My DNA–What? Surely you Jest!!

Seriously.  I do a little DNA test and what do I get?   Total confusion.  I mean, seriously, who did I think I was?? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Based on more than 5 years of research relying on, google, family records, public records, photographs and other research, I expected my DNA results to look something like this:

British Isles: 60%, Western Europe: 35 %, Other: 5 %. even includes on its site a clever little circle graph showing the nature of the information that members would receive about their genetic markers.  It seemed so simple.  Once again, wrong, wrong, wrong.

I expected, and found, strong evidence of family roots in the British Isles.  Mom’s family (Harrises, Bayes and Wrights) and my maternal grandmother’s family, (Lewises), all have strong ancestral ties there.  But where I expected my heritage to be dominated by British and Western European ancestors, instead I now understand I have lots of ancestors from Scandinavian countries.  I had not anticipated a single Swede, Dane or Norwegian in my entire family tree.  My Middle Eastern and Southern European roots–seriously, where do they come from. My anticipated heritage is so different from the heritage established by my DNA.  I am intrigued.

The question I raised in my last post about my DNA test indicated I expected to see some data in the “other” column as a result of the somewhat obscure origins of the Lumbee “tribe” of North Carolina.  My ancestor, Morris Teeter, who was born in 1737 and died in 1812, was buried in the Cummings Cemetery near Pembroke, NC.  Apparently, he was a Lumbee or married to a Lumbee.  If that information is correct, then I certainly have no native American DNA indicators.  Perhaps the rumors that the Lumbee are descended from early sailors to the New World (obviously Scandinavian and maybe Persian) is true.  I don’t know.  I don’t want the Lumbee tribe to take my word for it.  But they may want to be DNA tested themselves. Really.

But I digress–kind of!

Where are the Mesle/Kirsch Western European ancestors?  What about the centuries I expected granddad’s family to have lived in Western Europe before moving from Germany to the United States?  Nowhere.  Absolutely nowhere. I have 5 years invested in learning about the migration of the Mesle name from St. Maixent, France, spreading throughout France and into Germany, Belgium.  5 years trying to determine where in the small world of Mesles my own family had its origins before appearing in the record books in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1800s.  Now, I do not know whether I am, at all, connected by blood to those Mesles.  Maybe they are, as I once read, descended from Vikings. But could they have lived in Western Europe for 800 years without picking up even a hint of German or French DNA markers?  Of course not.

The question, of course, is “Does it matter?”  If my interest is in tracing the religious, ethical and educational history of my family, it may not matter at all.  If my interest is in my blood line, then maybe the most important message is that none of us may be who we think we are.

Now that, is something to chew on!


Welcome to our family: Caroline Marie Soper

She is a beauty.  I just have to say it!  Born at St. Luke’s Hospital on June 26, 2012, at 2:08 a.m., she didn’t make her entry into this family easy on mom or dad. As is always the case, mom (Dana) bore the brunt of it.  But dad (Jon) was also a trooper.  He was with Dana for the duration.

The maternity ward seemed full with just Caroline’s grandparents and step grandparents.  Caroline, of course, has no idea that she is the source of such joy for her parents and all the members of her extended family.  It will take her years to understand the traditions, stories and values that come with any family, and certainly ours.  It will take a lifetime for her to understand her own value to each of us and to the families of which she is a member.

Sweet Caroline.  Welcome to the family.  You have cousins, parents, grandparents, a great-grandfather, and aunts and uncles all waiting to meet you.  May your life be filled with love and happiness as you bring love  and happiness to us.

Happy Mother’s Day–to the Village

We all know the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”.  Each of us benefits from such a village. I want to thank the village of people who have shared in raising Meg.

Meg’s village, necessarily, starts with my mom.  Until her death two years ago, she was the matriarch of our family.  She loved each of her children and her grandchildren unconditionally.  She was always there for us.  We did not want to disappoint her because she never disappointed us.  She made sure each of us felt special.  She was a wonderful mother, wife, friend, cook, gardener and listener.  Meg knew how much grams loved her.  She was beautiful in every way.

Our family has included an abundance of cheerleaders for Meg and her cousins.  We get together whenever we can even though we are spread throughout the country.  Here we celebrated with dad as he received his most recent community award last year in Independence.

As a family we have worked hard to provide each other personal and moral support.  We treasure our successes and provide each other solace during difficult times as we strive to grow individually and together.

Terry has been a rock star, guiding her and supporting her with his quiet wisdom and no-nonsense practicality.  He has listened to her, comforted her and helped her to grow with a combination of youthful idealism and an understanding of economic and financial realities.

Meg’s strong ties to both her father’s family and mine have enabled her to stretch her comfort level. With encouragement from others, she has ridden a motorcycle, danced at a ball, studied and traveled abroad, supervised a pro bono tax clinic, worn a sari, attended Passover and climbed a mountain at Jackson Hole.

In so many ways, our lives are enriched by friends as well as family.  There have been truly wonderful people who have shared their lives with Meg and nurtured her as she has grown to adulthood.

Close friends have also been like family to her and have enriched her life and mine.  Whether Meg needed a “sister”, a second “mother” or just a wise friend, there has always been someone there for her.

She has spent birthdays, holidays, and lots of ordinary days in the company of extraordinary people.  She has shopped for shoes, indulged in tuna melts, shared dinners, walked in 4th of July neighborhood parades, spent weekends in Branson and learned how to dream with these friends.

The terms wisdom, love of life, love of beauty, concern for humanity are terms that fit each member of this wonderful village.  It is never possible to truly isolate the gifts of knowledge and understanding she has gained from individual relationships.  But as she has matured, Meg has had role models and mentors who were there for her when she needed them.

As much as her family shared with her our own values, she was truly enriched by the opportunity to observe, and share in the family lives of friends and family who broadened and deepened her understanding of the many ways to live life, to mature as a true friend, to be a person of integrity and to live her life with grace.

Her most significant mentors have also helped her to develop her own strength and to gain a vision for the person she has become.

As I write this, I realize the futility of trying to include photographs of, or give individual thanks to, every individual who has been truly special in our lives. (Besides, the fact I don’t have photographs of some of these wonderful people is a mistake I will quickly rectify.)  But each of you know my gratitude to you.  For all of you who have been a part of her life, and mine, I want to thank you for being part of our village.  

Happy mother’s day.

An Indian Wedding: beginning the weekend with the Mehndi ceremony

One of my best friends from childhood got married this weekend. Natasha and Noah have been together for a long time, and they were finally able to become husband and wife on Saturday May 5th. As Natasha’s family is from India, we were all honored to be involved in a traditional Indian wedding. There were a few Jewish traditions included from Noah’s family as well, but we will wait to explore those until a later post on their wedding day.

The first wedding event was the Mehndi ceremony.

Mehndi is the application of henna as a temporary decoration of the skin. It is a ceremonial art form where intricate patterns are painted onto the bride’s hands and feet before the wedding ceremonies. Hidden in the patterns, the design includes the groom’s name. His challenge is to find his name. For Natasha’s Mehndi, Noah’s name was written in the palm of her hand (can be seen in the bottom picture of her right palm).

As I understand it, the old tradition was to apply henna to the bride only. In modern times, many of the other women involved in the Mehndi get designs applied as well. As a bridesmaid, I jumped at the opportunity.

Henna is applied to the skin from small cones filled with the paste. The paste then dries on the skin. As it dries, it stains the skin below. Soon the paste begins to crack and brush off, and then you are left with a beautiful reddish-brown stain on the skin. It is a beautiful ritual.

Natasha looked positively stunning as she sat on her “throne” during her Mehndi. She was surrounded by her female friends and family members, and she definitely had the most beautiful designs. Both the backs and palms of her hands were completed covered, and her feet had beautiful designs as well. Following the Mehndi application, the women gathered together to sing, play the drums, and dance.

The Mehndi ceremony was a beautiful way to kick off the weekend of wedding festivities. Natasha looked beautiful, as always, and everyone had a wonderful time. The food was delicious, the music and dancing were joyful. It was a wonderful evening and a great way to start a beautiful weekend.

Springtown, Texas-Where country is, was and always will be “Cool”

This was a busy weekend for our family.  Meg was in Kansas City for a wedding (more to come), Laura and Michel were in Warsaw, Poland and Terry and I were in his hometown, visiting Christina and his family.

Springtown, Texas, has a population pushing toward 3300 people in the city limits and over 7000 in the metro area.  Terry’s family has lived here since about 1900, so his family roots are deep in the soil.  His parents were successful dairy farmers.  His parents, Finis and Vivian, seem to have been involved in nearly every organization in town. There is even a street named after them, it runs right in front of his family home, where his sister Mary now lives.

Situated just 1/2 hour from Fort Worth, it seems a world apart. It is easy to joke about rural Texas, where the names Poolville (ignore the “l” and soften the “v”), Hickey Hollar and Azle roll easily off the tongue. But residents of Springtown are anything but unsophisticated. Underestimate them at your peril.  This is cattle country.  Everything associated with cattle is important: birthing, feeding, watering and sale.

This is also natural gas country.  Everything associated with natural gas is also important: contracts, easements and the related challenge.  Heavy pipes are buried to move natural gas from Oklahoma and Texas for processing. Water for fracking ( the process of drilling and injecting water into the ground at high pressure to release natural gas) moves through small above ground pipes from Eagle Mountain Lake some 10 to 15 miles away to the gas fields in Springtown.  Storage tanks and sound baffles are a visual distraction. The dust and noise from the constant movement of heavy trucks to and from the construction sites fill the air.

Financial security is measured not only in natural gas and cattle, but in land. Ancient fence lines reflect property boundaries but are also important to the movement of cattle from grazing field to grazing field, separating cattle from horses, and sometimes separating garden plots from everything else.

For a city slicker like myself, it is easy to assume that farm life is “easier” than city life.  That is simply not true.  There is a combination of intelligence, hard work and back braking labor.  Farm tractors and trucks cost more than most automobiles and there are more of them!

At the end of the day the conversation includes all of things I would hear at any dinner table.  We talk about national and local politics.  But there is also discussion about feed prices, whether natural gas prices are up or down, whether there will be enough water to last the season.

But fear not, there is precious time for fun.  There is more than enough work to go around, but the food, hospitality and fun are worth the price of admission.

Oh, and did I forget to talk about the snake.  I was in the middle of the street, thinking that was safe from nature’s viler creatures, talking to Meg on my cell when suddenly I became aware that the black streak less than 6 feet from me, in the middle of the road was not tar, but a long motionless snake.  On telling my tale to Maurine and requesting assurance that it probably wasn’t dangerous, she just suggested that she tries really hard to stay away from snakes!

Have a great week.

Happy Birthday to my Sweet Mama!

It has been an eventful last year for my cute Mum. It all started with a very special ceremony. In May of last year, I graduated from my Mum’s alma mater, UMKC School of Law. We both got the special honor of having her hood me during the graduation ceremony! It was a wonderful day.

Over the summer, my Mum fed me and gave me moral support while I was studying for the bar exam. She made me my favorite birthday cake, Tippin’s strawberry pie. Then she helped me pack, and sent me and the kids on our move out to California.

We saw each other of the holidays, where we played around the Christmas “tree” and visited with family. Our visits are always too short now!

For Easter, Mum and Terry came to visit us in California. We finally got the chance to show them our new stomping grounds. We saw the coast, tasted wine, ate some delicious cheese and took beautiful pictures.

We may not see each other as much as we used to, but we probably talk more. And thank goodness for the creation of Facetime! It may not be in person, but we still get to “see” each other through our nifty little devices. We also started a blog so we could continue having our in-depth conversations about the issues of the world. Ahh, the joys of modern technology.

So on this special day, “Mumsy’s Day,” I’d like you to join me in celebrating the birth of the greatest woman I know. She has always been one of my biggest supporters, and often dubs herself the official cheerleader of Team Meg. Of course, I’m her biggest fan as well. She’s an amazing judge, sister, wife, daughter and friend. But best of all, she’s the best Mum!

Happy Birthday Mumsy!

Love you,

Lil’ you:)

Old Soil and New Life

I have been focused a lot lately on children. From childhood illness, to separation, to challenges at work, my world currently feels child centered.  Our family now is looking forward to two happy arrivals in the coming months.  As a future great-aunt, I am just filled with love and curiosity about the little ones who will join the current members of our next generation: Elliot, Asher and Sophia. I wonder about how their lives will be impacted by the world around them, the values that will come through our own children and those that will be formed by the outside world.

I love the description of family in Naomi Ragen’s book The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: We are planted in old soil, enriched by the lives of so many who came before us, the nourishment is meant to flow through us on to the newest branches so that every branch grows a little taller and blooms more beautifully still.

Our family is fortunate that Meg’s generation shows every indication of growing tall and blooming beautifully.  They seem to share the best of our family strengths and values rather than our weaknesses.  Universally they care about the environment, a healthy economy, healthy life habits.  They care about respect for human dignity.  They take an interest in government while maintaining a respectful regard for civility and understanding the importance of forming opinions based on research and study rather than on demagoguery.  We have raised them well, and now we rely on them to nurture their own children, nieces and nephews.  Understanding that, and understanding that it is they who will have the primary responsibility to shape the environment in which their children are raised, what wisdom can we pass on to them.

My mother used to say that when you have raised a child you become an expert in raising that child, but that it doesn’t really how to raise another child.  Of course, every child needs to be raised lovingly, with an early focus on healthy diet and healthy life habits. They need to be read to, to be given lots of hugs, and loving discipline.  They need to see modeled the values that have shaped us as strong, productive family.  They need to be intellectually stimulated from an early age, and to have parental involvement in the schools where their educations will continue.

But these basic parental responsibilities (and joys) do not directly speak to respect for the uniqueness of each child. Dr. Mel Levine, in his book A Mind at a Time, describes parenting this way: “Some minds  are wired to create symphonies and sonnets, while others are fitted out to build bridges, highways, and computers; design airplanes and road systems; drive trucks and taxicabs; or seek cures for breast cancer and hypertension . . . Parents have a special responsibility and joy as they get to know well and to cultivate their children’s individual minds.”

So the wisdom I would want to share with them is that parents support  their children best, when they learn to understand and nurture the uniqueness in each of them, helping them to develop their special strengths and to help them to accommodate to their inevitable limitations.  As to the future, I can only chuckle that Forrest Gump’s mother was probably right when she reminded us that “life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  I am excited to find out.