Monday, February 26, 2018

SCGS Jamboree has a writing conference

SCGS Jamboree 2018

In its 49th season, the Southern California Genealogy Society is having another wonderful conference for genealogy and genetic genealogy held at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel, 2500 Hollywood Way, Burbank.  Early Bird Deadline registration is April 14th and Advance Registration ends May 12th , so save your place now!  This is one of the best conferences you will attend, and there are classes for all experience levels and even for people who are not genealogists.  All days run from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The Exhibit Hall opens Thursday, and admission to it is free all three Days!  Find a wide variety of vendors, along with their sales.  (Sometimes I hang out at the Family Tree DNA booth, so drop by.)

This year has over 140 classes with over 85 speakers as well as one-on-one research help.  Three categories will help you in a variety of fields for your family history.  There are three conferences in one!

The 6th Annual Genetic Genealogy Conference, May 31, 2008 (and squeaks into June 1st) entitled Link Through DNA is, of course, my favorite. In these classes you can learn not only the basics of DNA testing, but more advanced techniques from some of the industry's leading speakers.  There are hands-on DNA Workshops as well.

The Family History Writers Conference, May 31 entitled Love Your Family Legends includes presentations on writing, publishing and preserving your genealogy along with reaching into the next generation to assure your work will continue.  The speakers will also cover the tools you need to finish your work.

The 49th Annual Genealogy Jamboree, June 1-2, will help you Unlock Your Lineage with some renown speakers in the field.  Learn the basics along with many tips and tricks, and explore how to break through those brick walls.

See the Jamboree website for the full schedule.  A mobile app is available.  There are discounts for SCGS Members and for multi-event registration.

HINT:  Notice anyone familiar on the advertisement above?  Yes, I am speaking and would love to have you attend my classes so I can meet you!

My topics:
Finding Answers through Your Autosomal DNA Test  (Thurs, May 31st, 8:30-9:30)
Comparing Testing Companies and Understanding DNA Tests (Workshop, Friday, June 1st 8:30 to 12:00)
I will be on the Ask the Experts about DNA and Genealogy panel (Friday, June 1, 5:00 to 6:00 pm)

I do hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Wednesday Family


Valerie decided to write an introduction to her many stories for the memoir class, and the following is the result. Although it is very nice her to include me in her introduction with such kind words, I deny it all! LOL






This memoir is dedicated to our beloved teacher Emily Aulicino and to all my memoir mates: past, present and future.

In July of 2012, I apprehensively walked into a room at the Woodstock Community Center for my first memoir writing class. I had no idea what to expect or what kind of people I would encounter. The only thing of which I was certain is that it was a class for seniors 55 plus-old people just like me. I have always liked to write, but that was not my primary motivation for seeking out this venue. I was just beginning the process of integrating back into a more active life style after a ten-month forced hiatus spent recovering from a severely fractured femur in my right arm.  Due to my prolonged inactivity and isolation from the real word, I had about lost my mind. At this point, I was simply looking for something to do. The original plan was to take an eight-week session and then move on to greener pastures. That obviously did not happen. Five years later, I find myself sitting in the same seat in the same room, with some of the same people I met that very first day. I call this group my Wednesday Family, and what a blessing they have all been!

Throughout the years, I have had the honor of sharing my Wednesday afternoons with an extraordinary group of amazing people that not only have enriched my life, but also helped me evolve into a better version of myself. The compassion, empathy, and acceptance of this group have allowed me to safely navigate the murky waters of the past and re-emerge into the sunshine of the present day. Their unbiased viewpoints and loving support have given me the courage to develop a clearer more realistic positive perspective of past events. My memoir mates’ life experiences and wisdom have empowered me move forward, and I now think beyond the regrets and “what ifs” that plagued my life for so many years. I will always be grateful for their contributions big and small and for touching my life and heart.

Our teacher, mentor, and dear friend Emily is the glue that holds our group together. She is our foundation, our cheerleader, our parent when we get rowdy and need to be refocused on the task, our preposition police, and so much more. For years, she has unselfishly dedicated her time to introducing countless people to the art of memoir writing so that their memories can be preserved and passed on to future generations. What a priceless and precious gift! Emily’s insight, knowledge, life experience, her passion for the process, and guidance inspire us all as writers and people. She is the master gardener of memoir writing class. We could not do it without her. We love and appreciate you Emily and thank you for all you do and for caring enough to keep the group going!

One of the other great benefits of memoir class is the lunches. The morning class meets from 10-12 p.m. and the afternoon group from 1-3 p.m. From 12-1 p.m., both classes congregate at a local establishment to share an afternoon meal. It is great fun, and there are many lively and interesting conversations going on all at the same time, punctuated with constant bursts of laughter. The morning crew is just as diverse and remarkable as the afternoon gang, and it is a joy to be able to spend time with them. Because of these lunches, both groups have morphed into one big extended family. We have all become so much more than just a memoir writing class!

People come to memoir writing class for many different reasons. Each person brings with them their own unique voice, perspective, and agenda. The presentations range from chronological histories to humorous anecdotes that have us laughing nonstop to tear jerking tragedies that break our hearts and humble us as human beings. This class is our safe haven where one can confess their deepest darkest secrets and face their demons surrounded by love and support. You will always be embraced, never judged, nor criticized. This group knows more about me than my own family does. I trust them unconditionally. I can be vulnerable with them, and that is rare for me. An indescribable bond forms between the participants that is irrefutable.

Many times, at the beginning of a new session, Emily asks us all to introduce ourselves and give a brief synopsis of our backgrounds. She also asks us to explain why we are taking the class and what we hope to accomplish. I cannot remember what I said that very first day five years ago, but I hope I did not embarrass myself by saying I was bored and looking for something to do! It may have started out that way, but it has become so much more. Five years later, I am finally able to answer that question. Yes, I like to write, and it gives me the creative outlet I desire. The process stimulates me intellectually, and at my age that is vital to my mental well-being, but those are not the main reasons. I am able to say beyond the shadow of a doubt that for me writing these memoirs is about uncovering and rediscovering my own personal truth. It’s about the process of becoming “unplugged” from certain past events. I am here to free myself so that I can live out my remaining years with a new lease and outlook on life. I am here to make peace and to forgive myself for my mistakes. I am here to re-create my past so that I will be remembered and not be forgotten. I am here to unveil the real me!

I recently read an article by Dr. Terrie W. called, “Where do you live? “Terrie is a career Naval emergency room doctor, an accomplished author, an ultra-marathoner, and my best friend from high school.  She recently suffered a series of major health setbacks almost dying three times. This set her on an intense soul-searching mission as she pondered what was holding her back from accepting and embracing her new normal in life after being  forced to give up so many of the things she loved to do. She wanted to give up and even contemplated suicide. She had never been a quitter but felt hopeless and defeated. As a child, she had been raised to believe that if things looked bleak then they were worse than you imagined and to expect a bad outcome.  Terrie fell into this rabbit hole and could not find her way out.  She wrote:

“There are three places we live but you can ping pong between them faster than a ping pong ball. There is the past, present and future. Most people live mostly in the past or future completely by passing the present. “

She goes on to explain that we let past negative experiences and lessons cloud our minds, our judgment, and our decision-making abilities. For many of us, our past is like quicksand dragging us under, repeatedly sabotaging our progress. As a result, for many, the present gets lost. Terrie calls it being “stuck.” For Terrie, her near-death experiences forced her to refocus on positive energy only and getting ‘’unstuck” from the past. She ended her article with a great quote from Lazarus Lake that states, “Each moment in life only happens once.” Terrie follows this with a weighty question, challenging her readers, “You don’t want to miss that moment, do you?’

After writing this article and identifying the albatross around her neck, she started making great progress. Reading her blog was my “aha moment”, and I finally understood the benefits of memoir writing for me personally and for my family pedigree, present and future.

Memoir writing class helps me come to terms with my own personal truth and enables me to relegate the negativity of past to the past where it belongs. I put it on paper, read it to the class, and it frees me to close the book on that chapter of my life. It is a release and allows me to move forward. I have learned to live in the “here and now” and not to be held hostage by my past mistakes and poor decisions. I forgive myself! My memoirs are my gift to future generations. If one person is impacted, then I will have made a difference.

Why do I write?  I want future generations to see me for my humor, intelligence, creativeness, and zany multiple personalities. I want to share with them my remarkable journey working with incarcerated youth. I want to send the message that no one should ever judge a book by its cover. Open the book and read it. You might be surprised. It just might be the best book you ever read! I want people to know that I made many mistakes and some horrendous decisions along the way, but eventually I learned my lessons, turned things around, and am a better person because of it. Failure is a great teaching tool and part of life. Without failure, there can be no success. I own my mistakes and make no excuses. The most important message I want to impart is that life isn’t always fair, but that each moment is a precious gift. Find the humor in every situation and turn those lemons into lemonade!

My Wednesday family is a remarkable assemblage of diversity at its best. I am blessed to be part of this amazing group. I wish everyone could be lucky enough to have a Wednesday family like mine.   

Valerie S.
July 11, 2017

Thank you, Valerie.  No doubt you have inspired others to write their stories!

Best wishes,

Friday, May 26, 2017


              PORTLAND, OREGON

Wikipedia defines Mother’s Day as “a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers’ in society.” It is a day for juvenile and adult children to show their moms their appreciation. This can take many forms: gifts, shared meals, cards, phone calls or, nowadays, the ever so popular text message. For most, it is a time filled with joy and happiness, but for many of us, it is bittersweet.

Saturday, May 13th

On Saturday morning, my Portland based daughter and family arrived on my doorstep bearing gifts and to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. My son-in-law had a large flowering potted plant in tow, and it was exquisite. My granddaughters Sloane 5, and Sawyer 2, knew the way to grandma’s heart, and each had a container of cupcakes from the Fat Bakery. I had barely finished saying thank you to the girls when they bolted for my kitchen table each taking a seat. “Can we help you eat your cupcakes NOW grandma?” There was an urgent emphasis on the word now.  “What a great idea,” I replied to the delight of two grinning children. We all agreed that they were delicious. The adults chatted for a bit while the now sugar-hyped girls rearranged grandma’s house. I felt honored, loved, and appreciated.

Sunday, May 14th-Mother’s Day

Although this is typically a day of celebration, for those of us who have lost our moms, it is a time to remember and revisit our relationship. It is a day filled with memories and in some cases, harsh realities. It is a period of deep reflection often resulting in opening the floodgates and releasing tidal waves of guilt, regret, and raw emotion.

I woke up Sunday morning with mom on my mind and immediately went into my office in search of my favorite picture of her. As I ate breakfast and sipped my tea, I stared mesmerized by her image as tears cascaded down my cheeks. My heart ached with longing and monumental regret. When I was younger, I didn’t comprehend the depth of her love or appreciate how blessed I was to have her as my mother. My journey through life and the wisdom and insight it has bestowed upon me has provided me with clarity and insight.  I now know that my mom loved me unconditionally with every fiber of her being and every breath she took, even the last one. I asked myself if Mom could say the same thing about me as a daughter. I didn’t like the answer.

My relationship with mom was complicated, or so I thought. I now realize that it was me that made it that way, not her. I loved her dearly, but I didn’t want to be like her or end up the way she did. She was dependent on dad financially and emotionally. Her life revolved around her husband and children. She never wanted or needed more. She seemed content in her little cocoon. My parents never traveled. As kids, we did take family summer vacations, but mainly to neighboring states and nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary. They had no sense of adventure. Mom never set foot on an airplane.

Dad died in 1985, and mom’s heart and spirit were forever broken. She became reclusive. She had no real friends. She sat in the house day after day, year after year only leaving to go to the grocery store or walk the dog. She existed. My brother and sister lived nearby and frequently visited her. They were able to coax her out of the house for holidays and family celebrations. She became deeply depressed. The house began to show signs of neglect and over time fell into a state of disrepair. She didn’t care. She had lost hope. The dog began to potty in the house. Most of the time, she didn’t even notice. All offers to help were vehemently rejected.

In August of 1997, I flew from Wenatchee, Washington to Great Neck, New York for mom’s 80th birthday. I had not seen her in 12 years due to my financial situation resulting from my divorce. I was shaken at the site of my childhood home masked by the overgrown jungle of weeds and grass. I was overwhelmed by the stench as I stepped inside to what smelled like a public urinal. My gag reflex almost got the best of me, and in the middle of all this, stood mom. She was skin and bones; a mere shadow of her former self. She grabbed me and surprisingly hugged me with the strength of a world-class weight lifter as she cried with joy. The sparkle returned to mom’s eyes as her four children gathered in their childhood home to celebrate her birthday. As I boarded the plane to return home, mom, begged me to stay. I couldn’t. My job and my kids were back in Wenatchee. It broke my heart.

A few short months later in April of 1998, I got a call that mom was in the hospital. She had fallen in the house and had spent two-three days on the floor before my sister had found her. Because of her physical condition and the unsanitary state of her surroundings, the state intervened and declared her a neglected senior thus making her a ward of the state. Our family was removed from the equation, losing all say in medical matters and her well-being. It was a devastating blow to all concerned. After she recovered enough, she was shipped to a state run nursing home. After one day there, she asked my sister who was visiting, if she would ever be able to return home. My sister replied no. My mom hugged my sister, kissed her and said goodbye. She closed her eyes and died; finally at peace for the first time since the day dad had left her. The last years of her life should have been happy ones. They were not. Her children had failed her.

My biggest regret in life is my failure as her daughter. Why had I turned a blind eye to the situation? Why did I think that my dysfunctional life and struggles were so much more important than she was? I had a million excuses over the years: I lived on the opposite coast; my own life was a mess. For years after the divorce, I struggled as a single mom to make ends meet thus resulting in my 12-year hiatus from her life. I thought I was doing my part by faithfully calling her every Sunday and talking for hours. How could I have been so arrogant, stupid, and wrong; I now ask myself?

At the time Dad died, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I did invite mom to live with me. The kids and I would have loved that. She wouldn’t even consider it, and I just figured maybe it was too soon. In 1986, we were transferred to Wenatchee, and I was a coast away from mom. On numerous occasions, I begged her to come spend time with me and the kids. My brother and sister offered to bring her. Again, she would not even consider it.  After I got divorced in 1992, mom made me a very generous offer. She said that if the kids and I moved in with her we could live rent-free, and, in turn, she would deed the house over to me. The house was worth over a million dollars so it was enticing, but not practical. My kids were happy in Wenatchee, and my counselor had advised me against any more trauma in their lives after the divorce and being abandoned by their dad. My son was a junior in high school and a varsity athlete.  Uprooting him would have been devastating. So, I stayed in Wenatchee for my kids’ sake and left her alone and miserable. How could I have been so callous?

After my mom’s death my aunt, her older sister, told me that that several times mom had confided in her that she could count on her Valerie to rescue her from the filth and squalor that had taken her prisoner. She told my aunt that Valerie would never let her live in these conditions. It broke my heart because I did. I beat myself up on a daily basis for my failure, as a daughter. It is the albatross around my neck. It will follow me to my grave. I know the old cliché that says “I did the best I could at the time,” but the truth is I didn’t do the best I could! I could have, should have done better. I failed the one person in this world who loved me more than life itself – just as I love my kids and grand-kids. Mom, I am so very sorry. You were the best mom I could have ever asked for, and I know that now.

My three-grownup children all have families of their own while juggling demanding careers. I understand this “been there, done that”. It is the way it is these days for most families. While this is their time to shine in life, it is also important to take a step back and realize how precious life is and how suddenly it can slip away. Don’t assume that the people in your life know how you feel about them. Honor and appreciate them every day even if only in thought or with a small gesture or kind word. Remember that people get old, but they still need to be loved and not forgotten. Moms are one of life’s greatest gifts, and in my opinion, they should be declared a national treasure. Nobody is ever going to love you like your mom! Don’t take your mom for granted the way I did. Being old isn’t easy, believe me I know and someday you will too!  

Valerie S.

 May 22, 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Vistitor From the Beyond

Another wonderful story from a member of my writing class.  I realize not everyone is a believer, but there are so many of these stories that I'm not sure how they can be doubt.  Even I have had some unexplained phenomena as well as my mother and my son.  Not everything has a clear explanation, but I do know that we, as humans, do not have all the answers and keeping an open mind is always the best.  Enjoy this wonderful piece.

                      HE VISITOR FROM THE BEYOND


Preface:  I Valerie S., (surname withheld), being of sound mind and body and never haven partaken in the recreational use of any mind-altering drugs past or present, do hereby delclare that the events you are about to hear are real.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — One of the most defining and devastating moments of my life occurred on the morning of Feb. 18th, 1985. At 6:30 am the merciless ringing of the phone jolted me awake from my heavy-eyed dreamland. The unsteady, sobbing voice on the other end was my mom telling me that my father had passed away.  True to himself, my dad died on his own terms—at home, in his own bed, and next to his beloved, Alice, his wife of 48 years. He was 76 years old. That year a deadly pneumonia virus had brutally swept through the country killing hundreds in its wake among them my dad. That day the world as I knew it ceased to exist, and the once steadfast walls of my foundation crumbled beneath me. It would take me years to sort through the rubble and destruction and find the strength to move forward and make sense of my life again. I soon learned that I would not be alone as I navigated the murky waters on this tumultuous journey. Support and guidance would come in the form of a familiar and prudent visitor from the beyond.

Great Neck, New York — In June of 1985, I returned to my childhood home for a visit. I barely recognized my mom. In the four months since Dad’s death she had lost weight and had become frail and lifeless—her energy and sprit depleted. She was an empty shell of her former self. The once animated, feisty, red-headed-blue eyed Irish woman I called mom was gone.  She reminded me of a small, scared lost child. It was heartbreaking. The second night of my visit as my three children peacefully slumbered in the next room, I crawled into the security of my childhood bed and quietly cried myself to sleep. At one point in the night, I gently stirred as I heard the familiar creaking of the bedroom door as it opened. I assumed it was just mom checking up on me as she did when I was a child so I rolled over to continue my fitful sleep.

Then I heard the squeaking of the bed springs and realized that someone was sitting on my bed. I presumed it was mom needing to talk so I rolled over to an upright position. It was not mom, but Dad. It was my Dad. I literally threw myself into his arms expecting air and a vanishing vision. Instead, his arms encircled me and held me tightly. It was real. Dad was actually there. He was solid and warm. I put my head on his chest and could hear his heart beating. He was dressed in his favorite outlandish paisley-print shirt—the one that mom despised. I checked his shoes, and as always, they were buffed and polished to a high sheen. I could smell the scent of lingering stale cigarette smoke on the fabric of his clothes. The aroma of recently consumed coffee drifted from his breath. He lovingly stroked my hair while he repeated his pet name for me, “My Wallerie (Valerie with a W), my Wallerie.”

We talked for what seemed like hours. He said he had already looked in on my children, and they were sleeping peacefully. He related that mom was tossing and turning unsuccessfully trying to rest in their marital bed. He asked me to watch over her and assured me that he would be around whenever I needed him. I watched him leave the bedroom.

I awoke the next morning with a happy heart, but in a state of confusion. My Dad’s fragrance still permeated the room and was now on my nightclothes. Had I been dreaming? My bed covers were askew, and on the spot where Dad had rested, there was an imprint. It had been real after all. I kept this encounter to myself not wanting to upset anyone and realizing how crazy it would sound if repeated. Three months later, my husband’s work transferred us to Wenatchee, Washington. I was forced to move to the opposite side of the country from my mom just nine months after our loss of Dad.

Wenatchee, Washington — Since relocating, things on the home front had gotten worse. My abusive husband’s drunken rages had increased in frequency and escalated. Many nights, unable to rest, I would wait until everyone was asleep and quietly slip from the house. I aimlessly roamed the streets enjoying the solitude of night and the obscurity provided by its cloak of darkness.

One evening as I approached the elementary school, I caught sight of a shadowy- silhouette propped against the chain link fence of the schoolyard. It appeared to be a man smoking a cigarette. Unnerved by his presence, I crossed to the other side of the road. Suddenly, a glow radiated from his being, and I heard him say, “Wallerie, it’s Dad.” Stunned, I remained frozen in place unable to move until a mysterious magnetic force compelled me across the divide.

Crying, I found myself submerged in Dad’s warm comforting embrace and mesmerized by his soothing words of wisdom. We sat on the wet dew laden grass and chatted until the sun began to rise in the sky. My heart was full and happy as Dad sent me home in time to greet my awakening children. 

My husband was already in the kitchen and eyed me suspiciously, as I appeared. He interrogated me as to where I had been, why the seat of my pants was so wet, and why I reeked of cigarette smoke. I just smiled and went up to wake the kids for school.

Dad came to visit me regularly for many years. He always seemed to sense when I needed him, and he never failed me. Sometimes I would see him in a crowed mall, a store, a parking lot, or a park. Dad had the magical gift to make time stand still. Everything and everyone would become frozen in time and motionless around us. Dad would spend the lapse in time, dispensing his sage advice and encouraging me to be a warrior and not a victim. He wanted me to take a stand and believe in myself just as he always had. He urged me to be hopeful and not hopeless. Then suddenly time would resume, and the movement around me would coincide with dad’s covert departure. These are to this day some of my most treasured moments.

In 1998, my mother passed away, thirteen years after Dad’s death. She was 80 years old. She may not have died of a broken heart, but she definitely died with one. Finally, Alice was on her way to be reunited with the love of her life. Shortly after mom’s funeral, dad paid me a visit.

Over the years, thanks to his support, guidance, and encouragement, I had been able to get my children and myself out of our abusive situation. By this point in time, I had been divorced for seven years, had sole custody of the three kids, owned a small home, and was gainfully employed by the Wenatchee School District. My children were thriving and so was their mother. With the help of my dad, I had finally turned a corner.

This particular evening, I felt compelled to return to the schoolyard where Dad and I had our first Wenatchee encounter. He was there waiting as I approached and after a warm embrace we exchanged pleasantries and caught up on the children’s activities. Dad said he wanted to show me a very special place, and he reached for my hand. I found myself standing in the midst of the most beautiful garden I had ever seen. It was breath-taking and hypnotic at the same time. The sweet floral fragrance was magically alluring and soothing. It was like a sea of beautiful colored flowers and lush green foliage interspersed with divine fountains of cascading waters. Carefree residents meandered through plush and vibrant landscape laughing, smiling and conversing. They donned flowing white robes. There were men, women, and children. The magnificent garden was punctuated with exquisite white marble statues. It was the most peaceful place I had ever been.

The sun shone brightly, but I was neither hot nor cold. As I took it all in, my Dad continued to lead me down a path lined with magnificent life-like figurines. Dad finally halted at a spot that gave us a full view of a stunning pool of light blue water. There was a radiant woman sitting on a bench singing a beautiful mesmerizing melody. It took me a second before I realized it was mom. I wanted to run to her, hold her in my arms. Dad held me back. “She can’t see you or hear you—no one here can.” He continued, “I wanted you to see our new home and how happy your mother is. This is how I want you to envision us every time you feel sad or miss us. This is where we will all eventually be reunited as the Southard clan once again. Yes, Wallerie, this is Heaven.”

I found myself back in front of the school. For the first time since I lost my beloved father, I felt whole.  Dad never visited me again. Thinking of them both now evokes a feeling of contentment and puts a smile on my face. They are where they belong-together. Their love story continues.

After this, I finally mustered up the courage to share my encounters with my sister. As I told my tale, she listened intently never giving me a hint at what she might be thinking. When I finished, she let out a monumental sigh of relief and confided that dad had visited her too on multiple occasions. She too had been to heaven to see mom! Maybe we were not crazy after all, but if we are, then at least we can blame it on genetics! Until we meet again Mom and Dad! Love you!

Epilogue:  On Sept. 23, 2011, John Blake authored an editorial for CNN discussing the phenomena of paranormal encounters with people who had died. He gave what happened to my sister and me a name—crisis apparition. He explained, “A crisis apparition is the spirit of a recently deceased person who visits someone they had a close emotional connection with usually to say goodbye. Although such encounters are chilling, they are also comforting. These encounters suggest that the emotional bond often transcends death and is not erased.” 

It happened to me, and it is my reality!  

Valerie S.

April 19, 2017

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RootsTech, Feb 8-11, 2017 Salt Lake City

RootsTech is just around the corner, and many of you may be going.

I will be presenting on writing  your childhood and family stories and on the basics of using DNA for genealogy.

For those planning to come, here is my schedule.  Stop by and say hello!

Feb 9 Thursday - 12:00 - MyHeritage Lunch, Room 355B

Feb 10 Friday - 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. - The DNA Q&A at MyHeritage book, booth RT17

Feb 10 Friday - 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. - Writing Your Childhood Memories and Family Stories, Room 155D

Feb 10 Friday night - After party at the Marriott City Creek Grand Ballroom

Feb 11 Saturday - 3:00-4:00 p.m. Supercharge Your Research with DNA, Room 150

I will have a few copies of my book with me, but must sell them outside of the conference.  Please designate which book is of interest:
     "Memoing" Your Memories:  A Simple Technique for Writing Your Family Stories
     Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond

You can email me to bring one for you, also.  This way, I am selling it here and just delivering it. Email:  aulicino (at sign) hevanet (dot) com

AND...most importantly, you can download the schedule and all the handouts for free by adding the RootsTech 2017 app to your smart phone.  (Just scroll to the bottom for the app or find it in the App Store on your phone.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Smart Phones

Isn't it just like our children to push us into the 21st Century.  Our writing group found this story hilarious, and no doubt Dede's inflections kept us roaring.  Thank you for sharing Dede!  Enjoy, everyone!

Smart Phones

Christmas day brought us kicking and screaming into the modern world of social media. Our daughter Joni gave each of us a smart phone. We have been resisting getting one while declaring our preference for our old tried and true flip phones. To tell the truth we are technically challenged. The new ones came with cases, charging wires, batteries, and a tiny little instruction book. They could do anything a computer could and also had GPS capability. We wouldn't have even considered new phones but Jerry's case had worn out and was no longer made while mine had recently taken a trip to the county jail with one of my grandsons and try as I might I couldn't get it released. But that's another story.

I hadn't been too happy with the new one I got from Jitterbug, it wasn't living up to its advertisements. They say their phones are simple enough for even an old person and big buttons. I wasn't having much luck with mine. So, I had been talking about changing phones. After oohing and awing and thanking Joni we looked at each other with misgivings. Joni reassured us that she would teach us to use them we began the adventure of punching buttons and cursing. After activating them she explained how to use them. It seemed crystal clear. Just swipe the phone and see all the pictures of different functions, then just press what you want the phone to do. OK we tried it out and everything worked just fine.

The next day while sitting in our matching old people recliners, clutching our shinning new phones we tried to make some calls. Oh boy, what fun. I swiped and swiped and Jerry swiped up, down, and with vigor. Nothing happened, nothing. luckily Jerry had his flip phone still working so we called our ever-patient daughter for help. It turned out we had missed a step in our eagerness to learn. You tap the phone twice then swipe it she reminded us. Oh, and don't forget to set up your contact list was her cherry sign off. So, we got the phones on and spent the rest of the time setting up our contacts. I entered home phones, mobile phones, addresses and even e-mail addresses. Needless to say, after doing that we agreed to wait another day before doing anything else.

Another day came and with it much frustration. At least we were both doing the same thing and could help each other. "How do you do this, and what does this thing mean?" echoed through our living room. Plus a few, "blast it I will have to start at the beginning again," and "I hate this phone". Trying to send messages with our new numbers went smoothly but trying to retrieve their messages was, pound the phone frustrating.

Next, we tried the camera out. Jerrys took a nice picture and he snapped happily away taking pictures of the TV, fireplace, his feet and so on. Mine was stuck on taking picture after picture, close up of a horrible looking old lady whose face got angrier and angrier as I kept trying different things to change the camera away from selfie mode. I was in despair seeing myself so close up and looking down which ages you ten years. I did finally find the delete button and got rid of fifteen pictures. Time out. I said, I'm not touching that thing again today.

Another call was made to Joni and she cheerily agreed to come over after work and help us out, by then we had tried some other things and failed but we were getting used to some of the functions. Have you looked at the instruction book she asked? The book is a little 3"x4" thing with, (get your reading glasses out) tiny print. A minimum amount of instructions is covered. Things went well after she spent some time with us. We were confident and bragged to each other how we had learned so quickly. I guess all that yelling, pounding, and cussing was soon forgotten.

Alas someone told Jerry that he could press a function and just speak into the phone and it would do anything he wanted. Good he said; I'm tired of texting. He decided to try it out by calling me.

"Call Dede" he said.

"I don't understand you", a nice lady replied.

Again he said "Call Dede", same result.

Time after time he repeated himself, with the lady saying over and over "I can't understand you.

He started saying rude things to her and cursing her. From the kitchen where I had retreated I suggested he just hang up and forget it. Oh no, he was determined, "Call Dede", "Call Dede" getting louder and angrier, followed me downstairs to my haven in the basement. I don't know what finally happened, and I didn't ask.

Every day brings a new challenge but we are more comfortable with our phones. The other day Joni brought me a Bluetooth for my car so I don’t have to pull over to answer a call, sounds great, you just push a button!  I don't know----

Dede K.

Jan 2017

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Another true story by our writing class' best humorist! And you thought the holidays were stressful! Thank you for sharing Valerie!


The story you are about to hear is true! The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. The actual events, which are about to unfold, all transpired in the god forsaken town baptized Palestine, Texas. This abyss is located 120 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles northwest of Houston. One might say that it is the Texas rendering of the Bermuda Triangle. What could possibly bring a person to such a place you ask? I blame my wedding vows for this predicament:” for better or worse, in sickness and health, till death do us part.” Apparently, this encompasses your spouse’s transfers for his company to unimaginable black holes of civilization. Let the nightmare begin!

The joy of the holiday spirit had permeated the house throughout and it had been transformed into a magical Christmas Disney wonderland. That year the entire Mickey and Minnie Mouse posse of characters enthralled my two little elves ages 5 and 20 months. The tree was bedecked with miniature plush replicas of: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Huey, Louie, Dewy, and of course the two little culprits Chip and Dale. Underneath the tree, the Disneyland Express could be seen and heard chugging its way around the perimeter.

The children cuddled against me as we sat on the couch in front of the crackling roaring fire for our traditional Christmas Eve reading of Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The little ones then hung their stockings with care in hopes that Santa would soon be there. The customary cookies and milk were lovingly placed on the hearth and the little angels were now nestled down in their beds while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

There were still Santa duties to be done. The presents were strategically placed under the tree and the stockings were filled to the brim as the children would soon see. Mama in her kerchief attempted to retire for a long winter’s nap, when all of a sudden there arose such a clatter, my scared son flew into my bed to ask what was the matter. I told him it was Santa out by the tree and that he needed to be quiet so he crawled into bed with me. When the child was finally asleep, I slipped out of the room to investigate the source of the commotion and what to my wondering eyes did I see, but my drunken husband passed out on top of our new fallen Christmas tree! Obviously, he had overindulged in Christmas spirits at the office party. After a quick recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, I made a grisly discovery. There were dismembered Disney character body parts strewn everywhere – arms, legs, heads, torsos, and tails. The scene resembled a horror movie. Perhaps my inebriated husband had suffered an insatiable attack of the munchies. Then there he was standing in the corner with part of Pluto hanging from his mouth. The mass murderer had been caught in the act. The dog did it! Explaining this catastrophe to the kids was my biggest concern at that moment in time.

Securing a body bag, the epic bulk extrication began. With all evidence removed from the scene of the crime, the next phase was mass cremation. The lovely town of Palestine did not have garbage service, so at 2:00 a.m. I was in the backyard at the burn barrel committing what surely must qualify as some sort of sacrilegious act. Somehow, I had the strange feeling that I had just been inducted into the Manson Family.

Returning to the living room to recreate some semblance of Christmas, the husband was removed from the tree and placed not so gently in bed. With the tree returned to its original vertical stance, the presents were rearranged and wrappings and dents repaired. Suddenly the unquestionable sound of a retching dog resounded in my ears. Now what? Undigested pieces of Santa cookies were spewing from his mouth along with some Pluto’s legs and Mickey’s head. Is this Christmas ever going to end? Another round of cleanup had to be launched. 

At 5:30 Christmas morning, mama had not yet been to bed. The stirrings of excited children were heard throughout the house. My son bounded into the living room and stared in utter disbelief at our now barren tree. “Where are all my Disney friends?” he demanded. This was going to have to be the performance of a lifetime! Then baby sister added to the festivities by uncontrollably crying over her defunct tree. With both tykes nuzzled in my lap, I told them about other children in the world that didn’t have any ornaments for their tree and how sad that made them. Santa wanted all children to be happy. The story continued with all little ears hanging on every word. I continued. “Santa woke me up last night and told me how proud he was of both of you and how special you were. He asked me if he could take the ornaments from our tree to hang on the trees of children who didn’t have any. They would wake up Christmas morning and be so surprised. It would be a present from the two of you delivered by Santa.” My beaming son gave me his high five of approval and the children simultaneously sprang from my lap rambunctiously ripping open their presents. That started the family tradition of donating ornaments and toys to less fortunate children.

At 6:30 a.m. the 24-pound turkey was placed in the oven. We were sharing our holiday dinner preparations with friends and the turkey and pumpkin pies fell into my domain of responsibility. The children remained in the living room gleefully entertained by their new toys. Suddenly my son started to scream. I rushed into the living room to see what was the matter. In the middle of all the presents stood the dog, bent over emitting unpleasant substances from both ends. The kids were crying so I explained that the dog must have eaten something that upset his stomach. If only they knew! This never-ending Christmas nightmare was getting old fast!

The husband finally showed his mug around 11:00 a.m. He was a sight to behold with tree burn all over his face. He complained about having a headache. There may have been some sarcastic retort on my part about wishing reindeer had pranced on his head. Due to my age and failing memory at this writing, I am unclear on that precise point. Pies were completed and placed on the table waiting for the turkey to be done. At 12:30, it was time to remove the bird. Upon opening the oven door, I was surprised to find an unheated oven and a stone cold turkey. The oven element had failed. Dealing with a bad cold, my sense of smell was nonexistent that day. Standing there holding a foil pan housing a 24-pound turkey an unforeseen development took place. The bottom of the pan gave way and Tom turkey fell to the floor. Stunned, I found myself looking through now bottomless pan at the spectacle of my dog greedily licking his new found best friend.

The dog was immediately banished to the garage for his own safety, and the chaos continued. Realizing the uncooked pies were now MIA (missing in action) from the table, a full investigation ensued. At that moment, there was the sound of uncontrollable giggling wafting from the dining room. There they were my two little angels from heaven finger painting on the pristine white walls with uncooked pumpkin puree. Is Christmas over yet? HELP!!!!!!!

What else could possibly happen? As though on cue my husband entered and with great concern for only himself asked, “When is dinner? I’m hungry.” The till death do us part segment of my wedding vows rushed through my head as I started to step toward him. Concerned for his safety, I joined the dog in the garage.

Finally, I thought there might be an infinitesimal shred of hope that this miserable day might end. Guess again!  My son’s bellows quickly shattered that dream. “Mom the toilet won’t flush, and it’s throwing up poop all over the floor.” The concept of sewers was foreign to the inhabitants of Palestine. This would not be a simple plunger fix. This was a dirty job, but it had to be done. Armed with a shovel and a special unclogging tool, I made my way outside to the sceptic field of dreams. I was fashionably decked out in all things rubber: gloves, boots, poncho, and mask. Thus began the archaic dig to uncover buried treasure. After two hours, the dastardly deed had been triumphantly accomplished. Then the most unbelievable Christmas magic unfolded right before my eyes.

I was covered in poop from my head to my toe

I found myself wishing for some new fallen snow

It had been one hell of a day, I want you to know

When up in the sky there appeared such a sight

It was a shooting star with a very bright light

 I made my wish and decided to call it a night

As I disappeared into the house you could hear me exclaim

Merry Christmas to all and by this time next year, I hope to be SANE!

--Valerie S.