Saturday, April 18, 2015

What Use are Dead Ancestors?

My younger daughter signed our family up with an online genealogy site.

A few days ago I received a message that there had been updates in our family.
I clicked the link.

Updates:
My father’s name is now misspelled.
My father’s mother’s name is now misspelled.
My father’s current wife is listed as a relative of my mother.
My brother, sister and I are now listed as children of one of my father’s other wives – not our mother.
And my father’s current wife is listed as dead.

I spent the time correcting these errors. 

Then I thought – why do I care? If the only way this site will know anything about my family is if we tell them, then they’re not doing anything we can’t do without them.  They’re not accessing the Mormon database of ancestors that goes back centuries.

My father’s brother researched a family tree for my father’s family in honor of my father’s father’s 50th wedding anniversary.  The entries go back to the time when people only had first names, and has the story of how his family got their last name.

There are a few details, such as careers that some of my ancestors followed. But mainly they are just names without stories.

The online genealogy site is less detailed than the paternal family tree. And since they have mistakes in the living members files, I see no reason to care about the older ones.  Actually, I’d only care if there were stories – the whole fun of having family is the soap opera.

My older daughter is interested in a different website – one that studies the genetics of families – what diseases they have, how many neanderthal genes they carry. I can see a use for this – it might be nice to know what diseases to be on the lookout for. But my family doesn’t have hereditary early onset cancer or other diseases that can be treated by modern medicine. So, I’m not excited about this service, either.

I think the current soap operas and diseases present plenty of problems, and that these history services don’t help solve them.


Friday, April 10, 2015

No Vacant Lots for Us

My husband, the alien, and I have been trying to buy vacant lots that belong to the city of Philadelphia. We want to build a one-story home because my husband is having trouble climbing stairs. Philly is a city of row houses and over 40,000 vacant lots.  The city has created a map of these lots with “for sale” signs on a good fraction of them. We only want to build one home. We have been requesting to purchase lots that have “for sale” signs.  Every time we request one, we are told that “the council president has other plans for that lot.” . 

After sending about 30 such requests, we received this note from the council president’s person in charge of real estate:

“I wanted to let you know that I have been receiving your requests.  The lots in the neighborhoods you are considering (such as Brewerytown, Francisville, West Poplar, Ludlow, North Central) are on “hold” pending or have been identified as part of other larger community development plans and/or the Council President’s affordable/workforce housing initiative.  Until these initiatives/plans are finalized, I am afraid I won’t be able to move forward on any of these requests.”

One of the lots we requested and were denied has now been removed from the map of city owned vacant lots.  To me, this indicates that this lot was sold to someone else and is now somebody’s private property.  I conclude that there are rules for who can buy city owned vacant lots. But I have no access to these rules.

There is also a map of privately owned vacant lots. I used Google Earth to look at some of these lots.  About half of them have buildings in progress. This morning, I biked out to look at one that appeared empty on Google Earth, and the owner is in the process of building.  This map is out-of-date.

A friend suggested I find an abandoned dilapidated warehouse, buy that, destroy it, and then build.  That probably costs a lot more than buying a vacant lot.  Meanwhile, I can keep looking at the privately owned vacant lots, find one that is really vacant, find the owner, and offer to buy it. This is not going to be simple.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Blemished Wishes


On the way back from the restroom at a local business, I noticed a new sign: Best Wishes

This sign never makes sense to me.  Nobody ever offers mediocre wishes, or damaged wishes. I wouldn’t know where to look for used wishes or remaindered wishes, or seconds. 

I expect any business I patronize to want the best for me, if for no other reason than their desire that I come back and buy more stuff from them.

On the other hand I sometimes have bossy wishes or greedy wishes when I think about companies I patronize.

Last weekend I took the Greyhound bus to New York City to see a play.  I had planned to make a day of it.  I booked what I thought was an express bus for 9:15 in the morning. The play didn’t start until 2 PM.  It’s usually a 2 hour bus ride, so that would give me plenty of time for people watching and eating lunch at a restaurant. 

My husband and I arrived half an hour early to make sure we could get seats next to each other. Upon arrival, we learned that our tickets were not for the express bus, but rather for the stop-and-go bus that takes 25 minutes longer.  

When the 9 AM express bus arrived at the station, they let 4 people who had arrived before us board because there were empty seats.

No bus came at 9:15.  

When the 9:30 express bus arrived, they decided that none of us could have the empty seats because we had the wrong kind of tickets.

When the 10 AM stop-and-go bus arrived, they decided that none of us waiting for the 9:15 bus could ride it because there were people who had tickets for the 10 AM bus.

Finally at 10:45 our bus arrived.  It had stopped and picked up passengers earlier and it did not have enough seats for all of us.  Since my husband and I were now at the front of the line, we did get to ride on it.  It actually took 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to NYC.  So, our 2 hour ride took over 4 hours to get us to NYC, and I have no idea when or if the passengers left behind arrived.  Perhaps they were allowed on the 11 AM bus, if it had empty seats.

When an airline messes up like this they apologize. They buy seats from passengers on oversold flights.  They give everyone free miles on their account.  At no time did Greyhound apologize.  They acted like we passengers were being unreasonable to want to go to our ticket destinations.  I sent them an email explaining that I wish they’d improve.  They didn’t bother to respond.

I have blemished wishes for them.  I know that’s not going to accomplish anything.  But then best wishes don’t accomplish anything either. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Evolution of a Story

A friend sent me what he said was an old spiritual teaching story. 

The premise fascinated me, but the tale had no plot.  In the beginning, the protag had a problem. This was a worthy problem – definitely worth writing about. The protag went to a spiritual teacher who gave him an answer. The answer caused another problem. Again, the protag went to the teacher, who gave him another answer. End of story.

So, of course, I rewrote the story. In my version, the protag makes mistakes, matures and solves her own problem – in fact, she solves two problems at once.

I felt that thrill of discovery and accomplishment when I wrote it. Jubilantly, I took it to my local writers group.

Of course, they trashed it.  But in a nice way.  They told me where it stuck in their craws.

I rewrote it – now sure that I had something commercial in my hopper.  I sent it to agents. I sent it to the few publishers who look at over-the-transom manuscripts.  Most ignored me.  The ones who responded gave me that “not suitable for our list at this time” letter, which means nothing. I could get that response if I sent a blank piece of paper. 

I’m a professional. I don’t think I’ve lost my talent. In fact, I feel like my story-telling ability has improved over time.  This story is a keeper.

When I do find an editor, I may have to do more rewriting. But the core of the story will remain intact.  I've been a writer long enough to know that the story in my head may need to take a different shape before it effectively communicates with other people's heads.

Off it goes in another envelope to another possible buyer.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Zumba - Not


While rowing on the rowing machine, I got into a conversation with another geezer-chick. She likes Zumba.  She assured me that the teacher on Saturday mornings taught modifications and variations on every step.  At least 3 levels of difficulty.  I spoke with the teacher, and he confirmed – this class is safe for people who can’t do deep bends or fast wiggles.

So, I decided to try it.  The first thing I noticed was that my enticer wasn’t there.  The second thing I noticed was that the teacher wasn’t there.  We were having a substitute.  Having been a substitute teacher in public schools, I decided to stay and give her a chance.

She put on the music and started to wiggle. And Jiggle. And Twerk. And practically jet across the room hips gyrating in time to music as fast as a sewing machine. Twerking while balancing on one foot.  She seemed to have an invisible lover on a palate who moved around the room with her. She kept lifting one leg and straddling him.  Yes, she was fully clothed – but with an invisible lover, I guess that doesn’t matter.

She kept this up for an hour.  No modifications. No variations. Just follow her doing her impossible hip waggles. The 20-somethings in the class followed her easily.  We had a room full of invisible lovers on invisible palates ready for them. Lift that leg, point that toe, extend that thigh. Now bring it down. Twerking the whole time.

The best I could do was wiggle and try to move my hips.

The instructor never said a word.  On the way out, a gym employee wanted the class to fill out a satisfaction survey.  The 20-somethings eagerly took the forms or just shouted, “Give her all Excellents.”  I guess the invisible lovers pleased them.

I didn’t take one.  Why bother? I’m never going to Zumba again.

Friday, March 6, 2015

We're up to 50%

My family is not large.  My mother has one sister. I have one sister. My mother’s brother had two girls.

That’s it for the over 50 female population.

My mother’s mother had breast cancer.  She died from it.  That was in the era before self-exams. She caught it too late.

My mother’s sister had breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and lived another 30 years.

My mother never had breast cancer. She’s 92.

I had breast cancer, and like my aunt, had a mastectomy.

My sister has not had breast cancer.  But her doctor talked her into getting a BRCA test.  This makes no sense because nobody under 50 in our family has had breast cancer. Nobody has had ovarian cancer. No men have had breast cancer.  We don’t fit the profile – but some lab made a small fortune for that test.  Of course it came back negative.

I just received a phone call from my cousin, my uncle’s daughter.  She just got diagnosed with breast cancer.  DCIS.  She had two lumpectomies.  And her doctor tried to talk her into a BRCA test.
 
When I got breast cancer, our family looked like we had higher than average, but still random breast cancer.  With the addition of my cousin, our cancer rate is now statistically meaningful.  It looks like half of my grandmother’s post-menopausal female descendants have had breast cancer.  My cousin and I have warned the next generations: If you’re old enough to have them, you’re old enough to check them! Every month.  Without fail.

I have two girls. My sister has two girls. My brother has one girl. My aunt’s son has two girls. My older daughter has two girls. My younger daughter has one girl.

It feels odd to say this, but cancer in my family can be a simple matter of search and destroy; then get on with your life.

Cancer is a big scary word.  But checking breasts every month makes as much sense as looking both ways before crossing the street.  Do it, and survive.  Even if you don’t have cancer in your family.

Yes, I’m on my soap box!