PART TWO OF “THE UNIVERSE IS AT IT AGAIN!”: AN ANSWER

If you missed Part One, click here to read that first because this post continues my story…

Fast forward to April 2017. With another trip to Dublin booked for this coming August and an overhaul of the novel I am writing, I decided to get my DNA analyzed from Ancestry.

I figured, what the hell? Maybe I’d be able to clear up that Galicia/Austria/Russia/Poland confusion, but most of all, I was hoping to learn that I was, indeed Irish.

I ordered my Ancestry kit with a $20 off discount and it arrived on April 29. The kit provides specific instructions about how to spit into the little sample tube they provided.

I know, I thought the same thing: Why do I need instructions?

Well, it turns out that the process of spitting saliva into the tube took longer than I thought. I first had to activate my kit on my computer, and before attempting my saliva collection, I had to wait 30 minutes after eating or drinking anything.

When those 30 minutes were up, I followed the directions to collect my saliva, but since I couldn’t have any water, it took a long time to collect the right amount (minus bubbles, mind you).

Once I had enough of my saliva in the tube, I clicked the tube together to release the “stabilizing fluid.” I then packed it in the little, prepaid shipping box it came with and mailed it on Monday, May 1. I received an email on May 5 that it was received on Ancestry’s end and that it would take 6 to 8 weeks to receive my results. My sample hit Ancestry’s lab on May 23 with another disclaimer that it could still take 6 to 8 weeks due to high demand.

I was prepared to coast through the rest of the school year and the first part of summer without knowing my heritage, but eleven days later on June 3, I received my results via email. Little did I know the very unexpected and wonderful surprises the universe had waiting for me!

First of all, here’s my heritage:

Great Britain: 57%. I figured this would be a high number, and I was right. Must be why I love teaching British literature and bland food.

Scandinavian: 13%. Shocking! I had no idea I was of Scandinavian descent. When I tell people this, most look at me funny because I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Some have said, “Well, it’s obvious you are Scandinavian,” and aren’t surprised at all. However, if you look at my family as a whole, the only three people with the typical Scandinavian features of light hair and light eyes are me, my Grandpa C., and my 3-year-old nephew, I. My dad and uncle were both blonde when they were young, but their hair changed and their eyes weren’t blue. Again, must be why I love teaching about the Vikings and Beowulf! Let’s go a Viking!

Europe East: 10%. This is the line that extends to Poland, Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Galicia, etc., so I expected this region to show up. I was hoping that the test would narrow down the actual country my Grandma C.’s parents actually emigrated from. However, an offshoot of my ancestry report clusters my DNA on a map of this region right where Galicia would have been, so I’m going with Galicia. Kielbasa for all!

Italy/Greece: 9%. WHAT? Seriously? I’m Italian or Greek? Holy cannoli! This shocked the daylights out of me. I would have guessed any other heritage before Italian/Greek. My husband was very pleased to learn that he did, indeed, marry an “Italian Girl.” His father would have been over the moon to learn that I had Italian heritage!

Europe West: 6%. Germany, Belgium, and France fall into this region.  My Grandma M.’s grandparents were born in Germany, so this wasn’t a big surprise. Confirmation: German. Dad’s up in heaven screaming “Yah vull!” right now.

Iberian Peninsula: 3%. Spain and Portugal make up the Iberian Peninsula, and this one was a nice surprise. Interesting fact: Portugal is directly across the Atlantic Ocean from where I live. Neat!

Ireland: Less than 1%. I am Irish after all! While I was initially disappointed, at least Ireland showed up. I’ll take it!

Caucasus: Less than 1%. I know what you are thinking…where the hell is Caucasus? It’s a region encompassing Georgia, Irian, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and more. Another Easter egg for sure.

On my report, I can click on each region to not only learn more about it, but also to take a closer look at my percentages and compare mine to other people from the same region. It’s pretty cool that I have a solid cluster in both the East Europe region (Galicia-the yellow spot in the map to the left) and also in a community called Early Settlers of New York.

But there’s more, a whole lot more to this story! Please look for Part 3 tomorrow!

Part One of “The Universe Is At It Again!”: Who Am I?

Who are you? Or better yet, who am I? That’s the quintessential question, isn’t it? And I think every one of us is searching for that elusive answer, despite how confident we might be.

Who am I, indeed? What makes me ME?

One of my biggest regrets is never preserving each of my four grandparents’ stories…their backgrounds, families, cultures, heritages, and what made each of them THEM.

Sure, I talked with them a bit when I was young, but I don’t remember much of anything because I never took the time to write anything down.

That part of my story, their individual stories comprised of their contributions to my genetic blueprint, is forever lost.

Huge regret.

HUGE.

I do recall being told over the years that my heritage includes Russian, English, German, and a tad bit of Irish.

Tad bit of Irish? With my connection to all things Ireland over the past 3 years, I longed for more than just a “tad” bit of Irish in my background.

So, last summer, I decided to see if I could find out exactly that that “tad” was comprised of.

Three weeks before I left for Dublin, I began researching my genealogy hoping to find an Irish connection, specifically through my Grandpa C. He never shared much of anything about his background or family, but I vaguely recall him saying there was Irish mixed in with his mostly English heritage.

Our local library offers free Ancestry access to anyone with a library card, so I spent a few summer afternoons playing detective as I tried to uncover at least one Irish link. The more I searched, the more discoveries about my family heritage I made, but with each click ahead I fell further behind on making a concrete Irish connection.

All in all, I ended up learning a lot, but I was unable to confirm or deny what it was that brought me to the library in the first place.

For starters, I found out pretty quickly that my supposed Russian heritage was perhaps incorrectly attributed.

Census from 1930

The line in my heritage through my father’s mother’s family provided very quick and solid information. Grandma C. always said that she was Russian, and she even knew how to speak it. However, I think she might have been mistaken. On every census and official document I could find on her family line, the home country of her parents, J and E, was different. The earliest I could find from the early 1900s listed Galicia (not the one in Spain) as their home country, and that changed over the years to Austria, Poland, and Russia.

Galicia was one of those recurring terms from last summer that guided me, and I wrote a separate entry about that here.

I unearthed more information about Grandma C.’s line, and my mother’s parents and their lines, but the line from my dad’s father gave me the least amount of data. All I found was Grandpa C.’s marriage certificate to Grandma C. (the one with parents from Galicia), which included both of their parent’s names, one entry in a census report from 1940, and his birth and death dates.

When he heard I was trying to learn about our family, my Uncle G (Dad’s brother) gave me a red binder filled with photos from Grandpa C.’s side and obituary clippings and memorial cards from many members of his family. I meticulously went through the album hoping to find a link to Ireland, but I came up with nothing. Most of the pictures didn’t have names, and the ones that did were people who both my Uncle and I had never met or really heard of before.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to confirm anything Irish in my heritage. Drats.

I traveled to Dublin in August, unsure of whether or not I had any legit ties to what has become one of my favorite places in the world. That trip changed my life in so many ways regardless of whether I’m truly Irish or not.

When I returned from my trip, the frenzy of back to school hit hard, and I abandoned my genealogy research for the time being. I instead focused on my novel, my writing, and my responsibilities. Another summer would be here, soon, with time for me to once again pursue learning about the origins of my heritage.

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow!

 

An Opportunity for Inspiration from Colm Toibin

It’s not often that big name creatives make their way to the Jersey Shore. Usually, the musicians and writers I’d love to see perform are either in New York or Philadelphia and it’s just too much for me to go. However, my serendipity streak is alive and well, resulting in the opportunity to hear one of my favorite authors speak this week only 30 minutes away from my home, and even better, it was free.

Most people recognize Colm Toibin’s name from his novel Brooklyn; the movie based on his book premiered last spring. If you’ve followed me for a while now, you are well aware of the string of signs that led me to Ireland last year, fueled by what I like to call my spirit guide. Mr. Toibin’s works Brooklyn and Nora Webster both appeared several times along that serendipitous timeline, well before the movie trailer for Brooklyn was released. Mr. Toibin’s breadcrumbs led me to other literary connections, personal discoveries, and further signs along my journey. The fact that I’m almost 30,000 words into my own novel is based, in a very slight part, on his contribution to my timeline.

What most people don’t know is that Mr. Toibin was a journalist before publishing essays and novels. His creative streak came alive later in his life, which is something I can truly relate to and is one of the reasons why I look to him as an inspiration.

When I saw that Monmouth University was hosting Colm Toibin as their final author in their Visiting Writers series this year, I jumped at the chance to attend. It was open to the public. With serendipity once again running the show, I couldn’t believe I had nothing else on my schedule on that particular afternoon during a week of a craziness filled with deadlines and due dates and contingency plans in the event my niece decided to enter the world (she’s smart…she’s still nesting comfortably inside mama as I write this). I even had a friend who wanted to go with me (thanks, C!).

We arrived about 45 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin and were able to get excellent seats near the front. After a short while, my friend went upstairs to check something on her phone since the signal inside the auditorium wasn’t every good. A gentleman began testing the microphone, and it was Mr. Toibin himself. He looked at me and smiled as he walked past me. Within 30 minutes the room was packed with Monmouth University faculty and students, as well as members of the general public like my friend and I, all eager for the program to begin.

Monmouth University’s Dean Michael Thomas began the program by speaking briefly then handing the introduction over to his colleague, Dr. Susan Goulding. After a few moments, Mr. Toibin took the podium, and from his first word, his accent captivated my attention for his whole presentation. He intertwined tales from his own life and his writing process in between his oral readings from both Nora Webster and Brooklyn.

The way he explained how he used real-life elements in his fiction made an impact on me, as I am attempting to do something similar with my own writing. Mr. Toibin said that writing is all about therapy, and that it is sometimes brave yet difficult to write the stories you don’t want to forget. “I didn’t know I was a novelist. If I didn’ I would have taken notes,” he said. Me, too!

Mr. Toibin develops a strong sense of character in his works, which is something I am trying to do in my attempt at writing a novel. He urged adding details during revision, and to do it right, to describe as if you were looking at a photograph. Confusion can be worked out later as you add levels of intensity to the characters. Make the landscapes fully real and have a sense of your audience. Not everything has to be symbolic as you look outwards from self. All of his advice is on point, and I was reassured by his words because I honestly am doing exactly as he said, or at least I think I am.

Mr. Toibin lists Mary Lavin, Colin Barrett, and Claire Keegan as writers who have influenced him. I find it encouraging that two of the three writers are much younger than he is, emphasizing that there’s always a lesson to be learned through the lives and works of others, no matter the age difference.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was a lesson that combines his own experience with the experiences of his characters Nora Webster and Eilis Lacey: finding yourself is a lifelong journey. I’m even more comforted and reassured after hearing Mr. Toibin’s presentation that I am in the right place at the right time.

Afterward, I thought about the experience for a bit after looking over my notes. I then began fantasizing about the idea that maybe, someday, I would be addressing an audience about my works and my influences. I wonder if Mr. Toibin knows that I’d be talking about him (and others) just as he talked about Lavin, Barrett, and Keegan.

Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Until next time,

Jill

To learn more about Colm Toibin, visit his website by clicking here.

The Lesson from The Jimmy

Today’s post title is, indeed, a reference to a Seinfeld episode, and this is a story from my journey through the streets of Dublin.

One day was particularly rainy as my friend and I explored various James Joyce spots then the Temple Bar region. When it was time to head back to the hotel, we made our way to the Luas light rail system for quicker transportation back to Connelly Station in the rain, which at that time was coming down pretty good.

We walked up to the ticket vending machine at the Jervis stop, purchased our tickets, then looked for a dry place to stand.

A man wearing a black garbage bag over his clothes as a makeshift raincoat stood along the wall under the closest overhang. He was drinking a beer in a small, round, green bottle.

The only spot to stand where we might be shielded from the rain was next to him.

I’m ashamed to admit that the idea of standing next to him made me nervous, a result of my predisposed prejudices that I wasn’t even aware of.

Nevertheless, we stood in the available spot, and he immediately started talking with us.

He said he got the garbage bag from the homeless shelter.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that. What he said next, though, completely caught me by surprise.

He shared that he wasn’t at the shelter because he was homeless or needed assistance. Rather, he was a volunteer. I got the distinct impression he was homeless as some point in his life and was paying back the help he had received.

He was on his way home to his wife, who had some sort of medical issue if I recall correctly. He wanted to squeeze in a quick beer for enjoyment before having to face reality again.

He asked us where we were from, and we said New Jersey. He shared that he lived in Florida for a short time, but Ireland was home.

As the Luas train approached, he said, “You know, we all have the same story, no matter where we are from.”

We said goodbye and got onto the train.

I never thought to ask his name, but he looked like his name should be Jimmy, so that’s what I call him.

All of my assumptions I had about Jimmy when I first saw him were shot to hell and completely wrong.

I haven’t forgotten Jimmy or his simple yet profound message.

Underneath it all, we all do, indeed, have the same story: the elements of heartache, triumph, wishing, wanting, doing, suffering, pain, losing, judgment, fear, acceptance, wonder, success, sadness, anger, love, loss, fulfillment, satisfaction, emptiness, strength, peace, weakness, joy, stereotypes, strife, bliss, disappointment, and more…all rolled up into one core of a story with our own circumstances and attributes creating the mask we each wear.

oc1_16ire_0817_0681a
Taken Inside the James Joyce Center

It’s that core under the mask that matters, a story so uniquely similar to yours.

And to mine.

And to Jimmy’s.

 

 

 

Looking Back: Day 7 in Pictures: Bray

On Sunday, August 21, 2016, we packed up and left Tara Towers Hotel and headed south to Bray. Tara Towers was booked when I made the reservations, plus it was neat to venture out to a new area. Our hotel for the night was The Martello Hotel, right across from the Irish Sea. Bray was a fun and festive place. If you are familiar with the Jersey Shore, it was part Belmar, part Manasquan, and part Point Pleasant Beach. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

Bray was the vacation from the vacation and I really enjoyed it. The only thing I would change would be to build an elevator at The Martello Hotel. We had to climb a lot of stairs to get to our room with our bags, which was a little difficult. Otherwise, everything was splendid. If you would like to learn more about any of the places from today’s post, please visit these links:

Bray, Ireland

The Martello Hotel

The Harbour Bar

Katie Taylor

Coming tomorrow: Day 8: Goodbye, Ireland!

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 21, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance

Looking Back: Dublin Day 6 (Part 1) In Pictures: Sandycove and James Joyce Tower

Saturday, August 20, 2016, was my sixth day in Dublin. I couldn’t wait to get started on my adventure today! We took the DART to Sandycove, about a 15-minute ride or so. From the station, we made our way along the waterfront and walked to the James Joyce Tower. Some history about the tower: James Joyce stayed here for a short time, and it is the location where Chapter 1, Telemachus, in James Joyce’s Ulysses begins. The Tower has so many James Joyce artifacts and displays. If you are a fan of literature, the James Joyce Tower is worth checking out.

If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

It was amazing to be in the same spot as James Joyce. My footprints walked in his footprints, and also walked in those of Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan. If you would like to learn more about the locations mentioned in today’s post, please visit these links:

James Joyce Tower and Museum Site 1

James Joyce Tower and Museum Site 2

Sandycove Beach

Sandycove and Glasthule

Coming tomorrow: Day 6 Part 2: Dalkey.

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 20, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance. 

Looking Back: Dublin Day 5 (Part 3) In Pictures – Howth

As you can tell, I saw A LOT on Day 5, August 19, 2016. After the end of our Celtic Boyne Valley tour, we took the DART over to Howth (pronounced HOTE, like NOTE). I was excited to see Howth because I knew there would be a lot of fishing vessels. I’m a sucker for the trawlers, the draggers, the clam boats…they are one of my favorite things to photograph. I could spend days at the Inlet here at home just taking pictures of the fishing vessels.

We walked the docks, then looked for a place to eat, not thinking that maybe we should have made a reservation. The first four or so restaurants we tried were booked. We ended up eating at the Bloody Stream. I know, the name doesn’t sound very appealing, but it was wonderful. And right next to the DART station! We walked right onto a train that was ready to pull out of the station! It was a longer ride from Howth to Booterstown, but I enjoyed every minute of it. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

There’s so much to see and do in Howth, but we only had a few hours to spend there. The next time I return to Dublin I will definitely budget more time to see this fishing village more in depth. So similar to home, yet so different at the same time. If you’d like to learn more about what’s in today’s photographs, here are some links for you:

Hooked on Howth: An Illustrated Guide

Howth is Magic

The Bloody Stream

The Brass Monkey Restaurant – Howth

Coming tomorrow: Day 6 Part 1: The James Joyce Tower!

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 19, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.

 

Looking Back: Dublin Day 5 (Part 2) In Pictures: Celtic Boyne Valley Tour

After visiting the Hill of Tara on August 19, 2016, our day trip took us to four more locations, all with deep history. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

As you can see, the day did not disappoint. I would definitely recommend Extreme Ireland’s tour. They offer day trips to a lot of other locations, too. To learn more about each of the locations from today’s post, please click on the links below.

Trim Castle

Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns

Monasterboice

Drogheda

St. Peter’s Church

Saint Oliver

Extreme Ireland Adventures

Coming tomorrow: Day 5 Part 3: Howth

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 19, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.

 

 

Looking Back: Dublin Day 5 (Part 1) in Pictures: The Hill of Tara

Dublin, Day 5: Part 1: August 19, 2016. It rained. And rained. And was windy. And did I mention it rained?

Did the weather damper my excitement about visiting the Hill of Tara? Absolutely not.

One of the most important sites on my pilgrimage to Ireland, visiting the Hill of Tara was profound. I’m glad it was windy and rainy because I was able to disguise my tears. This place was very special to me (if you know me, you know why. If not, you’ll find out someday…)

The Hill of Tara is an archaeological complex associated with kingship and sacral kingship rituals. From the Hill of Tara website:

The Hill of Tara is A ROYAL PLACE: In prehistory and historic times 142 Kings are said to have reigned in the name of Tara. The coronation stone called The Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny has rested here down the ages. And it was here that the most powerful of Irish Kings held their great inaugural feasts and were approved by Earth Mother Goddesss Maeve.

The Hill of Tara is A SACRED PLACE: In ancient Irish religion and mythology, Tara was revered as a dwelling of the gods and an entrance place to the otherworld of eternal joy and plenty where no mortal ever grew old. In the legends of St Patrick’s mission to Ireland he is said to have first come to Tara to confront the ancient religion in its most powerful sight.

The Hill of Tara is A CELTIC PLACE: Tara is one of the largest complexes of Celtic monuments in all of Europe. In reading its landscape we are transported back in time to when the first settlers came here 6000 years ago. They and the Celts who followed them chose Tara as a very special site.

Royal, Sacred, Celtic. Words I would also use to describe a special spirit. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

What an amazing place.

To learn more about the Hill of Tara, click here. (Sidebar: To those who know the backstory with the Triskelion symbol, take a look at the symbol used on the Hill of Tara website all over! So awesome!)

Once again, THANK YOU to my spirit guide, my treasured friend.

Coming tomorrow: Day 5, Part 2: Celtic Boyne Valley Tour

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 19, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.