It is time for another Pick a Word themed challenge. Here are the words to choose from this week. You may post your entries by next Wednesday: dormant, salubrious, earmarked. influential, fun-loving.



Photo: Garry Armstrong – Earmark indicates this cow is free from tuberculosis and her milk does not need to be pasteurized. This farm sells organic milk, honey, eggs, and corn. Apples, in season.

Sam “The Man” Adams … in bronze, life-size – Very influential!

Duke the First – Totally fun-loving!

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The mysteries of life in the DNA helix have grabbed my attention.

Ever since I dove into the science of DNA — as opposed to “I’m looking for my family,” I’ve been fascinated about how it works.

I always figured we got half our “stuff” from mom, the other half from dad. How it mixed up was like the big bag of goodies on Santa’s back. You got your portion — and who you looked like? Well … it might depend on the day, year, light … and all of that.

I was right. But I wasn’t entirely right because there is a good deal more to it than that. As a start, we only get a 50-50 split between both parents in theory. In actuality, we may get much more from one parent than the other — a lot more DNA from one parent than the other.  We me get even more from our grandparents, who in theory only contribute 25% to our make up but this stuff doesn’t come in neat, divisible piles.

“Y0u look exactly like your grandmother” isn’t just something people say. You may really look exactly like your grandmother because all those alleles that make you look like you do came from her batch of DNA. It’s why siblings may look very different from each other — unless they are twins, of course. It’s why short little me has a 6 foot 4 inch son and he has a 5 foot tall daughter.

Tall brother, short me — and very short sister. Blond brother and sister. Dark-haired me. Green-eyed siblings and me with the big brown eyes. Tone-deaf brother (like father). Musical mother, sister and me. My son looked like a photocopy of his father when he was a toddler. By the time he hit his teens, he was a dead-ringer for me. Except right now, he looks remarkably like his father again … unless you see him from the side, in which case — it’s me again.

How can that be? How can we look like very different people at different times of our lives or for that matter, like two very different people at the same time?

It’s because all your DNA doesn’t kick in at the same time. That’s why blond babies end up with brown hair and dark-haired people end up with white hair. You quite probably did look like dad when you were three, but you are the spitting image of your mother by the time you’re forty and who know who you look like in old age? Different parts of the big helix takes charge during different life stages. I had wildly kinky-curly hair as a girl. Which went straight by the time I was seventeen and has stayed that way.

The same thing happened to my granddaughter. She casually said “Oh, I don’t have to straighten it anymore. It’s just went straight.” Right on time, too. It’s a late teens thing, apparently. Meanwhile, before I was 30, my hair was half gray and white by the time I was 50. Now, it’s getting a little browner again. Different DNA kicks in and things change.

If that’s not a mystery, what is?

Even with all of the things we’ve learned about DNA over the past couple of decades, there’s so much more we don’t know. Like … how does personality attach to the “how we look” segments? I always looked like my father by coloring, though the rest of my face looks more like mom. My brother looked just like my mother until one day he looked exactly like his father.

Do things like criminality, high intelligence, patience, restlessness, high energy … do these come as part and parcel of our appearance? Are they separate? Is there such a thing as “looks like a good guy? or looks like a bad guy?” Surely some portion of our traits come out of the helix, but the rest must be at least affected by environment, right? We have long since learned that environment is not the only thing that turns us into fully formed people and more than half of us is hooked onto our DNA but that can’t be all of it. So, how much of how we relate to our DNA is based on the lives we live?

So many questions and not nearly enough answers. For the time being, I’m locked into trying to figure out how this works. Garry and I have both “discovered” family … but it’s so many generations back — at least 4 — that whoever they are, they aren’t terribly relevant to ourselves right now.

Unless they have a huge heaps of money are coincidentally looking for nice people to whom they can give it. If that’s so, please … over here! We could use a little help!

I’m sorry if this sounds too complicated, but it isn’t. It’s really an explanation of why we don’t necessarily look like a combination of mom and dad and might instead look like Uncle Jim or Granny. Why your brother looks nothing like you and your son is a full head and a half taller than you, but your granddaughter is a lot shorter.

DNA isn’t evenly or neatly divided. We get all the stuff from parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and what we look like — and act like — can be a pretty wild combination of all the people who are part of our ancestry. All of them … all the way back to Africa, from which we all emerged.


It was raining … which is mostly what the weather has been doing for the past few weeks. There had been one really good day with the leaves and I hadn’t brought a camera. All Marilyn had was a little old compact and while she got a few pictures, she was disappointed that each day came and we couldn’t go out. It just kept raining.

Finally, I took the OM-D and went into the rain to spend an hour wandering around the property and taking pictures. By then, it was clear by the time the rain ended, the leaves would be gone.

It wasn’t just rain, either. The final day of rain became a major wind and rain storm that cleared all the leaves off everything but the oaks. They still have leaves, but the other trees are bare.

Glad I took pictures!


I was an anxious child. I’m convinced that my father had a serious anxiety/depression disorder, which I undoubtedly inherited. From early on, I had nervous ticks, anxiety attacks, learning problems, and psychosomatic stomach problems. I was also a bed wetter and a chronic worrier. I obsessively worried about everything that could possibly go wrong in any situation. The world seemed dark and scary to me. I often felt overwhelmed, beyond my ability to cope.

Me at about six or seven

When I was 40, medication became available that helped me conquer my inner demons. Decades before, my mother decided to train me out of my worry addiction. She used behavior modification techniques that she learned about in her training as a psychologist. I owe her a tremendous debt for the effort she put into reconditioning me.

My mother stopped me whenever I started ‘awfulizing’, a great made up word that means seeing the dark side of any situation and making it worse. “Don’t bleed until you’re cut” she would say. She reminded me that I would have plenty of time to worry, be upset and even get hysterical if and when the bad thing actually happened.

“Why waste time now agonizing about something that might never happen?” She asked that question over and over and over.

Me and mom when I was seven or eight

I saw the logic in what she said. But initially, I couldn’t stop my mind from anticipating problems. My mother was relentless. Whenever I started to worry about the future, my mother stopped and redirected me. This often happened several times every day. Eventually, the Pavlovian conditioning began to work.

I was still an anxious person, but by my teen years, my anxiety acquired a veneer of optimism. I worried, often excessively, but only about real things in my life, like upcoming papers and tests. I was often paralyzed by my anxiety. But I stopped being anxious about things that might happen or could go wrong. I topped assuming the worst possible thing that could happen, would happen.

Me at around thirteen

Since my mother trained me out of my pessimism and worrying, I’ve prided myself in being rather easy-going. I always assume that I’ll be able to drive after the snowstorm — until I try and fail (or it’s really bad out). I assume medical tests will come out normal or not too bad — until they don’t. I’m an optimist now. The glass is half full and I believe things will turn out okay until it’s proven otherwise.

Mom when I was about thirteen

The problem has been for many, many years, there were legitimate things that kept me worrying much of the time. Things like mental illness in my immediate family. Financial problems. A cheating husband. The thing is, I bled over the real crises, rather than over the imagined, possible ones which might be lurking out there for me.

A few days before she died, my mother asked me what I felt I ‘got’ from having her as a mother. She wanted a final report card on her role as mother. I told her that, above all else, I was grateful to her for training me out of my destructive worrying and pessimism. She saved me from years of self-inflicted anguish. Watching my dad, I saw how painful and unrewarding life could be if you always ‘bleed before you’re cut.’ I am relieved that I didn’t have to experience that every day, as he did.

Me and Mom a month or two before she died in 2002

My mother was surprised but very pleased. I also told her how she gave me my sense of fun, humor and silliness as well as my love of theater and my appreciation for beautiful things, good food, good friends and good conversation. The upbeat, happy and enthusiastic parts of my personality were all thanks to her. I gave her credit for much of what is best in me.

She died happy, feeling appreciated. I would be happy with that for my legacy as a mother.