2020…What Could Possibly Come Next?


This year has been a wild ride; and it’s still not finished…so we should all buckle up (and wear our freaking masks).

For me, it is been a year of unraveling my past as I searched for and found my birth mother. The fact that my birth mother wanted no part of me…well, that was unfortunate and made me weep just a bit…but I quickly moved on. My adoptive parents – now both gone – were so loving and devoted to our family; they were my “real” parents my entire life.

I decided that the stranger who accidentally conceived me really doesn’t matter for the most part.

And right as I was processing this new found me (or was it simply the same me without as many questions?) COVID struck, or began to strike…just in time to derail my family from going on a long-planned trip to Japan. The news at the specific time of our planned departure was scary, countries were shutting down (the US was threatening to) and Japan itself was implementing all kinds of business and tourist-related closures and automatic quarantine requirements. After weeks of stressful watching and waiting, we finally pulled the plug literally days before our scheduled trip.

All I could think of at that time was poor us, we don’t get to go to Japan.

Months later, though, with the death toll and infection rates on the increase, the world as we knew it seemed to change right before our eyes; the cancellation of our trip didn’t seem to matter very much as chaos and panic took over our everyday lives. We committed to going to Japan someday in the future, and I pray the world will be such that we can.

I still remember that first trip to the grocery store after COVID became an official threat. I don’t remember what had transpired the days before, but I do recall being fearful of grocery shopping! It felt like a visit to the hospital to see a very ill, quarantined friend. Mask on, gloves on, sanitizer ready and waiting in the car.

Careful what you touch (and don’t touch anything!)!

I had heard there was a shortage of food so didn’t know what to expect. It was strange. Very little meat in the meat department, many empty shelves (certainly no hand sanitizer, wipes or toilet paper!) and people were clearly hoarding. There was both a calmness about it (people seemed somber and serious, at least from what one could see given their masks) as well as a frantic feeling (seeing others hoarding made me question if I should too).

I must admit I did buy some extra food items (that are still in my freezer and pantry, unused). And am I the only one who has those tiny, tiny, tiny – miniature – rolls of toilet paper that showed up when all the stores were out of the regular sized rolls? I’ve never used them, have you used yours?

The new norm. Less emotion, more procedural.

When I came home after those initial days of COVID grocery shopping I also remember the process of washing hands (the right way), sanitizing everything I bought and touched, and being genuinely convinced I was somehow contaminating every surface of my home and fridge. I had great angst about it and disinfected everything, and then everything again. I even remember the panic when I ran out of cleaning supplies for a week…oh, my…

Over time, isn’t it so odd that this has become so much less of an emotional journey and just an everyday procedural thing. People wear their mask, chat with friends, drink their Starbucks and go about their business, no longer somber or panicked (or disinfecting at every touch). And who would have ever thought that masks on everyone, on joggers, on the police, on your UBER driver, would become just part of our everyday life and scenery.

But having said that, the new norm has come with a lot of pain and cost.

During COVID some people’s lives have been forever changed. Family members may have died (not due to COVID necessarily, but often alone during hospital COVID isolation rules), weddings have been postponed; parties and annual traditions cancelled. Funerals have been live streamed (in some cases with even the deaths themselves happening over cellphones or Zoom calls so that loved ones can say goodbye).

The economic hit has also been terrible…luckily all of this initially happened during the spring and summer months given the need for outside dining and well-ventilated activities. The concern of course is what will happen moving forward…what businesses will be able to survive and which ones won’t. Please support your local businesses, as they really need us all.

Social distancing is the new intimacy.

The typical hugs and time spent with family and friends…so much has changed in this “new normal” we are now living in. Our everyday lives have become more isolated and solitary. I remember the first time seeing a good friend during those initial months of the virus, and not hugging hello or goodbye. It seemed so wrong and uncomfortable at the time…yet today, it has become the norm.

To hug someone is now the exception, and an exception you need to be on the same page about! There is now a little societal dance people do to help ascertain the “comfortable safety level” of any particular person. I’ll wear a mask if you do; I’ll take it off if you take off yours; where have you been the past 2 weeks? (and who have you been with!) Been tested recently?

In a few ways amazing and wonderful things have also happened. Parents now working at home have gotten to know their young kids (and have become more appreciative of their kids’ teachers!). Many people have become gardeners and DIY’ers…people are walking and working out in homemade gyms, LOL….a silver lining to the very dark cloud called COVID.

But 2020 isn’t just about the virus…

And if the virus wasn’t enough to give the year 2020 a bad rep, there have been epic natural disasters as well.

In my hometown of San Jose, the summer heat brought terrible fires (several of the largest fires in the area’s history), and with that the threat of evacuation. That was a terrifying experience that I don’t ever want to have to think about or plan for again. My heart goes out to people who have lost their homes, or even their lives; we should all thank fire department personnel everywhere after seeing what they have to do each and every working day.

And of course, all of those fires and the unrelenting heat, resulted in air quality issues that were in some ways completely startling (if you saw any of the photos of the orange skies in California, or if you simply tried to be outside and breathe!) yet most people simply said, “It’s 2020! What else should we expect?

We ran our air conditioner for weeks to keep from opening windows. No-one went outside, it was a ghost town. The already impacted restaurants, with only outside seating due to COVID, were even more economically devastated. Wild animals, fleeing wildfires, heat and smoke, were invading neighborhoods they usually wouldn’t. I can only speak to California, of course, but know that wildfires hit many states this year in increasing numbers and magnitude…and I know that other states are also dealing with hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters (that seem to be “naturally” happening more and more…).

Looking out at the dirty, orange air…the heat….the threat of continued fires…it really did seem like perhaps the world was going to end. One wondered, what would happen next?

Well, for us we went to visit a son in Oregon. While there, the air quality was the world’s worst air quality. Imagine that. The worst air quality in the world, and we were there breathing it in.

We couldn’t see a thing (and that’s sad as Oregon is a beautiful state) and luckily they had indoor dining available as eating (and drinking…and more eating…) was really the only thing a visitor could do. Between closures due to COVID and those due to the dirty air, there just wasn’t anywhere to go and we ended up shortening our trip.

Things are just dirty in 2020.

And of course, during all of this, one must not forget all of the other dirty things going on besides the air quality.

Dirty politics being the primary one.

You know what I mean. The polarized politics. We all have seemingly become party-affiliated zombies, which makes us unwilling – or unable – to listen to the other side (whoever that might be)…

I know we once did listen and were able to believe what we heard! Where is Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite now that we really need to trust what we hear on the news. Instead of facts we offer opinions and pass along our party’s media propaganda. Both sides are doing it. The United States seems to have gone mad (I often wonder what citizens in other countries really think about us!). Throw in the unrest and divisiveness relating to Black Lives Matter and other societal inequities and injustices… and I fear our nation will never mend.

Civil war anyone?

I wonder what 2020 will bring next? Three more months, I fear what may be coming… Halloween may bring real zombies this year…perhaps the murder hornets are really on their way. I think Santa may opt out this Christmas (perhaps his elves can use my tiny toilet paper stash?).

I myself am a little concerned about the approaching time of year. Flu season is coming, the cold or wet weather will mean more people staying indoors. This change in seasons, I think, is going to be bad; the risk of the spread of the virus indoors is thought to be greater. But I also think we all may just really just need some sunshine, fresh air, exercise and vitamin D to keep from exploding!

With people indoors all winter…hmmm…things could get out of hand.

The election is less than a month away. I wonder if passing that milestone will make things better or worse. I fear it will do nothing to help calm the polarization we see today. What will the losing side do? What will everyday people do? I can’t help but think about the Purge…will that be our fate? What about the economy? What about people’s health if COVID lingers on?

So many uncertainties. Yet, some things have remained the same.

Important things.

— Relationships.

— Friendships.

— Our faith, in both God and humanity.

— Appreciation of what we have and the beauty that still exists.

— The love and happiness surrounding our pets, our passions and other simple joys.

We need to hold on to these things. We need to focus on them and nurture them; to not let ourselves become polarized and distorted.

And when the “next thing” comes along, as I’m sure it will (“It is 2020 after all”), take a breath…remind yourself of all that you have…and just hold on to those you love.

I promise you. It will be ok.

Imminent Threat

They say that there are 5 stages associated with a person dealing with any type of significant emotional loss,

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

Yesterday I thought about how potential loss might be very similar, in terms of the emotions one goes through. You grieve the loss before it even occurs.

A raging wildfire (one of the largest on record here in California where I live in the foothills) this past week is now at a safer distance; perhaps still a threat, but today…there is hope on the horizon and I’ve allowed myself time to reflect on a potential loss that now appears unlikely to occur.

Yet…still mindful that winds can shift; still praying for those affected or in the fire’s path; still praying for the firefighters who have taken on a whole new awe for me. How do they do this job, in such heat and smoke, with such danger?

Our family’s evacuation items have been packed for 5 days; the 3 cat crates and cat supplies stand ready in the garage. A pile of bags and a few boxes, and electronics needed for work, are ready at the front door.


Five days ago the imminent threat began with the looming need to abandon our home of some 27 years; a home where we raised two sons and built a family’s life. 

We didn’t know how much time we might have. What to pack? How to prioritize a lifetime of memories and precious things?

What would be the greatest impact to leave behind, especially if we lost the house to the fire?

Important documents were an easy and unemotional first step: passports and various identification cards and records thrown in the first box.  A mental note now made that having birth certificates and our will stored in our nearby bank’s safety deposit box (a bank that would surely burn before our house in this particular fire!) is a mistake that needs future correction.

The cats come next. Mounting emotions start to claim more and more space in my head. I think how much the cats aren’t going to like being evacuated; not the crates, not the car-ride, and not their evacuation destination (a friend’s house with a resident dog). I know it’s only a temporary shelter so my mind starts thinking about longer-term options. Would we have to rent a home? For how long?

That’s when the panic begins. The realization that this is really happening.

What will it look like, if we lose our home? What will it feel like?

I now start to focus on what memories to take. I grab all of the photo albums; but wait, I know that many of these photos are scanned and likely available somewhere in the cloud. I start to sort through the many frayed albums and pick out a few I think are filled with photos I don’t have stored elsewhere; the wedding and honeymoon pics, various functions.  I haven’t looked through these albums in years, yet they seem so vital to me at this moment, as if to lose them means I will forget the memories they have captured.

As I walk through the house I grab a seemingly odd assortment of framed photos. The photo of my husband at a friend’s wedding; the friend gone now for several years, and the photo only one of a handful remaining of the two of them.

dad_twa_optimizedFramed photos of long-gone family including beloved parents; many do not exist digitally so must be saved. My husband as an infant in the arms of his dad. A formal portrait of our family when the boys were young.  A photo collage I made of my dad containing pictures of him as a young man…these don’t exist elsewhere. I look at his smile, confidence and strength and summon some of that to get through what is increasingly feeling overwhelming and terrifying to me.

Framed photos of our family are everywhere in this house…every age and stage captured and proudly displayed. Many likely exist somewhere in a Dropbox, but just in case, a chosen few are grabbed and shoved into a box.

I go room to room. I realize that I still have my kids’ yearbooks and Eagle Scout badges stored in their closets, even if they’ve been gone for years now. Prized school projects, awards and beloved stuffed animals (worn down from hugs and having been toted around by their toddler owners) are still stored up high in the garage rafters. I leave them all, the emotions creeping higher.

At that moment I realize so many precious things will need to remain.

I text my kids, what do they want me to save.

They respond with just you and dad, mom…and of course, the 3 cats.

I move throughout the house. The tears start to come.

How to choose.

In our bedroom, I look around; so many of my mom’s precious things are there. Quilts she crocheted for the boys; her needlepoint roses (so many roses, they were her favorite); things that have kept her close to me over the years. Even a pair of red pajamas, the ones she was wearing when she passed, still sit folded on a shelf. I had intentions to have them sewn into one of her patchwork quilts someday. I laugh at the notion as she has been gone 11 years now. The pajamas and needlepoint (and most of her other possessions) are passed over but I grab a few quilts for my sons.


Precious things surround me everywhere I go. I am a precious things hoarder I know. Precious things adorn this house; that is intentional. I attach so many memories to so many things.

Someone said to grab jewelry, so I go and look at that. My mom’s silver bracelet is really the only emotional treasure I think of, but then I see the necklace I gave her as a child, then her wedding ring…and the charm bracelet my kids and husband gave me many years ago…so many charms given since then, each with a story and precious significance. In a bag they go.

As I walk through the house I pass so many photos. I glance at them but need to move on. I need to focus on the most precious things.

The Christmas boxes are stored high up in the garage and contain my vast collection of ornaments – all precious things with their own unique stories. Handmade ornaments from the kids (two of everything as they went to the same elementary school and made the same gifts over the years). Unique ornaments from special friends or purchased in special places. Most are one of a kind, irreplaceable. They are a tradition each year as we decorate our Christmas tree; each ornament to be admired and its story told once again.

Then there’s the Christmas tree skirt my mom made when I was a young child, each year’s date sewn onto the skirt in the same silver thread. The stitches become erratic and wobbly over time; you can see my mom’s progression as she aged. And then the year she passed, and I took over. I dismiss my urge to retrieve it; I just can’t pack up everything and the garage is now so smoky.

1489293_10201141858730432_1887298187_n - Copy

I finally sit down and start a list. What have I already put aside and what still needs to be retrieved.

Surprisingly, there is actually very little packed up, a few boxes and several bags. Some albums and framed photos. I’m somewhat shocked at this…because it means I am leaving so many precious things.

On the list I become less emotional and more practical. Medications, clothes, glasses (all the different pairs scattered throughout the house!), the list of passwords, the address book, necessary electronics and files related to my work-at-home job. The items that can’t be proactively packed and set aside are marked in yellow highlighter. Hopefully we’ll have time to pack them if evacuated.

Each day since that first day of packing I think of new precious things. It is overwhelming so I try to dismiss the urge to retrieve more and more. A few things do get added, but very few.

There is little comfort knowing I have packed the most important things. Now I become obsessed with watching the fire’s progress. It is scary to imagine losing our home and the surrounding community that has become part of our lives.

I’ve always felt sad for people when watching them on the news in the same situation, but now I feel a whole new affinity for such people. How did they manage; we don’t really know as we’re usually not told. The news only shares the family’s initial shock, their sadness, and perhaps their appreciation that they and their family survived. Later we hear how communities have rebuilt but we don’t know how an individual family moved forward; I think about that. The need to rebuild and move forward. How will that look?

So back to the 5 stages of experiencing loss. I do think they are applicable. I started with denial, a belief it just can’t happen, we won’t lose our home.

I’m not sure I felt anger, but I did feel there was an unfairness about it. Why won’t the governor call out the National Guard, where is all of the mutual aid? I felt irritation over the poor emergency evacuation communication; impatience with the conflicting information.

I definitely bargained. I asked people to pray. I prayed.

And that’s when I think I finally realized that it is the lives that are the precious things. Not just our lives, but the lives of so many others and the firefighters.

With that realization, I somewhat let go of the sadness of losing the things. And there was an acceptance that there really wasn’t anything we could do but wait…and hope…and pray. We knew we could get out with our lives and our cats…and so, the next few days were spent texting nearby friends, many of who were in more imminent danger than us, providing updates, encouragement and love. No more packing. No more worry about precious things that could be forever lost.

Fortunately the weather has been favorable, or perhaps the prayers are really to thank. The fire has become less of a threat.

I am still packed, but feel hopeful.

As I write this I think of all the expensive gadgets we have in this house. Not one was on my list or packed to go.

And as I mentally unpack our evacuation bags and boxes I do have to laugh at its contents. Nothing of real value. But everything completely priceless.

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Today is my birthday, and I am feeling sad.

Canva - Boy Looking at Birthday Cake

Oh, it isn’t about my advancing age. After all, I always say you are as old as you feel, and most days I feel much younger than my years. I’m generally a happy, positive and thankful person; just not quite as much today.

My sadness is that this is my first birthday since I found my birth mom a few months ago.

Now, keep in mind that I hadn’t even looked for her prior to this past year; never really thought much about being adopted.

And actually, to be truthful, I wasn’t even looking for her when I did a 23andme test last year to try and learn something about my roots. I had been looking to find out if I had Irish or German heritage or otherwise. I hadn’t been thinking of or searching for my birth mom.

But I had found her. The 23andme results along with other information led me to my birth mom’s family tree on Ancestry.com. (you can read all about this in my previous blog post if interested)

And even though I didn’t want to meet her, or reunite permanently in any way, I wanted to reach out to her and just “touch bases” (LOL, that sounds so cheesy, but truly, I just wanted to get 100% confirmation she was in fact my birth mom, find out a bit about my medical history and let her know I was alive and well). I wanted her to know that my life had turned out great. That two loving parents had adopted me as an infant and were the world’s best parents a child could have ever had.

So I had written her.

Friends said to be careful. They know me to be an emotional sort, someone who cries while watching rescued animal videos and during television programs and the like. I can’t even make it through one episode of This Is Us without crying (how can anyone?). I also wear my emotions very visibly and deeply, I think it is the writer in me; I think you have to share how you are truly feeling to evoke an emotional response in others.

In any case I wrote her this letter:

Dear Suzanne,

I am writing you as I believe you to be my birth mother.

I am reaching out to you to let you know that I have had a wonderful life. I had the world’s best parents (both now deceased) and now have my own loving family (married 32 years and have two awesome adult sons).

I don’t want to upset you, disturb you or otherwise cause any concerns for you. I thought if we could connect I could answer questions for you, if you have any. And I thought you could answer questions for me. My primary questions are really just relating to ancestry info and health history information. I would also be interested in learning the name and any information about my birth father (for the same ancestry and health history reasons).

Why do I believe you to be my birth mother?

I had my family all do 23andme DNA profiles at Christmas. Being adopted has meant my sons didn’t really have a lot of info on their roots. My husband’s side of the family is also very small, so with no info on my side…it seemed like a fun thing to do, for them to get a bit of info on their ancestry. The results were interesting for them to learn. The results also pointed out that I had some cousins with the Diedrich name listed. I had known that Diedrich was my mom’s maiden name.

Recently I also dug into other sites such as Ancestry.com and pulled out my parents’ old file folder on my adoption. From there I had snippets of info, such as your full name, your age, a little of your family history and some other info relating to your father. It wasn’t hard to pull the info together and identify you were likely my birth mom.

My birth name was Theresa Gale Diedrich. I have a little background information on you, and know you met me prior to giving me up. That must have been difficult, but I understand the situation and harbor absolutely no ill will or negative feelings.

If you would like to reach out to me I’ll provide some contact information for you. It would be great, even if you don’t want to connect, to at least hear you received this. Again, I don’t want to create stress for you. Even sending this letter is not something I do lightly for that reason…but I just didn’t know another way to open up the possibility of dialogue with you.


I thought it was the perfect letter to meet my objective of “touching bases.”  I mailed it and waited…

Weeks went by.

I was fairly sure I had found the correct address (on the internet, scary what you can find there)…so I waited some more.

But no response.

I had provided every type of contact info. My email, cell phone, address, etc.

In any case, more time passed.

No response was challenging. Maddening actually.

Friends said to give it time. Not to take action.Canva - Woman Wearing Brown Shirt Inside Room

But I wrote a second letter (why don’t I ever listen to the advice of my friends!).

In this note I told her I would not write her again (and I truly meant it), but that I was disappointed in her lack of response. The whole “touching bases” was supposed to be a positive after all! My life had turned out well! Wasn’t that a positive for her to know?

I told her while I would try and respect her privacy that I was going to continue to find answers about my ancestry by connecting with people on 23andme, researching Ancestry.com or even Facebook. I told her that I didn’t understand her lack of response. I still wanted to know for sure she was my birth mom. I still wanted to learn who my birth dad was (to “touch base” with him, I suppose…). I wanted to learn about medical history, really more for the sake of my two sons.

I agonized over this letter just a bit (given her lack of response to the first one). Should I even send it? What was I hoping for?

Truthfully I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for at that point. In looking back I think I was secretly hoping to make a small connection with her. Not a “let’s meet annually” sort of thing, and not likely even meeting at all. But a connection, a brief exchange of information.  Confirmation she was my mom. Maybe my birth dad’s info. Something.

While I had originally been quite positive that I held no ill-will about her giving me up, I wondered if I did in some small way! Maybe I wanted something more from her, some emotional olive branch; acknowledgement that she was genuinely happy my life had turned out so well? Hmmmmm……

I thought long and hard on this, but was still fairly certain I harbored no deep resentments or ill-will regarding her long ago decision. None. I even sympathized with it.

No, any ill-will I might have been feeling at this point was from her lack of response to my initial letter. It seemed cruel and heartless. I tried to put myself in her place. Maybe it was a shameful place, or some type of trauma had been involved.  But now, so many decades later…a lifetime, really….and to have heard my life had turned out so well. It seemed wrong that she chose to be silent.

It would have been so simple for her just to respond with, “Have a great rest of your life. Thanks for touching base.”

I held on to my 2nd letter for several days. Along with her mailing address I had found her phone number on the internet as well. I toyed with the idea of just calling her, but I thought a phone call would be too aggressive. I felt like it really should be her decision whether she responded. I still held out hope that she would.

So in the end I mailed the second letter.Canva - Woman Sitting on Wooden Planks

But again, there was no response.

Time went by.

More time passed and I somewhat moved on.

It was fine. I had lived my entire life without worrying about my biological roots, after all. Plus I had learned a lot through 23andme. I had learned a lot about my biological family through Ancestry.com. I had learned a lot!

So what was the deal with me still pondering about my past?

Why did I still feel a response was so important?

I thought maybe my own parents being gone or my sons settling down (perhaps the side effects of an empty nest or aging?) were bubbling up these feelings…who knew…but I wondered if something may have triggered this need to learn more. Perhaps it was simply the DNA results, suddenly getting a “probable” mom identified?

Then, one day, I finally received a response.

It wasn’t really a response. It was more of a “Cease and Desist.”

It was from a lawyer.

Canva - Person Signing in Documentation Paper

While the particular words weren’t used, “Cease and desist” was my immediate reaction to the brief letter.

While I had done nothing wrong, I felt intimidated by its abruptness and tone.

And it was from a lawyer!

There were just four sentences.

The lawyer stated he had been engaged by my birth mom and was relaying her thoughts; it began with what I interpreted as general displeasure over my sudden appearance and unsolicited communication. One sentence had (incredibly) generic and pretty much useless medical info. One sentence said she would provide no info about the birth dad. And finally, please respect my privacy and buzz off.

Well, it didn’t REALLY say buzz off. After all it was written by a lawyer she had engaged. Engaged for the sole purpose of not connecting in any way, and of literally getting me to Cease and Desist.

I couldn’t believe it. During the initial few moments I alternated between being really upset and sad at being dissed in such a manner (pretty sure I cried), and then feeling completely intimidated.

Friends said not to respond.

But again, I chose not to listen.

So I responded to the lawyer, and reminded him – like I had said to my birth mom – it was supposed to be a good thing.

In the brief response I told him I was sad that my birth mom had responded through him and that, “I had no way to know of the depth of her apparent emotional concerns about my existence.”  (Yes I really wrote that…I was hurt after all) But I also wished her well and reiterated I was in fact, buzzing off.

So that was that.

I still can’t put my head (or heart) around why she would have responded the way she did. I’m sorry, but no amount of shame or whatever she was feeling should have trumped reaching out to me just once, especially if she was going to confirm she was my birth mom anyway.

So, that’s it. That’s the story. And that takes me to today. My birthday.

This morning I woke up and unbelievably…thought about my birth mom. I wondered if she remembered the date. Every year on my birthday…has she ever thought about me? Has she ever wanted to know what happened to me?

And now, is she glad to know my life turned out so well, that my adoptive parents were wonderful and kind?

And why do I even care? She is really no-one to me.

Yet it saddens me somehow; thus the need to write this piece. Writing is the only way for me to process my emotions and move on.

Now I feel better.

My chosen family, husband and sons are giving me lots of love.

My cell phone keeps letting me know a new birthday text has come in.

My life is full of love and wonderful blessings. Truly it is time to move on.

Time to go celebrate.

Canva - Lighted Candles on Cupcakes

Nature vs. Nurture – Who Am I?

I was adopted as an infant and even some 60 years later, never knew who my biological parents were. I never knew if heart disease, cancer or dementia ran in my family; or whether I was 50% Irish, German, British or what. I had never seen someone who looked like me, or even a little like me.

Canva - Baby in White Onesie

I had been adopted by two wonderful parents, so throughout my life I never really cared too much about “who” I was from a genetic sense. I truly didn’t think about it very much except when new doctors asked me the inevitable questions relating to, “What health issues run in your family?” I always just drew big lines through the pages of questions relating to medical history while shrugging my shoulders. I just didn’t know anything relating to my biological roots.

Recently, however, my world has changed.

I, along with my husband and adult sons, did 23andMe DNA tests. I had thought it would be interesting, especially for my sons (who have already started getting those questions about medical history from their docs).  While they had some ancestry insights on my husband’s side, my family history had of course been a blank slate.  I had hoped that the 23andMe tests would offer at least some helpful info on my side of things, and I was excited for us to get our results.

The test results finally came back and I suddenly had new-found insights into my heritage.

Canva - free DNA52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Ah, perhaps an explanation for my pale complexion and why I get so easily sunburned!

My sons also received their own set of percentages that at least began to fill-in some info on their unique genetic blueprints.

But another revelation was also presented to me. I had DNA matches to several second and third cousins. Even more unexpectedly, I had DNA matches who had my birth mother’s maiden name listed in their profile as a family name in their ancestral tree. That meant something! I had found biological kin.

With the names of several newfound cousins in hand I began a free trial on Ancestry.com. Using the info I now had, along with the info from adoption paperwork, it wasn’t hard to identify my probable birth mom.  Remember I hadn’t had her first name initially.

While I hadn’t really ever thought much about my biological birth parents, having a possible identification of my birth mom seemed to open up an opportunity to learn more about “me.” So with growing excitement I decided I’d build my family tree on the site and see what I could uncover.

If you have never seen Ancestry.com the outcome you are looking for when building your family tree is a large number of linked boxes. Parents linked to their kids; grandparents and those before them, all linked to each other.  Linked means family. Generations of links mean a view into your ancestry in terms of people and potentially even relating to the health of your genes.

The first decision I had to make was what name to put in my box, “Diane Marie Doran” or “Theresa Gale Diedrich”; adopted name I’d had all my life, or my biological birth name I’d had for weeks.

The question seemed simple enough. “Who am I?”

Canva - free confused

I started with my biological birth name as I thought that made the most sense in finding all the linkages to my new found “biological family”.

Initially the box labeled with my birth name (a somewhat foreign name I had never used) sat there seemingly unconnected to anyone but the maiden name of a woman I didn’t even know. It was kind of a lonely feeling. But I kept trying to form other connections around me.

On Ancestry.com there is this concept of getting a leaf (a hint to moving forward on Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetbuilding your tree)…but no matter what I did or what I searched on, I just couldn’t get any clues. No leaf, no info.

My box just sat there with the one connection to my birth mom’s maiden name. At one point I even deleted my tiny two-box family tree completely, it just seemed so futile.

But the next day I started over with some snippets of info that I had found with some online searching (it is amazing what you can learn on the internet; almost scary, actually). I found an article on what I surmised was my biological grand-dad along with mention of his three children. With a little more sleuthing I was confidant that I had found my birth mom.

With the grand-dad’s name I found the correct Diedrich family tree (which thankfully was not set up as private so I could take more than a peek).

I got a leaf, and then another.

Soon it was raining leaves.grampa edwin and margaret

From there I quickly developed many generations of connected boxes (only on my biological mom’s side as I didn’t know my biological dad’s name as yet). I was amazed at the ability to pull up photos of biological relatives’ weddings, their high school yearbook photos, newspaper clippings, military paperwork, immigration documents and so much more. I felt like I was learning so much about my biological roots; when my family migrated from Germany and more. It was fascinating, especially the historical records one could pull up and see.

It was so fun that I wanted to add my “real” family to see all of their historical info as well. I was so excited to see the entire “me” unfolding in the myriad of interconnected boxes. I thought I’d add my husband, sons, adopted brother and my adoptive parents. I was eager to see some familiar names and start seeing those connections take shape as well.

But that is when I was told that I had to choose. I had to “set a preference” in my ancestral tree: Biological parents (and family) or adoptive; one or the other.

I tried to over-ride this default, adding my adopted brother as a sibling under my biological family tree; but then he showed up under my birth mother versus our adoptive mom! I tried to trick the app, but to no avail. I thought it wasn’t very kind of the app to make me have to choose.

Perhaps this requirement for me to choose, to set a preference, was just a design decision that some engineer thought made complete sense. Clearly that individual didn’t have to involve two sets of families to answer the question, “Who am I?”

Canva - Handpainted Watercolor Family Giving Gifts on ChristmasAll of this irritated me, confused me…and frankly, made me just a bit emotional. I had to decide. Which “representation” of me was more important? Which set of roots (DNA or a lifetime of living) was more important?

That’s when it really hit me.

I had thought the genetics of my ancestry was so important, but staring at the interconnected boxes of strangers made me feel like an outsider. Worse, staring at my adoptive family now made me feel just a bit like a traitor. Weren’t they my real family? But I started wondering…I wondered how my adopted relatives depicted me on their own family trees. Was I there in a connected box? Or perhaps I was a box floating out in the cosmos, with a dotted line saying, “adopted.” Now my brain really began to spin.

Should my family tree be the parents who chose me, loved me and cared for me? Should it be the cousins I have known over the course of my life?  By this time I had found many scans of documents and bits and pieces of my adoptive ancestors’ lives. Here were all the people I had actually known and cared about, many of who were no longer living, like grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of these people shared my DNA; they had just shared my life.  I looked at these boxes (with my preference set to adoptive family) with great fondness. I remembered these people. They were biologically linked to my parents, just not to me.

Then I clicked over to my biological tree. These boxes and linkages contained no real emotional ties; the people were foreign to me. The linkages might have appeared connected to me on the screen, but I felt no connection. I was fascinated by the linkage, but emotionally ill-at-ease. To some extent I felt like I was eavesdropping on another family, clicking on their photos and moments; trying desperately to feel some connection and sense of inclusiveness.

I know that the whole point of the site is biological kin. But at that moment I couldn’t think why I cared beyond the statistics of 52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Except maybe to know more about health history…so is the benefit of my entire ancestral search really about how my biological family tree members have died?

I think about what is more important, the “who” I could have been versus the “who” that I am.

The adopted me is who I am, why I am not a fashionista, why I love gardening, my sense of ethics,  why kindness is paramount to me, and maybe even why I became a writer. My adoptive dad’s love for developing an amazing vocabulary, my adoptive mom’s insistent voice to be kind, open-minded and caring. That is all what made me, me.

I finally decided, after making a few notes on my biological roots for my children, that I will set my preference for the adopted me. That is really the “me” and the family I know. I feel it somehow honors my adoptive parents, who were the best parents in the world. And it leaves me in a comfortable familiar space, with comfortable familiar names, in comfortable familiar boxes.

The linkages may not be based on DNA, but the linkages are real. The linkages are based on a lifetime of shared moments and connections (still ongoing today).

And as for finding my birth mom?

Yes I found her. That’s another story for another time.

Let’s just say I couldn’t have had better parents than the ones who raised me.

Mom and Dad…missing you even more today and wish you could see your wonderful grandsons as the bright and loving young men they are.

That’s what true family is all about after all…who you have loved…who you have lost… who remains in your heart…and who you will always remember.

Honoring the “Heart Man”

Every year since 2004 I have been telling people the story of a man known as the “Heart Man”. It occurred to me that the story is getting old now, and that maybe I should write about something else this Valentines Day. But I can’t let go of the Heart Man’s story. Sorry, I just can’t.

heartman-138x103So I decided to take a slightly different approach this year. Instead of telling you about how the Heart Man, Cliff Steer, was one of the longest living heart transplant patients in the US; instead of telling you about how he spent some 18 years of his “new” life visiting schools around San Jose (CA), carrying his old heart with him and telling his story of how bad choices relating to smoking and alcohol had poisoned his body and crippled that old heart; instead of that, I thought I’d issue everyone who reads this a challenge.

Ready? Here’s the challenge: Become someone’s hero this Valentine’s Day (or any day!)

Relay your wish to be a donor this Valentines Day

If you haven’t already done so, sit down with your family and tell them that it is your wish to be an organ donor. I know, I know…you say you’ve filled out the donor card already. But if you haven’t sat down and told your family, your wishes might not be honored in that awful moment in the future when your grieving family needs to relay that possibly split-second decision.

If you haven’t already registered, go to, organdonor.gov. You’ll be taken to your particular state’s website for easy registration, it is very simple to do, so do it now (this website also has a lot of helpful information on it). You can also sign up when you renew your driver’s license and in most states you will get some kind of designation on your driver’s license itself, such as a dot or a heart, that indicates you are a donor.

Don’t wait until you are dead to save a life: become someone’s hero today

Second, save lives while you are alive and give blood. Every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, either because of an accident, surgery, disease or in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Did you know that just giving blood once can make you three people’s hero, as one blood donation can be used for saving up to 3 lives. The Red Cross (which provides about 40% of the nation’s blood) has estimated that only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood yearly!

Go to redcross.org/give-blood to find out how and where to give blood. And don’t just do it once. You can technically donate your blood every 2 months if eligible (there is a longer time required between donations for platelet donations). You likely have other local options to give blood as well, such as hospitals and local events (often sponsored by schools and local businesses…maybe YOU can work with your company or school to organize a blood drive yourself…there is info on the site relating to how this works). The Red Cross offers a texting service at redcrossblood.org/texting; you can sign up and receive info about local events happening in your vicinity.

Remember the Heart Man and his hero, a 23 year old accident victim

Third, tell your kids the Heart Man’s story. I remember hearing it over a decade ago when he came to my 3rd grade son’s class. Tens of thousands of young adults heard his story. They heard him talk about how he had made poor choices in his youth. Poor choices about who he hung out with, what he put into his body. About how smoking and alcohol had killed his heart, almost killing him. He would stand there, in front of his young audiences, holding his heart. Yes, holding his original, diseased heart. He’d show them exactly what his poor choices had done to his heart, and why it had almost killed him.

At every presentation he would also talk about HIS own hero, the donor who had made Cliff’s continued life possible. 18 additional years to live. 18 additional years to make better choices and to influence the choices of others.

At Cliff’s memorial service so long ago, I remember seeing how much he had meant to so many people. He had lived long enough for he and his wife Jean to have four children, nine grandchildren and countless good friends, all of whom had clearly been blessed by Cliff being a part of their life.

Without his heart donor, Cliff might not have had those additional years of life to make such a difference in so many lives even beyond his family. Thousands of kids and teens throughout the world might not have heard his story and message, either through his live presentations or through his video (which he had made of his presentation and had sent out to schools and organizations all over the world, for free).

I remember that at the memorial service, Cliff’s unidentified donor – a 23 year old accident victim and Cliff’s lifesaving hero – was publicly thanked. I wish that individual’s family could have attended the service and seen what wonder had come out of the unselfish act of organ donation by their family member.

Jean Steer, Cliff’s wife, was a 3rd grade teacher in San Jose for many years. Even after his death in 2003 she continued with her husband’s mission each Valentines Day, taking his heart and his message to a new crop of young minds at local schools. 


February 14 is National Donor Day and April is National Donate Life Month. Almost 113,000 men, women and children currently await life-saving transplants and every 10 minutes another name is added to this list. Minorities account for nearly half of the list. An average of 20 people dies each day from the lack of available organs for transplants.

According to the Donate Life America website, “95% of Americans are in favor of being an organ donor, but only 60% are registered.”

Take a moment and become someone’s hero this Valentines Day. Give blood and become a donor. And tell your family about your wishes, and suggest that they, too, become donors. Imagine how you’d feel if someone is your family needed an organ and it wasn’t available.

Do it because it is the right choice.

Do it for the Heart Man.

Do it to become a hero this Valentines Day.

Canva - Thank You! Heart Text




(you can read more about The Heart Man in this article…)


The Kids Are Gone. Time To Downsize?

My parents lived in their home long after my moving out. But when my father died, my mom did finally move out of my lifelong “home”.

At the time of my mom’s move we sorted through her and my dad’s life, getting rid of all the collected stuff of a lifetime. She moved away from long-time neighbors and nearby friends, from a 3 bedroom home to a small single bedroom apartment. I remember how emotional it was for her.

Now, I am sitting in my own home of some 23 years. My older son lives in an apartment a day’s drive away; my younger son still in college, but not really around much. My husband and I have a 4 bedroom home. It is a big house with a large yard.

My husband was the first to bring up the idea of downsizing. “We no longer need the space,” he said one day.  “If we downsize to a less expensive area we can retire early,” I heard over and over again.anniversary_window

Then, one day it seemingly started to make sense…

Read the rest of this article

An Empty Nest? Or Not?

I haven’t written for a while as my professional (aka: PAID) writing has taken off…yeh…so I’ve been too busy to do personal blogs…But, after a particularly long week of writing about others’ lives, I thought I should sit down with a glass of wine and tap into my inner self a bit…it has been too long…

I just went and watched my older son graduate from college. Truly a proud moment.

…took a lot of photos, hugged and kissed him, and then flew back home with the family. The younger son joined us, flew back with us and is staying with us for the summer. He’ll then return to college. When he moves out at the end of this summer, my husband and I will once again be in empty nest mode.

Thank God.nest

Now don’t get me wrong. I love my sons. But after the initial gut-wrenching sadness of having them both gone…and it truly was gut-wrenching, I have the therapy bill and prescriptions to prove it…well, after all of that, something happened.

The empty nest became a lovely respite.

Continue reading

Rectangular Salmon

You know your life is busy when your dinner preparation consists of taking out a frost-covered package of frozen salmon wedged deep in your freezer…cracking it open, and placing the two perfectly rectangular frozen chunks (frozen together, of course) on a baking pan. I actually admit I did this last week, and let me tell you a little something about rectangular salmon…  Continue reading

Hair here…hair where?

Yesterday I put on my most powerful reading glasses and pushed my face up right next to the bathroom mirror, really close… I do this infrequently just to get a reality check on what is going on at close-range. Normally, I stand at a much safer distance – at least a few feet from the mirror – and wear a less powerful pair of glasses.

What’s the difference, you say?  Continue reading