Genealogy helps you live for today!

I thought last night’s “Finding Your Roots” was pretty interesting – more interesting than I sometimes find the show. “Finding Your Roots,” is a genealogy show that, some may disagree with me, often focuses on celebrities with slavery in their family trees. Famous sports figures with slave owners and slaves in the family! People with absent fathers with slavery or abolitionists in the family! Famous journalists with slave owners and slaves in the families- with a bonus that one slave owner was hacked to death with a hoe (honestly, didn’t Henry Louis Gates look just a little TOO happy about that story?)! To be fair, there are other discoveries, but I feel like more attention is paid to the roots of civil rights issues; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the host is a famous scholar of African-American Research. On the other hand, I have to admit to a tiny internal sigh when **YET** another guest has roots in slavery. To a certain degree, I like “Who Do You Think You Are?”, another series, a little better  because of this.

However, I really appreciated hearing about Ben Affleck’s family, partly because he often had something funny or insightful to say about the time or the family member. One thing that he talked about at the end, is that genealogy is important because you see that there is an end date for each of these people in your family – and that makes you think about making the most of today. I think this is such a simple, but profound statement: Elizabeth Dicer, that woman who was arrested in the Salem Witch Trials, who is an interesting grandmother in my family tree and footnote in history – she was as alive as you and I once. And now, she’s bones in a grave somewhere. Did she think of this during her time? Did she get caught up in daily life – must grind flour, wash clothes, iron – or did she spend as much time as she could with the people she loved? Granted, women didn’t have as much chance to really achieve as much as they do now, and technology has made some things in our life much easier. That means that we don’t have an excuse to not make the most of our days. In my job as a psychiatrist in a small town in Central California, I so often here, “I’m unhappy and depressed because I live here” (First of all, civilization, including the beach, and two of the biggest cities in California are no more than a few hours away, and there’s a Barnes and Noble, Whole Foods and Sephora 45 minutes away). This often makes me think, “C’mon, you’re only in a prison of your own making! People like Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela made great strides in their internal life and contributions to the world, despite being in prisons (concentration camp, in one case) not of their own making.

Khandi Alexander, another guest, mentioned that whenever she has hardship, she reminds herself about the trials of her ancestors, that they were strong enough to overcome, and that their blood runs through her veins. I think of this too, sometimes- I can manage this small issue, if my relatives had to sort out their lives, with people dying around them, the first year off the Mayflower; if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, my sixth cousin a few times removed, managed to make changes while suffering from polio, I think I can work through my minor aches and pains!

Genealogy enriches my life in ways I had never been able to name before, and I’m sure, am still learning about!

new knitting project…

I think my last project was too ambitious for my knitting skill level. The other thing was that the circular knitting needles were oddly shaped, where it was difficult and frustrating to try to get the yarn off the end of the needle. Next time I’ll buy functional needles, not pretty ones!

Anyway, I’m working on a scarf-let from Interweave Knits (I can’t find a photo of it- but I’ll post my completed project) made from garter stitch with four buttons. I had bought the supplies for three quick beginner’s projects, but picking yarn out is very difficult, apparently. The yarn I had chosen for a different project, fingerless ribbed mitts, was all wrong- beautiful, but the variegated yarn didn’t show the stitches and was impossible to see whether I had purled or knit! My mom, a champion knitter, looked at the yarn and suggested that I switch the pretty purple yarn for the garter scarf, and the brown tweed yarn for the mitts. It was a great idea. Here’s photo of the scarf so far.


Emotional Investment in the very long book

I've just started the Kristin Lavransdatter series, which I had forgotten about from my Barnes and Noble days, and was reminded about on Maybe Matilda's book wish list on Goodreads. I've been reading a lot about Medieval history and the Norman invasion lately, mostly because of my discovery that one part of my ancestry can be traced quite far back, to this time period and before. Realizing that you have a personal interest in history (even though ALL of us should have some stake in history- we all had ancestors in the middle ages!) somehow makes the stories more memorable.  So this book, a trilogy about a woman living in Norway in the Middle ages, is right up my alley these days. The author even won the Nobel Prize in the 1920's or late teens- bonus!

The book is really great so far- it’s been re-translated by the same translator  who did Smilla’s Sense of Snow many years ago, and the clean, fresh approach to the writing shows. The previous translator apparently felt it necessary to insert a bunch of thees and thous, and this wasn’t apparently the intention of the translator. I’ll take the book introduction’s word for it- I can barely order food in another language.

The introduction made a good point, something I had not thought about before but wrote about in terms of the inspector Gamache series: there is an emotional attachment to the world of the long book. The introduction says it so much more nicely than I could: “A particular poignancy attends the reading of very long novels, especially those which, for all their undeniable charms, you’re unlikely to read again. Weeks, even months of your internal life are given over to some new cast of characters, who vaporize when the book is closed.”

Of us who read Les Miserables didn’t feel loss and sorrow at the death of Jean Valjean (unless you’re made of STONE or some kind of sociopath- just saying!). When Henning Mankell essentially killed off Wallander in the Troubled Man, sorry if I spoiled it, I closed the book, and actually felt angry at the indignity of such an ending for a character I had followed for his entire adult life.  I think it would be interesting to see whether readers of this kind of fiction have closer social ties to others as a result of their reading, or maybe because they’re drawn to these books about the emotional lives of others because of their empathy. Whatever the reason, I know why I feel inexplicably sad turning the last page of a much loved book and closing the cover.

If you’re interested in the book, follow the link here.



Alexander McCall Smith and his new Scotland Street book


I’ve been reading the new Alexander McCall Smith book, “Sunshine over Scotland Street” and I have to say that I’ve enjoyed this one more than the others. This series is not my favorite of his series, but this book is hilarious. In one scene, one of the main characters is a government statistician in Edinburgh, and when one of the government ministers keeps trying to have him manipulate numbers in such a way that overstates the North Seas oil making Scotland sound like the 6th largest economy, he finally gets frustrated and gives her the Sudoko numbers he’s been working on for North Seas oil figures, and she’s delighted! Exactly what she’s looking for! He also has some of the most beautiful ways of putting thoughts to paper. I’m always trying to teach patients about being happy and learning to be satisfied where you are, and he explains it thus, when talking about the appeal of small houses: “People who live in small, neat houses may be big-hearted and large-souled- few people can afford large houses, the sorts of houses in which high-ceilinged and spacious thoughts might be imagined to flourish; we may, after all, have to live in some small town in central Scotland rather than Paris but that does not mean that the inner Parisian cannot flourish wherever we are. The danger, of course, is that we spend time imagining that we would be happier elsewhere, and forget to cultivate happiness where fate has placed us.”


I’ve been reading about Mr. Smith, and have been struck by his optimistic point of view. He is neighbors with Ian Rankin, a mystery author whose books I also enjoy, but paints Edinburgh as a bleak, dangerous place. Mr. Smith chooses to write happy, thoughtful books that sometimes deal with sad issues, but the characters do the best they can, and prefer to look at the more positive side of life. I wonder where he found that resilience in life? I’d like to ask him- I think that would be the secret to happiness!

What are you reading lately?

How do you find time for art and crafts?

Tell me your secrets for making time for yourself!

Everyone thinks they don’t have enough time for something…exercise, eating right, spending time with people they care about, etc. Fortunately, I generally make time for my family, though I’m still working on getting the exercise balance right. But the things that really suffer are the things that I do just for me (since exercise is more or less a requirement of my job, and besides hiking and walking places, I haven’t found anything I love. While I was in Maryland, for awhile, I loved to run. But here in the Central Valley of California, where it’s STILL nearly 100 degrees on the first day of Fall, and the air is loaded with pollution from monster trucks, farm burning, and Valley Fever, I haven’t found anything that’s fun to do outside). Crafts, art and reading are things I do just for me. I manage to squeeze in reading in the morning, during my lunch break if I’m not occupied with some clinic emergency, and in that few minutes before bed.

Knitting has been harder. I need to be able to see better than the half hour of night time that I have free most evenings- plus, I already have eye strain from the day. I keep seeing these classes and things on Craftsy that I am in love with- botanical watercolors, sewing some great looking clothes, making jewelry. I keep picking up knitting kits on sale…stop me before I commit the rest of my life to knitting kits!  Don’t even ask about that book I’ve always wanted to write, or the recipes I’m filling my iPad app for cooking, Paprika, up with.

Here’s what I’ve got so far in my queue:

This vest…

This vest, available from Craftsy, in black.

This vest, available from Craftsy, in black.

Book review, and “the Roosevelts”

Has anyone been watching the new Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts (find more info about the show here.)? So far, it’s fantastic. I expected to be more interested in FDR since he was a hero to my great grandmother, and I’ve learned from research, a distant cousin to our family (sixth cousin!), though on the Delano side, not Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt is HILARIOUS. I had no idea he was such a dynamo, and such an interesting person, though I had mixed feelings on the part about his first wife dying and his time in the Badlands. I can’t imagine having your spouse and mother die the same day, and then compounding the tragedy by essentially abandoning your daughter during a crucial time for bonding and development to cope with your grief on your own as a cowboy at your ranch a long way away. I felt like his problems with his daughter, Alice Roosevelt, probably had a lot to do with this time in their lives. I’m reading the new Scotland Street book by Alexander McCall Smith, one of my favorite authors. He’s a medical ethicist, attorney and author, and each book is such a self-contained jewel of joy, laughter, observation and almost always some ethical dilemma. This book is really, really funny- laugh out loud funny. I’ll post more about it when I’m done. I think next on my list is the Kristin Lavransdatter series from Norway. I had noticed these when I worked at Barnes and Noble a long time ago, and was interested in them at that time, but forgot about them. I follow the Maybe Matilda blog, and the author of that blog on Goodreads, and when she mentioned them, I suddenly remembered them. I have some old genealogical links to Norway, and ever since I have been reading books about that area, am suddenly unhealthily interested in that part of the world. Which is funny, since I hate snow. What are you reading?

My current knitting project

My current project!

I’m working on my first knitting project on circular needles. I’m wondering if they’re normally so stiff and hard to work with?! In any case, the lovely scarf about was designed by Pam Powers (find the pattern at  , and I’m doing mine in a dove grey. I’m pretty excited. I’m hoping it won’t be above my head but my mother can help me if I get stuck. :) So far, I only have half the casting on done, but you have to start somewhere.

I am knitting obsessed. It’s so relaxing and some of the patterns out there are beautiful. I only have 3 other things in my queue right now…

Genealogy and Patrick Rowland

I can’t remember how I fell in love with genealogy. It was probably being lured by an ad, but it immediately was so intriguing and natural for me, that I forgot I had ever NOT done it. Part of it may be that I’ve found some interesting relatives- Mayflower descendants, a women arrested as a witch at the Salem witch trials, a relative at Gettysburg…But I think part of my love for ancestry has to do with my work in psychiatry. Those of us working on living the examined life at some point try to understand the context of our lives.  I heard it said recently that genealogy helps you fill in blanks in your life that you didn’t even know existed. I agree. Genealogy is one way to gain context for your life.

For instance, I have a relative who left his wife and children, never to be seen again. Certainly a terrible thing to do, and I believe likely had long lasting effects on the generations afterward. But it gives me some context when I also know that he was part of a broken home, his parents died early in his life, and he and his mother were sequentially left with their grandparents when their mothers married. Three generations of women before him all appeared to have children out of wedlock when that really meant something. That gives me more perspective- it doesn’t excuse the sad action he took, but it makes me understand this more deeply. This is something I would never have understood without genealogy.

Genealogy has put my husband in touch with a whole side of the family he didn’t know, that live just 45 minutes away from where we currently live by whim of the military. He has a nice, friendly new cousin he never new existed. What a gift!

My current project is my husband’s great, great grandfather, Patrick Rowland/Roland. He emigrated from County Galway, Ireland, at an unknown time. Around 1868, I find him first living in San Francisco, working as a tailor at Quincy and Company. I’m unsure if he married before getting to San Francisco, or after, but he and his wife Bridget, lived mostly in San Francisco with a short foray into Mendocino for a few years, until he died in 1912 in San Francisco. I believe I found him in a census in England in 1851, before coming to America, working as a tailor in Everton, England, though I’m not positive. Last night, I found a Patrick Roland (another spelling he used) born the same year, working as a tailor in  Columbia, California in 1860. Did he go to Columbia first, hoping to make his fortune in the Gold Rush? If it was him, why did he move?  Why did he leave County Galway in the first place, and who was his family? I’m looking for those answers! I’ve also made some progress using the DNA testing- that’s how we found lost family on both sides, which has been a great experience, though I’m still learning about what I can do with this testing.

I’ve also learned a lot about specific areas and times, in order to research an ancestor. I was astonished to see the number of murders in Columbia when Patrick Rowland may have lived there, by reading through all the old newspapers of the time. Maybe he moved to avoid the crime! There were other Patrick Rowlands living in the same area at the time, even within a few blocks of each other in San Francisco, nearly the same age! One met his unfortunate end by having his head crushed by a cart wheel, the other, alcoholism.  Even the census occupations are interesting- gold miner, coal dealer, etc. I’m learning so much about the world that surrounded our ancestors that I never even thought about! If you’re thinking about looking into your family history- I encourage you to start! I think you’ll find it an invaluable foray.

Mindfulness: finding a sunset in the dust

This morning, driving to work in the Central Valley of California, it was initially a gray, dreary day. The sun was uncharacteristically hidden behind patchy clouds, and the light doesn’t yet have the diffuse quality that reminds me that early Fall is coming. The ground is very parched, with only occasional brush in a washed-out sage breaking the relentless tan of the desert. I was thinking about the report due first thing in the morning that I had forgotten to do this weekend, and all the patients ahead for me that day.

All of a sudden, the sun conquered the cloud obscuring it, and the most beautiful, soft, honey colored rays illuminated the previously sad desert landscape. The warm light made the beige of the desiccated soil glisten gold and peaches, and the sage brush a turquoise. The sky appeared periwinkle from the reflection.

It made me think about an important lesson that the providers in our clinic are trying to teach our patients: being mindful of the present moment can help your mood and change the way you think about your life. Studies show that mindfulness can be helpful for anxiety and depression (see study here). One practitioner of mindfulness that I greatly admire is named Thich Nhat Hanh, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King. He advocates using every day activities to bring mindfulness and peace to one’s life, including breathing and walking:

“Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step. And when we wish to talk we stop our movement and give our full attention to the other person, to our words and to listening.


Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.

Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

One patient that I had been working with for some time on anxiety and depression told me that he had learned that mindfulness had helped him realize that the dust in the polluted air of the Central Valley was what made the beautiful sunsets here possible. 

This morning in the sparkling light of the desert, I thought about my patient’s wise words, breathed in, and appreciated the beauty before me. 

To learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh, see his website here.529233_3831955314109_1121284209_n




Grieving the loss of The Long Way Home

I just finished the book, The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. I’d been waiting for this book to come out, since the Armand Gamache series is one of my favorites, and the last one was so great, and I enjoyed it so much, I actually worried about finishing it because I was afraid she might kill off the character!  (Note: spoilers ahead) Fortunately, she didn’t and the latest book is fantastic. There was something so poignant about seeking some one who is lost to you, feeling wistful and wishing you had done something differently, to looking back at your life and wishing it were different. I think that’s a lot of what I hear during the day in my job in psychiatry. The language is so thoughtful, and I always end up highlighting quotes in these books, which take place in a fictional town, Three Pines, near Montreal. One character, Clara, made the difficult decision of a trial separation between she and her husband, who was unable to cope with her being the more famous artist, and the psychologist in the town, Myrna, points out that jealousy

“it’s like drinking acid,” said Myrna, “and expecting the other to die.”


However, at the end of the separation, her husband, Peter Morrow, is still missing. She asks Gamache to help her find him. She had hoped that he would return at the end of the year, and that the time would have been enough for him to find his own happiness.

“It’s a dying father’s prayer for his young son.” She thought for a moment, remembering. Then she recited, “I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful.”

I won’t wreck the book for you, but I have this sense of loss now that I’ve finished the book- both because of the ending, and because it will be a few years until I get to visit the town of Three Pines again!

Find the NYT review here

Get the book here.