Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In which Ammon doesn't talk about Valentines Day

So on sunday I found out about this cool site, roots.cs.byu.edu  which is fascinating.  It searches through your family tree on the churches database, matches it up with some well known ones, and tells you who you're related to.  You can learn lots of interesting things. For example, we're related to everyone.  I would be surprised if anyone of british descent, having done a good bit of family history (or having it done for them), that can't find a link to lots of famous people.  Apparently Shakespeare, Mark Twain, T.S. Elliot, Joseph Smith, George W. Bush, George Washington, Walt Disney, and the Wright Brothers are all my distant cousins.

What's more interesting is the people we're directly descended from.  Aside from a long list of european royalty, which is interesting but not terribly meaningful for me (except for Affonso IV the Brave, King of Portugal), I am a descendent of Francis Cooke, who crossed on the Mayflower, Joseph Knight, and James and Eliza Hurren, who came to utah in the Willie Handcart Company, and their father David Reeder, who died at Fort Laramie on the journey.

On Francis Cooke: as with all genealogy, there's a bit of doubt as to whether or not I'm actually related to him.  On familysearch there are two sets of parents listed for one of my ancestors, one goes to Francis Cooke, the other doesn't.  Given that they are each equally as likely, it seems like the obvious choice to err on the side of fame.  But isn't that sort of depressing for that other branch of possible ancestors that I'm just disowning?  I'd hate for my kids to disown me for more interesting parents, but then i suppose it doesn't make a huge difference for them, being long dead and having thousands of descendants anyway.  It's just interesting how we have this innate desire to attach ourselves to famous people, as if being a descendent of someone who crossed the ocean in the mayflower about 400 years ago defines who I am in anyway, somehow more so than being descended from someone who crossed the ocean on a lesser known ship slightly less than about 400 years ago.

Either way, I wish I'd known this when I wrote that portuguese paper about my ancestors.   Actually, that's silly too.  I ended up writing most about my grandparents and great grandparents, people who were actually alive at the same time as me, and whose lives had a significant effect on mine.  Is it not absurd to focus less on them than on people that lived centuries ago and whose lives, while more notable, didn't do a whole lot for me? (the closest ancestor is only 1 of 64 others in the same generation of grandparents)  I don't know why it's so cool.

Phylogenetically, we're fascinated by the fact that we keep the same Y chromosome as we go along the fathers line and the same Mitochondrial DNA as we go along the mothers line.  But these two specific batches of DNA don't have that much of an effect on who we are.  Obviously the Y chromosome does a lot, but it doesn't do that much any differently than any other Y chromosome would, and all our other chromosomes also came directly from one of our ancestors (although they do change a little more due to crossing over and such). My point is we like to focus on the stuff we know about.  Our Y chromosome is cool because it's the same one everyone with our same last name had, and we can point to that and say, "I have the same Y chromosome as all the other perkes."  It's not that it's more significant, it's just more identifiable.

There's just something about us that caused us to want to be able to define ourselves in a way that is generally understood by others.  So when I say to someone, "I'm descended from Ammon Vail" that means nothing to them, regardless of what it means to me, but when I say "I'm descended from a passenger on the Mayflower" that means something.  In addition, we like to define ourselves by the actions of our ancestors, and so it means more to us when we find famous people, not just because everyone else knows what they did, but because we know what they did, unlike the hundreds of names without any distinct identity.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shrimp is the fruit of the sea

Pies are tricky.  My mom would always make pies for our birthdays, for holidays, or just for sundays when people were over.  I always liked pie, but I don't think I ever appreciated how much is required to make them, nor the staggering number of dishes that get dirty in making a single pie.  Pies are also quite small.  I would be willing to bet that a large percentage of pies made (which could be represented on some sort of chart) take longer to make than they do to eat.  That said, i think there's something deeper and more significant in making the pie itself, some sort of value in the journey that makes it worth doing.

Jambalaya is in some ways the opposite of pie, an anti-pie, if you will.  It takes less than an hour to make, feeds lots of people, is simple, relatively cheap (unless you buy jumbo shrimp, which i heartily recommend, if you go for that sort of thing), delicious and satisfying in a way that pie can never be, but does not photograph nearly as well.  

I'm sure there is some sort of higher, metaphysical significance to be had here, but I'll leave that to other people.  Here are the pictures from yesterday's dinner:

By the way, special thanks to Amy, whose recipe book provided the inspiration and recipe for jambalaya.