Almost Dying Changes You – 52 Ancestors #348

Before you read any further – I’m fine. Now. But I wasn’t.

I’ve been really debating about whether or not I should write this article. After it was written, I debated about whether I should publish it. It’s one of those all-or-nothing propositions.

Obviously, because you’re reading this, I decided to share this chapter in my life’s journey.

Thankfully, it was not the closing chapter but was far too close for comfort.

You might want a nice cup of tea, coffee, or maybe something stronger for this one😊.

Shift Happens

You might have noticed over the past few months that my 52 Ancestor stories have changed a bit. They’re a lot more like this one with fewer historical articles. Don’t worry – they will shift back soon.

They changed because I’ve been making some significant changes in my life and I just didn’t have the time for the required research to do each ancestor justice. I’m almost through that knothole now.

Pushed

Sometimes we decide, of our own free will to make changes in our lives. We decide to go to college, or get married, or maybe not.

We make decisions about our jobs and careers. We decide where to live. Our ancestors decided to migrate or remain in their home village. So do we.

Many of the significant changes in my life have been the result of a rather rude push. Off of something that looked a lot like a cliff at the time.

For example, I received a “shove” to leave Indiana that came in the form of life-threatening domestic abuse. At the time, I was utterly terrified, alone with my young children, two pets that survived, (he killed one), and heartbroken. That chapter shaped who I’ve become a great deal.

In hindsight, it was one of the best “shoves” I ever received and absolutely for the best. Not the abuse of course, but the fact that I had to leave to escape. I learned courage, resilience, tenacity, and to advocate for myself when there was no one else. In other words – survival skills – baptism by fire.

Back then, there weren’t domestic violence shelters and women were often blamed when their husbands were abusive.

In leaving and beginning anew, doors I never could have imagined opened. I established a new, abuse-free life and found the perfect career.

A few years later, another unexpected push off that cliff came when I had to find a new job. The company I worked for, and loved, was acquired. I was very unhappy at the time, but now, looking back, I realize that I took extremely important life-lessons about problem-solving and thinking outside the box with me, along with a bright shiny college degree. I didn’t want to, but it really was time to move on. The next door was opening. I just didn’t see it that way – at least not yet!

Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I don’t know who said that first, but it’s oh so true. All of life’s events are strung together like a chain, every single one essential to getting us to where we are today. Changing one thing changes everything.

I’m sure every single one of you can relate similar experiences.

Near Death

I’m one of those extremely fortunate people who is alive because of medical advances, specifically antibiotics. Had I been born just a generation earlier, I assuredly wouldn’t have survived.

Aside from my difficult birth, my first much-too-close encounter with death was when I was 10 years old and critically ill with meningismus, a close relative of meningitis. By all rights, I should have died, and I very nearly did. I recall an event vividly, although I was in an oxygen tent and my mother assured me that I was NOT conscious when I told her about this “memory” later. She did, however, confirm that what I saw happened exactly as I described, which simply confused both of us.

The doctor asked my mother to step out of my hospital room with him and I decided to “go with them.” They walked quite a way to the end of the hall. I was “floating along,” slightly above and behind them, but it didn’t seem at all odd. I realize it sounds odd now.

They sat at the end of the hall, alone, in a small waiting area. The doctor asked my mother if there was anyone she needed to call. She didn’t understand what he meant. He explained that it was unlikely that I would recover, and he wondered if there were grandparents, siblings, my father, etc. that would like to come to the hospital to see me while they still could. He offered to help her make the necessary calls.

My mother was clearly shocked, stood up, looked at him, and declared emphatically, “My daughter is NOT going to die!” With that, she left him sitting there and walked resolutely back to my room. In my floating state, I returned with her, and I saw myself lying in bed beneath the plastic oxygen tent zipped around most of me, apparently “sleeping.” I remember thinking that I looked small.

I remember nothing else.

I’ve had a few other brushes with death – close calls – but perhaps not THAT close.

Accident

In the 1970s, I was involved in an automobile accident where my car flipped end-over-end in a field several times after broadsiding a vehicle that ran a stop sign in front of me. I couldn’t see the vehicle approaching because the corn was above car height.

By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden – Ford Pinto runaboutUploaded by Oxyman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16085390

Thankfully, my vehicle, a much-disparaged Ford Pinto, ironically for safety issues, literally collapsed around me like a protective cocoon, leaving me with injuries that warranted hospitalization, but that didn’t leave me in critical condition.

Yes, events do “slow down” in the seconds when a crisis like that is occurring. The seconds between seeing that car pull in front of me, slamming on the brakes while throwing the transmission into reverse to slow my speed, crashing into the car, feeling the jolting impact, then spinning over and over with my vehicle finally coming to rest on its roof seemed like a slow-motion eternity.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say I was trapped in the car and bleeding badly. The important thing is that my child was not in the car with me, and I survived, as did the other driver.

One of the supreme ironies is that after a fatal accident a couple of years earlier, my step-father had been part of organizing a local fundraiser to purchase jaws-of-life for the volunteer fire department, and a new ambulance to cover that part of the county. Little did he know they would both be used to save his daughter’s life.

Pain Medication

In the early 2000s, I either became or always had been allergic to morphine and never knew it.

In the wee hours of the morning, I awoke in the hospital, following surgery earlier in the day, and observed an entire circle of doctors and nurses, along with a crash cart, surrounding my bed. Apparently, I had a reaction to morphine that involved my blood pressure and respirations dropping to a critically low level.

A few years later, my dentist prescribed Tylenol with codeine after a procedure. It never occurred to me that my years-earlier morphine issue might also extend to codeine. I took one pill before bed. Thankfully, only one, which was half the prescribed dose. Otherwise, I would probably have died on the floor where I spent the night flat on my back.

That experience was quite interesting.

I felt ill in bed, got up and attempted to reach the kitchen for something to settle my stomach. On the way, I felt faint, leaned over the couch, realized I was losing consciousness and wondered if I was dying just before everything went black.

I recall rousing slightly during the night on the floor. I couldn’t move, but I realized I was cold before slipping away again. Sometime a little later, I struggled to consciousness again amid the realization that I literally could not die because I wasn’t “finished.”

To this day, I don’t know if I “thought” that or “someone” was speaking to me from the other side.

Near morning, around dawn, I finally roused enough to crawl back into the bedroom and awaken my husband. I realized that I had gone to bed more than 6 hours earlier.

No more morphine, codeine or opioid-based pain meds for me – ever.

Unfinished Business

Regardless of where that message “came from,” it arrived nonetheless, and I heard it loud and clear. I knew exactly what business was unfinished, and that’s where I’ve been focused on a daily basis since that epiphany. You might have surmised by this point that my unfinished business was and is genetic genealogy, and specifically one aspect of my research work.

I have always felt that I was guided, or pushed, to where I needed to be and this is no exception.

2020 & 2021

These last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone in a myriad of ways. Literally, let me count those ways. I’ll need my fingers and toes and maybe yours too😊

I’ve been fortunate because my income and my husband’s have both been mostly spared and we have escaped the worst aspects of Covid. That’s to say, neither of us or our immediate family, meaning spouse, child, or parent has died from it.

However, I’ve lost many friends and close relatives and the deaths continue to mount. My husband’s best friend died. One of my close friends has lost either 5 or 6 close family members to Covid, one just today. Two others have lost both parents, just days apart. Sadly, there are so many that I’ve lost count.

Even more friends and family members have Covid right now, residual long-Covid, or are suffering from Covid repercussions. Families are irrecoverably fractured by differences in both politics and Covid beliefs.

And by fractured, I do NOT mean a disagreement. I mean a forever rift that cannot be repaired. Polarizing politics, Covid, fear, abandonment, betrayal, and sometimes death all thrown together in the most toxic of stews.

Some people have managed to survive all that but have suffered from and are still experiencing the effects of being physically isolated from family members and friends. And of course, for many, the employment landscape has changed dramatically.

After two years, there is no longer a “normal” to go back to.

I thought 2020 was the worst.

I made countless masks and quilts for people in need or suffering.

We mask-makers viewed ourselves as “can do” Rosie the Riveter, 2020 version, all pulling together with what we had on hand to help others out, especially those in medical, public safety, and public-facing jobs who had to work to care for others.

We were all terrified, especially as people began to sicken and die and Covid progressed from the abstract happening someplace else to the grim-reaper stealthily moving among us and our family members.

I made myself a quilt from just a few of the mask scraps that I named Black and Blue, because that’s how I felt in the spring of 2020. Beaten, bruised and isolated as we attended Zoom funerals.

We made the best of things, hoping for an end soon.

I was so hopeful for 2021, especially with the vaccine becoming available. Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out exactly as I expected, and here we are, still struggling and embattled in January of 2022, enduring the worse surge yet.

Restless

By spring and summer of 2021, after a year of being locked down, people became very restless. Covid fatigue. Zoom just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We had spent months trying to find things to do separately but together.

Me, right along with them. I began focusing on outside activities as the weather warmed.

I was never so glad to see spring arrive in my life. Green leaves, flowers, and release from the houses that held us hostage yet at the same time protected and sheltered us during 2020 and the following cold, grey Covid winter.

May 2021

Gardening was in full swing by May. Colorful blooming flowers everyplace soothed my battered soul, even though I still couldn’t see friends and family members in our normal settings. We were finally beginning to see family members outsdoors, still masked. I was so grateful and that felt SOOOooo very good. I had missed them incredibly.

The garden had come to life, insects were buzzing and I was spending lots of time outside.

One morning, I felt something brush my face, by my eye. I didn’t know what it was, but I reflexively fanned it away with my hand. A second or so later, I felt a sting, then another one.

Both stings on my face near my nose.

Within seconds, I felt intense burning rise to my eye, through my nose, and the palate of my mouth begin to swell. The swelling was moving swiftly towards the back of the roof of my mouth.

I suddenly realized what was happening. I was having a severe, intense reaction, and if my throat swelled like my face and the roof of my mouth were doing – I was going to be in extreme trouble in about a minute.

My husband was nearby and I somehow managed to find my way to him. I distantly heard him say to someone on the phone, after glancing at me, “Uh, I have to go. I have a really big problem here.”

We made it to the hospital where all I could do was attempt to choke out the word, “bee” and motion to my throat as I gasped, but I don’t know that they could hear or understand me.

Except, it wasn’t a bee. The culprit was a hornet, the most toxic and life-threatening of stinging insects.

Emergency Room

The lobby of the Emergency Room was full of coughing patients.

The staff pointed to the seating area, wanted me to “take a seat and wait,” but I was frantically trying to gesture that I couldn’t breathe. They summoned a nurse who was quite alarmed.

We were immediately hustled into a triage room where a flurry of people were scrambling around me, cutting my shirt off, asking questions and starting IVs.

I remember little, except a sense of relief that someone understood just how much trouble I was in.

A few hours later, hooked up to what seemed like every electronic monitoring device possible, I was drifting in and out of sleep with Jim sitting in the chair at the foot of the gurney. I heard the nurse step behind the curtain of the person in the area beside me and tell that patient that he was Covid positive and that they were going to transport him “someplace” as soon as they could stabilize him and find a bed.

Still quite groggy, I asked Jim if I heard what I thought I heard. He slowly shook his head in the affirmative. We stared at each other in wide-eyed shock and disbelief, combined with fear. We had both tried so hard to avoid Covid, yet, here it was, right beside us with no precautions taken to separate people with Covid symptoms from the rest of us.

We had all been there for hours, just feet apart – and my neighbor was positive. I was trapped.

I asked the nurse and while she could not confirm that the man next to me had Covid, she said that they did in fact “have Covid in here.”

We had all shared a lobby, the triage room (he was already there when I arrived,) restrooms, and hallways – for hours. Wonderful. Just wonderful. We spent several more hours side by side too until he was transported.

There was no hospital room available, so we remained in the ER until they were sure I could breathe, my vitals stabilized, and the swelling had abated somewhat.

I was sent home on high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs. And to wait…

You Know What’s Coming…

I was home, but I was not “OK.” Anaphylaxis is an immense shock to the system and your body is literally flooded with chemicals. You become very ill. And you don’t just get over it as soon as the meds take effect.

I had never experienced an anaphylactic reaction before, but went to bed and expected to feel better soon. However, I continued to feel very crummy. Extremely tired, weak and dizzy. For many days.

I finally called my doctor who instructed me to go and get both a Covid PCR test and a Covid serologic antibody test. She wanted to know if I was positive for Covid at that point, hence the PCR test, and if my system was having a reaction to the Covid exposure, meaning I had had Covid. You can read about the various types of tests, here.

I was not positive for Covid at that time, but my antibody numbers were literally off the chart.

You can see on my results above that 8 is the top end of the chart, and my results were 8.11.

Yes, my body was fighting both that double hornet sting AND Covid, at the same time. No wonder recovery took a long time and I felt miserable.

I knew I had come perilously close to dying.

Something Changed

I don’t exactly know how to explain this, but something changed. A paradigm shift.

Maybe something had been changing all along and this life-threatening event just cinched it. Pushed me over another cliff of sorts following a whole lot of cumulative smaller shoves.

Covid has made us all think about and reconsider things. Lots of things.

  • What is important?
  • Who is important?
  • Some people have come to view their career and employer in a different light.
  • Jobs have changed too with many people now enjoying a work-at-home or hybrid position that shifted from an in-the-office job.
  • Other people left the workforce and have not rejoined.
  • We were somehow more restricted but less tied.
  • Numbers vary by age group and location, but more than 20% of Americans have moved during this time.
  • Relationships have morphed and changed too – sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. Many ended. Some began.
  • We have been conflicted – both grateful to be working at home, which is both more convenient and productive, but also lonely for in-person human contact.
  • We have more social media and electronic connections than ever, although many of those platforms have become hateful and toxic. Yet, it has been the only way for us to keep track of friends, family, and acquaintances, so we’ve tried to sidestep the increasing toxicity.

Somehow, whether we intended or wanted to or not, we’ve all taken stock of what is important as a result of living with the constant threat of a miserable death.

Not one person that I know has been untouched by this threat. All of us have family members who have died. Some of us nearly died.

Trauma changes you, especially sustained trauma. Some people have developed PTSD, but we aren’t exactly into the “post” part of post-traumatic just yet, because this trauma continues.

Life has changed in big ways and small.

June 2021

I knew that I was done. I knew that somehow a chapter had ended and another had already begun. That cliff might have been invisible, but I was already over the edge and there was no return.

I had been delaying several changes – some through procrastination pure and simple.

I had been reluctant to make other changes due to restrictions and factors that had shifted in subtle and not-so-subtle ways over the previous 18 months, and longer.

The hornet stings, Covid exposure, resulting reactions, plus Covid-induced lifestyle and relationship changes all morphed together to create an avalanche thundering downhill.

  • It was time to clean out.
  • It was time to downsize our surroundings and upsize our life.
  • It was time to stop procrastinating, even if the reasons had been “good” and were justified.

“Someday” is not a day of the week and doesn’t just happen without focused effort.

We thought we had “forever” left – but forever nearly turned out to be minutes and not years or decades.

It is time to fully live for us and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I’m not retiring.

I absolutely LOVE what I do. That epiphany on the floor all those years ago still holds true. I’m not done. I just needed to reprioritize, shift to a different environment, simplify things and eliminate some dead weight.

With the summer solstice arrived the season of change. Soul-searching walks in the labyrinth confirmed what I needed to do.

I won’t tell you I wasn’t fearful and apprehensive, because I was. But I also knew. The path existed and I was on it, even though I couldn’t yet see through the mists where it led. This journey hadn’t yet been unveiled, but there was no turning back.

I was headed into the darkness of uncertainly as a result of escaping the darkness of death.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I wrote about Swedish Death Cleaning a few weeks ago. Suffice it to say I really had no concept of HOW MUCH STUFF I had accumulated.

Sifting through all that was both cathartic and incredibly painful.

I found things I had entirely forgotten about – until I saw them again. I was reminded how blessed I had been to have been forced over those cliffs of uncertainty all those times in the past.

Yes, that’s a much younger me at Twentieth Century-Fox – a landmark opportunity in my career.

My life passed before my eyes one piece of paper, one found photo and one item at a time. I found the bear I made my mother for Mother’s Day as a child. It resided on her bed all the days of her life.

Some treasures made me smile, some cry, and some, both.

Many family photos are minus many or even most of the other people.

Yet, they are also some of life’s most joyful moments.

I relived the great joys, and the great sorrows of my life, one after another, all in the space of a few weeks.

Some were unspeakably bittersweet.

Mom’s last birthday card to me as her health was failing

I never knew what the next box or envelope I opened would hold.

In many ways, I had to say goodbye all over again to family members, both human and animal.

We spread the ashes of our long-departed fur-family members as we prepared to move on.

I found this gravestone rubbing made by my daughter when we visited Aurora, Indiana with Mom back in the 1980s.

They are gone, not forgotten, and will live in our hearts forever. We don’t need the stuff to take the memories.

The future was once again a blank slate in front of us, waiting to be filled with our new life.

Discovery

During this time, I made an unexpected discovery. I received a great deal of satisfaction by gifting things that I had always cherished to others. Things near and dear to my heart. 

I gifted my grandmother’s china to my 1C1R (first cousin once removed), who is also my grandmother’s descendant.

My cousin’s mother was my Mom’s niece who she absolutely adored.

My cousin is relaying the china to a different 1C1R. My family already has what they want and I’m thrilled to find a way to keep Grandmother’s china in the family.

My grandmother, her sisters, aunts and mother painted the gold edging in the early 1900s. One is initialed by my grandmother’s aunt and dated 1905.

Here’s the sad part. My mother never used that china. Neither had I. Everyone was terrified of breaking it, so it sat forever in the cabinet, revered but unused. I hope my cousin uses that china that belonged to both my grandmother and her mother, my great-grandmother, as well. My cousin is at least the fifth generation, if not the 6th.

Regardless of whether she uses it, or simply loves it, the china is still in the family and I’m not carting it around only to have it wind up in a rummage sale someday, or worse. At least now it has the opportunity of remaining in the family for more generations.

Gifts

When my cousin came to pick up the china, she looked so much like her mother and my grandparents. That was startling and made me weepy. Even weepier than I already was. She didn’t know it, but she was visiting on what would have been my Mom’s 99th birthday.

My cousin brought me a lovely gift as well – my grandfather’s masonic apron, shown below on a table cover that I hand-quilted, for his daughter, my mother, years ago.

I am thrilled beyond words – and I enjoyed visiting with my cousin immensely. I have several things from my grandmother, but nothing from my grandfather – until now.

Additionally, my mother had crocheted shawls for all the females in the family, plus a few extras. Her shawls were extraordinarily delicate and beautiful, winning many ribbons at fairs and exhibitions over the years.

There was one shawl left. I offered it to my cousin who, of course, had known my mother. She was thrilled, saying THAT was the highlight of her visit.

She adopted Mom’s last afghan too.

I’ve enjoyed sharing the love so very much – and I know Mom would approve as well. I felt her with us.

In fact, I’ve felt her with me many times during this process.

Use the Crystal

As I sifted through what to sell and gift, and what to keep, I had to weigh the importance of each item to me, combined with the possibilities of where it would go in a new chapter of its life. How I felt about where it would go, and with whom, made a big difference in my decision.

Mom had some crystal that was also my grandmother’s. She used the crystal bowls from time to time, unlike the china. I remember various crystal pieces on the table.

I decided to keep those, and as I was wondering exactly what to DO with them, I heard this voice in my mind. Mom said, “Use the crystal.”

Use the crystal. Now that I think about it, I think the fact that I could remember those dishes being used created a bond I didn’t have with the much-loved but unused china. The crystal was actually a part of our life.

It doesn’t matter if I use the crystal for its original intended purpose or something else. I can feel close to Mom by simply using it in my life.

Right now, I’m using one bowl for tangerines and another for chocolate.

Chocolate was Mom’s perennial favorite, so no matter what I did with anything else, her unwavering gaze would be affixed on that chocolate in her dish😊

Yep, Mom surely approves.

I think I’ll use her water pitcher as a vase when I’m not using it to pour iced tea. My hubby already used one of her crystal glasses for a sip of wine last night.

Regardless, the crystal pieces are no longer going to reside, unused, on the shelf in the cabinet.

We are already using her crystal.

Reshaping Life

I’ve utilized this reshaping opportunity to decide what is, and is not, important.

I’ve donated and donated and donated.

If something doesn’t bring me peace, joy, or happiness, it’s off to bring that to someone else. Money already spent is a sunk cost and not a good reason to keep something that no longer meets that criteria.

And really, who needs a dozen pairs of shoes. Now genealogy books, well, that’s another matter altogether😊!

Realignment

I’ve realigned my life with what’s important at this stage. I’ve focused on what I want and less on “should” based on what I think is expected of me.

I realized that I wasn’t important to everyone who I thought was important to me. Investing in relationships and people who don’t care and aren’t appreciative is a vicious cycle of pain and disappointment. I stopped. As Dad used to say, “let go or get dragged.”

I’m less tolerant of BS. Life is just too short.

Yes, it truly does take a village. I don’t mean just to raise children, but for all of us. You truly know who the people who love you are when you need help, or nearly die, and they show up, or don’t.

Whoever it was that said, “We are just walking each other home,” had that exactly right.

Family of heart is our family of choice, and I would be truly lost without them. Choose wisely, Grasshopper, because those people are your “village” residents. Those who will share their food with you in a drought or masks and TP in plague times, or who will shrug and let you perish as collateral damage.

I care less about other’s people’s opinions of me.

I’ve removed negative and toxic people from my periphery.

I’m not allowing the key to my happiness to live in someone else’s pocket.

I’m focused on spending time and resources on people who are positive and kind.

Love and loyalty are not simply words and concepts, they hinge on actions. Without corresponding actions, they are nothing but deceptive, manipulative, hollow words, or worse. Like my mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Believe the behavior.

Legacy

I’ve thought a lot about the first few words of my obituary.

In other words – what do I want my legacy to be? We are the only people who can make that happen. Our legacy isn’t so much what happens TO us, but what we do about it. We write our legacy every day, every minute, of our lives.

  • She was…
  • She will be remembered for…
  • She loved…
  • We miss her because…
  • She left…
  • The best thing about her life was or is…

Every single one of these things has to do with people, and how we make them feel. Not a single one of those things has to do with “stuff,” unless it’s making sure that others have their needs met.

It’s not at all what we have or accumulate that matters, but the legacy we leave behind.

I can’t help but think of Betty White who died just days shy of her 100th birthday and we STILL thought that was too soon. Be like Betty.

I’ve tied up as many loose ends as possible so that my daughter doesn’t have to make (as many) difficult decisions.

I’ve reaffirmed and acknowledged, again, how important genetic research is to both me and others. Not just individual others, but the genealogy community and world at large, now and in the future.

I’m thinking about the Million Mito Project which will benefit mankind (and womankind) as well as individual genealogists. Tracing our way back in time and lighting those dark crevices with knowledge one step at a time. Eventually, those tiny steps evolve into a journey.

I’ve recommitted to my 52 Ancestors series. I’m not writing for me, but for them, and for the future. For people probably not yet born. There are stories and tidbits that will be gone, forever, when I am. I’m trying my best to make sure they aren’t!

I’m doing what I love and will continue as long as I manage to avoid those pesky hornets.

I’ve hired someone to help with the outside home maintenance. Not only do I not care for that task, I’m making it as difficult as possible for those hornets to kill me😊.

And speaking of those evil flying assassins, in case you’re wondering, I now carry an EpiPen in the bottom of my purse and in a drawer by the back door at all times. I’ve already needed it once too – not for me – for someone else.

Had that hornet NOT stung me, I would not have had the pen on hand for a young man who was stung and also had no idea he was severely allergic. Speaking of a worthy legacy, a huge thank you to Sheldon Kaplan who invented the EpiPen and thereby saved and continues to save countless lives. HE made a huge difference. Be like Sheldon too!

Oh, and the back door is now located elsewhere, meaning I relocated, and the new patio is screened.

Migration

I’ve made the same journey my ancestors did. Migration. I’ve thought so much about them, their choices and sacrifices these past few weeks and months – and their legacies.

Their lives have passed before my eyes as I embarked and walked along that same pathway. In some cases, I’ve revisited those locations, such as Aurora, Indiana, on the Ohio River where a Christmas wreath adorns a boat.

I’m glad to see the home belonging to my ancestors, Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel is getting a much-needed facelift. It was here that the Haviland China was painted more than a century ago, probably in the parlor. My great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore was born and raised here. My grandmother, Edith Lore spent a great deal of time with her grandparents and that Haviland china was probably painted by three if not four generations of women chatting and painting happily together. I’ve always wondered if it was my grandmother’s wedding china. I can’t help but wonder if my ancestors know I’m here, visiting, passing through on my own migration journey exactly a century after Barbara Drechsel Kirsch sold the Kirsch House to live with her widowed daughter.

I’ve gained a new and much greater appreciation for their lives and the challenges they faced. Although modern travel is much easier for me, well, except for the 3 Mad Cat thing😊.

I don’t dare complain one whimper, because compared to those months-long transatlantic ship voyages that were dependent on the wind and weather, my headaches were nothing. Jacob Lentz and his wife, Fredericka Ruhle, lost a child and possibly her parents, were shipwrecked, set adrift in the Atlantic, nearly starved, then stranded for a year in another country before having to indenture themselves and their family to pay for passage a second time where they encountered a hurricane. Nope, my trip was NOTHING in comparison.

Once again, I’m following in the collective footsteps of my ancestors. They paved the way and have sheltered me on this journey. I feel their presence. Every journey is different, and mine, especially recent decisions, has been challenging in many ways that I never anticipated.

So yes, I am using the crystal, Mom’s silverware, and the heirloom quilts! I hope you will too. If not now, when? Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

No Regrets

My goal at the end of my life is to have no regrets.

I can tell you as I’ve gotten older, I do wish I had done some things differently, but my major regrets are things that I DID NOT do, not things I did.

Most often, what prevented me from doing something was fear, disguised as lots of other emotions. Responsibility, especially for my children, guilt, and focusing on what I “should” do instead. What might happen if…

What I wanted to do was all but suffocated for a long time under that weight – for so long that I didn’t even know how to figure out what it was that I wanted – until I almost didn’t have that opportunity anymore.

Lacasa

Like I said, nearly dying changes you.

I’ve decided to live more boldly now. I’m lighter, both in terms of stuff and emotional baggage.

I have donated more than I kept – and I do mean that literally – to Lacasa, our local woman’s shelter that helps women escape domestic abuse by providing safety, protection, and whatever else they need. Many women leave with absolutely nothing except what they are wearing, their children, and if they are lucky, their pets.

There was a time in my life that I needed that type of assistance, but it wasn’t available. I left with the clothes on my back, a clunker car that he burned, my children, and 2 cats. He killed one pet and tried to kill us, including the children, and promised he would succeed if I left him. He nearly succeeded.

I was utterly terrified, young and alone, but left anyway, knowing instinctively that escape was my only prayer of survival.

I discovered that restraining orders are completely and utterly useless.

Scars

I still carry multiple scars, but I’ve come to realize that scars are the marks of warriors that won their battles. Reminders of valor and courage. Beauty marks – perhaps my best attire, as someone once said, made of hellfire itself.

These are not the permanent marks of suffering, but of bravery and survival. They are my secret source of strength, my superpower because they remind me that if I can survive that, I can survive just about anything. I wear them with pride and dignity. It’s not the scars themselves I want you to see, but how they transformed me, and through me, others.

Most women don’t talk about abuse and their abusers. It’s degrading, embarrassing, humiliating, and often involves rape and other unspeakable, horrific violations.

Worse yet, many people still blame the victims one way or another. A lot of second-guessing, “well, why didn’t you…” or “you should have…” goes on. There’s implied judgment and blame FOR THE VICTIM in every one of those words.

Every woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship situation knows she made a poor choice initially, but the question becomes one of survival. Women can’t go back in time and request a redo and other people back away. Men don’t advertise themselves as abusers – that behavior generally emerges after the woman is already dependent.

I was shocked when I learned my mother, at one point, had been a victim too. Many family members were embarrassed by her divorce and would have preferred that she “find a way” to remain married to her brutalizer.

It was hard enough for me, but even more difficult a generation earlier, because it was even more challenging for women to work and their wages were universally low. Not to mention the social and societal aspects of being viewed as “damaged goods,” a failure, “difficult,” a “loose woman,” and somehow a threat all rolled into one.

Unfortunately, women’s shelters didn’t exist for either me or my mother. Thank heavens they do now.

Shelter and Hope

Today, Lacasa has both a brick and mortar and online retail store stocked with donated items. Lacasa clients shop at no charge of course. All money raised goes to fund things like their 24-hour hotline and safehouse. All services for victims, survivors and their families are provided at no charge.

Not only did I donate a boatload of furniture, like this bookcase that used to hold quilt items, I also donated all kinds of household items, in addition to books. Reading is so important, and truthfully, I think this is the only way I could have parted with many of my books.

In addition to several friends who helped, I found a lovely couple to pack my remaining things, including moving the heavy furniture, so I didn’t need to do it or agonize and second guess my decisions about individual items.

Seeing my things in the Lacasa shop, like these bookcases being reassembled for use, made me cry. The service these items will provide in their new life is far, far beyond any use I would ever have gotten out of them. They held books for me. Now they hold out hope for others!

A path to safety and a new life. A transformational opportunity to break the cycle of abuse.

Donating to Lacasa made the shedding of excess baggage that I needed to accomplish for my metamorphosis so much easier.

We rented a storage unit for Lacasa to house the items that won’t fit in their store right now. Women will be able to “shop” here too, and Lacasa will stock the store as needed.

I own a whole lot less but am much richer than when I started this journey months ago.

Live Boldly

Everything has changed, and so have I.

It’s kind of like my magnetic poles have shifted.

I’ve sold and given away the majority of my possessions including heirlooms, quilts and books I cherished. There is something infinitely satisfying and rewarding about sharing the love – sewing those seeds to spread across the winds of time into future generations.

I’m using Mom’s crystal.

I cut a quilt into smaller pieces to repurpose and use differently as table runners.

I would/could have never done that before.

I’ve realized in many ways it was time to move on, and I have.

I trekked abroad to think and ponder the future before the Delta variant made travel too dangerous again. To the land of the midnight sun – to walk the continental divide between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, to experience a volcano erupting, and to explore the world of ancient DNA.

Ahhh, DNA and genealogy, my lifelong passion. DNA has both created and transformed my life.

I will not leave this world with any stone within my power unturned. I will educate about genetics, DNA test myself and others, write and research in the most productive ways possible, including this blog. In addition to my book published in 2021, there is likely going to be another in 2022.

I will travel and walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.

I will stop to smell the flowers and allow them to inspire quilts that burst with summertime joy in the midst of winter.

I will celebrate the sun on my face and the love of my ancestors in my heart as I trace their pathways.

Furthermore, I promise, I will never, ever, be a well-behaved woman.

I would regret that immensely, and life is just too short to live within the restrictions imposed by the expectations of unknown and unnamed others.

Besides that, history is just waiting to be both made and revealed. It’s not like it’s going to simply reveal itself!

I am incredibly grateful to be so fortunate. I’m able to laugh and smile – a lot – and find joy in something every day. I haven’t just survived, but thrived with the help of my village – my family and family of heart. I feel a karmic obligation to repay my good fortune whenever possible by sewing both quilts and seeds.

I firmly believe that when you have an abundance of love, (or other things), that you need to give it. Literally, share the love.

Love is an unlimited, regenerative commodity. Love is not pie. There is always enough to go around. In fact, love is self-sustaining, increasing with the amount given.

OK – It’s Your Turn

I hope you too will live boldly – whatever that means to you. The future, and our legacy which is the rear-view mirror reflection of that future, is what we make it.

You don’t have to almost die to make changes. I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

What’s your legacy going to be?

What do you want to write in your own history book?

On your tombstone?

What are you going to do?

What’s stopping you?

What is your superpower?

__________________________________________________________

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Identify Your Ancestors – Follow Nested Ancestral Segments

I don’t think that we actively think about our DNA segments as nested ancestors, like Russian Matryoshka dolls, but they are.

That’s exactly why segment information is critical for genealogists. Every segment, and every portion of a segment, has an incredibly important history. In fact, you could say that the further back in time we can track a segment, the more important it becomes.

Let’s see how to unveil nested segments. I’ll use my chromosome 20 as an example because it’s a smaller chromosome. But first, let’s start with my pedigree chart.

Pedigree

Click images to enlarge.

Before we talk about nested segments that originated with specific ancestors, it’s important to take a look at the closest portion of my maternal pedigree chart. My DNA segments came from and through these people. I’ll be working with the first 5 generations, beginning with my mother as generation #1.

Generation 1 – Parents

In the first generation, we receive a copy of each chromosome from each parent. I have a copy of chromosome 20 from my mother and a copy from my father.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can see that I match my mother on the entire tested region of each chromosome.

Therefore, the entire length of each of my chromosomes is assigned to both mother and father because I received a copy from each parent. I’m fortunate that my mother’s DNA was able to be tested before she passed away.

We see that each copy of chromosome 20 is a total of 110.20 cM long with 17,695 SNPs.

Of course, my mother inherited the DNA on her chromosome 20 from multiple ancestors whose DNA combined in her parents, a portion of which was inherited by my mother. Mom received one chromosome from each of her parents.

I inherited only one copy of each chromosome (In this case, chromosome 20) from Mom, so the DNA of her two parents was divided and recombined so that I inherited a portion of my maternal chromosome 20 from both of my maternal grandparents.

Identifying Maternal and Paternal Matches

Associating matches with your maternal or paternal side is easy at FamilyTreeDNA because their Family Finder matching does it automatically for you if you upload (or create) a tree and link matches that you can identify to their proper place in your tree.

FamilyTreeDNA then uses that matching segment information from known, identified relatives in your tree to place people who match you both on at least one significant-sized segment in the correct maternal, paternal, (or both) buckets. That’s triangulation, and it happens automatically. All you have to do is click on the Maternal tab to view your triangulated maternal matches. As you can see, I have 1432 matches identified as maternal. 

Some other DNA testing companies and third-party tools provide segment information and various types of triangulation information, but they aren’t automated for your entire match list like Family Finder matching at FamilyTreeDNA.

You can read about triangulation in action at MyHeritage, here, 23andMe, here, GEDmatch, here, and DNAPainter, which we’ll use, here. Genetic Affairs AutoKinship tool incorporates triangulation, as does their AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I’ve compiled a reference resource for triangulation, here.

Every DNA testing vendor has people in their database that haven’t tested anyplace else. Your best strategy for finding nested segments and identifying matches to specific ancestors is to test at or transfer your DNA file to every vendor plus GEDmatch where people who test at Ancestry sometimes upload for matching. Ancestry does not provide segment information or a chromosome browser so you’ll sometimes find Ancestry testers have uploaded to GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA  or MyHeritage where segment information is readily available. I’ve created step-by-step download/upload instructions for all vendors, here.

Generation 2 – Grandparents

In the second generation, meaning that of my grandparents, I inherited portions of my maternal and paternal grandmother’s and grandfather’s chromosomes.

My maternal and paternal chromosomes can be divided into two pieces or groups each, one for each grandparent.

Using DNAPainter, we can see my father’s chromosome 20 on top and my mother’s on the bottom. I have previously identified segments assigned to specific ancestors which are represented by different colors on these chromosomes. You can read more about how to use DNAPainter, here.

We can divide the DNA inherited from each parent into the DNA inherited from each grandparent based on the trees of people we match. If we test cousins from each side, assigning segments maternally or paternally becomes much, much easier. That’s exactly why I’ve tested several.

For the rest of this article, I’m focusing only on my mother’s side because the concepts and methods are the same regardless of whether you’re working on your maternal side or your paternal side.

Using DNAPainter, I expanded my mother’s chromosome 20 in order to see all of the people I’ve painted on my mother’s side.

DNAPainter allows us to paint matching segments from multiple testing vendors and assign them to specific ancestors as we identify common ancestors with our matches.

Based on these matches, I’ve divided these maternal matches into two categories:

  • Maternal grandmother, meaning my mother’s mother, bracketed in red boxes
  • Maternal grandfather, meaning my mother’s father, bracketed in black boxes.

The text and arrows in these graphics refer to the colors of the brackets/boxes, and NOT the colors of the segments beside people’s names. For example, if you look at the large black box at far right, you’ll see several people, with their matching segments identified by multiple colored bars. The different colored segments (bars) mean I’ve associated the match with different ancestors in multiple or various levels of generations.

Generation 3 – Great-grandparents

Within those maternal and paternal grandparent segments, more nested information is available.

The black Ferverda grandfather segments are further divided into black, from Hiram Ferverda, and gold from his wife Eva Miller. The same concept applies to the red grandmother segments which are now divided into red representing Nora Kirsch and purple representing Curtis Lore, her husband.

While I have only been able to assign the first four segments (at the top) to one person/ancestor, there’s an entire group of matches who share the grouping of segments at right, in gold, descended through Eva Miller. The Miller line is Brethren and Mennonite with lots of testers, so this is a common pattern in my DNA matches.

Eva Miller, the gold ancestor, has two parents, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller, so her segments would come from those two sides.

Generation 4 and 5 – Fuschia Segment

I was able to track the segment shown in fuschia indicated by the blue arrow to Jacob Lentz and his wife Fredericka Ruhle, German immigrant ancestors. Other people in this same match (triangulation) group descend from Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller – but that fuschia match is the one that shows us where that segment originated. This allows us to assign that entire gold/blue bracketed set of segments to a specific ancestor or ancestral couple because they triangulate, meaning they all match me and each other.

Therefore, all of the segments that match with the fuschia segment also track back to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle, or to their ancestors. We would need people who descend from Jacob’s parents and/or Fredericka’s parents to determine the origins of that segment.

In other words, we know all of these people share a common source of that segment, even if we don’t yet know exactly who that common ancestor was or when they lived. That’s what the process of tracking back discovers.

To be very clear, I received that segment through Jacob and Fredericka, but some of those matches who I have not been able to associate with either Jacob or Fredericka may descend from either Jacob or Fredericka’s ancestors, not Jacob and Fredericka themselves. Connecting the dots between Jacob/Fredericka and their ancestors may be enlightening as to the even older source of that segment.

Let’s take a look at nested segments on my pedigree chart.

Nested Pedigree

Click to enlarge.

You can see the progression of nesting on my pedigree chart, using the same colors for the brackets/boxes. The black Ferverda box at the grandparent level encompasses the entire paternal side of my mother’s ancestry, and the red includes her mother’s entire side. This is identical to the DNAPainter graphic, just expressed on my pedigree chart instead of my chromosome 20.

Then the black gets broken into smaller nested segments of black, gold and fuschia, while the red gets broken into red and purple.

If I had more matches that could be assigned to ancestors, I would have even more nested levels. Of course, if I was using all of my chromosomes, not just 20, I would be able to go back further as well.

You can see that as we move further back in time, the bracketed areas assigned to each color become smaller and smaller, as do the actual segments as viewed on my DNAPainter chromosomes.

Segments Get Progressively Smaller

You can see in the pedigree chart and segment painting above that the segments we inherit from specific ancestors divide over time. As we move further and further back in our tree, the segments inherited from any specific ancestor get smaller and smaller too.

Dr. Paul Maier in the MyOrigins 3.0 White Paper provides this informative graphic that shows the reduction in segments and the number of ancestors whose DNA we carry reaching back in time.

I refer to this as a porcupine chart.

Eventually, we inherit no segments from red ancestors, and the pieces of DNA that we inherit from the distant blue ancestors become so small and fragmented that they cannot be positively identified as coming from a specific ancestor when compared to and matched with other people. That’s why vendors don’t show small segment matches, although different vendors utilize different segment thresholds.

The debate about how small is too small continues, but the answer is not simply segment size alone. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

As segments become smaller, the probability, or chances that we match another person by chance (IBC) increases. Proof that someone shares a specific ancestor, especially when dealing with increasingly smaller segments is a function of multiple factors, such as tree completeness for both people, shared matches, parental match confirmation, and more. I wrote about What Constitutes Proof, here.

In the Family Finder Matching White Paper, Dr. Maier provides this chart reflecting IBD (Identical By Descent) and IBC (Identical By Chance) segments and the associated false positivity rate. That means how likely you are to match someone on a segment of that size by chance and NOT because you both share the DNA from a common ancestor.

I wrote Concepts: Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance to help you better understand how this works.

In the chart below, I’ve combined the generations, relationships, # of ancestors, assuming no duplicates, birth year range based on an approximate 30-year generation, percent of DNA assuming exactly half of each ancestor’s DNA descends in each generation (which we know isn’t exactly accurate), and the average amount of total inherited cMs using that same assumption.

Note that beginning with the 7th generation, on average, we can expect to inherit less than 1% of the DNA of an ancestor, or approximately 55 total cM which may be inherited in multiple segments.

The amount of actual cMs inherited in each generation can vary widely and explains why, beginning with third cousins, some people won’t share DNA from a common ancestor above the various vendor matching thresholds. Yet, other cousins several generations removed will match. Inheritance is random.

Parallel Inheritance

In order to match someone else descended from that 11th generation ancestor, BOTH you AND your match will need to have inherited the exact SAME DNA segment, across 11 generations EACH in order to match. This means that 11 transmission events for each person will need to have taken place in parallel with that identical segment being passed from parent to child in each line. For 22 rolls of the genetic dice in a row, the same segment gets selected to be passed on.

You can see why we all need to work to prove that distant matches are valid.

The further back in time we work, the more factors we must take into consideration, and the more confirming proof is needed that a match with another individual is a result of a shared ancestor.

Having said that, shared distant matches ARE the key to breaking through brick-wall ancestors. We just need to be sure we are chasing the real deal and not a red herring.

Exciting Possibilities

The most exciting possibility is that some segments are actually passed intact for several generations, meaning those segments don’t divide into segments too small for matching.

For example, the 22 cM fuschia segment that tracks through generations 4 and 5 to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle has been passed either intact or nearly intact to all of those people who stack up and match each other and me on that segment. 22 cM is definitely NOT a small segment and we know that it descended from either Jacob or Fredericka, or perhaps combined segments from each. In any case, if someone from the Lentz line in Germany tested and matched me on that segment (and by inference, the rest of these people too), we would know that segment descended to me from Jacob Lentz – or at least the part we match on if we don’t match on the entire segment.

This is exactly what nested segments are…breadcrumbs to ancestors.

Part of that 22cM segment could be descended from Jacob and part from Fredericka. Then of Jacob’s portion, for example, pieces could descend from both his mother and father.

This is why we track individual segments back in time to discern their origin.

The Promise of the Future

The promise of the future is when a group of other people triangulate on a reasonably sized segment AND know where it came from. When we match that triangulation group, their identified segment may well help break down our brick walls because we match all of them on that same segment.

It is exactly this technique that has helped me identify a Womack segment on my paternal line. I still haven’t identified our common ancestor, but I have confirmed that the Womacks and my Moore/Rice family interacted as neighbors 8 generations ago and likely settled together in Amelia county, migrating from eastern Virginia. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to identify the common Womack ancestor and the link into either my Moore or Rice lines.

I’m hoping for a similar breakthrough on my mother’s side for Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena, 7 generations back in my tree. We know Magdalena was Brethren and where they lived when they took up housekeeping. We don’t know who her parents were. However, there are thousands of Miller descendants, so it’s possible that eventually, we will be able to break down that brick wall by using nested segments – ours and people who descend from Magdalena’s siblings, aunts, and uncles.

Whoever those people were, at least some of their descendants will likely match me and/or my cousins on at least one nested Miller segment that will be the same segment identified to their ancestors.

Genealogy is a team sport and solving puzzles using nested segments requires that someone out there is working on identifying triangulated segments that track to their common ancestors – which will be my ancestors too. I have my fingers crossed that someone is working on that triangulation group and I find them or they find me. Of course, I’m working to triangulate and identify my segments to specific ancestors – hoping for a meeting in the middle – that much-desired bridge to the past.

By the time you’ve run out of other records, nested segments are your last chance to identify those elusive ancestors. 

Do you have genealogical brick walls that nested segments could solve?

__________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You can also subscribe to receive emails when I publish articles by clicking the “Follow” button at www.DNAexplain.com.

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.

You Can Help Out and It’s Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

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Genealogy Books

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The 3 Mad Cats – 52 Ancestors #347

You’ve heard of the 3 wise men? Well, I have the 3 mad cats. Let me explain.

Sometimes life throws curve balls. For most of December, my husband and I have been living in a hotel with our three wonderful cat children.

Now maybe you’re getting the gist about why the title of this article.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, one of those cats is extremely intelligent. Our MENSA cat, aka, Chai, the ringleader who just happens to be very shy. Hiding under the covers is one of her favorite things to do.

Our second cat, Kitters was severely abused as a kitten and we refer to her as our scaredy cat. She doesn’t do well in new situations, or with new noises. And she pretty much only trusts family members.

Then, there’s happy-go-lucky Mandy. Miss “Hey, Pet Me.” She’s not terribly bright, but you can’t help but love her.

The two weeks or so in the hotel, which wasn’t TOO bad was followed by three days on the road.

Let’s just say this has been epic, and I’m sharing the adventure with you.

You’d Think I Would Have Learned

Let’s start out by saying that you’d think I would have learned.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, we used to travel about 6 hours by car to my parents in another state. At the holidays, we took everyone, meaning the two hand-raised orphan kittens who had grown up to be cats, of course, that belonged to my children. Additionally, our rescue dogs, both kids, suitcases, favorite pillows and quilts, and Christmas gifts all sandwiched into our “sleigh.”

Old McDonald going to town had nothing on us.

We all piled in the vehicle after an hour or so of packing and filling every vacant inch. The cats were allowed to be released from their carriers and snuggled in with the kids and dogs. On a good trip, everyone eventually fell asleep.

One year on Christmas Eve, someplace near Fort Wayne, Indiana on Interstate 69, the entire drive shaft on the truck in front of us suddenly dropped from beneath the vehicle, including the large universal joint connecting the shaft to the rear axle.

The truck lost control, and suddenly, we were trying to avoid hitting either the truck, the drive shaft, the bridge to our left, or the vehicles in the other lane.

Having only a few seconds to pick the lesser of the evils, we hit the drive shaft which launched our vehicle, dragging the drive shaft along with us beneath. We landed on the drive shaft itself, spinning and sliding out of control.

My husband was driving. I was awake, but our precious cargo was sleeping. Or had been before being jolted awake. One cat, Muffin, was beneath the front seat. He didn’t appear, and I immediately feared for his life. We hit HARD when we landed and I heard the vehicle crack. I addition to being afraid for Muffin, I didn’t want to pull a dead or dying cat out in front of my grade-school age daughter. He was her baby. In fact, if I recall, he was all dressed up in doll clothes for that trip.

Thoughts raced helter-skelter through my mind.

Our vehicle and others were now involved in a multiple car accident and the vehicles were still on the road in a very congested area. People were still hitting debris scattered across the road and other cars. It was a mess and getting worse by the minute.

I helped the kids out of the car to safety, taking them into the median behind the end of the bridge which was fortunately quite wide. Traffic had finally come to a stop.

The dogs had been obedience trained and were well-behaved, albeit frightened. I put Mitten, the cat snuggled in on the seat into her carrier. After my daughter exited the car with her father, I pulled Muffin out from under the seat, dreading and expecting the worst.

Muffin was quite groggy, but had apparently been positioned exactly right to be sheltered by the seat when our vehicle landed again, not crushed by it. He was entirely uninjured, but quite confused.

I put him in his carrier and everyone huddled together in the cold median at dusk waiting for the police to arrive. That was before the days of cell phones and we could only hope that someone had stopped to call it in.

Eventually, the police did arrive, as did tow trucks. The tow truck driver packed all of us into his cab, including the animals, even though he wasn’t supposed to. Was he just going to leave us in the median in the dark? Thank goodness the answer was no.

We called my parents who had to bring two vehicles to retrieve all of us, arriving a couple hours later.

It was a Christmas Eve like no other. When we finally arrived at the farm, the rest of the family was gathered for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and had been for hours. The food was cold and we arrived as people were leaving. They had Christmas Eve in our house without us, or maybe better stated, ate without us and postponed the rest.

We were oh-so-very-lucky. The cats could have escaped in the accident given that they were not in carriers. Someone could have been injured or worse.

After that, we never again traveled with cats outside carriers for their own safety, in case of an accident. Of course, this made for unhappy cats, and carriers take more space than just cats. Our cats’ traveling days were pretty much over…that is…until now.

Take Two

Fast forward three decades.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. We did it again.

Of course, the children grew up. Muffin and Mitten crossed the rainbow bridge long ago, as did our dogs.

However, there are always animals that need to be rescued and I can’t imagine living my life without fur family. When we adopt a furry family member, it’s for the duration of our lives or theirs. There is no “rehoming” anyone.

Our current “cat children” aren’t youngsters. They’ve had years to train us properly, but they still struggle when we break training which we very clearly did in December. And WOW, was this one a whopper.

In fact, they immediately began to inform us of the magnitude of our transgression.

These cats have never traveled before. They have gone to the dreaded V-E-T, which we spell because they are smart cats and begin hiding immediately if we don’t.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find, and catch, three determined hiding cats?

We scheme and plan when we need to capture them, in essence breaching their trust by petting them and then capturing them when their guard is down and quickly inserting them into their carrier. We try NOT to have to take more than one captive at a time to the vet because cats 2 and 3 disappear immediately when the captured cat sounds the alarm.

However, that plan didn’t work in December, because we were setting out on a cross country adventure and had to capture all 3 cats at once.

On the designated day, Jim and I managed to shut all three cats in the bedroom at the same time. Providence smiled on us.

We weren’t using carriers, but larger airline crates because the cats were going to have to be confined for many hours at a time, so needed litter boxes, a place to lay, food and water.

Fortunately, the first ride to the hotel where we were spending the first couple of weeks wasn’t far. We were serenaded the entire distance by all three cats who insisted that a car ride was a form of torture. Plus, it was COLD and they are inside cats. Brrrr….

Upon arrival, they got to take a ride on something we call a luggage cart but which they refer to as a cat torture device where we parade them in their captive state in front of the entire world in order to humiliate them. They continue wailing on the off-chance that some good Samaritan will hear their pleas and rescue them.

Of course, there are three large crates which means that we had to make at least 4 trips to unload. Three with cats and one with our luggage and theirs too. Yes, cats have luggage when you travel. Food, bowls, litter, scoopers, bathmats, quilts and pillows. Yes, pillows. You’ll see why in a minute. It’s not what you’re thinking.

In order to prevent said cats from escaping out the hotel room door, the crates must be unloaded and the other luggage safely in the room before anyone can be released from their private hell.

Of course, a few minutes after we released them, there was always one that had to jump back in their crate to inspect where the crime against catumanity had been committed. Generally, Mandy.

Each crate had to be emptied and cleaned out, because invariably the wailing, flipping and gnashing of teeth during that miserable car ride resulted in the water being spilled which in turn results in wet bedding (bathmats) and mad cats. You’ve heard the phrase “mad as a wet hen.?” I have no idea who came up with that, but they had clearly never met a wet cat.

Pet Friendly, Sort Of

Some hotels are pet-friendly, but that doesn’t really mean they are well-prepared, especially not for cats. It means that they allow you to stay there with pets and they charge you an exorbitant cleaning fee for the privilege. However, you are grateful and pay it.

One challenge is that most of the floor space is occupied by the crates.

We wound up using the crates as a table because we couldn’t get to much of the furniture.

Don’t turn your back for a second or you have company for breakfast.

Chai was just checking to see where her order of catnip-eggs was.

Of course, the great sniff-fest begins post-haste upon release. Every square inch of the room MUST BE INSPECTED IMMEDIATELY before anyone, including us, gets any rest.

Here, the cats are trying to get under the bed. That’s their first destination.

The hotels place the box springs on a wooden box so there is no “under the bed.” At least, not for dogs. Cats are much smarter than that.

At the head of the bed, there was a small space between the wall-mounted headboard and the mattress. Just big enough for a cat to squirm themselves into.

Have I mentioned that cats can’t turn around very well, and certainly NOT when wedged into a narrow one-way tunnel that is narrower on the exit end than the entrance end?

AWOL

We noticed that Chai had gone missing and it’s nearly impossible for a cat to hide in even a “large” hotel room. Yet, Chai had managed. Yes, she was truly AWOL and no one had exited or entered the room, so the door had not been open.

After a thorough search, there was only ONE place she could be. Somehow, she had breached the bed/frame/wall/headboard barrier.

I laid down and started feeling with my hands. There was a small space above the frame, but too small for even Chai. However, I discovered the space at the top of the mattress against the wall beneath the headboard.

The side nightstand “table” was built in, so I couldn’t move it to obtain a better view or the right angle to reach behind the mattress.

Jim and I laid down (because we couldn’t get to the couch to sit down) to discuss the situation and how to proceed, when apparently Chai decided she had enough of hiding and wanted OUT NOW. In true cat fashion, she probably only wanted out because she realized she couldn’t get out.

We heard pawing and tiny plaintiff muffled meowy whimpers. I do think she was embarrassed.

Jim and I managed to shift the mattress and box springs enough to unblock the exit end and one very rumpled, offended Chai emerged, glaring at us for some unknown reason.

Cats are like that.

I hoped that the other two cats had not seen her. In fact, we quickly took stock of them when I grabbed the spare pillows and wedged them into the space at the headboard.

There!

Fixed that!

For a little while anyway.

The other two cats were upset because Chai was upset. We laid down with them, and within a few minutes, all three cats had climbed into the bed and were bathing or discussing their dilemma among themselves and plotting how to escape.

Chai had been comforting Kitters, but was thoroughly exhausted between the miserable ride plus the indignity of being trapped behind the bed, so she had to take a nap.

Besides that, I just MIGHT have remembered to bring her heating pad.

Jim and I saw this as an opportunity to try to find food, which is a whole other story in and of itself, so we left the room for an hour or so. Mind you, we finally found someplace where we could order carryout. The staffing issue is very real.

Upon our return, we discovered that Chai was once again missing.

How is that even possible?

I blocked her access on both sides of the bed, right?

Upon inspection, it became evident that she had dug out a portion of the pillow and wedged herself across the top, into that same space, AGAIN.

I decided to try to outsmart the cat, so we laid down. When she realized we weren’t pursuing her, she decided she wanted to come out again. But once again, she couldn’t because the exit was still wedged with a pillow. We heard her attempt to dig. I let her out and took my sweatshirts (both of them) out of my suitcase and wedged them into the spot where Chai has been able to free up the pillow and crawl through.

At this point, the cats have utilized 3 bathmats which are wet and drying, two pillows and both of my sweatshirts.

I was not exactly prepared for this.

Home is Where the Cats Are

As the days passed, the cat kids became increasingly comfortable in our new “home.” They wouldn’t admit it of course, but they actually LIKED how close we were to them and the minute we sat down or laid in the bed, they were right there like glue.

Mandy even got so comfortable that she took a willful nap in her carrier.

As soon as Chai noticed, she immediately woke Mandy up and demanded to know EXACTLY WHAT she thought she was doing.

Honestly!

Kitters just wanted to snuggle and purr.

Mandy’s Great Adventure

Jim and I were both working in the hotel room as best we could. On the far side of the room, there was a desk and a dresser both built into the wall as well. The dresser consisted of three drawers. I opened the middle drawer to remove a piece of clothing and failed to close it immediately. I put the clothing on, and my head emerged from the shirt just in time to see Mandy’s tail disappear over the back edge of the drawer into the space behind the drawers.

Good Heavens.

We couldn’t reach her.

We couldn’t push the drawer in because she was in the space.

If we pulled the drawer towards us, she couldn’t get back into the drawer because of the board on top – plus she couldn’t jump up.

If we tried the same thing with the bottom drawer, the same issue except she wouldn’t have had to jump up.

Eventually, Jim and I, between us, managed to get ahold of her and wrestled her into the drawer amongst much caterwalling. Mostly her caterwalling, not us. We were swearing instead. I was fearful that we were hurting Mandy, but there was no evident drawer release and we had to get her out.

We shut the drawer and I had learned my lesson. I would never leave a hotel drawer open again.

Unfortunately, Mandy learned her lesson too.

A few minutes later, Mandy was attempting to open all of the hotel room drawers.

“Wow, Mom, this is fun!!! Who knew?!”

Hence this scene with their quilt stuffed in the drawer handle. That also protects them from catching their leg in the handle if they jump off so they don’t break their leg.

And this one on the other side. Our room was beginning to look like a disaster zone.

The Drawer Wars

In order to be an effective deterrent, we had to wedge items in the handles of multiple drawers together, because Mandy was pawing them open from the sides. I’m sure Chai was coaching her.

What we really needed was child guards, but I digress.

Eventually, we had towels threaded and tied through all of the handles and reinforced our bed headboard barrier daily.

Thankfully, it was nearly time to begin the next leg of our journey. We did a load of mostly cat’s laundry and began packing.

We were anxious to leave before the weather got worse. However, the cats had come to love their rooftop view and spent time in the deep windowsill. They had gotten used to our coming and going. We declined room service and for the most part, one of us was in the room so that the staff did not accidentally come in and allow someone to escape. Escape was our worst fear in all of this.

Jim went and retrieved a luggage cart.

What is THAT?

This can’t be good!

The humans are up to something again.

On the Road Again

When I tell you we were sandwiched in the vehicles, I mean literally every inch, side to side and top to bottom.

One carrier is wedged behind the driver’s seat with the back seats down, which allowed just enough room for the other two carriers to be placed side by side at the rear of the vehicle. The liftgate barely closed. The only spare space was behind the passenger seat, in the passenger seat and a few inches on top of the carriers.

You might note from the picture that this arrangement facilitated a cat serenading me from directly behind my head. I selected the quietest cat for that position in the vehicle. You might have guessed that it was Kitters.

Chai, on the other hand constantly reminded me of her rights per the Geneva Convention, and Mandy just agreed with whatever Chai said. I think Kitters was just praying the entire time.

By the end of the first driving day, thankfully, there was no snow, but it was still quite cold.

We found our hotel and had to unload the entire Jeep again in order to get everyone inside.

This place was slightly smaller, and the drawers had no handles, so we had to build a luggage/carrier fort in front of the drawers to keep Mandy from pulling them open.

Before we let the cats out of their carriers, I once again stuffed pillows and sweatshirts into the headboard/mattress gap.

They were thoroughly, thoroughly, disgusted.

Third Time is Charm?

By the next night, as tiring and time-consuming as load/drive/unload was, we had the routine down pat. It only took an hour or so instead of two.

When we checked in at the next hotel, we thought we had everything blocked and secured. I hadn’t paid much attention to the bathroom drawers because they were difficult to open with significant resistance.

Apparently, not difficult enough.

Yes, that’s Mandy being very proud of herself sitting BEHIND the drawer. “Hi Mom!”

This drawer was small. I could not get enough space to pull her back into that drawer. She couldn’t get back in either.

Fortunately, we had a Leatherman in one of the Jeeps and a YouTube video showed us how to release that particular kind of drawer catch.

Yes, we disassembled the drawer unit to retrieve Mandy. Then reassembled it, of course.

The large towel was too thick to go through the handles, and the small towels weren’t long enough, so I had to block the bottom drawer with a suitcase, then the top drawers with the towel. Of course, this was in addition to blocking the drawers in the bedroom portion and the bed/headboard pillow/sweatshirt barrier. In this room, there was a sleeper sofa too and we had to roll towels and our clothes and block that as well because the cats crawled under there and got stuck.

The fun just never ends!

Mandy tried her best to get back in that drawer. It was her favorite naughty thing to do.

The Home Stretch

As we traveled, each day closer to Christmas, the issues locating food and other accommodations increased. Many dining rooms and some restaurants were closed altogether. In other cases, part of the dining room was open, but no carryout. Other locations did exactly the opposite – only limited carryout service with no seating.

Given that we are traveling in the middle of a pandemic, we certainly didn’t want to be crammed either into a dining room, or in a line waiting for a table.

We were very, very glad to be on our way that final morning.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful.

We had driven far enough south that the unseasonably warm weather was allowing flowers to bloom.

We crammed ourselves, our mad cats and everything else into the vehicles one last time. Each day, the duration of yowling decreased at least a little. I could sense Chai and Mandy giving up and just deciding to take a nap. The cat version of “whatever.”

That morning, we got lost, thanks to our two GPSs giving opposite directions, but that detour likely saved us from the 6 or 8 car accident that happened just a couple minutes before we arrived on the scene. The cars in the middle were crushed, and it made my heart skip beats to think of the cat kids in an accident, just like all those years before.

Several hours later, we arrived at our destination thinking the cats would be mad at us for some time. However, they seem to be just as relieved as we were that their two weeks living as traveling nomad cats was over.

Chai no longer has to burrow and Mandy has given up spelunking in drawers, at least for now. Kitters is still purring. Everyone is taking a bath trying to wash all of that yucky travel off of themselves!

I, for one, hope to have permanently retired from traveling with cats. I would certainly do it again if I had to, because they are unquestionably worth it, but it’s not fun for anyone – humans or cats.

I hope it was at least amusing for you😊

Happy New Year!

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