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Confession time… I’m a snob. Yep, a full-fledged snob. I freely admit it, although it can be embarrassing at times, but owning our faults is a good thing, right? Except I’m not altogether sure that I’m wrong on this.

What kind of snob, you ask? The worst kind, as it turns out.

I’m a history snob.

I wasn’t always this way. I didn’t know any better when I was a kid. It really didn’t start kicking in until I was around sixteen and I started learning about real period clothing (By the way, period clothing means clothing specific to a certain time period and has nothing to do with that time of the month, in case you were wondering.). I began modeling for my friend, Jackie, who owns her own period clothing company, and learned what was accurate and what was not. It turns out that a lot of so-called “historic clothing” is not historic at all. I had had no clue. I realized that my 5th grade costume for the field trip to Greenfield Village had been a total sham and I cringed in shame. The seeds of my snobbery had been sewn.

When I started working at Greenfield Village, it steadily got worse. A group of farm friends went to see the new movie, The Scarlet Letter, starring Demi Moore. For the length of the movie, our boss pointed out every inaccuracy, down to the hinges on boxes. I was fascinated, and a little irritated. Why did they (meaning Hollywood) do everything wrong? Why couldn’t they do it right? Ugh. I was turning into an early version of the snob I am today.

It only intensified. I read, I studied, I went to museum conferences and learned so many cool things about clothing, social customs, animal husbandry, farming and farm tools, and of course, my forte: historic hair styles.

I regret nothing.

My snobbery is the reason why I can’t get into shows like The Tudors. I hate twisted history, especially when the real history is so much more exciting. I mean, seriously, if people really read the story of the real Tudor family it would blow them away. It has all of the things people want on Netflix anyway: sex, knights, sex, beautiful princesses, sex, murder, sex, betrayal, sex. You get the idea.

My big problem with inaccurate history is that people believe it. It’s not their fault, they don’t know any better, and the “history” is presented in such an attractive way that they think it’s really cool and spread it around. This is how rumors get started and we get stories like George Washington chopping down the cherry tree or we make a rat like Columbus into a hero or wear god-awful Civil War-style clothing.

Shows like The Crown and Downton Abbey give me hope, though. There is such attention paid to detail and social norms of the time and I find it refreshing. Of course, they’re not perfect, but they give a much truer portrayal of life in those times than many other shows and movies.

So there it is. I came clean with one of my (many) issues. There are no support groups that can help me and I don’t think I’d go anyway. Now, it’s your turn.

What are you a snob about? Time to ‘fess up.

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Where do you come from?

Who are you?

Have you ever stopped to think what you’ve inherited from your parents? Your grandparents? Not monetary things or objects, but what makes you you. Your hair? Your eyes? Your sense of humor? Have you ever tried to sort out what you got from whom? Youngest Child looks like the male version of me and feels all of my deep feels. Middle Child says that he has my road rage. He definitely has my sense of humor and laughs like my uncle when he gets going. Oldest Child looks scarily like my father and has a combination of personality traits from Marty and me.

I thought about it after I was telling someone about where I got my (lack of) height, a definite gene from my maternal grandfather, who was also vertically challenged. Ordinarily, I don’t think that I have much in common with him besides that and then I tried to think what else there could be. However, I did come up with a few fun things.

  • My propensity for using mild swear words often. Grandpa used to use “damn” and “hell” a lot, especially when watching or listening to baseball and football. Watching him yell at the TV or radio during a game was always entertaining for us when we were kids. My brothers and I used to call them “Grandpa Nick words”. I don’t (voluntarily) watch sports, but I admit to using Grandpa Nick words quite often, especially from driving. I do use stronger words, but not as often. Grandpa Nick words are the way to go.
  • My temper, often punctuated by Grandpa Nick words.
  • Possibly my hair color. Both of my grandfathers had dark hair. My grandmothers both had light hair, so one of them is the culprit.
  • Not a gene, but my enjoyment of playing baseball. I don’t like watching a lot of sports, but I do like to play. Grandpa used to pitch to us in the yard and I carried on that tradition with my kids. I remember him when we play.

That’s probably not all he passed down to me, but he wasn’t a talker so it’s hard for me to know. He was quiet when there wasn’t a game on, but he did a lot for me throughout my life, including paying for cosmetology school when I couldn’t pay for college on my own.

I look a lot like my father’s side of the family. My cousins and I all look similar, like we could be siblings. I have my grandma’s attitude about cleaning and I’m a sucker for any animal, including the injured skunk I convinced my mother to drive to an emergency vet when I was a teenager.

My great-grandmother was involved in theatre, just like me.

According to my mother, I’ve said a lot of lot things similar to what my father has said. I never met him. I have my mother’s laugh.

I find it all amazing, these links. Seeing and learning all of these things makes me feel connected to my past, to my history.

I’m not alone. I came from somewhere.

Where did you come from?

Tell me.

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We’re heading out on vacation next week, nowhere particularly fancy this year, just to Niagara Falls for a day and then to Cooperstown, NY so Marty and the Youngest Child can see the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (I’ll be going to the Farming Museum, also in Cooperstown, because while I support the Detroit Tigers and can tell you a lot about baseball, the thought of spending hours around baseball memorabilia makes me fall into an instant coma.) We don’t have a name for our vacation this summer, unlike last year’s Oceans and Dead People Tour, but there are plans for Oceans and Dead People Tour II, possibly next summer. We shall see.

I did, however, insist on being around big water, so Lakes Ontario and Erie will do nicely. I’ve only been to Niagara Falls once before when I was around nine or ten years old and Youngest Child has never been so it will be cool to experience it again. Plus, I’m getting a massage at the spa, so all is well.

I don’t remember much about my first venture to Niagara Falls, but there’s one thing I do remember: The Mummy. No, not the movie. I would have italicized the title if I were talking about a movie. English teacher here. I’m talking about a genuine dried up person that had been alive a few thousand years ago but was, for some reason, on display in a little museum in Niagara Falls. It was amazing.

There are a lot of overpriced touristy-things at Niagara Falls, so we didn’t do a lot of them, but we did go into this little museum. I could not tell you 99.5% of what was in the museum, but I will never forget that it was where I saw my first mummy. It was in this glass case, kind of up high (at least to a ten-year-old) and I was amazed. Not amazed in a grossed-out way, but amazed in a this-is-so-cool-it-used-to-be-a-person!!!!! kind of way. The mummy was touted as an Egyptian pharaoh and had been brought to Canada from Egypt through a collector. We didn’t believe for a minute that this mummy had been a pharaoh, but it was still pretty awesome to see. Unfortunately, it was very common and fashionable in the 19th century for Europeans and North Americans to buy “souvenirs” that had actually been looted from Egyptian tombs, including actual mummies. (Sidenote: Egypt would LOVE all of its artifacts back, by the way.) That’s how this mummy had crossed the Atlantic and ended up in a tourist trap museum in Niagara Falls, Canada.

To make a long story short, years and years later, in 2002 to be exact, a news story came out that this mummy actually was an Egyptian pharaoh! Hearing the rumors about the Niagara Falls mummy, Egyptian archaeologists had tested its DNA and found that it was most likely Ramses I, founder of the Ramses dynasty of pharaohs. You can read the BBC story here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3215747.stm

Since then, I’ve seen many more mummies. There’s one at the Detroit Institute of Arts, there are some incredible natural mummies under St. Michan’s church in Dublin, Ireland, one of which I got to touch, and there are dozens of mummies in the British museum. (Sidenote #2: The St. Michan’s mummies recently made the news because some arsehole broke in and stole a head from one of the mummies. I hope he’s being severely haunted right now. Like Poltergeist-style haunting. Jerk.) Here’s a link to see the Irish mummies: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/st-michans-church

There was also a TV show in the early 2000s called The Mummy Road Show, hosted by two professors. It was on when Youngest Child was a tiny baby, so I watched a lot of that. They also visited the Irish mummies (That sounds like a great band name, doesn’t it?). You can find details on that here: https://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/mummy-road-show/episodes/390281/

I know that many people, my family included, think that my obsession with mummies is a little odd, but I’m okay with that. I’ve always been fascinated with things that a lot of people find odd or disturbing. My mom used to say I was morbid, but to me, mummies are a tangible part of our long distant past. When we study ancient history, we are often limited to just reading about it, but through mummies and artifacts from civilizations past, we can actually see it, touch it. We like to separate ourselves from them, but these are people who lived, breathed, laughed, and loved, just like we do today. They had families, jobs, insecurities, worries, and joys. Somebody loved that face once. They were us, just 5,000 years ago. Mummies make me feel connected, somehow.

I didn’t know how that little visit would awaken such an interest in me, but I’m really glad it did. I’ve seen a lot, read a lot, and my life is richer for it. It’s also fun to say that my first mummy was a pharaoh.

I don’t know if that little museum in Niagara Falls still exists, but if it does, I may just go have a poke around inside. You never know what you’ll find.

If you have any “odd” interests, feel free to post them in the comments. I’m interested to read about them!

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I love the show, Mysteries At the Museum, on the Travel Channel. If you haven’t seen it, the show features odd and interesting pieces from museum collections all over the world and the stories behind them. Some of the stories are inspiring, such as the cat who assists the NYC Fire Department, and some are sad or creepy, like haunted houses or lost loves. They’ve even featured items from The Henry Ford, like Thomas Edison’s last breath. (Check it out.)

They’ve branched out a little, too, to focus on historical sites or people. Last night’s episode was all about Pompeii.

To refresh your memory, Pompeii was a city during the Roman Empire near modern day Naples that was completely wiped out by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Because Vesuvius buried the city in layers of volcanic ash, archaeologists are able to understand life back then in a much more complete way. There are actually homes preserved with their original painted walls and mosaics, body casts of the people as they tried to flee, and even bread that had been baking in the oven at the time. There’s also at least one brothel, a very popular tourist attraction. There’s a very long line to get into the brothel these days. I wonder if it was the same 2,000 years ago.

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Pompeii fascinates me, I had the opportunity to actually go there a few years ago, and I was absolutely glued to the television set last night. (Well, I was also running in place in my living room because it’s too freaking cold to go outside, but I was still glued.) When the show was over, it made me think (again) of how much I love anything like Pompeii: old historic sites, and why I took the path I did instead of follow my passion.

I didn’t have a lot of guidance, as a teenager, about what I wanted to do. I loved acting, but it was made clear to me that I would have no support if I went that way and that scared me. History hadn’t come “alive” for me just yet, it was mostly names and dates that I had to memorize, which is a complete shame. Kids hate history because of that and there’s no reason that it can’t be taught in a much better, relatable, way, but I digress.

Beginning with modeling for a dear friend’s period clothing company and through my job at The Henry Ford, I discovered just how much I loved working with the stories and objects of the past, but by then I had been putting myself through community college a class or two at a time for teaching and felt that I would be wasting my money if I switched majors, especially to a field where full-time jobs are scarce and money is uncertain. I stayed on the teaching track because it was safe and predictable. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would become a historian, hands down.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful and happy to have a job in teaching. I worked hard for my degree and will be paying off my student loans for the next thirty years, unless I win the Megamillions or become a best-selling author. That is not an exaggeration; my student loan calculator says so. Teaching pays my bills and it’s (mostly) enjoyable working with kids, but it’s not my passion. History is my passion.

I drool over Dr. Lucy Worsley documentaries. During my prep hour, I turn on some sort of documentary on YouTube while I grade, plan, file, clean, or whatever, to listen to in the background. I read detailed, well-researched biographies and other historical nonfiction whenever I can. My writing is all historically based. I’m obsessed with getting the details right, with giving the people from the past the respect that they deserve. I can get lost in an antique store for hours with the most mundane objects because it belonged to someone. Visiting historic sites, especially really old ones in Europe, put me into a state of euphoria. I love decoding, the hows and whys and motivations of people in the past. Ancestry.com is one of my drugs of choice. A theatre friend of mine, who also loves the past, brought in some of his collection for me to see (and hold!) and couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing that a few coins from the Tudor period, a printed piece of vellum from a German psalter, and an eighteenth century periodical could keep me floating for days. Actually, I’m still floating about it all. I would rather roam around a drafty castle in Scotland in the rain than spend a week on a tropical beach. I am, in short, a lost cause.

That also got me to wondering about all of you. Did you follow your passion or did you take the safe route, like I did? How did you decide on your career, your path? I’d love to hear your stories, your reasons why you did what you did to get where you are today. If your career isn’t your passion, what do you do to satisfy that craving?

Life is funny. Sharing is good. Leave your comments here or on FB, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Oh, and if you’re in the middle of this polar vortex, like those of us in Michigan, stay warm.

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While researching family history, it’s inevitable that one will eventually come to a dead end. Records are missing, and/or lost, there are multiple versions, or mistakes have been made. Those missing folks are always listed as “Unknown”,  a word that means the family line ended, and it makes me kind of sad. Besides, it’s bs. Family lines don’t literally end; people don’t just spring up on their own like weeds. They had parent, grandparent, etc.  The necessary records for those who came before simply don’t exist anymore, if ever.

Those “Unknown” people were real, they lived lives and, somehow, history has lost them. I’m thinking of one of my grandmothers in particular, Charlotte “Lottie” Clark. The only concrete records I can find for her are census records and her daughters’ marriage certificates. She probably married her husband, my grandfather, Horace Gay, somewhere around 1878 or 1879, a year or so before my great-great-grandmother, Olive was born, but an actual marriage license hasn’t surfaced. If it ever does, it may have her parents’ names on it, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m immensely curious about her. Where did she come from? The census records say that she was born in Pennsylvania, but where? Who were her parents? What was she like as a person? She died young in 1893, only around 37 years old, leaving three daughters behind. My grandfather, understandably, married again a few years later, but nothing more is heard about Lottie until her daughters married and they listed her name on the marriage licenses.

She’s buried in the same place as my father, Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, Ohio and I intend to visit her next time I stop by. History seems to have forgotten her, but I don’t want her to be forgotten. She deserves to be remembered, at least by her descendants. She was a blip in time, but without her, my grandma, my father, and I wouldn’t be here.

I’m raising a glass tonight to the “Unknowns”, to those who are the figurative end of a family line, to those whose names weren’t important enough to be recorded by some monk in an abbey or whose records were lost to fire, water, or misplaced over time. They mattered then and they matter now.

Slainte.

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I’m becoming jaded by the news and I don’t like it. I detest the ugliness, racism, misogyny, lies, and disregard for the environment in our country today and it makes me feel hopeless. I don’t understand why people intentionally ignore facts, excuse blatant wrongs, hurt each other, and don’t take responsibility for their actions. I don’t understand why adults ridicule traumatized children. This country needs a big dose of Dr. Phil and/or God right now, but I have to focus on something else for a minute. I have to, or else the anxiety becomes my whole world. I have to focus on good, beautiful things that I love. Here are some of them.

  • My husband, for so many things, but his hand on my hip as we sleep is something that makes me love him all the more. I’m a light sleeper and I have a lot of bad dreams. Most of the time, when I wake up, Marty is there, a reassuring presence who makes everything alright. (Even if he is snoring loudly.)
  • My boys, individually and all together. They’re so unique, I love talking with each of them alone. And then, when they’re together, it’s like having a heap of puppies romping through the house, except the puppies shoot dart guns, play baseball, and creatively insult each other.
  • Fuzzy kittens. Enough said.
  • My neighborhood party store. Brothers Steve and Randy know me and sell me my weekly MegaMillions ticket on my runs. It’s like Cheers, but not a bar.
  • My theatre. Well, not my theatre. My niece thought I owned it, but no, lol. It’s a place where I’m accepted and I can be myself. I can express myself. A nice place to be.
  • My penpal/dear friend, Sabrina. She lives an ocean away, but is such a kindred spirit. And she puts up with my crappy Italian.
  • Music. It gives so much meaning to life. Hamilton, Pentatonix, and Lindsey Stirling are my current obsessions.
  • Writing. I have an outlet. I’m sort of good at it, but still have a lot to learn. This week, I completed a novel on Bessie Blount, the real one, not the sleazy HBO version. Accomplishment.
  • Babies. Babies are my heart, my joy. Incredible innocence. They’re a promise that life goes on.
  • My church. My church is progressive, including people of all races and sexual identities. I love that.
  • London. London is my dream, my hope, my destiny. I’ve never felt more at home anywhere in the world. Six years now… it’s been too long.
  • Italy. Italy is life to the tenth power. I can’t wait to get back.
  • Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Can’t help it, I adore them.
  • History
  • My therapist, Renee. She’s listened to me for seven years now and I adore her. Most of the time. Not when she’s telling me something that I don’t want to hear, but I know it’s for my own good, but, yeah, she’s awesome.
  • Ireland. Such fond memories of an impossibly beautiful place where I went with some amazing people.
  • Genealogy. I’m a sucker for historic records and long-ago grandparents.
  • Easter candy. Right now, this is an essential part of my diet.
  • God. I saved the best for last. Prayer is essential in these times of confusion/craziness and God remains my rock, every day. My spirituality keeps me centered, grounded, and keeps me sane.

Take some some time and reflect on what makes you happy. Leave it as a comment if you like. I’d love to hear what you love.

Until next time, a presto.

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I don’t know about you, but I can more fully understand an experience after I’ve had a while to process it. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of something, good or bad, and try to assess right then, but I’ve learned that better understanding comes after an experience has had time to stew for awhile. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Italy last summer, exactly a year ago, and so I’ve been going through everything that we did there as well as the photos.

A year ago yesterday, my mom and I spent our last night in Rome. We had had a long, hot, day visiting Pompeii and Naples (mind-blowing, by the way) and wanted to spend a relaxing evening before driving to Florence the next morning.

At the time, I was eager to move on to Florence, excited to see what would come next. Rome was overwhelming, but in a good way. There was just so much to see and I knew we’d never do it a bit of justice in just three days. I think to truly experience Rome, I would need to stay for a while, sit with a glass of vino at a sidewalk café day after day, wander the streets with no goal in sight, and just feel the rhythm, the pulse, of the city. Being independently wealthy would help with that.

I love big cities; I adore the energy that they hold. They have personalities all their own and Rome is no exception. Rome is just so big, in so many ways. There is some sort of order, but not the kind that’s in London, Dublin, or Sydney. The centuries of tumultuous history that have made it into what it is today are still there, everywhere you look. Scooters fly by the ruins that mark the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Egyptian-influence mixes with Greek. Morning and evening rush hour zooms under the magnificent Roman wall still surrounding much of the city. Modern life goes on, but pays its respects to the events and buildings that have been the foundation of the Eternal City since its very beginning. It’s a crazy paradise.

Roman wall

Roman Wall

 

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The Coliseum and Roman Forum

Rome was patient with us. My mother had had to fight jet lag for the first time ever, an unpleasant experience for even the most jaded traveler. We had a fabulous guide, though, Lynne, who provided us with equally wonderful local guides during our time there and that made it all the better. We learned to walk boldly into the crazy traffic to cross streets, (Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, no eye contact with the drivers, and GO!) to see Vespas that tore down sidewalks and zipped in between the throngs of tour buses and cars as the norm, and became accustomed to the constant beeping of horns.

I learned particularly quickly how to dissuade all gypsies, some aggressive, with a hand up and a firm, “No, grazie”, before walking past them and holding my bag close, hand on the zipper, nothing in my pockets. (“Gypsy” is sometimes seen to be a derogatory term, but it includes all of the scammers that hang out to pick pockets or swindle people, especially tourists. The term used to be used to describe only the Roma, but there are many different nationalities of people whose main occupation is to steal in Europe. “Gypsy” seems to cover them all in Italy.) We had successfully navigated the bus system, getting off at a stop relatively close to the Coliseum, walking the rest of the way, and then making it back to our hotel the night before. We paid the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café Rome to eat and get a t-shirt for Oldest Child. We saw many of the treasures of the Vatican Museum, walked through and prayed in the stunning Sistine Chapel, and began to make friends in our tour group. Our first three days had been busy, to say the least.

 

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Basilica

Visiting the Vatican, its own independent country but completely within Rome, walking over the spot where St. Peter is reportedly buried (THE Peter, the fisherman, the one who walked with Jesus, who saw him risen, that one), standing in St. Peter’s Square, the place that’s on my television every Christmas Eve for midnight mass even though I’m not Catholic, yeah, those experiences still floor me. I can’t believe I was there, in the middle of all of that history. Religious or not, the volume of the priceless art alone is enough to give one shivers of glee. Throw in the religious significance and it can reduce you to a puddle of joy.

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View from the Vatican

 

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Remains of a temple in the Forum

Anyhow, on that last night, we found a nice little outdoor café/restaurant for dinner. Outdoor cafés are all over Italy, some are expensive, many are very reasonable, and I really think that’s a fabulous way to experience the country. The people-watching is spectacular. We had quite a bit of free time to do as we liked, something that I think is important on a tour. I’m learning from the Rick Steves’ philosophy of going where the locals like to go in addition to the popular tourist hangouts, a very rewarding experience.

The night was warm, but not too hot, and the waiter was very nice. I tried ordering completely in Italian (I had been getting bolder with my language skills) and laughed when the waiter repeated my order back to me in English. I teasingly shook my finger at him, chiding that I was practicing my Italian and that he wasn’t helping me. With good humor, he graciously listened to my broken Italian and spoke slowly the rest of the time so that I could understand. I found that to be the case in many places, especially in our hotel in Roma. The front desk staff all seemed to be amused by my attempts, but not in a mean way. If I was struggling with a word, they would gently say the English version and then the Italian after to help me along. I’ve always tried to be helpful with those who speak English as a second language here in the States, but that experience has taught me to be even more mindful of the language barrier.

The wine came, the food came. Everything was delicious. My mother and I talked for a long time, a luxury with our normally busy lives at home but in Italy, everyone makes time to talk, everyone takes the time to visit, especially in the evenings during the passagiata. The passagiata is the walk that people take in the cities and towns, usually around a piazza, or city square. People visit, have an aperitif before dinner, (Italians eat dinner late.) and generally relax after a day of work or play. It’s a lovely idea and a wonderful time to watch people. The entire evening was spectacular and although I was ready to leave for Florence, I felt a stab of regret that I had leave Roma so soon, just as I was getting to know her. The sensory overload that descended on me when we first drove into Roman traffic that first morning was just starting to make sense. I wanted more, I wanted to wander without a schedule, to accidentally find treasures that I hadn’t read about and I plan to go back one day and do just that. Well, with a Rick Steves guidebook and map.

Now, those who know me know that my true love is London. There are places where people know that they belong and London is it for me. but Rome and her sister cities have so much to offer that I want to keep coming back. I don’t think I could ever live there, I crave order and timeliness on a daily basis and while Roma has its own sense of order and time, it would be too overwhelming. I would need to take breaks from the energy, but I know that Rome would always leave me wanting more, never running out of marvels. It’s like a rich dessert: a little bit will satisfy, but you will keep making it because it’s so good. There will always be a reason to return.

Pieta

Pietà

This is just the beginning of my memories of Italy. I condensed Rome into just over one thousand words, no easy feat, especially when I could have filled a small book with just those three days. For such a short time there, it planted a long root in my soul that will continue to come back long after I think it to be gone. Well done, Roma, well done.

A presto.

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