Copyright by Brianne Sieberg. Powered by Blogger.

Travel: An Overnight In Old Town

Dear Diary,
I’m perpetually hesitant to call posts of this nature “guides,” because I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you what to do, or that it must be done in same manner I did it.

Instead, my goal with this post is to spark your interest in a place and inspire you to see it for yourself. I will share with you what I experienced, but in the end, the choice and opinion is yours. 

With all of that said, exploring Old Town San Diego was like stepping into a time capsule. It is considered the birthplace of California, with the first settlement created in 1769 with merely a mission and a fort. After strolling along the modern downtown city and watching the seals, a visit to this historic site completes the picture.

When we traveled: mid-December (this Minnesota family was EAGER!)

Where we stayed: Hilton Garden Inn, Old Town (request a room with a renovated bathroom!)

Restaurants we ate at: CafĂ© Coyote and Casa Guadalajara (we ate at Casa multiple times!)

(Casa Guadalajara)

What we did:

We bought souvenirs at the Bazaar Del Mundo.

(Inside the Mormon Battalion)

Take in a free tour at the Mormon Battalion.

Purchase tickets for a walking tour through the Whaley House. It’s completely self-guided, and they allow photography. This was one of the most interesting homes to see! (Whaley House Web site)

Then, go to the nearby cemetery. The stories that come from this site stay with you.

We also walked around the State Historic Park and the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which is another option for your stay.

(*All photos by Brianne Sieberg unless a source is linked beneath the image. Links will take you to either my related blog posts, or the official site of the places mentioned here.)

For more information, visit the Old Town San Diego Guide.

A MN Urban Legend Inspired a Megadeth Song

Dear Diary,
I revisited a post I wrote in 2016 that discussed one of Minnesota's infamous urban legends.

Mary Jane Twilliger was a real human being, not a beheaded witch as the legend describes, who died young at age 17 from diphtheria.

I wish I could pinpoint why and how her memory was spun off in this story, which has spurned frequent online searches to uncover any reasoning behind it.

According to one result, the legend can potentially be traced to a man named James Sanford Peters, who had operated a mill. Anytime something went wrong at the mill, he’d blame the witches.

What kept it growing remains unsubstantiated.

Another result points to the proprietors of the Loon Lake Store. In the 1970s and 80s, alcohol was not sold in Iowa on Sundays. In order to boost sales and entice Iowans to cross state lines, they relied on the myth. “After all, it is best to confront a haunted area when fortified by spirits." I take issue with this assumption as well, since Minnesota also didn't sell alcohol on Sundays until just recently.

It is also undetermined if May Jane Twilliger’s name is spelled is one ‘l’ or two. I keep seeing both.

What I found most intriguing, and thus, inspiring today’s update, is the legend’s connection to the heavy metal band, Megadeth.

Turns out, their song “Mary Jane” is not about marijuana as notably assumed, but rather – Mary Jane Twilliger.

You see, founding member David Ellefson graduated from high school in Jackson, MN, and released the song in 1988 on the band’s ‘So Far, So Good … So What’ album. 

In fact, Twilliger’s epitaph inspired the song’s chorus:

Beware my friends, as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I’m now so you must be
Prepare my friends to follow me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Twilliger’s tombstone is on display at a museum in Lakefield, MN to protect it from vandals.

It appears this story is much more far-reaching than I had thought.


The Loon Lake Cemetery, where Twilliger’s family plots are, had its first recorded burial in 1821 and last in 1926. Unfortunately, as was the case with the Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery, when the associated small country churches close, these cemeteries become abandoned, neglected and lost to time.

It is a felony to destroy the property. That’s why Highland remains at the intersection of a busy thoroughfare, and Middle Creek stands within a modern subdivision. However, as properties change hands and farm equipment got bigger, maneuvering around headstones became difficult. 

There are reports of farmers simply piling headstones in a ditch to plow the land atop the graves.

At one time, there were over 70 gravestones and markers standing in memorial. Today, there are less than 20.

Finally, as nature reclaims the land, the neglect and abandonment likely contributed to the spookiness that propels the urban legend into the present. It’s important for us to remember that every person matters – that they had a life, a family who loved them, and have earned the right to be respected in death.

Hopefully this particular urban legend has been laid to rest.

What's At Risk When You Submit Your DNA?

Your DNA is the most personal, valuable thing you own.
Every cell carries the full sequence, including the mutation pattern that makes it uniquely yours.

I wrote two posts about receiving the Ancestry DNA kit as a Christmas present, and that the results confirmed some long-held assumptions about my family tree. I still consider it to be fun, creative and thoughtful because it answered some questions I had.

Lately however, these at-home DNA kits have made headlines.

In fact, last November, just as the DNA kits were being advertised as the perfect holiday gift, New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced he asked the Federal Trade Commission to “take a serious look at this relatively new kind of service and ensure that these companies have clear, fair privacy policies.”

What if the most personal, valuable thing I own wound up in the wrong hands?

My biggest fear, immediately, became of the insurance lobbyists. If they were granted access to these consumer databases, could it have a detrimental effect on the healthcare system in this country? 

Could they determine coverage denials based on certain DNA mutations?

What could that mean for my children?

In response to Sen. Schumer, legitimate genetic testing companies have promised to not sell or give away this information without consent. 

“We respect and agree with Sen. Schumer’s concern for customer privacy and believe any regulation should match the commitments we make to our customers,” Ancestry said in a statement. “We do not sell your data to third parties or share it with researchers without your consent.”

Unfortunately, a broad consent is part of the initial contract the consumer makes with such company when a test is submitted for analysis.

Would I have any knowledge or awareness of when or if a company or law enforcement agency goes too far?

And what if, despite best efforts, my biggest fear is realized and health insurers get access?

Did I truly understand what I agreed to?

The truth is, no – I didn’t.

Consumer Protections Need To Keep Up

Even with the fears I’ve highlighted, there is some good that can come from this.

What if these at-home DNA kits can unlock the cure for Type 1 Diabetes?

What if there was a way to detect Celiac Disease or Parkinson’s before its onset?
What if we can then eradicate them?

Because there is such potential, it is my hope that regulations can be put into place so a person’s DNA sequence can’t be used against them. 

Ancestry has also stated that a person could log on to their Privacy Center and delete their genetic information. However, even if the sample is physically destroyed, once it’s digitized, it’s difficult to make completely anonymous. If consumers aren’t capable of knowing how their DNA is used, would they be able to prove an employer fired them because they now have the risk of an expensive diagnosis? 

Would this person then receive the shock of a suddenly higher insurance premium, or worse, a flat out denial and be able to prove his privacy was violated?

It’s not likely.

Your Sample Could Be Subpoenaed In Court

Even more timely – decades old homicides are being solved and serial killers who went into hiding long ago are being unmasked thanks to consumer DNA databases.

The Golden State Killer was apprehended through a match to a distant relative, and investigators were able to build his family tree before his capture. 

Michelle McNamara dwelled on this idea in her book, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. She entered the samples she had access to into a public Internet database, GEDmatch. When I learned of its success, chills ran down my spine.

Society as a whole deserves justice for these horrific crimes, but especially the victims and their families. While cities were terrorized, it was the families who suffered an undeniable tragedy. 

Can we trust law enforcement to not go too far?

Police in California plan to use a similar process to track down and identify the Zodiac Killer.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe said they do not work with law enforcement unless they receive a court order, adding that they did not receive on regarding GSK. Ancestry hasn’t received such a request in 3 years, but did report it released a customer’s DNA profile to police in compliance with a search warrant in 2014.

In a statement from 23andMe, police requested information for 5 Americans and the company “successfully resisted the request and protected our customers’ data from release to law enforcement.”

Plus, the genotyping used in the criminal database, CODIS, is very different than what is used for the private sector. Even if police are presented a situation in which their testing would be useful, they still face the legal and technical limitations that are usually a deterrent.

The answer is it’s possible, but it’s rare.

Would you submit your DNA for a genealogy test?

Is the benefit this could have on society as a whole worth the potential privacy risk to its citizens?

[Rabbit] Fight Night

Dear Diary,
One Saturday evening, a rabbit enters the yard.

My husband's nemesis.

But he wasn't home, so the rabbit took up residence in our backyard.

I get the closest to a rabbit as I ever have in my life.

You can see it shedding its winter coat!

He moves away and continues doing, I don't know - whatever, it is rabbits do, when a second rabbit gets real curious ...

... Sup, dude?

... HI-YAH!

... KAPOW!

Never a dull moment out here.

In Seasonal Limbo ...

Dear Diary,
In the ongoing saga of experiencing how the seasons change our property, this is probably the most interesting portion of its narrative.

A sudden string of 60+ degree days caused over two feet of snow to quickly melt. News reports showcase the rushing waters of St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River and Minnehaha due to the intensity.

We've acquired a pond.

In fact, the trails are such a sloppy mess that we've kept our distance.

This is such a crazy photo - the temperatures finally caught up, my children are wearing shorts, and they're walking through snow to crest the hill. #onlyinmn

I look forward to a glorious Minnesota summer!