Ancestry DNA Test

(Written in 2012) recently entered the DNA/ethnicity business. For $100, you can have a DNA sample analyzed to determine your ethnicity and possibly find others out there who might be related.

Keep in mind too that ethnicity doesn’t mean what most people generalize it to mean, especially when geographical isolators are used to help you identify your origins.

I was very interested in the getting the results. While it wasn’t exactly what I had expected in terms of information, the process taught me several inter-related things. The results will expand as more and more people participate in this particular system with

Unlike many, I didn’t worry at all about the privacy aspect. What most people don’t realize is that your DNA is EASY to collect – and anyone can get a sample of your DNA if they wish – and have it tested. This includes your mom, ex-girlfriend, boss, or worst enemy. It’s just a reality now.

Ancestry also allows you to connect with genetic relatives, if you wish. This part is quite interesting, too. It requires some effort to understand. I’m so used to generalizing, like most of the rest of the world, that I have to train myself to stop being sloppy when I’m thinking about genetics and how it works.

There are several other services out there now which offer similar services. 23andMe and Family Tree DNA are two of the most reputable. I’m going to use one of those in the near future, too.

Burial and Pallbearers For Mom

 (From September 2013)

One unusual aspect of my mom’s funeral was that the funeral home my sister used defined the utility of the word “pallbearer” literally. As the brief graveside service ended, the funeral director called upon the pallbearers to lift the casket with straps and put my mom and her casket into the dug grave. Many people were shocked or surprised by this. It caught me off guard, even though I had seen the grave the night before and as the service started: there was no platform or lifter, which seems to be almost a requirement by today’s standard.

My sister chose the funeral home that mom had found that would allow her to be buried at a greatly reduced price. It was tremendously less expensive. Up until very recently, I had thought that mom was still going to be cremated. Part of mom’s growing reluctance for cremation was a result of one of my aunts talking to her about her particular beliefs about burial and cremation. To be honest, I wanted mom to be cremated – and not only because I hate the entire concept of burial as we do it today. I kept telling my sister that since she was the one who stepped up to care for mom as she was dying of cancer, it would ultimately be her decision. I’ve written before about how appreciative I am of my sister’s recent efforts:

Before I forget, too: mom was late for her own visitation. The hearse and her body had went to the wrong place. Another admission: my wife and passed the hearse on the roadside on the way to the Lutheran church. My wife conjectured that it probably was mom in that hearse on the roadside. I stupidly said, “There are 100s of hearses in Monroe County.” This is the point where I eat a plate of crow for being absolutely, totally wrong. (It had in fact been mom’s hearse…)

Not to pour salt on anyone’s feelings, but mom had told me repeatedly that she didn’t want a viewing. She got one, though. I do not know how to say it with decorum or in good taste as there is a strong taboo against saying it – but mom looked terrible in the open casket. I’ll spare you the details and you should use your imagination. But even as I saw her hair above the rim of the coffin, I knew that it was going to be bad. I don’t blame the funeral service or my sister. Mom’s appearance in many ways was a slap-to-the-face reminder about how literal death is and how viewings can be. With a closed casket, maybe we could have been “spared” the shock of it. But why should we want to be spared? Cancer is a destroyer. Mom died a hard death and making a herculean effort to “restore” her is almost blasphemy to me. For those in attendance with beliefs in the afterlife, it should not matter, for if the body is truly just a vessel, it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether ANY restoration was done. I know I sound like an old stooge, going on about the artificial facade of most funerals. Whatever helps the family. But I can only react and comment as myself. I wish mom had been cremated and if not, that she had been buried without being exposed again to the world. But at least those parts were more honest than many I’ve witnessed. As tough-minded as I am, I think I might be haunted for a while, thinking of how startling mom’s appearance was.

5 of my sister’s 6 boys and my nephew Quinlan lowered my mom into the grave. The oldest boy had to step aside, as he almost slipped in. I tried to get over to the grave before they went sideways with the coffin but by then one of the boys had stepped hard on the edge and righted it as they lowered it into the ground. I forgot to mention that mom’s coffin didn’t have a liner or vault. Many people think that these are required for burials in Arkansas. They aren’t – nor should they be. Mom’s coffin went directly into the ground. It didn’t have a special seal or gasket, either.

I told them all that I was glad they got to participate directly with the burial. I explained to them that while I don’t believe in burial, I truly believe that burial should have nothing extra involved. It should be just the wrapped body going into the ground – and not because of the needless money involved, but rather to acknowledge that death is real, personal and meaningful in its own right. Much of our processions seem to distance us from our connection to death and the ground. Maybe the pallbearers thought I was crazy for thinking it was all a good thing – but I do – and it was.

Among other things affecting my mom’s passing was the incredible delta heat. It was 100 degrees on the day she was buried. Despite being well into September, both the heat and humidity were at record levels. Everything was baked and even the cologne and perfume applied earlier in the morning had burned into a different, strong smell from the sun.

The church service was very hot, too.  The country church didn’t have the cooling capacity for so many people, especially during record heat outside. Mom’s inside service ended around noon, just about the time the sun started to angrily beat down everything in its way.As in further punishment, my wife had to step into another room and leave me alone for most of the service, as the heat was about to kill her. Before I forget to mention it, I had a mild case of heat exhaustion the day before, on Sunday. I don’t know how close I came to serious injury but I knew afterwards that it had been a close call. I felt horrible for my wife, as I knew she was going to feel guilty for not being there with me.

Sundown the night before, my wife and I had driven the circuit out to and including Upper Cemetery in Rich, Monroe County, Arkansas. The heat was declining, but still over 90. As we drove through the cemetery to the swamp’s edge, the bugs were hitting the car with surprising force. Even as we parked and stopped, the bugs continued to hit the windows, top and doors hard enough to thud. I compare it to walking through a sheet of falling skittles. I jumped out of the car, dozens of bugs, flies, mosquitoes and dragon flies hitting me. I went over to lift the plywood off of the grave recently dug for my mom’s coffin. I wanted to linger and stare at the headstones, but the insects were starting to use me as a landing pad, even though I had only been out of the car for a few moments. I’ve always loved cemeteries and at sunset, they evolve into something magical. At Upper Cemetery at sundown, the ebbing sun hits the swamps and trees in a startling pattern. It is at that moment that I can sometimes feel the line of ancestors behind me, signalling to inhale deeply the richness of the swamp.

Windows OneDrive Backup

Microsoft OneDrive

You can also google it and read the Wikipedia information.

Perhaps not as “hip” as Dropbox or other similar services, but it is the workhorse of deliberate online backup with massively more free storage.

Personally, I think it serves best as a picture archiver. With a current announced size of 7 gigabytes, you can backup an extraordinary amount of photos for free. Once uploaded, you can control whether anyone else sees them, allow zip downloads of entire sets, organize them into nested folders, tag them, etc.

(Since I was an original member of Skydrive, I kept my 25 gigabytes with OneDrive. Extra storage is dirt cheap through Microsoft. Also, Microsoft has a dropbox-like interface now, too.)

Mostly, though, I use it because it is easy to use, free, and has massive storage.  It can be used for documents and other files, too – I just don’t use it that way personally.

I gave up trying to tell friends and family about it. Frankly, most people are just too lazy or disinterested to take advantage. They don’t “have time” (whatever that means!) to backup their pictures. When an emergency strikes, they are suddenly without any of their data and the crying begins.

If you don’t have all your favorite pictures backed up, the day will come when you have none – and no means to get them back. Windows OneDrive solves this problem. You don’t have to backup ALL your pictures, just the ones that you identify as treasures.

Orthography, Simplicity ~

Orthography is a fancy word to indicate things that deal with the written language, usually regarding spelling.


Most people aren’t good spellers and will eat fire to avoid showing they can’t spell well.


Bad spelling is NOT a problem of intelligence for most people. Correct spelling just doesn’t improve their lives much once they are out of school or have jobs that don’t require exacting detail with language. In my opinion, the ability to identify words in their correct forms is a testament of education, but not necessarily intelligence. But it’s not really a practically important thing to stress about.


Since all great ideas start small, I’d like to throw one out there in order to be able to claim in 30 years that I started it. 🙂

Many people fail to use a lot of interesting words in written form that they might say frequently. Mostly, it’s due to the fear that it isn’t being used properly or that it’s spelled like a madman on meth.


I’ve always advocated that people just “try” to give it a shot and let the asshats pick on them about it if they so wish. We’re all wormfood anyway, so I can’t see how obsessing over spelling makes us better people. Better essayists and writers, maybe, but not better writers with better ideas. I know a lot of creative, funny people who would be fantastic writers but who wouldn’t dream of using words like “chaotic” or “imaginative.”


If you look on the top left key of your keyboard, you will see a “~” (tilde) key there. It originally meant that a word was being abbreviated. In math, the “~” mark means “equivalent to.” It’s also already being used to indicate the idea of “approximately.” If you’re a linux OS fan, you see it a lot, too.


Anywho, my point is this:

we should begin to use the “~” mark somewhere in a word where we think we’ve botched the spelling. Thus, “neandurthal~” is the same as “neanderthal.” You could also put it at the beginning or middle of a word. By using it, you are deliberately pointing out that you think the word is not spelled correctly. If you did actually err, you still are getting the word across. Example: “Jim, why don’t you ~sawnter over to the store and buy us some lacksatives~?”


Even the word “misspell” is one of the most-misspelled words in the language.

Cell Phone Admonition

A cellphone is an incredible tool. Unlike most, I still can look at one and marvel a little at how much convenience and technology is packed into the device. While I am still insistent on using a text-and-call phone instead of the complex type, my simple phone still contains a massive amount of smart built into it.

Unfortunately for those of us using phones, we sometimes forget that we are missing the big picture. Granted, when everyone owned a landline home phone, it seems like even then that most people acted as if we were slaves to the devices. How could we hear it ring and not answer? How could we not have an answering machine, call waiting, call forwarding, etc? For whatever reason, I never felt the compulsion to answer the phone simply because it rang. I know that I was in the minority on that front. However, I also know that it made me more at peace than other people that I knew.

I couldn’t stand the thought of having a phone in the bedroom where I try to relax the most. If a phone had to be in the room where I slept, I always had the ringer turned off and any lights rendered invisible to me. Any true emergency would result in a loud banging on the front door, if necessary. All other calls would be better served by 911 responders. Having a cellphone hasn’t changed my outlook. In fact, I always make it a point to leave my phone in another room. Having it in the bedroom creates an artificial importance to my presence.

A few years ago, an actual emergency ensued and my wife and I didn’t know it. I can’t even remember if my wife’s phone was in the room or not, to be honest.  We didn’t even hear the loud bangs on the door due to the noise-suppression magic of a box fan to mask extraneous sounds in the night. When we got up the next morning, the emergency had been addressed and we had to respond accordingly – but we got a night’s rest, which turned out to be the biggest gift we could have received in order to survive the next few days.

Since then, all I have seen from having a phone present is an interruption to normal sleep, a continuation of the perceived necessity of being available, in “case we are needed.”

I correctly or incorrectly believe that having a cellphone in the bedroom creates a mental barrier to relaxation. The phone “could” ring at any moment, someone “might” need us, etc. As a minimalist and avoider of the “Just In Case” lifestyle, this really drives me crazy.

How did people manage to lead good, relaxing lives before telephones, before technology afforded an always-in-touch lifestyle? I am not idealizing the past, as there were a great many impediments that diminished a person’s quality of life compared to our modern time.

I am constantly catching myself disliking technology when in reality I am disliking the automatic response we seemed to have trained ourselves into. It will be a few more years until we have embedded cellphones that are always with us.

At some point, each of us has to ponder and decide if we are using technology and cellphones appropriately, or if we are misusing them at times to lend our lives that self-importance that being reachable by “someone” at all times brings with it.

Cell Phone Voicemail Etiquette

Although it’s just my opinion and I’m probably the last person who should be able to recommend normal behavior, especially with cellphones, I will nevertheless offer an obvious guideline. If you are going to take the time to call someone, especially in lieu of texting/email/messaging, please state the general nature of your call when you leave a voicemail. Please don’t say something inane such as “Call me back” and end the call. If we could call such a vote today, my vote is that we shall henceforth never returns calls to people who leave messages like that. Ever.

For example, if you are afraid that you might not have either enough time or energy to communicate your message, say ” 911 ” for an emergency and ” 411 ” for a request for an at-leisure call back. Either one is short, yet contains the essential 2 types of messages.

Better still, why not leave a message something like this: “I have very important or juicy news that I personally and desperately wish to tell you. Call me back.” By doing this, the person you are calling will immediately know without threat of stress that the call is not time-sensitive or urgent.

Under no circumstances is it fair or wise to sound desperate without leaving clues as to whether it’s a true emergency, something that it important to you but not necessarily to me, or any combination thereof.

While I’m moaning and complaining, if you are going to take the time to call, leave a message – any kind of message. Take a second and be creative. If you are going to make me go through the motions of checking voicemail, putting in my password and listening, please make it seem like there was some effort and genuine effort involved. Zombie calls should be made by legitimate zombies.

I think that we all need to focus when we call other people and be better communicators.

It’s unfair to leave the person getting your message without a clear understanding of WHY you called.

Again, just a few words from my frazzled brain for you to consider.

I Admit to Not Being A Great Driver

Most people state that they are better than average drivers. Statistically, this can’t be the case. With males, it is nigh on to impossible to get one to admit that his driving ability is anything short of Indy 500-ready at all times.
Not me. I have to remind myself to be mindful. I don’t consider myself to be a good driver at all. 
(Unless my insurance agent is reading this, in which case I am the best driver west of the Mississippi.) 
I also wish all the vehicles I drive had rear video cameras that I could easily see on the dash. How normal people feel confident as they speed, seemingly oblivious to the imminent death on all sides, is a mystery to me.  Seeing a wide angle shot of traffic as it approaches would be the single best thing for drivers at my skill level. Could someone surprise me with a retrofit at no charge? Thanks, and your children will be safer for this way if you do. 

Economy Causes Cremation to Be More Popular

Another news story today indicating that cremation is finally getting really popular. Even if it is due to the economy, it’s great news.

I like it when society comes around to my way of thinking.   : )

Cremation is almost always a better choice. The only downside is that the industry might use it as an excuse to creatively jack up the price to make even more money. But that’s because funeral homes need to focus more on present services rather than hardware. I can easily think of several ways to make more money.

Hopefully, the stigma of cremation people used to have will subside – forever.

Open Door Policy

My friend Joe loaned me is copy of a law enforcement-related leadership book. As with most such accidental occurrences, it was quite interesting. When the original presentation by the author of the book was announced where Joe works, he was less than enthusiastic. It turned out that he enjoyed the presentation and learned to look at things slightly differently.

One of the amusing revelations is that the speaker talked about the stupidity of the ‘open door’ policy. Managers claim that an open door signifies availability, listening, and responsiveness.

The speaker explained that this is, in fact, counter-productive and wrong.

Why wouldn’t a manager be out among his subordinates, in their areas and comfort zones? He’s being paid to manage them and therefore should be familiar with their world and jobs. Expecting subordinates to go to his office where they are not comfortable and where they normally perform no duties is actually bad for the organization.

If a manager goes to his people’s areas, he is learning and his subordinates can talk to him without being afraid of appearing as if they are brown-nosing or ratting on the group.

I’m supposing that Joe had never heard this commentary before because he seemed to like it.
I’ve heard it before – and I like it, too.

Pefect Organization System … and Other Myths

There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ organizing system. Unlike other people who talk about minimalism, I’m not talking about a literal interpretation of that statement – as any system can be improved. I think the human element determines most of the likelihood of improvement or success for someone trying to organize. For what it is worth, a superbly-motivated person can do a miracle with plain cardboard boxes or plastic bins. (Just as you can get a trainer, go to the best gym, buy pre-packaged foods OR control your diet sensibly and walk a lot to lose weight.)

Organization is never a finished system. Anyone can set up an astonishingly efficient method to deal with excess, clutter, and stuff – but few stay the course. Possessions tend to multiply quietly. It’s not a sudden process.

It is the intent to implement a system, any system, and work it that matters. If you have disposable income and wish to invest in an expensive ‘name-brand’ organization system, please do so. But your system won’t outperform someone who listens to me and has nothing but cardboard boxes and a commitment to try something different.

Each person has his or her own balance in the house. How much stuff should be in there is highly subjective. But even though the amount of stuff is subjective, the ATTITUDE toward the stuff is strikingly different for a motivated organizer/minimalist.

If I were to go into someone’s house to help them with organization, among the first questions I might ask is “Regardless of what is in there, are you willing to consider ridding yourself of some of it?” Reticence when answering indicates that there is more going on than just a huge pile of stuff in the way. Organizing might help, but only to allow the person to pile more stuff inside the house. And so on…

As for me personally, I have a lot of stuff around me that I would personally get rid of and then determine whether I miss it or not. But I live with another person who has different ideas of what ‘enough’ is. My wife is much less inclined than most of her contemporaries to want a bunch of stuff, including shoes, clothes and strange kitchen appliances. My balance is determined externally by my wife rather than my own comfort zone. I probably would have 100 pictures and pieces of interesting things on the walls and 2 pieces of furniture per room on the floor. I think it would be an interesting game to see just how few things we would use and need for a year.

Just like everyone else, I have an ‘extra’ room, the one that most people feel like they need. It’s the room-size equivalent of the crazyglue drawer in most people’s kitchen. Everything can easily get piled in there, especially when you want to quickly (instead of permanently) reduce clutter. As a minimalist, every time I put something in the extra room, I consciously note that I’m doing it. I know if I stop noting that I’m doing it, the extra room would probably end up like most people’s houses – crypts for stuff instead of living places.

Talking to many people has led me to the conclusion that many people are wanna-be hoarders. They have an attic, an extra room, basement or garage that gets stuffed to conceal how much unwanted stuff they have piled in their house. It doesn’t add fun or interest to their lives; it is there because of the perceived value and the horror of the thought of it being given away. They know they should give 1/2 of it away but somehow the piles of stuff obtains its own gravitational field, so it sits, accusing you year after year. Moving it from the living room corner to a closet or other place doesn’t address the “stuff stress” that comes with it.