Category Archives: Blogging

Should Someone Ask You

Should someone ask you, “Who are you? Who are your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents?” Would you answer, “What’s in a name anyway? Is your name important to you? Did you ever struggle with your identity or search for your ancestors?”

Alesia at home in the photo taken 2021

Let me answer that your name makes you special, different from anyone else. It is our most important, unique identity which separate us from the crowd. The ancient of books declares every creature has an identity, even mankind. Where in our family tree could we be found generations yet to be, were it not for a name?

How unique we are, to pass on with not only our name, but parts of our personalities, idiosyncrasies and alas heritage. So shall we not expand our imaginations as we unfold our majestic closet of skeletons, or rather a colorful fantasy of generations.

We are all called to do something special in our lives and with our lives, something that no one else can do in quite the same way. People research their family trees for many reasons. Some are just curious, others have a deep interest in history; many trace there genealogy as a leisure hobby; but this research has expanded beyond fairytales of whom many were told a cover up story.

Should someone ask you who you are now after a DNA test, what would you say if you found out you are not who you were told for over a half century? As a huge history buff, looking back at Napoleonic times, we know he divided and conquered. Much upheaval occurred in those historical days and if he needed to make a kingdom, change names, and create order as he saw it, that is exactly what he would do. One such example he had power in his time was the Knightly Order. This potential to change peoples’ titles or names was something you would think only the kings of yesteryear could do, but in fact it is something that has been done since the beginning of time.

Who I am was chosen for me. It brought good along with rewards and regret of which I can not change. As it were, my vivid imagination allows me to peek in the window of the past to see what it may reveal of family I never knew. In today’s terms, ghost kingdom comes to mind thanks to the top series This Is Us.

So please indulge me as I describe my kingdom for a moment to you:

I dreamt I saw a huge gate where my unknown family was waiting for me. The only problem was the gate was on a high rocky plain that I would need to scale. So there I went climbing up with every ounce of strength I can muster. Getting to the gate and peering through grand window, I saw through. The spaces in front of me were of vast gardens waiting to be explored. I could also see multiple zig zags of trails to a majestic landscape where flowers were blooming as far as my eyes could see.

Stop. Reality Check.

I sat down before I really looked through the gate. I was not sure what the view was going to be. I realized I had a magical spell of my own doing placed on me and my imagination could take me anywhere.

Should someone ask you if you will go through that door, what would your answer be? Where do you find your satisfaction? Is it finding a prince in a kingdom in a beautiful garden or a man in prison looking downward in despair?

So many questions. Some answered . Some with no answer. If you do not mind me giving you a little advise before entering your Ghost Kingdom, think about changing your eye glass prescription. The view may look so much clearer, although that is if you have a good eye doctor.

To learn more about Alesia’s work in the field of knowing your genetic identity, mental health, and education please go to www.righttoknow.us and feel free to write her there if you need a referral or assistance in your own search for truth.

www.righttoknow..us

Cancer

Recently at my last appointment at the VA , I met this amazing character actor Arlen Dean Snyder from the film Heartbreak Ridge. Photo courtesy of IMDb.

The Today Show has one of my favorite weatherman Al Roker who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. As a familiar face on television, he has actively decided to educate the public and bring awareness. Mr. Roker’s doctor opted to do a biopsy. The pathology report showed an aggressive prostate cancer and he will need surgery.

Last November in 2019, I reported to my family physician with the VA a worrisome spot on my face under my eye. Being suspicious, I looked up the best surgical dermatologist in Seattle. In documented emails discussing back and forth almost begging my doctor , I requested this specialist. The only thing she offered was a picture taken of my face. In December of 2019 that photo of my skin lesion was read to be benign.

Again, I asked to have it taken off and I was made to feel like I wanted a face lift. This was very disturbing to me so I made a decision to go to a civilian surgeon. Unfortunately because of COVID, my surgery was not until July, 2020 and by this time the suspicious mole had grown four times its size since December of 2019. The good news was the specimen was taken to pathology to be read and I went home to heal.

For two months into the second week of September, I slowly mended. Never hearing from my doctor, I thought I dodged a bullet.  Starting to receive my bills for this surgery I called the billing offices. I mentioned to the billing personnel never being notified of my pathology report. She stated staff would call. Soon my phone rang and the nurse gives me the shocking news. “I am sorry to say your path report was scanned into your chart and it was missed. You have cancer.”

Shockingly I responded, “You are kidding me, right. How could you guys do this?”

As I hung up my phone, the anger was setting in as I had to go back to square one with the VA and get the doctor I originally requested. It has taken the VA system another two months to get me into this specialist and finally on Monday I will have an extensive surgical procedure to clean out the cancer and work on getting clear margins with plastic surgery if needed.

As a highly energized advocate for myself, but falling through the cracks at every turn has become like PTSD. Their were a number of doctors involved in my cluster of poor care and a VA system that is slow and not conducive to timeliness. I am not writing this to blame anyone as that is apparent there is enough blame to go around. Rather this should be looked at as a system’s failure along with physician’s fatigue syndrome ( lack of a better term).

I do not know if this is a volume and processing issue in the VA system keeping up with the soldiers’ care, but this was important for me to share with you as it is something that we can and should do better.

Think of me next Monday as I have more surgery and thanks to Al Roker for being public. It has given me some courage to do the same about my cancer. The wounds I have carried throughout my life are deep, but it does not mean I should not share with my readers. I need you guys ever more praying and sending healing thoughts.

Meeting the actor Arlen Dean Snyder at the VA was a lot of fun. This is a really nice guy.

 

 

 

If I Died Tomorrow

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Monday would be a good day for gardening. The weather man convinced me of that. I bought plants at Costco Sunday evening and surprisingly it was a breeze shopping despite the COVID stock-up frenzy the past two weeks.  Driving  by earlier in the morning, a line went around the building with no end in sight. No one would believe what COVID has done.

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How Did We Get Here?

March 3, 2020:

“How did we get here?” My mind wandering in disbelief as two men cough near by.

“COVID I will not panic, but you got my attention.”  Then another person sneezes.

My name shows up on the computer screen indicating my meds are ready.  Going to the window the distressed lady shouts out to me,

“Look at the spit all over my window.  We have two Coronavirus patients in the ER and my family just called me and said don’t come home.”

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What is home anyway? Is it as safe as you think if you’re not invited any longer?

 

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Berlin And The Hollow Tooth

Tip three:  Discuss Holiday ideas with those who live in the area.  That’s my uncle! Consider Rick Steves guidebooks for additional information .  I like his books.

93B29B59-7139-4982-A428-A1BC9ED8122DSitting in my Uncle Peter’s small, but efficient flat in the Charlottenburg borough of Berlin,  we studied very old photos. He lived within minutes of the largest surviving royal palace in Berlin actually called Charlottenburg.  Sharing these pictures brought him happiness yet also caused him such consternation.  He recalled as a boy how he and my mom ran to the castle for protection when the city was being bombed by the Russians.  While hiding and playing on the grounds, he did not comprehend WWII.

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Berlin: Who Are You?

D9B4BAB5-024D-4FB5-8FC3-8BDC021C1BABThirty years ago Berlin’s wall came down.  I was working in Germany when that happened from 1989-1992.  After a nightshift at the military hospital, I went home to watch the news on the Armed Forces Network.  It seemed surreal to visualize the East Germans and many others excitedly chiseling the stone wall away!

On my recent trip to Berlin, it was with the wall in mind that I began another day exploring my mother’s hometown.   In my last post , I gave the tip to spend at least two days in the Mitte area.  Tip two is to look at Berlin through the eyes of history.

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Introducing Kara Deyerin

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This photo was taken at a recent event that International Speaker Catherine St. Clair (L) spoke at that Kara and I hosted in Seattle.  Bruce Scott was presenting us with bird houses he made for each of us as a thank you.  Kara is to my far right

Hello Folks,

I want to introduce you all to my friend Kara who has become an unexpectedly wonderful friend as we journey together on our separate yet in many ways same path.  Give her a big hello and let her know you have read from her by commenting below.  Happy Friday all!! I have provided a link to her blog below, but as many of you know WordPress links do not always work or is that me messing up? haha Enjoy friends!

WHY MY DNA SURPRISE ROCKED MY IDENTITY/UNEXPECTEDLY JEWISH

BY KARA DEYERIN

Somehow you ended up taking an over-the-counter DNA test. Perhaps the commercial of lederhosen versus a kilt sucked you in. Or maybe you received the test as a gift for your birthday, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. Whatever brought you to the moment where you found yourself spitting into a little tube isn’t important. The only thing that matters is your little vial turned out to be Pandora’s box. And now that it’s open, you can’t go back.

When I took my DNA test I expected to find where in Africa my father’s ancestors hailed from. I was ready to visit Africa wearing a colorful Dashiki, I just needed to know which countries to visit. Being descended from slaves means my ancestry is lost to decades of oppression and rape. I wanted to know my exact heritage for myself and my three sons. I wanted to show my pride in my African heritage.

The moment my DNA results arrived, I knew there was a problem. My pie chart showed I was indeed 50% something, but it was an African ethnicity. I was 50% Ashkenazi Jew with zero African DNA—yes, 0% (Even my husband has a tiny bit). My foundation was rocked. First, because the ethnicity I was raised to believe was me was a lie and second because this meant the man on my birth certificate with not my father. I am an NPE, “Not Parent Expected.”

After I pulled myself from the abyss of my NPE discovery and could share my new reality with people, “I am not half black—I am Jewish and the man on my birth certificate is wrong,” a common response sent me running back towards the blackness. “It changes nothing, you are the same you.” They’re right it changes nothing and yet it changes EVERYTHING.

I’ve spent the past year and half thinking about identity. Why did my DNA results make me not want to look in the mirror? Why was my reflection now that of a stranger? Why am I experiencing an identity crisis? Apart from my name, which by the way isn’t what it should’ve been too, what makes me—me? Or you—you?

The man who coined the phrase identity crisis was Erik Erikson who interestingly suffered from his own crisis not too dissimilar to my own. He was raised Jewish but looked Scandinavian and didn’t know his biological father. As an adult, he changed his name and held himself out to be Scandinavian burying his Jewish past. Even though he coined the phrase and spent years studying the issue, I don’t think he ever really resolved his identity crisis.

According to Merriam-Webster, an identity crisis is “a personal psychosocial conflict especially in adolescence that involves confusion about one’s social role and often a sense of loss of continuity to one’s personality.” It’s the last part of the definition that resonates with me. Why did my DNA results and NPE status lead me to lose my stability in knowing who I was?

I brainstormed what I believe shapes our identity into three categories: Genetics, Culture, and Environment. Each of these categories has certain contributions that shape who we are.

Genetics Culture Environment
Race Family Interests
Gender Ethnicity Occupation
Physical Attributes Religion Events
Talents Nationality Friends

In looking at this list, the Genetics category really only had one thing that changed, my race. My talents didn’t change nor did my gender or physical attributes. But I think there’s something more going on than just an actual change. While there was only one literal change, the lens in which I viewed myself is now different. This perception is just as important as any actual changes.

Before when I looked in the mirror, I knew who I was looking at. I was the daughter of Kenneth Vassar and Joey Michaels. Now that half of that equation was removed, I didn’t know who I was seeing. I no longer could make the comparisons we’ve all made growing up. You know, when you look in the mirror to see if you’ve inherited your nose from dad or your eyes from your grandma.

I remember looking at pictures of Kenny and my mom and thinking, well maybe it’s possible. Now that I knew it wasn’t, I wanted to know who I looked like. I was desperate to know. I hated looking in the mirror and not knowing who I was looking at. So while my physical attributes hadn’t changed, the comparisons I’d been making my entire life were no longer valid. When considering perception, I can say my physical attributes and race are now different than I thought they were. This means half of my Genetic category changed.

I believe Culture has a strong influence on who we are. Our identity is developed by the stories and family traditions we’re immersed in growing up. Many of the stories I’d heard growing up didn’t apply to me, but I embraced them as mine because it was my family’s lore and traditions. Now the only connection I have to this part of me is my past; hearing the stories of people. I wonder if this is what it’s like for the kid who spent all of his childhood at his friend’s house? Do the traditions of a family a latchkey child spends his time with become his?  I think the answer is “partially.” The Culturecan be yours, but because you know your Genetics isn’t part of those traditions, you feel a little like they’re borrowed. You learn from the stories, but they are not yours.

My nationality is the same, I‘m still an American, but my ethnicity has changed. I’m no longer half black but Jewish. While I’ve come to understand what being Jewish means is complicated, I do know my desire to learn about my heritage is just as strong as it was before my DNA results. Heck, it’s that desire that brought me into this mess. And one can’t help but think about Israel if one is Jewish. Not that I’m thinking about changing my nationality, but I do believe a trip to Israel is now very high on my bucket list.

Many of you know religion is a tricky thing for me if you’ve been following my blog. I was not raised in a religious environment. I believe organized religion has done more harm than good in this world. So, the fact that Reform Judaism resonates with me is as shocking to me as my DNA results. I am trying to explore the warmth and sense of community Judaism brings me. This is a big change for me.

I do not believe family is solely those you are genetically related to, but there is something about that blood connection that means something. You know, the deadbeat relative you give a second chance to you wouldn’t give to a random guy on the street or perhaps not even to a friend. Growing up it was just mom and me and thankfully our relationship is as strong as it was before my DNA results. The connection with my husband and children hasn’t changed and I am grateful for that. In college, I dated a man whose mother couldn’t accept me because I was half black (she wanted her son to marry someone Jewish—hahaha). What if my husband was anti-Semitic and couldn’t deal with me discovering I am now half Jewish? Kenny’s and my relationship is complicated; it was complicated before my NPE. But he encouraged me to seek the truth about my heritage and family before anyone else did. Upon reflection, I am thankful my immediate family ties are the same.

While my inner family ties haven’t changed, half of my extended family is different. It is heart-breaking most of my biological paternal family has passed and no one living is willing to share my family lore or traditions with me. Much of the cultural influence affecting my identity is in flux— no wonder the category of Culture feels like it’s spinning in shaky territory.

At first glance, my Environment appears to be the most stable for my identity. I’ve made plenty of new friends along this journey, but I’ve kept all of my old friends too.  But this news has caused my interests to change. I now have many Jewish cookbooks and my family is trying foods like Kugel and Shakshuka. We are questioning whether or not to practice Christmas how we used to. And, I have the shocking event of the results of my DNA test, which certainly altered the trajectory of my life. I imagine the reverberations of this news are still yet to be experienced. Perhaps my Environment is more fluid than I thought.

After looking at this I can see why I’m having an identity crisis. By learning about my new family, exploring my Jewish roots, embracing Reform Judaism, maybe evening visiting Israel instead of Africa as I’d planned I can rebuild my identity—it will just take time; lots of time. I doubt I will resolve my identity crisis, but I hope someday I can be comfortable in my new skin. Hopefully, Erik Erikson eventually felt the identity he created fit him well too.

If you meet a fellow NPE, be kind to them, there’s a lot going on. Please don’t tell them it doesn’t change anything because it does. Tell them you love them no matter what and you’ll be there to hold their hand when they need. Their NPE news changed their life path forever and they’ll need a shoulder to lean on.

If you discover you have a new relative in your family, I hope you take a moment to at least answer their questions about medical and family history. I knew their news is shocking and likely causing you to see your family in a new light. You too need time to reevaluate things. Please remember, your new relative is dealing with Pandora’s box and trying to find a way to rebuild their identity. All they want to know is who they are. You would want nothing less in their shoes.

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Why My DNA Surprise Rocked My Identity

 

My Wellbeing

fullsizeoutput_514f  I just came home from my doctor appointment at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.  I have been in remission for quite some time from cancer, however, I am followed up for tumors in my right breast.  So far they are benign. My wellbeing is dependent upon consistently having checkups.  That story changed after I took a direct to consumer DNA test.  My life became a bit complicated…Maybe you will relate.  Come along for a story friends…..

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I Stopped My World

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My writing table evokes creativity. 

I stopped my world yesterday.  It was a simple thing.  First, I started my day cooking a meal for my autistic son.  Driving it to his apartment to the delight of his feasting eyes on homemade chicken tenders was so worth it.  Shortly a new job coach arrived to Luke’s home.  We are hoping to increase Luke’s structured employment or volunteer  hours in the community.  The meeting went well.

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