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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

Down the Rabbit Hole of DNA Testing by Ann K. Howley


I recently discovered that my great-great-180 times-great grandma is K1a3a1, which is a ridiculously technical name for a woman who lived 4,500 years ago.

Maybe I should call her Grandma K?

All I know about Grandma K is that her own many-times-great- grandmother once lived in east Africa and eons later, around the time of the last great peak of the Ice Age, her descendant daughters started migrating northward where they spread their mitochondrial DNA all across Europe. By the time I was born, my gene pool resembled a non-pedigreed mix of British (46%) and German (24%) influences, with a little stock from Eastern Europe (5%).

Thanks to Grandma K, I’m a human mutt.

I learned this by forking out a few bucks to donate my spittle to the popular genetic testing company, 23andMe. In case you’re wondering, 23andMe sends helpful instructions on how to properly spit into the baby-sized test tubes they provide.

Do not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, brush your teeth, or use mouthwash for at least 30 minutes prior to providing your sample… Your saliva sample should be just above the fill line.

Easy, right? That’s what I thought, before I learned that bubbles don’t count. Yeah. It’s a lot harder than you think to hawk up bubble-free loogies. My face turned red and my spitting muscles were screaming by the time I topped off the fill line. But once that was done, I wrapped and mailed the tubes, as directed, to the company and waited for the results.

Every genetic testing company is different, but 23andMe focuses less on genealogy and more on genetic health screening. So after my spit was analyzed, I was able to log into their website to view the results. I wish someone had warned me that reading DNA test results is like going down a rabbit hole to dig up odd, irresistible tidbits about you. I spent hours reading dozens of reports that indicated whether or not I am predisposed to scary-sounding diseases and conditions. I quickly learned to appreciate the words: Variant not detected.


However, the Traits and Wellness sections revealed more weirdness about me than I ever wanted to know. Some of it made sense. For example, I am:

Likely to consume more caffeine.


More likely to be able to match a musical pitch.


Other results didn’t seem right.

Less likely to have thick hair.


More likely than average to be afraid of heights,


Some of the random results made me wonder if 23andMe was just trying to punk me.

Likely can smell asparagus odor:


Likely to have wet earwax.

Oh come on.

Likely no unibrow:

Thank you.

My husband (who claims he had no trouble with spit, bubbles, or maxing out the fill line) gleefully informed me that the muscle composition in his body is common in elite power athletes.

Show off.

There’s nothing elite about my muscles. In fact, the stupid Genetic Weight Test indicated that I am predisposed to weigh more than average. Arrrgh! I knew it!


Thanks a lot, Grandma K. You’re off my Christmas list.

Ann K. Howley is the author of the award-winning memoir, Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad. She writes a monthly feature for Pittsburgh Parent Magazine and her essays have also appeared in publications nationwide, including skirt Magazine, Bicycle Times Magazine, and Pittsburgh Post Gazette. She teaches writing-related classes for CCAC’s community education program. An entertaining and thought-provoking speaker, Ann loves to convince people that their lives are worth writing about.

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 Confessions of A Do-Gooder Gone Bad is a humorous coming of age memoir about a well-intentioned “problem child” raised by conservative, evangelical Christian parents in Southern California during the Sixties and Seventies.  As she naively stumbles through her youth and young adulthood, one misadventure after another, she also struggles to reconcile her ultra-Christian upbringing with women’s liberation, prejudice, protest and poverty during this turbulent era, eventually gaining a different perspective of faith in a world more complicated, funny, terrifying and wonderful than she expected.


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