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Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Spring 2021

As much as many of us may look back at 2020 and say, “What a dumpster fire,” it seems 2021 isn’t much of an improvement. Though I’d like to think we’re going to eventually get to an overall better, more positive place by the end of the year. Besides, I think I’ve let go of the idea of “good years” and “bad years” and, really, it is what it is – a little bit of both – and that’s just life.

Personally, I’ve experienced two losses so far this year and that has certainly shaped my attitude about 2021. My only paternal aunt passed away and it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it still fills me with sadness to know she’s gone. The other was our parrot of 10 years, Avery, whose loss is heartbreaking. We didn’t anticipate it and, sadly, that’s often the way it goes with birds.

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Me and my baby, Avery.

People, of course, are asking or saying – if I’m being honest – dumb and insensitive things. “I didn’t realize he was that old”/”How old was he?” He was 10, thank you very much. “Was he sick?” No and, again, thank you so much for asking. Oh, and sending me pictures or videos of why parrots are so great. Um… pardon me, why? I’m grieving a sudden loss and these things are really twisting the knife. When someone loses someone precious to them, why do people feel the need to ask the how, what, and why? Especially when there is an understandable degree of guilt, since that life was your responsibility? Pet owners often feel guilt, even if they shouldn’t, and these kinds of questions push that idea that somehow it was our fault that our pet died. If that’s what you’re trying to do when people lose a beloved pet, congratulations. You succeeded. If that isn’t your intention, would you please simply say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Do you want to talk about it?” and leave it at that?

So that’s my mini-rant about that.

Anyway, we never plan on having another bird. Getting one was originally my husband’s idea, because he’s a bird lover. However, he soon realized the amount of work that goes into being a “bird parent” is disproportionate to the amount of energy and attention he was actually willing to put in. I became Avery’s bird mom and loved every moment of it, after never in my life considering having a parrot. We’re all feeling the loss, though, and we know that we don’t want to go through it again. Even our cats have noticed something has changed (namely, Avery not plucking their fur, pecking their paws, and sitting on their backs), and they seem a little gloomy about it.

There are, of course, good things to share. It’s not all sadness. My son went to prom for the third and, likely, last time. He’s a senior and partied his Saturday night away with his class. It was an exciting but sad moment for me. I remember going to the prom with his dad 28 years ago.

Clearly, I’m losing it.

My son took my weeping in stride, thankfully. My husband got a kick out of it and obliged me by taking tons of pictures. Graduation is only 3 weeks from now. I’ll be sure to bring copious amounts of tissues.

My daughter said she doesn’t want 2nd grade to end. I don’t blame her, and I also reminded her that she was the one saying she didn’t want school to start last August. She laughed about that, and we talked about beginnings, endings, and how everything has it’s time and place and cycle.

As far as genealogy, I’m turning my attention to my husband’s family. He descends mostly from recent immigrants from so many different countries, that his ancestry presents a unique challenge to me. The majority of my ancestors have been in New England since the Mayflower and Great Migration. There is a branch from Virginia and North Carolina in the 1600s and 1700s that ultimately sort of folded into my New England ancestors, and then my few recent immigrant ancestors are from England, Ireland, and Italy. All very familiar territory for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors are also mostly Great Migration New Englanders, as well as settlers in New Brunswick and Quebec. I know my way around New England and Canada fairly well, genealogically-speaking.

My husband’s ancestors are from Ireland, Quebec, and there are two or three lines that were in the U.S. by at least the 1700s, that went west from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Other than that, I’m looking at countries I’ve never had to work with: Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland. Working on each line is challenging, because none of them are well-documented, except the ones from Quebec. DNA is a helpful tool here. Many of my husband’s matches still reside in Norway, Finland, and other European countries.

I’m also looking at both of our mtDNA lines. My ex-husband’s mtDNA line was super easy to trace. He’s an A2 and we were able to document him back to the daughter of Chief Madokawando, who’d married Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Castin. Many of my ex-husband’s mtDNA matches with a genetic distance of zero (15 matches) also descend from this couple.

My mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1 and that’s the one I’m most interested in exploring right now. I have only 2 matches with a zero genetic distance, however. One is my maternal uncle, so clearly we know which ancestor we share – my nana/his mother. However, we have another match, born in Sicily. As this is the Italian side of my family, I’m hoping to pinpoint how the other match is related to us. Recently, I dedicated many nights to working on our match’s maternal family to see if it might give me clues about mine. The most recent maternal ancestor I can name is my 4th great-grandmother, Angela Giusto, probably born in Cogoleto, and definitely died between 1842 (when my 3rd great-grandmother was born) and 1865 (when Angela’s husband, my 4th great-grandfather, Tomaso Pedemonte, remarried in Cogoleto). Since records for Cogoleto during this time frame aren’t available online yet, I need to be patient.

Working on my match’s family was quite interesting, since he had documented 3 maternal generations, and I was able to add 5 more through vital records in the towns of Lascari and Gratteri, in Palermo, Sicily. The interesting thing is my maternal family is from northern Italy, while his entire family is from Sicily, two completely different regions. Will I find our shared maternal ancestor in Sicily? If so, when and why did my family go north? It’s a project I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future. One neat thing of note is that when you click my 23andMe ethnicity results to look at the breakdown for Italy, it does show Sicily as one of the regions. Sooo, who knows?

Finally, I ordered my husband’s full sequence mitochondrial DNA test and that result came last week. He is haplogroup V11. He has fewer matches at a genetic distance of zero than my ex-husband does, but many more than I do, with 8 matches. I think there’s a good chance that at least a couple of them will make a good basis for comparison as far as finding out more about my husband’s maternal lineage. I’m specifically focusing on the Scandinavian matches or those with most distant ancestors with Scandinavian names, since that’s where I’m sure we’ll find a connection.

The most distant maternal ancestor I have for my husband is his 3rd great-grandmother, Maria Ursula Taescher, born about 1853, maybe in Switzerland. She married Emil Anton Ospelt on 6 November 1876 in Liechtenstein, and they emigrated to the United States. They were in Dubuque, Iowa for some time before moving to Washington County, Oregon, where she died on May 9, 1930. I don’t have the names of Emil’s or Maria’s parents, and don’t know if their death certificates will yield that information, so I’m starting there (I placed my request this weekend), and will work my way back.

I might try to work on a more in-depth post about working with mtDNA in the future. For now, though, the rest of spring will probably be a flurry of activity. We have an awards night at the high school for fine arts students, so I’ll be attending that, followed the next night by my son’s last concert in guitar and choir. And then there will be graduation. Meanwhile, my daughter is supposed to start softball this year. We signed up last year, but it was a wash due to Covid. However, my husband, son, and I are all vaccinated, and my daughter is eager to play. We’re all hoping for a kid-safe vaccine soon!

Well, that’s the news from here. I wish it was happier, but I’m grateful for the years I had with my aunt and my Avery.

Gratitude 2020 Edition | Our Prairie Nest
Gratitude: 2020 Edition

It’s been a hell of a year for most people and I am well-aware that we lucked out in our household. We have a roof over our heads, income, food, and the ability to meet our needs. Not everyone can say that.

There are certainly things we’ve personally lost, not to mention the greater losses that touched most of us over the year. No matter how difficult this year has been, I’ve also tried to remember that I’m privileged in so many ways. I’m grateful for my privilege and have tried to use it constructively. Unfortunately, what I have can only go so far. But it’s the little things, and we are all capable of something.

Here’s hoping 2021 brings all of us health and safety, love and joy, and more.

Back to School | Our Prairie Nest
Back to School

I’m experiencing mixed feelings about the kids going back to school this year. But tomorrow is the day.

For my daughter, it should be yet another lovely year of childhood. She’s going into second grade. She’s smart and feisty, and loves school and her friends. This ought to be a fun year.

My son is a senior in high school, and this should be his “Grease” year. Fun and exciting things should happen, while he figures out his future. With all the free periods he has in his schedule, he should be able to use the time toward college credits.

Last year started off with all of these lovely things. I had a new planner and enjoyed marking off special school events in it. We looked forward to spring sports – track and softball, neither of which my kids got to do. In March, we had them home and did our best to pull together to finish out their school year.

I’m sorry for what my kids missed out on last year, but more grateful that we’ve all been healthy and safe. The distance from friends had more of an effect on my daughter than my son. Fortunately, she was able to see a few friends here and there over the summer, but it was nothing like a “normal” year.

If our district switches to remote learning, we will manage just fine. Some families won’t. I know we’re lucky. I know we’ll be okay. But I don’t know if we’ll get sick or what will happen if we do. That’s the scary part, really. The uncertainty.

Of course, every day is uncertain, but I’m risk averse. And, this year, school is more of a risk than usual.

Our Meal Plan | Our Prairie Nest
Our Meal Plan

Right? RIGHT?!

This has been me for my entire adulthood. At least, until last year when my husband and I finally decided to get a handle on meal-planning. If you’re the same way, flailing at the grocery store or home about what to eat, here is one way to make it much easier.

Create a Spreadsheet

We created a spreadsheet with two tabs – Month One and Month Two. The plan has four weeks per month, and we don’t fret too much about a week five.

Each week has meals planned for Monday through Sunday, with a hyperlink to the recipe. When it’s time to place my grocery order for the week, I work off a handwritten shopping list where we write things that are low or we’ve run out of, and then the recipes that are linked for the week. It makes placing my grocery order so much easier!

That’s all there is to it! We started small, with the things we normally like to make, and slowly filled in the weeks as we found recipes we liked. It took time, so I want to emphasize that you don’t need to feel like you have to fill in the entire two months, or one month, or even every single week!

Start with what you’re accustomed to cooking. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If your first week is hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, and spaghetti, so what? Just put the information in there.

Then think about how you might want to space out your meals. Are you looking to add more vegetarian dishes? More seafood? Lighter meals?

Google is your best friend. Enter the search terms you want and get started. For example, I find myself looking for new recipes often and my searches are always driven by the season. Summertime usually means I’m looking for “light summer meals” and winter puts me in the mood for “comfort food” or soups or stews.

It’s also important to think about who is doing the cooking. My husband cooks five nights a week. I only cook on Saturdays and Sundays. So I like to make sure he has a balance of “easy” days with the more complicated meals. There’s also the option for frozen pizza at all times. Not as delicious as homemade, but sometimes the primary cook needs a break!

I like to have soup as a weekly option, because it usually makes plenty of leftovers for me to bring to work throughout the week. I also have tried to group certain foods together, so some weeks might include more sweet potatoes, for example, or more beans. It makes the shopping even easier.

But there’s no need to get that complicated or detailed from the get-go. Start with what you know, figure out what you want to eat, and then start adding recipes little by little.

For me, it’s just nice to open the spreadsheet on Friday night, and do my grocery shopping off it from the comfort of my own home. And I never have to ask, “What are we having for dinner this week?” šŸ™‚