Monday, December 26, 2016

Trending downward

As the year end approaches, I want to put out a positive note about my recent health. In September I had to choose a new primary care physician as my prior one (who was almost as old as I was) decided to retire. At the office I go to there is one MD, several DO's, and a couple of CRNP's. I asked to be assigned to any one who was taking new patients and was assigned to Kathy Kaufman, CRNP, PhD. She's several years younger than I. On our my first visit with her it was obvious that she was going to be quite proactive. She increased the dosage of one of my meds and added another one. With her guidance, I also decided to scrap the fish oil capsules I was taking since they didn't have enough EPA/DHA to do me much good unless I was taking an entire handful of them each day (typical capsules advertise 1000 mg of Omega-3, but only 300 of that 1000 is the stuff you really need) - after some research I have now replaced that with liquid fish oil that I take 3 tsp of each day (1600 mg of Omega-3 includes 1300 mg of the EPA/DHA) so 3 tsp is 3900 mg which is the equivalent of 13 capsules! I was also referred to a 5-session class on managing diabetes.

The results over the past 3 months have been amazing! The items I was "out of line" on have all trended downward:
  • Triglycerides - from 952 to 303! - this is the one measure that I've had the hardest time in controlling. It's still higher than is recommended, but I've never been below 600 in all the times I've had readings taken.
  • A1c - from 8.3 to 6.2 (taking me from officially diabetic back to the pre-diabetic range)
  • Weight - down 7 pounds in 3 months (compared to my loss of 16 pounds in the prior 4 years) - still have a ways to go, but my BMI is now down from the mildly "obese" range to just "over weight" for the first time in several decades.
The pharmacist who works in that office was not going to be in the day of my last appointment, so she called me the day before - just elated with what I've accomplished in such a short period of time.

Obviously, this is a partnership - I've had to do my part in being more consistent in my diet, etc. and my weight/waist has been trending down for the last several years. But with her guidance I've taken things to a new level and have something more to show than just the 4 pounds a year that I was taking off before. My waist is now down a total of 5" since I started on this journey and some mornings I'm using the last hole in my belt.

May things continue in this downward direction!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Genealogy Story – Sisters and Step-sisters

In a blog from early in 2015 ( ) I wrote the story of my great-grandfather, Louis Russell, and what happened after his wife died and he was left with six children. This is a continuation of that story based on new information that I have recently come into possession of.

To recap that story, Louis and his first wife had six children: Erskine (my grandfather), Linus, Loretta, William, Allen (who passed away at a young age), and Martha (who went by her middle name, Pauline). His second wife, Helen, had been married twice before and had a total of five children: Lola, Eva, Iva (twin sister to Eva, passed away at 5 months of age), Marguerite, and an unnamed child who apparently died at birth. Lola, Eva, and Iva were from her first husband, William Pulver, and Marguerite was from her second husband, Lewis Waldron (who was also a 2nd cousin to Louis Russell).

Thus, my grandfather, Erskine, had a total of seven living siblings: two brothers (William and Linus); two sisters (Loretta and Pauline); and three step-sisters (Lola, Eva, and Marguerite – Marguerite being a half-sister to the other two). However, William was raised by a relative in New Milford and only figures marginally into this story, and Linus was affected by mustard gas in WWI and spent the rest of his life in an institution and so is not part of this story either. So this story is about all of Erskine’s various sisters.

When I was growing up, both Loretta and Pauline were part of our life. Aunt Loretta and Uncle George lived about 6-7 miles away in Waterbury and Aunt Pauline and Uncle Harold lived about 5 miles away in Bristol. While we did not visit too often, perhaps once or twice a year, we knew them and their families. I knew about Uncle Bill in New Milford but only remember visiting him once and I had heard about Uncle Linus but he had passed away by then.

However, I never recall ever hearing about Lola, Eva, or Marguerite. And it wasn’t until I started my genealogy research a few years ago that I “discovered” them. My presumption at that time was that since Louis married Helen when they were older that there were few connections between them and Louis’ children.

But this has turned out not to be true. Recently when looking through a newspaper clipping of my mother’s bridal shower I found that Eva and Marguerite were both in attendance at this shower (see ).

Also, I recently was able to meet with a great-granddaughter of Eva and she loaned me some inherited daily journals that Eva had written. For more information on these journals, see other entry right next to this one. In these journals are recorded all the interactions between Eva and her sister Lola and family, her half-sister Marguerite and family, and her two step-sisters Loretta and Pauline and their families. So the extended family turned out to be quite connected – even during the years when I was growing up as the journals extend until 1970 when I was in my early 20’s.

However, while my grandmother Vera is mentioned several times in the early years of the journal when she was still living, my grandfather is only mentioned in January of 1970. And even then, it appears that my Aunt Loretta called Eva on 1/24 and passed along the information that he had had a leg amputated on 1/17 and then died six days later on 1/23. So there was apparently no connection between him and his step-sisters. And apparently, this lack of connection extended to both my father and my mother, as there are no recorded calls/visits to Eva and I do not recall ever hearing about them.

It’s hard to know what caused this lack of connection – and none of the parties are alive to answer my questions. But I’m happy to have rectified that to a certain extent by my visit with Eva’s great-granddaughter, Lauren, and her family recently. Family is still family!

Genealogy Story – Eva’s Journals

When I recently visited my cousin (2nd cousin, once removed), Lauren, in Massachusetts, she loaned me the journals of Eva [Pulver] Peet, her great-grandmother. These journals are an incomplete set. There is one that covers the years 1943 and 1944, and others covering the period 1963-1968 and 1970. The one for 1943-1944 is quite detailed, with entries on nearly every day. In some of the later years they get more and more sparse, with the one for 1970 ending in late January.

Many of the entries list the weather for that date. There are a lot of entries which were evidently taken from the local newspaper – particularly items having to do with births, marriages, and deaths. While most of these entries are about local people in New Milford where Eva lived, there are also a number of celebrity entries – such as the deaths of TV/Movie stars like Bea Bernadette, Elvis Presley, etc.

For most of the folks that Eva knew personally, she only listed first names. So I had to familiarize myself with all her relatives so I would know who she was referring to. But besides relatives, she also listed neighbors and others in the small town of New Milford. Since I didn’t recognize those names, I just have to presume that they were close friends, neighbors, etc.

Particularly in the 1943-1944 diary, I found that Eva listed some family members by nicknames, or at least the names that she called them. Every entry for her son Eldridge was listed as “Buddie”. I was also somewhat confused at first by her references to “Louie”, since that was how my father called his grandfather (and Eva’s step-father), Louis. But after going through a few months of entries, I determined that “Louie” was how she referred to her husband, Luther, and her step-father she referred to as “Dad”. What made it especially difficult to figure out was that Eva’s mother and step-father lived in Waterbury, but her husband Luther had a job in Waterbury as well and he tended to stay there during the week (I found an entry in a 1950 city directory of New Milford that listed Luther as a Foreman in a Waterbury company). So when she said “Louie went back to Waterbury”, that meant that her husband was going to work, but when she said “Dad went back to Waterbury”, that meant that her step-father was going back home. Since her step-father seemed to make a practice of going to New Milford on many weekends, it was quite interesting to get each entry straight.

Buddie had been drafted in 1942, so the 1943-1944 journal listed all the letters she received from him (and when letters were not being received for a while how much she worried). In the later journals he was then living with his mother and so the entries recorded when he was working and when he was home.

Eva lived in close proximity to her half-sister, Marguerite, and they often visited back and forth or took drives together. However, she had little interaction with her older sister, Lola. In fact, there are no references to Lola in any of these journals. In 1944 there was one call made to Lola’s daughter, also named Lola. But there were a few references to Lola’s youngest daughter, Juanita – a visit in 1943, others in 1963 and 1964, her new address in 1965, and a final visit in 1968.

I particularly wanted to record all the interactions that Eva had with other family members – especially her step-siblings. The only reference to my grandfather, Erskine, was in January 1970 when he had his leg amputated and then died a few days later – but this appears to have been based on a phone call from Loretta the following day. The only references to Bill Russell were a visit to his apple orchard in 1965 (although there are other references to getting apples that may have left his name out), and a note about Bill’s wife Mildred being in the hospital in 1967.

But of her step-sisters there are a great number of references. Nearly every year records one or more visits by Loretta and Pauline (often traveling together). On a few occasions they come separately with their husbands (George and Harold respectively). Pauline’s daughter Gertrude came with her on two occasions (1965 and 1968).

In the early years, my grandmother Vera (who was by then long divorced from my grandfather and remarried) also visited/called quite frequently – which made sense since she also lived in New Milford. Once in 1943 she visited with her daughter (my Aunt Dot) and new grandchild (my cousin Carolyn) who was about six months old. But in 1963 my grandmother’s passing is recorded so there are no more references to her.

The other things that I found interesting were some of the daily “trivia” that Eva felt led to record. On a few occasions she noted that she bought a new girdle. Why, of all purchases, this was significant enough to record is an interesting speculation. And in the 1943-1944 journal there are numerous references to the impact of WWII. Besides her son Buddie being deployed, she recorded the process relating to Marguerite’s son Gordon (got his letter on 2/16, took a physical on 2/22, tested and accepted on 2/27, left home on 3/8, shipped out on 3/10, in Camp Shelby (MS) on 3/18, home on furlough 7/29-8/9, deployed on 9/25). Besides recording all the letters she got from Buddie, she also recorded other people getting letters from loved ones – including when the letter was written and when it was finally received (often 2-3 weeks or longer).

Even though there is not written more than a few sentences each day, and many days are blank, it’s been interesting to see the world through someone else’s eyes and imagine what it must have been like for Eva. I’m grateful, not only that she recorded this information for others to see in the future, but for my cousin Lauren for loaning them to me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas 2016

I seem to be writing our Christmas letter a little later each year. I used to have it done by Thanksgiving, then by the first few days of December, and now we’re already into the 2nd week of the month and I’m having to find time to get it together. For those who think that life slows down when you get into the retirement years – think again! I have less time now than I ever did before.

Family – I had noted in last year’s letter that Chris and family had moved to Florida. True to our plans, we made a trip down in early March to stay with them for a week. While their house is small, the grandkids all sleep in the same room so they do have a guest room. But sharing one bathroom with seven people means a little extra scheduling in the morning. The Sunday that we were there we went to church with them. It just happened to be New Member Sunday so we got to witness the entire family being part of it, including Ilyanna who had just completed going through the membership process. We also spent a day at the Central Florida Zoo which is just in the next city. Having a week of 85 degree temps in March is not typical for us, especially since Chris and Pam have chosen to not use any AC. We were glad to get back home to a place that has four seasons.

But this visit may have helped prepare us. In April our heat pump stopped working and we decided to leave it that way for a while. With a few judiciously placed fans we made it all the way to the end of November without heat or AC in the main part of the house. We have a nice in-the-wall AC unit in Kim and Matthew’s area and there is also electric baseboard heat there, so while we take care of the boys during the day we could be comfortable, but we learned to sleep with just a fan at night for the entire summer. It’s now been fixed, at least temporarily, for the winter. But the inside unit is original to the house that we built in 1977. It doesn’t owe us anything, but we’re planning on doing a total replacement one of these days.

There is another housing change coming up next month. The family who have lived across the street from us for the last 25 years will be moving. It’s been increasingly hard for them to keep their family-owned business going with expensive government regulations and competition from online suppliers, so they decided to close the business and move to a second “vacation home” that they have had about two hours north of here. We have also been thinking about Kim and her family – realizing that when we either pass on or need to move to something a bit smaller or more senior-friendly, that they would be left without a place to live as our house would be too much for them to take care of. So we’re in the process of buying the house right across from us and we’ll let Kim and family live there and then leave it to them in our will. The stuff you have to go through to buy a home these days is quite a bit more involved than when we built our home 40 years ago, but closing is scheduled for mid-January.

The home is a 3-bedroom ranch with a fully-finished basement – perfect for their family. It also has an attached two car garage and an above ground swimming pool of the back deck. Since it’s just steps from our house, we can still be involved in helping to raise the boys and taking care of them during the day.

Meanwhile, Ethan is now a 1st grader at Seven Generations Charter School. Isaiah doesn’t make the cutoff, so he won’t start kindergarten until next fall, then Caleb and Asher will be the next two years – it will be nice to have them all gone during the day. It’s pretty hard to get things done around here.

Travels – Since we are tied down a bit with caring for grandchildren we don’t get in much traveling right now.  However, besides our week in Orlando in March and our usual week at Pinebrook in the Poconos with the entire family, we did a little bit this fall.

In September we went to Michigan for the week after Labor Day (taking Isaiah and Caleb with us). It was Donna’s 50th high school reunion, and we also visited all her family who still live in that area. We also stopped to see the “VanDeCar Farm” and got a tour to see all the improvements that the young couple now living there have made in the past few years.

Two weeks later we took a quick weekend to Connecticut for my 50th reunion. Also got a chance to visit with my Aunt Vi. She was the last of my mother’s siblings and has since passed away, so we’re glad that we took the opportunity to visit with her.

For the Thanksgiving long weekend we went to North Carolina to stay with Donna’s brother Bill (taking Ethan and Isaiah with us this time). On Friday and Saturday he was building a new shed for a friend of his and we all helped. The two boys were the “screw carriers,” keeping everyone supplied with appropriate screws. The shed was 12’x14’ with 8’ walls – no small project. But it was great weather and everyone enjoyed themselves.

This past weekend we went to Connecticut again – this time for a reunion with all my siblings, the first time we’ve all been together since my mother’s memorial service 4-1/2 years ago. Donna and I went up early on Friday and took the opportunity to visit with a distant cousin of mine who I recently met online (more on my genealogy below). So we’re not just homebodies!

Genealogy – I’ve been able to build out my family tree quite a bit over the past few years. My research is in two directions. First, doing ancestor research and going back in time. I’ve been pretty successful in this and have traced the Russell name back to its origins in Normandy about 1000 years ago, then several hundred more years following Viking lines (Normandy was conquered by the Vikings in the 900s). Made a lot of interesting discoveries while doing this.

But secondly, I’ve been building out a descendant tree of all the descendants of my great-great-great-grandfather, Silas Russell – trying to find all my living Russell relatives. Doing research that includes living individuals is pretty challenging as you don’t have things like census records to help guide the search (they are not made public until 72 years after the census occurs). But I have made connection with a substantial number of my 3rd and 4th cousins. Last December we visited my 2nd cousin, Robert Russell in Cos Cob, CT just a few months before he passed on at the age of 90. And this past weekend we visited a 2nd cousin in MA who had a collection of diaries that her great-grandmother kept. Her great-grandmother was in attendance at my mother’s bridal shower in 1946.

I blog on a regular basis on a number of topics, including genealogy as well as the history of the town of Wolcott, CT where I grew up (and where most of the families from the town’s history are related to me in one fashion or another). Check out if you’re interested.

Miscellaneous I’ve been continuing my weight loss challenge of doing it slowly and steadily, I’ve taken off another few pounds this past year and I’m now down 5” in my waist since I started. Still a ways to go, but I’m continuing to move in the right direction, and by having all of you as a yearly check-in that gives an extra incentive! But I’m also now battling Type-2 Diabetes and trying to lower my A1C and sugar levels (started daily finger pricks a few months ago). Just completed a 5-session class on managing diabetes that should help (and took Donna with me so she can help out by preparing appropriate meals with fewer carbs). [Breaking news – had a blood test this week and my A1C is down over 2 points and my triglycerides down by 2/3!]

Hoping that all of you are doing well. Now that the elections are “finally” over, and the country may start moving in another direction (one that may be more inviting to Christians) here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

.Alan & Donna

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

About Me

Some people have been posting on Facebook recently things that you might not know about them. Since Facebook is so fleeting and things disappear from your newsfeed so quickly, I decided to post this on my blog instead.

In keeping with the most recent sharing of "x" things that you might not know about me:

(1) I scored over 700 on both parts of the SAT as well as all three SAT-II's I took (English, Chemistry, Math) - high was 789 on Math

(2) I didn't have a car until I was in grad school - a new 1970 dodge dart - red with black vinyl top. As an undergrad I was still using the one-speed bike that I bought back in elementary school

(3) I was the class "fairy godmother" for our 12th grade "class night" in high school - my name was "Algonquin Godperson" - got to wear a long gown and mop for a wig (it was a brand new mop head and the lint drove me crazy all night)

(4) I bought an encyclopedia and set of the "Great Books" after college - and read every one of them! (the Great Books that is). (I also often read the encyclopedia just for enjoyment)

(5) I played the flute from 4th grade through and even after college - until a jaw operation left part of my lower lip without feeling and so I lost my embouchure

(6) I've been this tall since 8th grade - I got my growth early and was the only boy that the girls never caught up to (which made me popular for at least a little while)

(7) I'm fanatical about proper spelling and grammar - as my students could all attest on the papers they wrote in my classes