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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?

A Property in Bloom

Dear Diary,
I questioned why I returned to the dumpster fire that is Facebook.

The 'ignorance is bliss' approach far outweighs the accessibility to people in your social circles. I've had enough of the political posts, the vague status and meme updates, and the stupid pyramid schemes that spread under the disguise of "girl boss."

The final straw for me was when a high school classmate I hadn't spoken to in 17 years, discovered my daughter has T1D, and had the audacity to send me a message, "did you know insulin is a toxic myth that the pharmaceuticals use to make money? Manage blood sugar with essential oils for a healthier lifestyle, and I can help get you started today!"

Angry, I immediately fired back, "YOU'RE GOING TO KILL SOMEONE. Listen, while you spewed your nonsense, guess what hormone your pancreas naturally secreted into your bloodstream? INSULIN. Type 1 Diabetes is the ABSENCE OF INSULIN production, which must be supplemented in a biologic or biosimilar form or else, that person will die. Do not speak to me again, and do not ever try to sell me this snake oil again."

My aunt and I had a conversation about this very topic, as she is one of the few relatives who can relate to precisely what it is we're going through re: chronic illnesses. It's been a few months since I deactivated, and I've noticed a huge improvement to my overall sense of well-being. She mentioned she was inspired to pursue the same.

It's also to blame for my sparse posting to Instagram. Why in the f*ck are we wasting so much time online, instead of out enjoying our lives? In addition to Facebook, I've also deactivated the online Time Sucks that are Pinterest, LinkedIn, Flickr and Google+. I don't use Skype, but I still use Twitter to piss and moan and complain, but even there, I've made it policy to block those I share a DNA profile with.

It's okay to disconnect.

Not everyone has to know every single detail, or be a part of every aspect of your life, or know every thought in your brain - some things are worthy of being kept to yourself. Is nothing private anymore?

We are approaching the first anniversary of the date we moved in.

This city girl never thought she'd admit to this, but thank God I live here.

I love the isolation. I despise humanity to the extent that I enjoy the solitude.

People seem to exist to cause chaos in other people's lives, and I'm pleased to have this retreat.

I work in a city center, and I feel like I can't exhale until I come back home.

They say that spending time outdoors can be a healing experience, as green spaces refresh and re-energize the mind. I took these photos on my DSLR, not my phone, during a walk that lasted nearly an hour as I explored my property.

A common complaint I hear, is the lack of time.

We glorify being busy, as if working is the end-all-be-all of a well-lived life.

Then, when we're not at work, we're online - posting pictures of the things that work has afforded us.

The highlight reel.

Which, to an extent, I get it - you need money, shelter, food, and clothing to live. There's student loans and utilities to pay for. There's a responsibility that comes with life - to ourselves, our children, our home. But isn't there more to it than that?

For the past year, I've tried to empower my children to think for themselves.

And I strived to show them that their opinions are valued and matter. They have an idea of what they want, what they like, what they want to try, experiences they want to have. They have the freedom to take charge and plan their birthdays, down to the food they'll consume and how to spend their time.

They do not exist for my convenience, and I try to not force things upon them. I try not to force or manage their relationships with others. And yes - I'm fully aware that they're 10 and 7, and I am their parent. That's why I feed them sometimes. If they want to talk about something, they will. If they don't want to talk about something with you, they won't. I show them I respect their privacy and personal space by knocking on their door, and not opening their mail.

All of that to say, I'm teaching them to leave some things sacred.

To think I turn 35 next month, and though I've crossed off many a milestone and achieved many a goal, I feel as though there is still so much more I've yet to learn about life.

There is a lot I let go of. I've seen plenty of examples of what not to do. I'm grateful even for those experiences for I know what to avoid.

I don't need permission or approval. I am under no obligation to explain, justify or defend why I chose to do something. Live and let live. I understand it won't change opinions, but at the same time, if you cannot respectfully fold yourself into the life or home or marriage of someone else, then a boundary has been crossed.

For me, it was the private message from someone trying to sell me an MLM product. For my own peace of mind, I chose to value living my life more than watching others' online so I deactivated all but a few accounts.

I've grown intolerant of bulls*t, and I lack the capacity and room for it in my life.

And bulls*t seems to fester in social media timelines.

I suppose there is irony in a post that discusses leaving the Internet on the Internet.

But the key factor here is, I chose to post instead of giving in to the feeling that I had to in order to appease someone else.

Just like I chose my DSLR over my iPhone, and I chose to be outside rather than in.

Maybe someday I'll choose to reactivate my Facebook profile.

But for now, it's nice knowing it's something I can take or leave.

Has anyone else decided which aspects of their lives hold a higher priority over others?

My property is starting to bloom.

Maybe at almost-35, I'm finally starting to as well.

Sidenote: I scored these $55 hanging ferns for a mere $13. I love how they look above my front porch.

And all of this, because I went for a walk.

Bats in the Attic

Appropriately subtitled, "The Specific Detail I Wish I Was Aware of Prior to Buying a Country House, Not That it Would Have Changed My Mind ..."

Dear Diary,
One night, as Nick and I relaxed in the stillness of an evening that is the result of sleeping children, we began to hear strange noises coming from the front porch.

We looked out the window, only to have confusion set in as we listened but didn't see anything amiss.

That's because the creature was stuck in the attic. And whatever it was had wings, because those strange noises were said creature flapping them.

It was a bat.

Now, living in the country, this new development didn't come as a surprise. Just kick it out or kill it, right?


Apparently bats are classified as a "protected species" so for the not cheap price of $520 to have someone come out, we had to have this unfortunate tube placed. The unsightly thing pokes out of the vent above the garage, because fuck aesthetics, I guess.

It allows the bat to fly out, but not back in.

And you have to wait for the damn thing to take the initiative on its own.

Because if it decided to make its nest and have young in there? Well, then our house is suddenly a multi-family home until the end of summer when they migrate.

My largest concern was that the bat had shit everywhere, which is disturbed, can be toxic.

After about a day or two, the flapping sounds we had heard stopped. Either the bat vacated the premises, or it had died.

For now, we're taking the 'ignorance is bliss' approach, hoping for the best and that we have no more unwelcome squatters. I've read horror stories about the hefty price tags that come with remediating bat infestations, and though I'd hardly call one bat an "infestation," it certainly isn't something I'd like to re-experience.

Neither would my pocketbook, thanks. #themoreyouknow

[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!