortune and the control was all his. Don’t you think otherwise for a second. And by the way, if they didn’t give him or his friends sex, they didn’t get that “allowance.” That’s not prostitution… how?

The fact that so many women were willing to sleep with this creepy, dried-up 91 year old weasel in exchange for his handouts does not elevate them in anyone’s eyes. That they’d humiliate themselves by dressing up like rabbits (the ultimate breeding machines, lest we forget), does not make them pillars of the community. The fact that they were expected to entertain a revolving door of sleazy celebrities like Bill Cosby and Charlie Sheen should not, I hope, make them the subject of envy. I strongly suspect that none of them have won the Nobel Prize.

I’ve got to admit though, the dude was rife for parody. A friend of mine posted on Facebook, “Hugh Hefner died. I guess he’ll Miss October.” That did make me laugh.


Do yourself a favor. Read a book. Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Who You Were

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I’m not who I was as a teenager. Sure, I have many things in common with that girl, but frankly I don’t think I’d want to be stuck on an elevator with her. She was so dramatic it exhausts me to think about it. She was also very, very damaged and love-starved and therefore made a lot of really bad choices. Looking back at myself makes me cringe.

But we all have a past, don’t we? Some of us have more regrets than others. On the other hand, some people actually wish they were their young selves again. These people fascinate me. It must be sad to think that it’s all been downhill from there, that in the intervening years no progress has been made and no lessons have been learned. It must take quite a bit of effort to not move forward, even an inch, after years of living.

The other day I was thinking about the boy I went to school with who listed the KKK as one of his clubs in my junior high school yearbook. I didn’t know him well. I can’t imagine we moved in the same circles. Not even a little bit. But I wonder about the man he became.

Does that man look back at that yearbook entry with pride or with shame? What has he done with his life? Does he have kids? Have they seen that yearbook? My mother’s yearbook entry simply says, “A sweet and simple lass was she.” I suspect that’s a much easier legacy to live up to. It certainly doesn’t require justification or explanation.

I thought about trying to track that guy down, but to be honest, I’m afraid of what I might find. It would be wonderful if he came to his senses and dedicated his life to some form of public service, but I’m afraid that, with such a rotten core, the resulting apple might not be particularly healthy. Hate warps you. Then again, people can change. Who knows.

But then, having come from an educational system that allowed someone to list the KKK as one of their clubs in the yearbook means that none of us, from that rural southern town, had the best start. I think many of us turned out well in spite of, not because of, that twisted beginning. Your role models help to set your stage, but only you can star in the play that is your life.

I am who I am partly because the teenage me was who she was. But I’d like to think I’m so much more than that now. I’ve had life experiences. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. She was just a part of the overall process. Because of that, I’m grateful for her. But I wouldn’t want to be her. I just wish I still had her pert little behind.

My Yearbook photo
Yup. That was me. Bless that photographer for covering up all the acne and despair.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


My 1000th Blog Entry

Whoa. This is an entry I never expected to be writing. It boggles my mind that I’ve come up with a thousand things to say to you. I must be an interesting person. So why doesn’t anyone ever ask me out? Seriously. I’m fairly sure I could hold up my end of a conversation.

Egotistical as it may sound, though, I’m feeling rather proud of myself. This blog has become such a fundamental part of my life that I can’t imagine doing without it now. It’s my way of reaching out to the wider world. I kind of feel like it’s my legacy. It’s the book, in serial form, that I’ll probably never get around to writing. It’s one of my most solid commitments. It’s stability.

For fun I just went back and read my first blog entry, Nature is what’s happening when you’re not looking. The photo I included has long since disappeared. I wonder what it was? The entry itself was about all the nature I observed in my 13 years as a bridgetender in Florida.

I thought my life was very predictable back then. Little did I know that after that I’d experience death and surgery and move 3000 miles across the country. I had no idea what path I was on. I still don’t, I suppose. None of us do.

The only other constant in my life for the past 1,000 days has been my dogs. Everything and everyone else has come and gone, or has been there sometimes, for some things, but not for others. This blog has been my continuity, the very backbone of my days. What a concept.

I wonder where I will be, or what I will say, for my 10,000th blog entry? Whatever it is (if it is), I hope you’ll join me, dear reader. It’s bound to be an interesting and twisty little road getting to that point, but the scenery should be, I hope, worth taking in.

This image is called 1000 origami cranes, but I suspect they're not all shown. Still, it's pretty, and on my 1000th entry, I can show whatever I want. So there! [Image credit: rebrn.com]
This image is called 1000 origami cranes, but I suspect they’re not all shown. Still, it’s pretty, and on my 1000th entry, I can show whatever I want. So there!
[Image credit: rebrn.com]

Thomas Midgley, Jr.

If you did a random survey of 100 people and asked, “Who was the most destructive man in history?” you’d get a variety of answers, I’m sure. Adolf Hitler. Pol Pot. The guy who invented Twinkies. But I’d be shocked if any of those people would even know Thomas Midgley’s name, let alone the havoc he wreaked on the world.

Thomas Midgley, Jr. was the guy who invented the lead additive in gasoline, despite the fact that lead poisoning had been around for a long time before that. Given that knowledge, it’s anybody’s guess why he thought that would be a good idea.

He was also on the ground floor for the invention of CFCs, known by most of us as Freon. He really thought he was doing us a favor, but the planet will never be the same. The responsibility for the hole in the ozone layer can be laid squarely upon this man’s shoulders.

He actually had over a hundred patents in his name, and I’m sure some of those were just dandy. He certainly won his fair share of awards at the time. But his legacy will always be two of the most environmentally destructive substances ever created, and even a lifetime of good works couldn’t possibly undo that.

Thomas Midgley, Jr [Image credit: todayinsci.com]
Thomas Midgley, Jr
[Image credit: todayinsci.com]