Month: January 2013 (page 1 of 6)

Digging up the past: Passing the family history torch

Dear Wendy

You know that old saying that what goes around comes around? Well, it’s finally happened.

I’ve spent many years as the unofficial Irving family archivist, having caught the torch from Nana (who wasn’t even an Irving, but married one, and was a natural born archivist if ever there was one). I’m not sure why—is it because I’m the eldest, the geekiest, the one most interested in history in general?

Whatever, the point is that over the years, I have accumulated boxes and files full of notes, pictures, and family lore. (And yes, some day we really do have to get to Whistler and go through the boxes we stored there after Mum died…) A few years back, a distant cousin invited me to join Geni, a genealogy-sharing site. Their tagline is, “Everyone’s Related! Geni is solving the puzzle of genealogy by inviting the world to build the definitive online family tree.”

Well come on—how could I resist? So that’s where I began recording much of what I’d gathered.

My idea was to have a link that I could pass along to your kids and mine, in case they ever wanted to answer that age-old question, “Where do I come from?” (No, not in the birds’n’bees sense—you know what I mean.)

I admit it: I find gathering and recording family history to be a fascinating pursuit. I realize that not everyone is as keen as I am—I think my family sees it as a personality quirk of mine, this insistence on delving into past generations in search of tiny nuggets of information about people who are, well, dead.

So I try to avoid inflicting it on all and sundry. I no longer announce, apropos of pretty much nothing, that today I found a connection with Hamley’s famous London toy shop, or that I’ve been stumped lately, trying to find the identity of the anonymous woman from the Stó:lō First Nation who became our great-great-grandmother.



Our great-grandmother, Diana, daughter of B.C.’s Collector of Customs. But he never identified her mother.


And I’ve stopped trying to drag others around to graveyards, in search of obscure tombstones that might yield some tiny yet exciting tidbit of genealogical data. (Okay, I haven’t completely stopped—I still drag Mitch from time to time, but he seems pretty used to my odd obsessions, and plays along.)



Gravestone of Bertha Gugy


I’m acutely aware that people who constantly drone on about their own family history are the worst kind of bore—fascinating only to themselves—so aside from sharing the occasional juicy tidbit with Adrian and Rachel, I tend to go with the “say less” approach. (They may dispute this, but really, I only tell them a fraction of what I know. I swear!)

Lately, though, to my surprise, Rachel has been showing sparks of interest—first, when we visited Bonshaw Tower in Scotland, where the Irving name originated, and more recently when she, too, joined Geni and started discovering for herself how engrossing it could be.



Come on, our family had a tower in the Borders of Scotland. That’s interesting, right?


Granted, she’s still at the “we’re descended from famous people!” stage, which is where many young genealogists start. (I’ve tried to explain that given the growth in world population since, say, the Middle Ages, pretty much everyone is descended from famous people somewhere along the line, but I don’t want to rain too heavily on her parade.)

She’s definitely got the bug, though—a couple of weeks ago, she announced to her rather surprised history professor that they are probably related, and proceeded to show him the family linkages on Geni. And just this morning she told me she was pretty sure she’s related to one of her classmates, whose family name features prominently in our history. She’s written to the poor bemused girl, asking for details so she can track down the connection.

And apparently she was up until some godforsaken hour last night, lost in a distant corner of Scotland in the early 1000s with some dude named Beorn Biórnsson Bearsson…a 26th great-grandfather, just in case you’re interested. (Stop yawning—I heard that.)

I’m delighted, of course—who doesn’t want to feel like their kids are interested the same things they are? Though it’s a bit disconcerting to keep getting notifications from Geni whenever Rachel runs a particularly gnarly search using my account: “We’ve found your relationship to Genghis Khan! Genghis Khan (Temüjin) Borjigin, Khagan of the Mongol Empire is your fourth great aunt’s sister’s husband’s 21st great grandfather.”

Um, hurrah.

It’s fine, though. I know from experience that eventually you get past the “which famous person am I related to?” phase, and enter the “who are these people really, and how did the world look to them?” stage of genealogy.

Because that’s what it’s all about, as far as I’m concerned. Genealogy is really just history, told through the experiences of the multitudes of people who actually witnessed it. Real people, who lived, loved, fought, survived, and eventually passed their DNA along through the generations, until it came to us and our children.

It’s the web of life, and it’s a lot bigger and ultimately more important than having an ancestor whose name made it into the history books. (Even if his name really was Beorn Biórnsson Bearsson, which is totally the coolest Viking name ever.)









Awesome Advice Central: Taking care of business

This week’s edition of Awesome Advice Central is dedicated to the memory of one of the most awesome advice-givers of them all—Dear Abby, who died January 16, 2013. She was an inspiration to us all; we are not worthy. No, seriously. We’re not.

The case of the missing fleece slippers

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It’s not menopause, you’re just really ticking me off

Dear Karen,

I’m about to mark my first full year of menopause, and I’m happy to say, I’ve come through relatively unscathed. I don’t know that my family would agree, as I’m sure they feel a little battered and bruised, but I feel pretty okay so far. When we grew up, no one talked about menopause. Our mother told me nothing. She did ask me one day, “Wendy, do you remember that time I was kind of bitchy, in my 40s?”. I didn’t have the courage to say, but should have replied, “Um, that was menopause? I thought that’s how you always were”.

Drinking your way through menopause - "Mo...

Drinking your way through menopause – “Mom had it right” … (Photo credit: marsmet461)

So here’s what I’d tell my children about this important stage of life:

  • Hot flushes These are not fun and although I don’t feel like a furnace is burning its way from my inner core to the tips of my fingers, I do suddenly get the feeling of having run a marathon, with all the sweat that accompanies. I feel like my hair goes limp, I get beads of sweat on my upper lip, my arm pits start churning out moisture…there’s not a part of me that doesn’t feel in need of a cool shower. It’s inevitable that it happens when I’m wearing a silk blouse. It almost never happens when I’m wear gym clothes. It all makes sense now, why women our age wear tracksuits all the time. It’s not that we lose our fashion sense, it’s that we’re trying to protect our nicer clothing from rampaging hormones.

    DSC02832 Ed Polish mouse pad hot flash

    (Photo credit: godutchbaby)

  • Memory loss This is a big one for me, as I was very worried that I was falling into quick, irreversible dementia, until I realized this happens to a lot of women in menopause. Suddenly, words that used to trip off my….um…damn, what’s the word…oh yeah, TONGUE, get stuck along the way and I have to mime, ask what it’s called or let the sentence dangle in mid-air, hoping the person I’m speaking to picks up the thread and tells me the word I’m searching for. I was writing my phone number down for someone and suddenly couldn’t remember it – I knew if I could get the numbers started in my head, the rest would follow, but I just couldn’t do it. Memory loss doesn’t include my children and cats’ names; I’ve been messing those up for years.

    Cover of "Still Alice"

    Warning: do NOT read this book when entering menopause. Trust me on this. You’ll thank me later.

  • Good humour failure This one has been written about a lot lately, and I admit to having a good laugh at Donna Highfill’s post the other day about growling (to put it politely) at her husband. One night, I got so angry at the way my husband was eating his dinner, I actually started fantasizing about stabbing him with my fork. It was dreamlike…me sitting there, wondering if I should go for his offending hand, which would hurt and land him in hospital, or his throat, which would hurt a lot and land me in prison. I could almost see the thought bubbles above my head, and hear the appropriate orchestral music, as if I were in the middle of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. I came back to reality, looked at my son’s and husband’s faces and thought, “they have NO idea what I’m thinking, which is good, because if they did, they’d be backing away slowly and throwing away all dangerous kitchen implements”.
    Menopause .. Is being stupid a natural part of...

    I’m sure this woman has a fork hidden in her right hand. (Photo credit: marsmet461)


  • My neck This is something I need to constantly be aware of. Unlike Nora Ephron, I don’t feel bad about my neck, but I’m certainly aware that it’s become a lot more wobbly of late. No matter that I have a youthful-looking face, my neck is giving the game away. For all my life, when I meet people they always make a comment along the lines of “oh, no, you can’t possibly have 3 children, you’re too young!”, or even my personal favourite, “that’s your daughter? I thought you were sisters”. I kid you not. I hear that less and less and I blame my neck for this. And my crow’s feet. And those weird wrinkles that are now showing up on the sides of my cheeks, for no good reason.
Wattle & Snood

Aack, that’s my neck. Or maybe my upper arms. Or both, I can’t tell. (Photo credit: Harald_)

So, what can I do about all this? Not much, really. As comfortable as it might be, I refuse to wear Lululemon every day, so I have resigned myself to those sudden shocks of heat, wherever and whenever they occur. I’ve also learned to love the delicate cycle of my washing machine. Who knew silk can be machine-washed?

I’ve accepted that some words are getting misplaced in my vocabulary, but I know they’re out there, they’re just in hiding for the moment. If I ignore them, pretend I don’t notice they’re being difficult, then they’ll come back. I will welcome them with open, drat, what’s that word, the things that connect your hands to your shoulders. Arms. Yeah, that’s it.

My bad mood. That’s a tricky one, because I don’t want to blame menopause for it. You see, sometimes I do get pissed off for all the right reasons. Last thing I want is someone looking at me, head tilted to one side to show they understand (and pity) me, saying “oh, dear, Wendy, looks like Menopause is getting the best of you today, there there, you’ll be fine”. Sometimes, and yes, I’m talking to you, World, you do annoy me and I won’t be held back in showing my disapproval and outrage.

My neck. I suppose I could wear scarves for the rest of my life? Or I could just get on with things and not obsess about my neck. My wrinkles. My newly arrived love handles. My aching back. My gammy knees. My greying hair. My fading eyesight…


Your sister. The short one. Brownish hair? Freckles? You know who I mean.

This old couch

Dear Wendy,

You’ve seen the couch in our living room, right?

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Team Spirit!

Hi, Team,

On offer today are 3 videos, showing Team Spirit at its finest.  There’s not a professional among the group, just a bunch of caring, kind and sharing individuals:

Two boys, both winners:

A babysitter named Stewie helps soothe a tired baby:

A famous man, yes, but he’s only helping his daughter get her start in the world of Show Biz.  Together, they make an awesome team:

From our team to yours,

Karen & Wendy

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