Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are?

Do you ever wonder who you are and where you came from?  I don't mean, literally, where you were born or what your name is ... but, over the centuries, who are all those people that made up your family tree and where in the world were they?  How did all those individuals eventually result in the making of YOU?

Okay, that might be a slightly narcissistic way to thinking about genealogy.  But I've been fascinated by this train of thought lately, probably spurred on by my recent trip to Newfoundland.  (For those of you who may not know, I'm half-Newfy -- my father being born there, in a small mining village at the end of the highway, 9 years before Newfoundland was even part of the country.)   My mother's family's history is closer to home, rooted in and around Phelpston, Ontario (population 200 or so) for at least a few generations.

I can go back a little way, but I run out of factual information pretty quickly.  I can make an educated guess that the Irish parts of my family probably end up over here because of the potato famine.  For at least one part, it's true; one of my mother's cousins has done a lot of research about the O'Neill connections (my maternal grandmother's family), and the first one left Tyrone in northern Ireland in about 1840, around the time of the famine.  Beyond that, I remember none of the details.  (Note to self:  call said cousin and copy information.)

And family legend has it that the first MacLellans to reach Canada fled Scotland to avoid prosecution for stealing sheep (I like to think it was an act of political protest against the Highland clearances by English landlords); whether or not this is true, I like the story.  I met an Australian guy, also a MacLellan, in Oban, Scotland (where the MacLellans are from), and, to the best of our combined knowledge, our ancestors left the area about the same time.  (So we figured that HIS great-great-whatever-grandfather got caught stealing said sheep and shipped off to the penal colony, while mine got successfully away.)

And if you go WAY back into Irish history, the O'Neills were Irish royalty once, as the High Kings of Tara.  (So if history hadn't intervened, I could've been an aristocrat.  But Ireland's been conquered by outsiders many times since then -- not least by the Vikings, who brought some of their Irish slaves to their settlement in Newfoundland.)

But as for facts, this is as much as I've got:

Going, backwards, first there's:    ME.  Oldest child of 3 sisters (trust me, it explains much about me that I'm the first-born.)

People responsible:   Rosemary King and Ron MacLellan

Before that:  Gerald King & Mary O'Neill; John (Jack) MacLellan and Lucy Hefferan

Before THAT:  somebody King (another Gerald? can't remember) and Catherine Lamey; somebody O'Neill and Ellen Rose LeClair -- mother's side.  On Dad's side:  John MacLellan and Mary Ann Noseworthy; somebody Hefferan (great-grandfather) and somebody Nolan (great-grandmother).

Before THAT:  ????? No idea.  Except that an O'Neill ancestor hailed from the north of Ireland, and that my paternal grandmother's family used to be Hefford -- a Protestant Irish name -- before an ancestor changed it to Hefferan when he married a Catholic girl.

See?  Already out of facts and I've gone back less than 150 years.  (But you can see, at least, that there's a good reason I'm a redhead; at least three-quarters of my genes are Irish and Scottish.)

I want to know more.  I have to figure out how to find this out.

But for now, it's been very cool getting in touch with the family history that I DO know ... visiting the town where my father was born (which looks surprisingly prosperous, considering the mine closed almost 30 years ago), visiting my paternal grandfather's homeland in the Codroy valley in western Newfoundland, finding the cemetary (see picture to right) where his parents are buried on Cape Breton Island, and cruising around the small coastal town of Bellevue where my paternal grandmother's family hailed from.

I'm thinking I'll do more of this in coming months.  Take some time in September, maybe, to go back to Ireland and Scotland, ancestral homes of various branches of my family.  Embrace my Celtic roots and learn to play the fiddle, or try out a bit of Gaelic (Irish or Scots variety) ... with a shot or two of whiskey to help loosen my tongue.

Monday, August 23, 2010

10 Things I Hate About Travel

(Apparently I'm procrastinating about finishing my blog posts about recent trip to Newfoundland and various other points east.  I promise I'll finish soon.  I absolutely, utterly adore Newfoundland and you really need to hear about it -- too many people I know have never been there or, in the case of the "furriners", have never even heard of it.)

In the meantime, I have a little ranting to get off my chest.  I love travelling, mostly, but there's a few things that irk me about it.

10.  Shoes:  the pretty shoes just aren't practical for backpacking. They take up too much space and weigh too much for the once or twice I might actually wear them in a trip of many months, so the Jimmy Choos have to stay at home. Tevas and hiking boots just don't give me the same thrill.

9.  High-maintenance chicks:  seriously, do you REALLY need to travel with a blow-dryer, curling iron and full array of cosmetics to the wilds of Bolivia?  Fine if you're spending the week at an all-inclusive resort, but re-think it if you're backpacking.  Especially if you're going to bitch about how much your backpack weighs. (Note:  they ALWAYS do).

8.  Backpacker sluts (male variety):  no, I'm not necessarily going to sleep with you just because you're kind of cute and we had a couple of beers together.  I'm not uptight or frigid; maybe I just don't want to.  (You're not actually God's gift, sorry to break it to you!),  Oh, and if you DO get off with some other girl, please don't do it in the dorm room that we all share.  Thanks.

7.  Walking Wallet Syndrome:  yes, I probably have more money (despite being currently unemployed) than people in many parts of the world. No, that doesn't mean I want them to hit me up every two minutes with a guilt trip to get me to buy tacky crap. Occasionally I like to meet locals who have a genuine interest in why I'm there and who I am, not just people who think they can scam me out of my supposed riches.

6.  Buying Stuff:  I don't like shopping at the best of times (accumulating lots of material crap holds no thrill), but it bugs me most when I have to replace things I already own. Like my camera, that had the temerity to die about 3 days into my East Coast trip. So instead of my beautiful Panasonic Lumix that takes fabulous pictures and still fits in a pocket, I have a cheap-ish Sony that doesn't do half as well. Hoping that the Lumix is fix-able but waiting to find that out.

5.  Holier-than-thou backpackers:  I don't care if you've gone on foot across the Iraqi desert, that doesn't make you any more "authentic" than me as a traveller. There is no right or wrong way to do it; let everybody pick where and how they want to travel. Stop judging everybody else, get over yourself and just get on with your own trip.

4.  Flying:  hate it, hate it, hate it with a passion.  It's boring, uncomfortable and really, really bad for the environment.  I would never take anything but trains, buses (Argentine variety, please), and boats, except for the unfortunate fact that much of the world is too far away to make it practical. 

3.  Time/Money Paradox:  if you have enough money, you probably don't have enough time (because you're working for a living, or, like me, aren't currently working but have a deadline to go back). If you have enough time, you're probably broke because you're a student or unemployed or a career backpacker, and don't have enough money to do some of the cool expensive stuff like the Galapagos. You can't win.

2.  Saying Good-bye:  you get to meet a lot of great people while travelling, if you want to. That's great. The part that sucks is that you usually have to say good-bye again after a couple of days (at best) and may or may not bump into them again. Best case scenario is you might have some place to crash in a cool part of the world if you ever get there, but you probably won't get to just hang out and have coffee very often.

And the number one thing that I hate about travelling:

1.  Time: there's never enough of it to see everything I want to see. I had five months in South America and still had to skip bits in the countries I got to, and didn't even make it to some countries. Hell, I have an entire year off and it's not going to be enough to get everywhere I'd like.  

(But I'd run out of money one day so going back to work at some point is, sadly, necessary -- see also number 3.)

How to Lose Weight and Get Fit Without Really Trying

Live out of a backpack for a few months, walk everywhere (extra motivation in places where taxis are often dangerous) and eat a lot of rice and beans.  Seriously, it works ... I came back from almost 5 months in South America about 35 pounds lighter, many inches thinner and a hell of a lot more fit than I was when I'd left.

(I gained a pound or two back in Newfoundland, thanks to the vast quantity of fried food I consumed.  But it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared.)

Thank God.  I was tired of being "the fat chick", tired of looking in the mirror and thinking "But this isn't REALLY what I look like!".  I miss the days when I was effortlessly thin (lasted well into my 30's, but unfortunately did come to an end), but I am so, so happy to be back in thin-ish form.

And it was pretty much painless.  I wasn't thinking about losing weight, wasn't obsessing overly much about eating less or more healthily, or worrying about getting enough exercise ... it just kind of happened by virtue of the way I lived day to day, without me having to spend much time or effort trying to make it all happen.  It's a very nice side effect of travelling on a budget (so you mostly cook cheaply, which seems to mean healthier food, and walk instead of taking taxis or transit) in a place that's more challenging than North America or Europe (so you walk instead of taking a taxi, in those places where travellers might get robbed by taxi drivers). 

I love it.  I have no discipline when it comes to eating better; when I was at work and spending ridiculous amounts of time in the office, proper nutrition far too often went by the wayside.  I was sometimes disciplined about going to the gym or running (mostly for the stress relief), but there's only so far working out will take you if you're stuffing your face regularly with high-fat, high-calorie food and too much wine.  So radical intevention was required.

I'm not quite back to where I'd like to be (that requires about another 10 pounds and a lot more fitness to get me back to my black belt grading physique), but I feel so much better.  I love wearing a pair of jeans because I LIKE them, not just because they're the only pair that fit, and I've found all kinds of clothes in my closet that I'd forgotten about since I haven't been able to wear them in 5 years or so.  (Some of them I can't wear now, either, because they're now too big.  So Goodwill gets the benefit instead of me.)

And I love running again (even though it's frustrating to have to start all over again) -- finding out that I'm faster, without even training, makes me very happy.  Apparently it's easier without all the extra weight I was carrying.  (I still have some way to go, though, before I can hope to challenge the marathoning Steves I know.)

I'd forgotten, almost, what it's like to walk down the street and feel sexy.  But I have it again now ... well, with a bit of effort (not being one of those roll-out-of-bed-looking-hot natural beauties like Evangeline Lilly).

Problem is going to be not reverting to my old habits when I'm back to a regular working life.  It's easy enough when I don't have much stress (beyond where to go next, and worrying whether or not I'll have to rack up credit card debt by the end of the year), when I'm much more budget-conscious than I have to be when I have a paycheque (so I'm not eating out and making bad food choices, or splurging on the expensive wine).   Stick me back in an office for 18 hours a day and I might not do so well.

So ... duh ... maybe I don't go back to spending 18 hours a day in the office.  What a thought.   

P.S.  Oh, and my shoes still fit.  Thank God that never changes, no matter what I weigh.  Maybe that's why I like shoes so much.