Portal to the Past

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por·tal
ˈpôrdl/
noun
noun: portal; plural noun: portals

1.
    a doorway, gate, or other entrance, especially a large and elaborate one.
    synonyms:    doorway, gateway, entrance, exit, opening; More
    door, gate, entryway;
    formal egress
    “the portals to the palace were heavily guarded”
    2.
    Computing
    an Internet site providing access or links to other sites.

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My granddaughter agreed that Randall Davey's home was really cool!

My granddaughter agreed that Randall Davey’s home was really cool!

 As an adult adoptee, I agonized about not possessing an authentic family tree: biological roots, a list of same-DNA folks to whom I could trace my origins, blood relations. How to invent your own family tree? A forest of trees? A juniper that sends its roots so deep into the earth that it cannot be easily uprooted? Pretend that the whole family tracing mania is a waste of time and really doesn’t matter? No, no, and again no.
Of course ones origins matter. To pretend otherwise is unsustainable. No matter how far my adoptee recovery journey takes me, I’ll wake up every morning and still be adopted. However, the issue no longer causes that dark night of the soul that plagued me for so many years. Life is simply too short to agonize over the past. I’ve decided to transcend the question and open my mind to studying the pasts of others.
 Last weekend, I visited the estate of the early twentieth painter Randall Davey, one of the most colorful figures in the cultural history of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was a prolific painter, son of a well-heeled east coast family who wanted their son to become a lawyer or an architect. Instead, Davey studied painting in New York and moved to Santa Fe to become a full time artist. He bought 135 acres of land at the end of Upper Canyon Road and converted an old mill to his home and studio.
He was a bon vivant, fast driver, musician, married to first Florence and then Isabel. Very much a local character. Davey died in an automobile accident, en route to see a girlfriend, near Baker, California on November 7 at the age of 77. His son William and Kate Cullum (sister of Isabel) bequeathed the property to the Audubon Society for their national headquarters. The Audubon Center & Sanctuary has preserved the home of Randall Davey and opens it to the public once a week. Last Friday I traveled to the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and signed up to see the estate.
A guided tour through the artist’s home transports one to another era. It’s as though Mr. Davey would come back at any moment

The artist's touch graces every room.

The artist’s touch graces every room.

Furnishings, paintings on the walls, books, studio and paints – all seem to be frozen in time. The highlight of my August, the Randall Davey excursion was a reminder that adoption recovery allows an expanding  of ones horizons. Pondering the pasts of others, I’ve learned, can sometimes prove more worthwhile than pondering ones own!

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on adoption and life.

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on adoption and life.

In Pursuit of Roots

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Dear Readers: I am taking a “Blog-cation to work on a novel (The Hand of Ganesha). Therefore, I hope you’ll enjoy this re-posting of thoughts originally published in 2012. The lack of “roots” continues to haunt me. If you’re an adoptee and have ever felt the need for a more authentic family tree, please send your feedback. Like other adoptees I’ve met, I’m still searching for the answers!

Last night I watched a program on public television that reminded me of being an adoptee. The emptiness and longing for a tribe of my own, a feeling I wrongly assumed I had put to rest, was back with a vengeance.

“Finding your Roots,” which featured three celebrities exploring their family trees, was all about searching to find a place where you belong, piecing together the past, and learning where and how your ancestors lived. The show was well presented and dramatized the interviewees’ journeys to discover their their true heritage.

imagesMy outsider status syndrome immediately kicked in. How fortunate, I thought, to even possess a genealogy that you could call your own. Growing up as an adoptee, I longed for years to claim a so-called “family tree.” I’d been to Italy with my birthfather Giovanni Cecchini. After our reunion, we travelled to Abruzzi, where he was born. I met my non-English-speaking cousins, aunts and uncles. Following the journey to Italy, my birthfather’s second wife (not my birthmother) helped me secure a detailed listing of paternal relatives.

With my adoptive mom’s help, I’d was able to chart out a family tree for my ancestry record, going back just a couple centuries. Those two charts were intellectual exercises, but I couldn’t relate to them.

Two family trees, but neither really fit who I was. Though I had the DNA of the biological parentage, I was shaped and molded by my adoptive parents. Rather than give in to an emotional meltdown, however, I thought long and hard about why the “Finding your Roots” program tried to break my heart. Tried but failed.

When I was young, I made up a myth about being adopted.The underlying theme was “Oh, poor me.” That was a way of reacting to everything, seemingly as fixed as the stars in the Big Dipper or the belt of the constellation Orion. However, I was not a fixed star and I could shape a new truth.

Juniper Tree

Juniper Tree. Everything, seemingly as fixed as the stars in the Big Dipper or the belt of the constellation Orion. However, I was not a fixed star and I could shape a new truth.

I decided to emulate the indomitable juniper tree. It will send roots down 25 feet in order to survive. Here’s a description from the National Park Service’s website:

“Junipers grow in some of the most inhospitable landscapes imaginable, thriving in an environment of baking heat, bone-chilling cold, intense sunlight, little water and fierce winds. Often they appear to grow straight out of solid rock.”

This is the kind of family tree that will serve me well.

Decades of diaries became my memoir, The Goodbye Baby

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on adoption and life.

Are You Listening- Part II

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Note from Elaine: Yesterday, guest blogger and birthmother Pat Goehe, explained how two people can seem to be communicating but are really “talking past each other.” In the second installment of her two-part post, she explains “in depth” listening and tells how we can be the empathetic listeners that so many of us need. What does this have to do with adoption? A lot! If we adoptees can learn to really listen, we can also learn to let the past be past and live within the confines of each day.

 

Listening-Quotes

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Finally, we have in depth listening. This is where the people involved follow many of the things Elaine said in an earlier post on the topic. While no one can do this type of listening in every interaction he or she has, there are times when it would not be beneficial. For example, classes where one really needs to get the information to pass the class. Another would be “on the job” where one is getting trained or new information for a project. And if one tried to engage in depth listening in every interaction, the emotional involvement would simply be too much. It is in our most significant relationships we need to develop the in depth listening type.
Looking at the “listening process” there are several concepts that can and do affect the outcome. In my opinion the first is “noise”. There is physical noise like being ill, having a hangover (My students always loved that one!), allergies in certain seasons. Also being in a room that is too hot, stuffy, too cold, in a restaurant where there is so much talk it is difficult to converse with your dining companions; these are all examples of this type of noise. But often it is the “interior” noise that creates the biggest problem. Examples of this could be: You have a major paper due in two days and you haven’t started it yet ; someone in your family is having surgery or getting a diagnosis on some condition but you are at work and have to fulfill those duties; you are already behind in two house payments and have no idea what you’re going to do; your friend told you your husband is having an affair; you have been contemplating divorce for months but can’t make a decision; you’re concerned your parent has Alzheimer’s Disease. So many more examples. I know you can fill in many of your own. The point being, these types of “noise” most certainly interfere with listening even when you really want to listen.

There is a difference between hearing and listening!

There is a difference between hearing and listening!

The next concept from the process is “interpretation”. Actually noise is a part of this as well, but what it means is how you take in what has been said. A person I know visited me recently. Realizing it is best to stay away from political topics, and yet he thrives on them, I tried to comment on a recent news story. I thought surely it would be safe. But, before I could do anything more than identifying the story, he was in to “They set him up. They’re just out to get him like they do everything.” As I write this the Supreme Court just ruled on the health care program and the same sex marriage issue. I’m sure you have seen how that has evolved into major conflicts. This leads me into my favorite image which I usually post for students to explain this entire concept of communicating. It is the M.C. Escher print called “Bond of Union”. Basically there are two heads with ribbons connecting at some places and no connection with others. Both are also surrounded by little balls in the air. To me this is the best visual I have found which illustrates the various ideas I have presented in this blog. Each of us carries
inside our head all the experiences we have had in life. Remember that just because you came from the same family, your experiences can be different … the first child, the middle one etc. And while someone you are communicating with may have had their Mother die and you did too, it still is different. So in those relationships we really care about, it is necessary to “depth listen” to make the connections. It’s at times like this we often want to “fix the problem for the person”. We can only fix ourselves! But, we can be empathic, caring, depth listeners which so many of us need! To do this we must follow Elaine’s advice in the earlier piece. Listening/watching for the nonverbal aspects is SO IMPORTANT! There are subtle instances, faces getting red, looking away when discussing key aspects of a situation, the eyes tell us a lot. You can see I could write a whole blog on nonverbal communication, and yes, I taught semester courses in that too!
I always gave my students assignments on listening. One would be to observe others. Restaurants are great places to do this. I want them to watch for “dialogue of the deaf”, the argument type, and in depth listening. I also have them to commit to depth listening with a significant other. They come back reporting silly things having discovered Tournier knew what he was talking about. On the deep listening with a significant other, 99% of students reported that “other” would say, “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” “Are you sick?”. That suggests in a relationship that is very important in our life, there is not much “depth listening” happening.
I challenge each of you to do those assignments. We know for our sanity, we each must have at least one significant person in our lives who listens to us and we listen to them. Who is your person?

Pat Goehe is a  children's author and birthmother.Her newest book is Annemarie and Boomer wait for Grandma.

Pat Goehe is a children’s author and birthmother.Her newest book is Annemarie and Boomer wait for Grandma.

Are You Listening?

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Note from Elaine: Adoption issues, my theme for the past several years, has allowed me to focus beyond “recovery” and move toward ways of reaching a more fulfilling life. To listen more to others and less to the same tired song of myself. Guest blogger Pat Goehe, past contributor to The Goodbye Baby, knows a lot about the art of communication.

If you're always talking, how can you hear?

If you’re always talking, how can you hear?

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ARE YOU LISTENING?- PART ONE
To begin this posting, I must tell you that over the years I have taught semester courses in listening. Additionally, the numerous courses in Interpersonal Communication that we all teach in my field contain major units in listening. Why must I tell you this? Because it is extremely difficult for me to narrow the topic down to briefer comments. But I will try!
Whether it’s a class or a speech I usually give demonstrations (because I continue to be an actress!) of three commonly observed interactions where supposedly we are listening. First we have what the psychologist Tournier called “dialogue of the deaf”; others refer to it as “talking past each other.” What happens here are people who believe they are communicating with each other, but often a person will ask a question , then is immediately formulating another question before the recipient can complete responding to the first inquiry. Another example of this type of listening problem is where one person in the conversation is talking. The listener hears a “trigger word or phrase”. Example: Sue says “I made the greatest recipe last night. It was….” And before she can complete this statement, Mary says “Oh my gosh! I forgot to take out the frozen chops I’m planning to fix tonight”. While both Sue and Mary think they are listening to each other, they are engaged in the dialogue of the deaf.
Next we have the type of listening where one person, or maybe both, listens only to dispute/argue whatever has been said. That is debating, not listening!

Tomorrow: PART TWO of “Are You Listening”

Pat Goehe is a  children's author and birthmother.Her newest book is Annemarie and Boomer wait for Grandma.

Pat Goehe is a children’s author and birthmother. Her newest book is Annemarie and Boomer wait for Grandma.

All I need to know about life I learned from my cat.

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A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?
– Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

Note to readers: As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, I write about adoption and adoption-related issues. The time has come to talk about adopting a cat. Why? There’s a new four-legged friend in my life. Rescue kitty Charlie Chapman brings me such joy and laughter, I must share.

Life is hard, then you nap.

Life is hard, then you nap.

 

Several years ago, my orange tabby, Thomas Cromwell, died of feline immune deficiency. Thomas Cromwell, named after the protagonist of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall, had seen me through a major operation, repair of an abdominal aorta aneurism. He was a wonderful nurse. I tried in vain to repay the favor. When his time came, it was a holiday weekend and the vet’s office was closed. There were emergency services, but I was reluctant to put my frail, frightened feline in a cat carrier and take him to a place that would terrify him. Keeping by him round the clock, I would wait until the vet’s office opened on Tuesday.  His friends (he was a very popular cat) visited to say goodbye. He passed away gently surrounded by the comforts of home, and I was devastated.

I knew that I would never invite another cat into my life. But…time passed and, as felines are wont to do, another kitty padded his way into my home and heart, a handsome gray and white seven-year-old. He’d won the hearts of the volunteers at Felines and Friends, and he was about to win mine.

Charlie Chapman as king of the divan

Charlie Chapman as king of the divan

WHAT’S IN A NAME?
I’d just returned from a Viking River Cruise up the Elbe River, to the Czech Republic and  eastern Germany. Before the trip, I’d met my future pet at the local cat rescue organization Felines and Friends. I was fairly certain that he wouldn’t still be available after my return. When he was still there, I decided that an adoption was meant to be. Filling out paperwork and paying the adoption fee, I took him home.
He is called “Chapman,” said the adoption folks. Hmmmm. “OK, kiddo,” I said to my new friend. “We have to think of a new name for you.” Two weeks of trial and error—Igor, Rochester, Sidney, William, and various other identifications—and I realized that all he needed was a first name to go along with “Chapman.” Thus “Charlie Chapman.”

NO PLACE LIKE HOME:
But which part of home would my new pet inhabit? At first, Chapman spent all his time inside — yes, inside — the recliner chair. A previous cat had carved out an interior cave in this comfy old piece of furniture and Charlie Chapman would spend long hours inside it. In fact, I seldom saw him. This was not the way become a social cat, one who would interact with friends and family. I placed small pet rugs and tempting kitty beds on top of couches, chairs, and beds and yet still Chapman disappeared into the recliner.
Not to be outsmarted, I cut some material out of the innards of the chair, removing his self-styled “hammock.” Next I cleaned and brought in two cinder blocks from the back yard. After tilting the chair up, I lowered it down OVER the cinder blocks. The hiding place was gone and my little friend would now have to be out and about. Suddenly he was on armchairs, the couch, in the kitchen, and roaming around the house. I was happier being able to interact with him, and he instantly became more outgoing. Now he races around the house as if he owned the place. It’s as though he’d been born and raised here.
Charlie Chapman is a model of adaptability. He’s quickly overcoming his shadowy, underprivileged past. Even as he wins a place in my heart,  Chapman is teaching me.

Join Elaine every other Monday for musings on adoption and life.

Join Elaine every other Monday for musings on adoption and life.

Show Me the Way to go Home

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NOTE: Guest Blogger Ellen Antill writes about feeling at home in the world. Those of you who’ve been following my site know that adoption recovery centers around authenticity, acceptance and coming home to oneself. Enjoy this inspiring essay, and please add your comments. What does being “at home” mean to you? -EP

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Six years ago I set out on a fresh path in a new town, leaving my husband and the home in suburban Phoenix we’d owned for many years.

For the first two years of my adventure, I felt pretty rootless, like a wanderer, living as a guest or caregiver in other people’s houses.

Then I rented a cozy, peaceful casita in Santa Fe, my “Hobbit House.”

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When I finally unpacked my books and dishes and stocked my own refrigerator, I sat on the kitchen floor of the Hobbit House and cried.

What was it that I’d been so hungry for in those two years when I was floating, unmoored in a material sense as well as in my soul?

I longed for a space in which I felt safe and comfortable enough to be myself, where I didn’t need to answer to anyone or ask permission to plant flowers in the back yard.

I dreamed of walking in my front door any time of the day or night and having no one to take care of . . . of being as noisy or as still as I wanted to be.

I yearned to create an uncluttered space in which to write and read and meditate . . . with no interruptions.

I lost myself in imagining the vibrant colors I would paint my walls . . . and felt sublimely content when I pictured the complete absence of TV!

I was absolutely famished for the freedom to invite lots of friends over to cook and eat together, to sing and laugh and tell stories as far into the evening as we wished.

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But wait.  Let’s go back for a second to me, sitting on the floor, overwhelmed by emotions, unpacking pots and pans in the Hobbit House.

My tears were not simply a sign of relief about having a private physical space again.  They were about knowing I’d just taken another step toward claiming my authentic self, the woman I’d envisioned myself becoming before I ever set out on my gypsy quest.

Today I dearly love my Hobbit House.  It symbolizes all the expansive learning and growth and transformation I’ve experienced in the last four years.  And it still takes my breath away to see how my bedroom comes alive on summer mornings with quivering leaf patterns from the trees outside.

At the same time, I feel ready for more space and light and enough room, at last, for those gatherings of friends and loved ones . . . and a bigger bathroom counter and more than one closet, please!

So I’m calling in a new Santa Fe home, the next space to provide shelter and warmth, a space to be a witness to the changes yet to blossom within me.

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When I see the dancing leaf patterns on the walls, I’ll know I’ve found the right place.

Thanks to Ellen Antill for today’s Guest Post!

Ellen Antill

Ellen Antill

In her own words…
One of the key reasons Ellen is on the planet is to facilitate the Storytellers process, a personal growth experience she designed 10 years ago for older girls and women.  Much of this process is about providing an emotionally safe environment where girls and women – individually or in small groups — can share and embrace their “original stories” and learn to love themselves.  Storytellers also supports girls and women in creating vibrant new life stories for their present and future.

Ellen Antill, M.A.
Founder/Executive Director
Storytellers: Women Creating New Life Stories
(505) 577-3930
storywomen60@gmail.com
http://www.storywomen.wordpress.com

A Reunion too Late, or… the Gift of Relatives

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Note: Just back from a river cruise on the Elbe River, through the Czech Republic, Saxony and Germany. My apologies for publishing a so-called “Monday Blog” on Wednesday. It is the first time in two years of blogging that I’ve missed a deadline. Traveling in Europe without a computer was not conducive to being punctual, but I’m hoping this belated post will provide food for thought, especially for adoptees who’ve either had or are hoping to have reunions with their parents of origin.
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Jane, adopted at ten months, met her birthparents as an adult. Decades later, she and her original mom had a reunion. It was a great success. Predictably, one of the best aspects of the reunion was learning about her German roots. She greatly enjoyed getting to know her mother, a first generation immigrant. As she told me about the event, my spirits drooped. A success, I thought, as I enviously listened.

To be honest, reunions with both my birthparents, who divorced shortly after I was Note: I am just back from a river cruise on the Elbe River, through the Czech Republic, Saxony and Germany. My apologies for publishing a so-called “Monday Blog” on Wednesday. It is the first time in two years of blogging that I’ve missed a deadline. Traveling in Europe without a computer was not conducive to being punctual, but I’m hoping this belated post will provide food for thought, especially for adoptees who’ve either had or are hoping to have reunions with their parents of origin.
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Jane, adopted at ten months, met her birthparents as an adult. Decades later, she and her original mom had a reunion. It was a great success. Predictably, one of the best aspects of the reunion was learning about her German roots. She greatly enjoyed getting to know her mother, a first generation immigrant. As she told me about the event, my spirits drooped. A success, I thought, as I enviously listened.

To be honest, reunions with both my birthparents, who divorced shortly after I was born, were less than victorious. In the case of Giovanni Cecchini, my Italian birthfather, expectations were great. The year was 1987, and Giovanni was planning to visit his birthplace, San Martino Sulla Marrucina in Abruzzo, Italy. I had seen him once in my life, during my teen years, and I had a positive relationship with his new wife Margaret.

Because Giovanni was in frail health, Margaret and I decided that it would be a good

Abruzzi, Italy is the birthplace of my original dad. Many relatives still live there.

Abruzzi, Italy is the birthplace of my original dad. Many relatives still live there.

idea for me to accompany him to Europe. Not only did I want to meet my Italian relatives, I hoped for a deeper relationship with my father. This trip might provide a chance to learn more about Velma, my birthmother, and the circumstances of my adoption.

However, it was a miss. Too much time had apparently loosened any potential bonds. Giovanni was moody, out of sorts, and taciturn. He was far warmer toward his two little nieces, ages nine and ten, than to me, his own flesh and blood. That part was a tremendous let-down.

There we were in Italy, the “old country,” surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. Everyone lived in close proximity. It was November and mornings were very cold.

We’re sitting in front of a blazing fireplace and I asked my father to tell me what my mother was like when he first met her.

“To tell the truth,” he grumpily responded, “You remind me of her.” Nothing else, just that. I could tell that it wasn’t a compliment. I waited for clarification, elaboration, a modifying remark…anything. Nothing but silence.

After the visit to Italy, Giovanni and I were interviewed by a newspaper about our reunion and journey to Italy. He told the reporter that in his opinion, there had been “too much water under the bridge.”

On the bright side, my Italian relatives—who’d known nothing about me—surrounded me with love. They seemed thrilled to know about their newfound American cousin. So, while I envied Jane and her successful birth family reunion, I treasured the fact that I got to know my extended Italian family. I cherish the memories more as years go by. born, were less than victorious. In the case of Giovanni Cecchini, my Italian birthfather, expectations were great. The year was 1987, and Giovanni was planning to visit his birthplace, San Martino Sulla Marrucina in Abruzzo, Italy. I had seen him once in my life, during my teen years, and I had a positive relationship with his new wife Margaret.

Because Giovanni was in frail health, Margaret and I decided that it would be a good idea for me to accompany him to Europe. Not only did I want to meet my Italian relatives, I hoped for a deeper relationship with my father. This trip might provide a chance to learn more about Velma, my birthmother, and the circumstances of my adoption.

However, it was a miss. Too much time had apparently loosened any potential bonds. Giovanni was moody, out of sorts, and taciturn. He was far warmer toward his two little nieces, ages nine and ten, than to me, his own flesh and blood. That part was a tremendous let-down.

There we were in Italy, the “old country,” surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. Everyone lived in close proximity. It was November and mornings were very cold.

We’re sitting in front of a blazing fireplace and I asked my father to tell me what my mother was like when he first met her.

“To tell the truth,” he grumpily responded, “You remind me of her.” Nothing else, just that. I could tell that it wasn’t a compliment. I waited for clarification, elaboration, a modifying remark…anything. Nothing but silence.

After the visit to Italy, Giovanni and I were interviewed by a newspaper about our reunion and journey to Italy. He told the reporter that in his opinion, there had been “too much water under the bridge.”

On the bright side, my Italian relatives—who’d known nothing about me—surrounded me with love. They seemed thrilled to know about their newfound American cousin. So, while I envied Jane and her successful birth family reunion, I treasured the fact that I got to know my extended Italian family. I cherish the memories more as years go by.

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on adoption and life.

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on adoption and life.

Adopting Simplicity

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The past few weeks in this high desert city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, temperatures

When customers weren't buying, we ended up trading with one another.

When customers weren’t buying, we ended up trading with one another.

soared from the sixties to the eighties. Spring suddenly turned into Summer. Along with newly blooming roses, colorful signs for neighborhood garage sales began popping up. Like many others, I’d been saving all manner of possessions to “repurpose” them after our long, cold winter ended.
Yep, you guessed it — I decided to join neighbors in staging a two-day yard sale. It happened last weekend. Labeling, putting up signs and balloons, advertising in local papers, schlepping everything over to my friend’s house…it was a ton of work. True, a lot sold and I made a decent amount of money. Toward the end of the sale, I simply gave a lot away. We all did. But, to be honest, it was exhausting and ridiculously time-consuming. I vowed to quit letting stuff creep into my house.
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 Every possession, it’s been said, is a responsibility. Even after the recent sale, I still have too many books, clothes, shoes, housewares, books, office supplies, garden supplies…too much of EVERYTHING.
Writing my adoption memoir The Goodbye Baby-A Diary about Adoption gave me

Hard to believe no one wanted my Salton Yogurt Maker.

Hard to believe no one wanted my Salton Yogurt Maker.

the reality check I needed. It was so liberating to review four decades of past emotional “baggage” and then burning the diaries themselves, I realized that my too-much-stuff problem could also be tackled. The late diaries went up in smoke, and that gave me courage. It was OK to get rid of something that had once been precious. In publishing my “diary book,” I’d saved the essence of those journals, which was all I needed: First the diaries, then the house and everything in it. There is no turning back.
Nature abhors a vacuum; my perpetual need to purge is living proof. But, I will gain the upper hand! Just as I’ve replaced my old negative thinking about adoption (healthy acceptance is the aim), I’m revising my attitude toward possessions. De-acquisition-ing is my new goal. Divesting. Streamlining. Simplifying.

Less time organizing and caring for things and more time to simply LIVE. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again:
*Use it or LOSE it.
*LESS is MORE.
*Empty is BEAUTIFUL

Join Elaine most Mondays for reflections on Adoption and Life.

Join Elaine most Mondays for reflections on Adoption and Life.

Listening 101

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The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.
-Rachel Naomi Remen

Listening deeply opens up whole new worlds.

Listening deeply opens up new worlds.

It’s been said that life is a journey.  We spend the first part of our years on the planet moving toward an elusive “something” and the latter part facing it down. One thing I’ve learned is that what we have to face is often ourselves.

I’ve met many adult adoptees—fellow travelers on the mysterious, meandering quest toward understanding adoption. We seem to be revising our thoughts about the “adoptee” status. We strive toward relaxing into acceptance and moving beyond old, tired hangups about being adopted. As one blogger in the online adoption community observed, “You wake up and you’re still adopted.”

One of my discoveries is that by putting my own adoption issues to rest, as in “Enough, already…go back into your cave,” I find the energy to focus outward. This new attitude includes refreshing my listening style.  Instead of preparing a response to whatever is being said during a conversation, I’m work on paying full attention to the speaker.

Whether or not you’re dealing with adoption issues, here are ten
Basic principles of more effective listening:

1 Stop talking.
2. Concentrate on the message being communicated.
3. Help the speaker feel free to speak. Use eye contact.
4. Remove distractions such as gazing out a window or checking for text messages.
5. Empathize. Try to understand the speaker’s point of view.
6. Be patient – a pause does not necessarily meant the speaker has finished.
7. Avoid prejudice. If you disagree, use the transition “Yes, and…” rather than “NO!”
8. Listen to the speaker’s tone and volume.
9. Listen for ideas, not just words.
10 Watch for non-verbal communication.

Silence can be golden. Epictetus summed it up: If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear. 

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on Adoption and Life.

Join Elaine every other Monday for reflections on Adoption and Life.

Searching for a Family Tree

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NOTE: This post was originally published last year. Adoptee Elaine Pinkerton is visiting her grandchildren (who turn four and seven this month), and she is happily immersed in family matters. In the midst of a new “family tree,” she feels the question of “roots” is more relevant than ever. Dear readers, adopted or not: please comment on what your family origins mean to you.

What does an adoptee do about the Ancestry Question and matter of ROOTS? While

Will the real FAMILY TREE please become apparent?

Elaine asks, Will the real FAMILY TREE please become apparent?

others can trace their family trees, the adoptee has to choose between the birth family and the adoptive family. Do we adoptees even have a family tree? If you’ve grown up with adoptive parents, is THEIR family tree yours? If you’ve been lucky (or unlucky) enough to meet your biological parents and learn about that family, do you BELONG to IT? Could their family tree be yours?  How does one claim ancestors?
These are questions I’m no longer willing to sweep under the rug. I’ve decided that instead of a family tree, I’ll settle for family records, those of my adoptive mom and dad. The letters they exchanged (before they became my parents) during their long WWII separation reveal their search for me. In 2005, I gathered these letters together for a book: From Calcutta with Love-The WWII Letters of Richard and Reva Beard.
Richard and Reva Beard were separated by 6,000 miles and 18 months during WWII.

My Dad wrote home every day.

My Dad wrote home every day.

Richard served as a clinical psychologist in the China-Burma-Theater (CBI).  To imagine my mother’s search, I re-read the letters that deal with adopting a child. One of my favorites …
August 1, 1944

My Darling, We chose what turned out to be a very warm day to go to Toledo. I was very warm
and perspiring all day — to my amazement the big stores there aren’t air-conditioned. I got a purplish wine shade. I thought a red would be too bright. This is really a
pretty color but I’m afraid you won’t approve of the style. I couldn’t’ find a pattern that I liked in a fitted coat to use my fur to an advantage. So I got a tuxedo on the strength that you will like it when you see it. The fur will be down the front you know. I hesitated, knowing you don’t care so much for them but if it is really made to fit me maybe you will change your mind. I visited “The Child and Family Agency” 1035 Superior St. Toledo. They feel that they have to supply Toledo people first but said that their number is increasing so that they may be able to go outside of the city. I had a nice interview and they gave me an application blank to fill in which requires both our signatures. The first part is data concerning our religion, finances and references. I have copied the last two paragraphs which I think necessitates your signature. I suggest you sign it and send it to the agency, providing you agree. Of course they would probably like a letter from you too. I will sign the application and return it to the agency. Most of their children come from the Crittenton home. So naturally most of them are
young babies. (You have them 1 year before adoption is competed.) … I’m watching for the mail man these days.
These days certainly will make me appreciate days of common ordinary living. Goodnight My Darling and
Loads of Love and Kisses,

Reva

It turned out that my mother’s queries at various Ohio adoption agencies came to

Meanwhile, my Mom never gave up on finding a way to adopt.

Meanwhile, my Mom never gave up on finding a way to adopt.

naught. They waited until after the war ended and my professor dad started a teaching job. Amazingly, and lucky for me, my soon-to-be parents found me through a student (my birthmother Velma) at Iowa Teachers College. I was five years old and my brother Johnny was seventeen months. Products of a short-lived wartime wedding, we had lived in a series of foster homes. Our biological father had disappeared. During this drama, as revealed in this and many other letters, my adoptive mom-to-be was working hard to find a child. As it turned out, parents and children did not come together until after the war ended. The fact that we did was a miracle, one for which I will always be grateful.

Trying to find a family tree no longer, I’m settling for a grove of wartime letters.

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