Adventure – Ancestry. Trace family roots to their most interesting story, then go there.

Adventure – Ancestry. Trace family roots to their most interesting story, then go there.

Have you ever wondered just exactly what you’re made of? Most of us assume we’re a mix of some kind. Some associate themselves solely by their religion, place of birth or known/preferred ethnicity, but we are far more than that underneath it all.

Whenever faced with the stress of social events out of my comfort zone (public speaking, getting in front of a camera, fancy dress) I use the mantra, “We’re all just piles of DNA” to help put my anxiety in check.  Well, maybe piles isn’t the best description, but we are definitely a fascinating mix.

I love a good story and what could be a better story than how each of us came to be?  Over the past few years I’ve been doing searches here and there at the ancestry websites and working with a cousin is really knows what’s she’s doing (thanks Laine :-). She’s on my mother’s side of the tree, so that part is really clear, but my father’s isn’t as much. Even though they were both born with the Surname of Gilmore, who’s mothers were of French descent, we knew there was more to the story than that.  Whenever I strayed too far from the norm of our white-bread, Catholic upbringing, my mother would say, “You take after the Bohemian.” The known parts were also often referred to. When I would fall into a trance whenever bagpipes were playing she’d say “That’d be the Scotch-Irish in us.” And, whenever I fell in love with something we couldn’t afford she’d say “You have champagne taste on a beer budget,” referring to our French heritage and Irish-Catholic upbringing.

When I saw the results of my recent DNA test, I thought back to how much she enjoyed making tea and had quite a collection of fancy tea cups and pots. She was also a fan of British television series like Alistair Cooke and Upstairs/Downstairs. “Was this an inherent trait of a Brit?” I wondered, half knowing the silliness of the thought.

So, Anglo Saxon isn’t a surprise. I’m blonde and rather pale skinned with Hazel eyes, but Iberian Peninsula was a surprise as well as North Africa and Middle East.  Is this why I’m drawn to these regions? I recently visited Portugal/Spain for the first time and felt an odd sense of belonging. Very much so for Italy. Of course these are the least strongest lines, but sometimes we are more drawn to the whisper than the roar…

So, now I’ve got a wider map to peruse through for my adventure, “Trace the family tree to it’s most interesting story, then go there.”

The test? I went with’s DNA test because it was cheaper and I already have a tree I’m building there (and yes, I was half afraid they’d come back and tell me there was an anomaly, as in something unfamiliar they couldn’t trace – cue X Files theme), but there are several testing sites to choose from. Here’s an article I found that helped spell out the differences in DNA test choices. There are even options now for test medical background, a great tool for those who are adopted or have an unknown parent. Isn’t science amazing~

If you’re interested in finding out more about what makes up the sum of you genetically speaking, I highly recommend taking one of these tests. I takes a few weeks to get results, but I found it was worth the wait (and rate).

Ok, back to planning…


A Cowboy, 2 Angels and a Fortune Cookie

A Cowboy, 2 Angels and a Fortune Cookie

Pops MugBack home, at my desk with a (very big) coffee mug that belonged to my Pop and a fortune cookie one of my best friends left for me to find when I arrived home last night. A writer’s inspiration.

Over the past couple of weeks I let the series’ blazing campaign trail grow a bit cold and for reasoning I wasn’t completely aware of until now. There is always a point when you’re going after something new; a job, career, skill, language, big holiday, whatever,  where you start to question the wisdom of your decision, your ability to succeed and whether those you hoped would be are really on board or just being polite, so don’t push it.  There are also external “signs” that make you wonder yourself if you should put down the baton, shuddup and sit quietly in the corner.

Why do we do this to ourselves and how do we stop doing these things that stunt us, hold us back?  Good question and I’m working on the answer, but this I’m sure of, I must break through this barrier myself if I expect any of you to follow along with me on 12 adventures. More so, to take the leap yourselves into your own bucket list of 12 adventures.

I had a pivotal conversation with one of my brothers about this while I was home, in Seattle.  What I got from it (besides learning I do NOT like the smell of single malt scotch) is that we humans are highly receptive creatures.  If enough people transmit the message they don’t believe we can, should or worse, are silent in response to our search for affirmation, we will be inclined to step back or stay in a holding pattern until the momentum dissipates and the opportunity passes.  Sad.  Our lives here are so brief.  Too brief not to make the most of them.  I made case in points of people with less ability who are doing what they want.  I myself am a case in point to a certain degree.  I may have yet to be wildly successful in my endeavors, but I am a scrapper and I do somehow by hook or by crook, finish what I set out to do.

Which brings us to the question, “Who’s holding us back?” The first thought might be, “All those people around us who tell us we can’t or shouldn’t.”  Maybe. Humor me for a sec and Thomas-Edison---Giving-upgo look at a light bulb. Pass by a lamp and peer in or pick one up from the cupboard so it’s fresh in your mind. Got it? Right then, listen up. When he was a child, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything” (seriously, who the fk says that to a kid??). He was fired from his first couple jobs for not being productive enough and he made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Now, look around you. They’re everywhere. They brighten our nights, light up our Christmas trees and the roads guiding us safely to our destinations.  If Thomas Edison had listened to those voices outside of his head, how very dark and dreary our lives might be… Every time you see a light bulb think Thomas Edison and ask yourself which voice he listened to? Unless someone can prove you would cause irreparable damage to yourself or others by following your dream then full steam ahead I say~

Gina Wilbanks Swanson

Sometimes what holds us back feels completely beyond our control. It can be hard to celebrate and take greater chances in life when those you love or admire stop living. My father’s passing earlier this fall left a gaping hole to be sure.  He was my biggest fan and quick to encourage my far fetched ideas. For the past few years, being a Stage IV cancer fighter has been the fuel I use to drive home the message, “life is short, so go for the life you want now,” but it’s hard to say that when other Stage IV fighters, ones I know, don’t survive.  It’s heartbreaking. It fcks with your head and brings a twinge of shame for not only surviving, but boldly marching on, when what it should do is spur you on to push yourself even further, reach even higher.  Gina Wilbanks Swanson and Sandra Sundari Greer are the names of these two, new angels.  Gina, I knew from high school and Sandra, from my theatre days in my 20’s. Both bright souls, deserving of long and illustrious lives. Both died recently from the effects of Stage IV cancer.

When someone we care about passes away, how do we honor their memory?  Do we sit quietly or do we make bold gestures?  Everyone is different, but for me, I want to pick up their batons and take them with me to places unknown, on a big adventure maybe we all three dreamed of.  And this is a small gesture I know, but their names will go next to my beloved Mom and Pop’s, in the dedication credits of the premier episode of 12 Adventures.  That is my way of honoring their bright and inspirational spirits.

Sandra Sundari Greer
Sandra Sundari Greer

To those who knew them and are asking yourselves the same question, first I’d say to check in on their family and offer your support.  Whether it’s cash or a casserole, a whole lot of people offering what little they can makes a mountain of difference to the ones receiving. The other, brilliant way you can pay tribute (and I’m sure Gina and Sandra would agree) is don’t just hate cancer, fight back.  Fight back by never allowing it to ever get past the initial (highly treatable) Stage 1, by getting screened now (as in today, pick up the phone, make the appointment and then show up for it).  If they say it’ll cost you $300 (or more) out of pocket, say “No problem.” You have friends whose cancer treatment “out of pocket” costs are well over $30,000 and you can think of a hellova lot better things to spend 30k on. If your doctor asks if there is a history of cancer in your family say, “Yes” because even if you don’t have actual proof of it, the chances are 1 in 2 (if not greater) there is history of cancer in your family and it doesn’t matter what kind (did you know there are over 100 types?).  My mom had endometrial cancer, one cousin had breast cancer, another pancreatic and mine was colon. Often, back in the old days, no one really talked about cancer. I only found out after four years into treatment (and a bit of ancestral digging – thanks cousin Laine, xo) that my grandfather on my mother’s side died of colon cancer (Ahaaaa).

Now we know, knowledge and preventive measures are the best defense.  Speaking of knowledge, did you know that colon cancer is 100% preventable?  It starts as a little polyp in your colon and slowly grows (taking up to ten years) before spreading to other areas of the body.  So, if I had been screened by the age of 35 (the recommended 10 years before anyone in your family was diagnosed), I wouldn’t have had to go through five years of nearly 50 chemo/radiation sessions or these now life affirming PET scans every 90 days.  I think about how much more life affirming it would be if I could convince everyone (ok, in the world would be a bit much to expect, so let’s say) who is friends with Sandra, Gina and myself on Facebook to take action and get screened right now and then every year. That’s at least 1,200 lives wouldn’t be lost to cancer. I think I would like that on my gravestone (when I die from too much good living), “She convinced over 1,200 people to not risk death by cancer.”

How do I know this will happen, that I’ll convince that many people and more to get screened? How do I know my big idea for the 12 Adventures series will come to fruition?  Simple.  Because the fortune cookie (I kid you not) just told me so 😉

12 adventures web series


What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

Every year around this time, I get a sense of heartfelt introspectiveness.  In those moments, as the thoughts and feelings come pouring out of me, I set them down here hoping someone out there will connect with them.

Today I pack. Tomorrow I hop on a plane and head back home to spend Thanksgiving with my family as I have for many years, but this one is different. This will be the first without our beloved Pop who passed away in September.

We’re all gathering at my sister’s house again as she’s done an amazing job hosting it for many years now, but with one (not so) small addition. There, at the end of the holiday extended table in her living/dining area will sit Pop’s baby grand piano.  The piano we all sat at countless times growing up, turning the pages for him or making our best attempt at playing a song (I’d say for entertainment purposes, but none of us ever took our piano studies too seriously).  We’re not even sure the thing can hold a tune anymore, at least not since my mom put a beautifully hand made, leaky terrarium on top of it for decoration.  Poor mom, she always meant well.

me-n-pop-n-eddyMy dad was the kind of man that would be the calm while everyone is chattering.  When any one of us would impulsively spout out my grandiose plans or incredibly unfeasible schemes, there would be no shortage of naysayers or realists about, doing their best to help us “think clearly…wake up…get real…”  Best intentions, of course, but though it may alter some behavior, the core being remains the same and I was, by nature, always going to have one foot in so-called reality and the other splashing about in the waters of my own world.

No matter how sensible a life creatives try to make out for themselves, the essence of who they really are eventually seeps through.  I found a happy medium within the grey areas.  Naysayers on the other hand hate grey areas, they leave wiggle room.  “It is black.” and that’s the end of their discussion.  How frustrating it must be for them to be around creatives, constantly countering with, “That’s not how I see it.”  Or worse, just continuing on making splashes of color after the order of black and white has been well established for all. Still, I am very grateful for my experiences in the black and white world, because it taught me how to be self reliant.  It teaches all the importance of balance, that a little mix of black and white is just as good for our world as a brushstroke of color is for theirs. And if you are constantly going against the grain, you are either in the wrong or in the wrong place.

Only we can answer whether we are where we need to be and only we can take the steps necessary to put ourselves in the right place (though the universe has been known to give us a good kick in the right direction from time to time).

Ali at Tromos
Ali – Arctic Circle – Northern Lights – Nov., 2015

For years now, I have been taking risks only the unfeasibly optimistic kid in me would have agreed to.  She went from being a vague memory to front and center, the pied piper.  Thanks to her influence I/we’ve experienced several firsts since 2010; publishing 2 humorous cancer survival guides that prepare and inspire others to fight the disease, becoming a sports photographer with a highlight of covering David Beckham and many other MLS greats, recording a full length CD of our original songs, traveling to places we’ve been dreaming of our whole life and most recently, standing in the arctic circle, in awe as the northern lights danced around us.  She didn’t let financial or physical limitations get in the way.  She dreamt it up, then we went for it and whenever a road block came up, she put our inventive mind to work and found a way around it.

So, that said, What are you waiting for?  You’ve got some pretty amazing ideas yourself, whether it’s a career change, a dream holiday, invention, design and more. So, make it happen~ Ah, but that’s a naive outlook on life, I know.  “If I took more than my 2 weeks off I’d lose my job.” “I’m too old for that now.” “No one will go with me.” “I can’t afford that.” Maybe, but this “naive outlook” is coming from someone who accomplished all the above improbable things AFTER being diagnosed with late stage cancer, with several physical/mental constraints and on a very minimal income, so let’s put it another way, “If I did it, pretty much anyone can do it, so what are you waiting for?”  Seriously, I was talking to a woman yesterday who sighed as she said she couldn’t afford to travel to Europe then later, I saw her drive off in a high end SUV…

Ok, so Rome wasn’t built in a day nor will everyone’s mind change about flipping the bird at improbability just from reading one blog post.  Like in the movie What About Bob, “baby steps.” Start thinking now about the possibilities and then, do this:

Step 1 – Make a list

Write down 12 (bucketlist) adventures you’d like to go on in your lifetime.

Step 2 – Ask others to make a list

For the Thanksgiving gathering, ask the others to write their own list.  If anyone laughs or nay says, pay no mind.  You’re just saying something that scares them and that’s how some people deal with things that scare them or make them uncomfortable.  Remember, to lead a more adventurous life you’ve gotta step out of your comfort zone and if you’re going to embark on a far more adventurous life, you have to be willing to make an ass of yourself from time to time (not be an ass, make an ass, big difference).  So invite, encourage and if they still won’t get into the spirit of it, don’t worry.  To expect everyone to go along would be very black and white now wouldn’t it…

Step 3 – Pick one

Pick one.  Pick one of the 12 adventures from your list and make a pact that you will make this one happen within the next 12 months.

Step 4 – Share with others

At some point on Thanksgiving day either before, during or after the meal, ask everyone to share their list and top pick. It’ll be entertaining, enlightening and who knows, you might learn something new about someone you thought you knew everything about~

At this point you can keep your discovery to your inner circle or you can come over to the 12 adventures webspace and share them with fellow adventurers for mutual support, encouragement and inspiration. No adventure is too big or too small as long as it’s the one you genuinely want to make happen. Just post the short list of 12 adventures on the 12 Adventures Facebook page and if you don’t mind, end it with any of the following hashtags: #WhatsYour12?    #WhatAreYouWaitingFor?    #12Adventures

Later in the year, when your mission is accomplished, come on over to the 12 Adventures contact page on the website and tell us all about it.  What hurdles did you overcome?  How did it feel to accomplish it? Who was with you and what’s next on the list?  Maybe someone out there googling to see if their bucket list adventure is possible will come across your story and be inspired to go for it too.  Now, how cool is that~

me n popIt is scary to put yourself out there.  Not everyone will be supportive or encouraging.  I brace myself every time I announce I’m going to bring another one of my outlandish dreams to fruition. My favorite response is, “She has no idea what it takes to (insert thing I’m about to do: live abroad, change careers mid-life, publish a book, record a CD, make a web series, etc.). It’s incredibly uncomfortable to ask people to support something improbable, for perfect strangers to put their trust in you and even more so at the thought of being in front of the camera, putting my imperfections on display for all to see, but all the more rewarding when you follow through with it. And when I start to doubt my ability or direction I remember these words Pop said to me when I was afraid to make the first, big, improbable leap, “If anyone is going to do it kiddo, it’ll be you.  You’re my great, white hope.”  Feel free to hold onto those words if you ever need them.  Pop was always willing to be shared among those who needed a wise-old, great uncle Bulgaria.

Right then, back to packing for me and pen to paper for you~


Thanksgiving Day


piano in room

piano receipt