Tag Archives: Ireland

My ancestry

For Christmas a few years ago, Al got me a 23andMe genetic testing kit. I let it languish on the shelf until this past Christmas when I was back in San Francisco, when I finally got up the nerve to spit into a container and send it in to their lab. I had been avoiding it because I had convinced myself that the results would state clearly that I was a genetic ticking timebomb and then I’d never be able to unsee all the weird diseases I was no doubt carrying. (Some say that I have a bit of a tendency toward hypochondria, but let me go check WebMD). Several months later, I finally got the results of my genetic testing, which have been absolutely fascinating.

In case you’re not familiar, 23andMe is a company that does personal DNA mapping. For about $100, you can have all 23 of your chromosomes mapped and receive a wealth of information about your ancestry and your health (traits, risks, and so on). However, recently the FDA passed a totally BS ruling that prevents 23andMe from distributing health reports to its customers, so if you buy a kit now, you won’t receive detailed health reports, only ancestry information. The FDA decision didn’t apply to me since Al had gotten me the kit before the decision came down, so I got both detailed health reports and information about my ancestry.

While the health stuff was interesting for me (and a big relief, since I’m not a carrier for any of the horrifying genetic disorders they test for, despite my fatalistic attitude), the ancestry information was much more surprising. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping things I’ve learned about my genes.

ancestry

1. I’m 5.8% East Asian/Native American. Within that breakdown, 4.1% is Native American, and 1.7% is “nonspecific East Asian and Native American.” The Native American bit is actually Native Mexican, since my grandfather was Mexican-American. However, while I knew intellectually that Pop had Aztec blood, I didn’t realize how much; according to these numbers, a quarter of his genes must have been ethnically indigenous. Wow!

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

It’s funny; I feel like every American wants to be part Native American (there was a great Happy Endings episode about this where Dave discovers he’s 1/16 Navajo and starts wearing a fringed jacket out of respect). But personally, I think it’s pretty badass to be part Aztec. My people were ripping still-beating hearts out of chests before it was cool. Also, they built huge temples and invented face knives, so, you know, that’s pretty sweet.

2. I’m .3% Sub-Saharan African, .2% of which is specifically West-African. This is a real head-scratcher. My dad, my husband, and I all came up with theories about where this Sub-Saharan ancestry is coming from, but we actually have NO idea, given what we know about my family history. To my knowledge, there weren’t a lot of Sub-Saharan Africans hanging around in Ireland, Mexico, or Italy, the places where my genes most recently hail from. For a second, we thought maybe it had to do with the Moors conquering Spain and then the Spanish going on to Mexico, but the genetic report is pretty clear that I have no North African or Middle Eastern ancestry, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Now, obviously, I want both of my parents to map their genes so we can see whether the African blood is coming from my dad or my mom’s side. Given my parents’ respective melanin content, I’m gonna take a wild stab and guess it’s coming from my mom’s side, but one never knows.

My mom IS super tan.

My mom IS super tan.

3. I’m 87.6% European, 40.7% of which is Northern European, 12.1% is Southern European, and 34.9% of which is “nonspecific European.” The European piece of my ancestry isn’t that surprising (especially considering that I have two European-born grandparents) but the more specific breakdown of the ancestry is kind of interesting, because even though my dad’s mom is from Abruzzo, Italy, only 2.5% of my genes are Italian. I guess this means that my Italian grandmother wasn’t purely ethnically Italian, which makes sense given Italy’s history and demographics. Guess I can stop taking credit for all of those Roman aqueducts now.

4. I’m 2.9% Neanderthal. And yes, that’s on the high end (80th percentile, to be exact). My husband is gleeful about the fact that I am, as he puts it, “2.9% beast,” but I find it a bit unsettling. According to 23andMe, “traces of [Neanderthal] DNA — between 1 percent and 4 percent — are found in all modern humans outside of Africa.” At least I’m not 4% Neanderthal. I told my husband that, given my ethnic background and now this Neanderthal business, I could have fared MUCH worse in the body hair department. And I have no noticeable brow ridge!

So, this has all been very interesting for me. Have you done DNA testing or genetic mapping? Did you find out anything cool?

 

Tea

I love me a good cup of tea.  I grew up drinking tea and like most tea drinkers, I have strong feelings on what makes a good cup and can be a little obnoxious about it.  It’s my tea or the high seas, I say (<– I don’t actually say this).

I’m Irish. I’m allowed to have an opinion on tea.

First, some background: my mom’s mom is from Ireland and the Irish love them some tea.  In my family, tea is served constantly – any time anyone stops by, at family gatherings, before meals, after meals, during meals.  The kettle is always on.

This Father Ted clip pretty much sums up Irish people and tea (and cake).  (And if you haven’t yet seen Father Ted, please Netflix that biz immediately.)

You’ll have a cuppa tea. Ah, you will. Ah, go on.

The Irish tea tradition, as I understand it from my own family, is different from the British tradition, where people drink tea with lemon and honey and sugar and things like that.  Irish people drink tea with milk and maybe some sugar.  No lemon slices.  No honey. Also, we like our tea strong – none of this weak tea business.

Given my upbringing, my taste in tea is rather narrow.  In my house (and in my grandparents’ house, and in my cousins’ and aunts’ and uncles’ houses) you’re probably only going to find one brand of tea: Red Rose.  Red Rose, as it turns out, is not actually an Irish tea.  It’s actually from – wait for it – Canada. Who knew?  But, like Irish tea from Ireland, it’s made up of a blend of several black teas from Kenya, Ceylon, India, and Indonesia.  So Red Rose tea tastes Irish.  Plus, in every box of Red Rose tea, there’s an adorable figurine – beat that, Barry’s Tea.

Anyway.  I like a strong cup of black tea with milk. For many years, I could handle very little else in the tea department. I’d have the occasional cup of green tea because it’s good for me and has an inoffensive flavor, and I’d always drink tea at a Japanese restaurant, but I never went in for anything exotic, flowery, or fruity.  I still don’t.  And I take active offense to herbal “tea.”  My husband was laboring under the delusion, before we met, that his beloved cup of “peppermint tea” was actually tea – it’s not. Sorry, honey. It’s an herbal infusion, which contains no tea and therefore will not pass my lips.

However, living in other countries has forced me to broaden my tea horizons a little bit.  In Argentina, I got way into yerba mate, which is actually an infusion of leaves and twigs from the yerba tree.  Sounds gross, but is actually delicious and causes pleasant heart palpitations!

And I’ve even tried rooibos, which is a tea native to the Western Cape province of South Africa and is quite popular here (although I tried it for the first time at a Starbucks in DC before I left).  Turns out, though, that rooibos is actually a tisane, which, according to Wikipedia, is “a catch-all term for any non-caffeinated beverage made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, or other plant material.”   Hm.  Nonetheless, South Africans drink their rooibos with milk, which makes me think it might not be so bad.

What’s your favorite kind of tea/tisane/infusion?  Do you share my distaste for anything herbal? Are you going to run out and buy some Red Rose tea right now?  I hope so.

I’ll leave you with this odd little cocktail recipe I found online – instead of an Irish Coffee, it’s an Irish Tea:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs loose black tea, or 1 tea bag
  • 1 oz whisky
  • 1 oz milk or cream
  • 1 tsp sugar

Preparation:

Brew tea in hot water for 3-5 minutes, then strain out tea. Add whiskey and other ingredients, then serve.

Yum.