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Cedar

Kindling

Freedom is the Spine of Lady Liberty

Sometimes, I feel like I could burst at the seams from being overstuffed with thoughts. One topic usually flows to another, and before I know it, I have a massive web of interrelated pondering and feelings that more than likely will go with me to the grave because I am unsure of how to approach them without staring the demon of perfectionism in the face.

This topic is one that I feel is a gateway to learning to just write it down and get it out, because it is one that I absolutely want my posterity to know I care about.

It’s a delicious morning. I’m sitting in our screened-in porch. There is a steady breeze. The sky is cloudless, and the sun not too hot. I watered my herb garden and tomatoes. The neighbors two doors down have a bonfire going and the air smells like charred pine and sweeps me off to home in the Upper Peninsula, where dune grass and white pine grow in sandy soil along the shores of Lake Superior, and folks live in a perpetual state of taking time to enjoy the beauty of it all with loved ones. I just slipped out from under the shaded porch to take a peek at the roses and violets on the east corner of my backyard, and a gorgeous little scene peeked back at me between the roofs of houses – white clouds floating over green mountain peaks, and tall, slender cypress or Lombardy poplar-type trees framing the sliver of a view.

I [perhaps not shamefully enough] slept in far too late, which doesn’t often happen. We had stake conference at 10 a.m. today, but I was awake until nearly 2 a.m. waiting for Yossiho to get home from picking up our friend Giovanni from work (they ended up getting tacos and Giovanni was dressed for salsa dancing). I woke up at 10:26 a.m. and felt like I got hit by a train in my sleep – must have been the binge fest I had last night with a Totino’s sausage pizza (it’s so terrible, but I love that crust) and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra Core, washed down with a Pepsi Fire. I feel gross just thinking about it. I’ve been religiously eating gorgeous foods that come straight from the earth to dig up my metabolism and faithfully devoting myself to almost-daily cardio in attempts to heal my body and be a healthy vessel for pregnancy in the not-too-distant future, but something about wandering the aisles of the grocery store at 11 p.m. on an empty stomach makes the thought of a Redbox and cream cheese wontons with a side of pizza rolls sound so much more appealing than eating the Granny Smith apples that I also put in my cart.

Last night, I fell asleep watching Hidden Figures. So far, it’s a great movie that just added to my ponderings. Chained together with a post I read this morning about a charter school that sings two verses of the national anthem every Friday, the feeling I get when I say the pledge and sing the national anthem every first Friday at my Eastern Star meetings, Independence Day (my favorite holiday) coming up, daily Facebook memories popping up from my travels, seeing a soldier in uniform in line at Panda Express at the mall yesterday, and the current political climate, I’ve got a giant wad of thought that is begging to get out. My terminology may not be correct, and I may not be eloquent. But how I feel does not need correcting.

4th of July in my hometown

I love my country. The United States of America. No amount of unrest will make me turn my back on it. I don’t always agree with my leaders, but I’m grateful for the gift of the process we have to vote for political leaders. Our preferred candidate will not always win, and the winner will not always represent our personal convictions. We will often feel like I no longer identify as citizen of the United States of America, because our collective views are not being seen by the global stage. We may feel lost in a sea of millions, without a national identity.

But we will always be “American.”*

Many of us were born here, another descendant generation from a line of those born here, eventually tracing our heritage back to an ancestor to immigrated here. Nearly every single immigrant came to this gorgeous country looking for something new and a better opportunity, whether freedom to worship however they wished, or to leave behind a peasant life and sail after a dream of opportunity, wealth, stability, and a future for their posterity. My ancestry is quite mixed and not many of my lines have been established in this country since the colonial era, but were poor peasants, craftsmen, and laborers seeking prosperity. My father’s paternal line were French-Canadians who came to Michigan in the last decade of the 19th century for work as lumberjacks. That line splits with one ancestor coming to Canada from Ireland, but nothing is known of him. His maternal line is split: most of the maternal side [which I’m just now taking the time to research] had been established in the U.S. since the time between the Mayflower and the Revolutionary War, most patriots, and the paternal side came from Germany and from England via Canada, all loyalists. My mother’s paternal line came to Michigan from Poland in the last quarter of the 19th century, just a couple decades pre-Ellis Island. They settled in an area of Michigan that similar to the climate of their homeland, and even named after the area of Prussia from whence they came – Posen. My mother’s maternal line came the latest, in the 1890s and early 1900s, peasant immigrants from western Sicily, who settled in Detroit.

Many of us are first-generation Americans, whose homelands are less removed from us. Our parents came specifically for us to have better opportunities. They already knew us by name, or knew that we would one day be their child, and they had us in mind. They came to work hard to support us, and to give us abundant work opportunities and a valued education. They wanted us to have the chance to speak English, which is a world language, and hoped we would desire to keep their homelands in our hearts.

And then there are those of us who are Americans who came here on our own accord. We are not citizens, and many are not even permanent residents, but we hope with all our hearts to be accepted and be permitted to be accepted as one of Her own. We came here because history has showed us what America is, and it was always our biggest dream to be a part of it. We imagined prosperity in work, capitalism, and for our children. As difficult as it was to say goodbye to our homelands, we left them to come here, unsure when we would get the chance to see our country or our families again, except through a 3.5” screen on a ten minute FaceTime call. We left because there was not much work, the wages were not fair, the governments were not just, the police did not protect. For some of us, seeing machine guns as a normal occurrence, while for others, clean drinking water was a commodity and not a basic standard of living. This group includes my husband, who came to the U.S. from Mexico permanently when he was 31 years old, because he always dreamed of living here since a child.  He has worked hard to be successful and now earns more than I do, without a college degree. When I find myself selfishly wallowing in my standard of living not matching a Pinterest world, I listen to him talk to his friends back home and send the pictures of all he has worked to earn – his cars, his keyboards, our couch, our weekend road trips, our grill, our tiny rented basement apartment, the employees that he manages. I am brought back to earth and reminded of the simple principle of gratitude for what is mine.

Finally, there are those of us who many don’t consider Americans at all. It wasn’t our life plan to come here, but our beautiful homelands were unsafe and were torn by the misfortunes of war. We are refugees. We deserve a safe place to lay our heads at night and to not sleep with fear that we may wake from a blast taking our lives, or in the custody of corrupt groups who view us as disposable slaves used for their sexual and psychological gratifications. We love our homes and wanted them to be safe places for us to stay, where we could grow old and watch our children and grandchildren enjoy life in the rich cultures of their inheritance. But we were sent here, after years in camps, waiting for a “slot” to open and to proved through reams of paperwork that we are worthy of humanity. We identify as citizens of our home countries or our tribes, but we were forced to become Americans, and we hope you accept us preserving our own cultures alongside your own.

No matter which one of these we are, we are all American. The beauty of this country – from sea to shining sea – is that were were built with the purpose of freedom in mind. Freedom is the spine of Lady Liberty, and she carries us on her back.

Our history is imperfect and carries stains that cannot be bleached out. Original colonists did not all treat the Natives with respect (much like endless tribes throughout history, all over the planet). Civil and human rights are still being argued over and defined, because we have not yet perfectly learned to love one another and be united.

I felt ill last night watching Hidden Figures. Though slavery in its literal form ended with the Civil War, over 100 years later our country was still struggling to treat all colors with dignity, as if we weren’t the ones who brought their ancestors here in the first place. History has been a constant intermingling of colors and cultures, but our folks have failed to recognize that out of fear and lack of understanding of the unknown. Power and desire for domination has always been a theme at every part of history, and we have been quick to forget the reason our ancestors came here. I remember looking at pictures of segregation in my social studies book in middle school. It never did make sense to me. There was a black girl in my first grade class – I think her name was Holly Campbell. She had to have been the only African-American in the Upper Peninsula, I thought. I sat with her on the bus every day. I remember kids saying she smelled like popcorn and was just different. I knew she and I were different, but I didn’t really understand why that was bad. Because it wasn’t. Different does not equal evil. Diversity is only wrong if one fears that it will diminish their own identity. Drinking out of a fountain that a “colored” person drank from will not give me a disease, will not make me black, nor will make me any other stereotype associated with the African-American culture. Drinking out of that fountain will make me not thirsty. And what a wonder that is.

To think we have yet to learn not to fear one another just boggles me. Yesterday, I walked by a U.S. Army soldier in the mall, donning his camo. Oh, how I have always secretly wanted to have served in our military! To serve this beautiful land that has allowed me life and liberty. While I’m sure military members have normal lives and think about things other than their service, I know that many suffer because of the service they have given. And when I walk by, I can’t help but know that most look around at all the diverse people they have fought to protect – not just whites, not just Christians, not just heterosexuals, not just males and females. They understand the world on a level on which most of us will never understand it. They have seen what the news outlets will never report on. They have interacted with the civilians of dangerous countries and know that the people aren’t dangerous, but just a few bad apples are. They don’t fight just for our country, but for our world. And that’s how it should be. We should all work together to uphold and to protect the well-being of one another, so we can live in peace in whichever land we were born into or choose. We fight for humanity. Lady Liberty holds her torch high at Liberty Island, and since 1886, she stood as a lighthouse and a beacon for our ancestors as they nervously disembarked at Ellis Island. She was a hope and a comfort.  And if we take the time to ponder on her symbolism, she stands for the same today, for those who have crossed all of our borders, who have lost their lives en route, who have prayed for the chance to give something better to their children, and for those who will come in the future.

Lady Liberty, image credit: https://www.statuecruises.com

(image credit: https://www.statuecruises.com)

Every month in my Eastern Star meeting, I have the privilege of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem. I feel empowered when I participate in both. I image standing on the sidelines in Baltimore in 1812, watching the spectacular battle take place, and the poem as if it were being penned in that moment and not two years later. I see my flag waving above the distress below. She has always been a symbol to unite in every tragedy, and to me has always been a cry to those who seek to do harm that we will defend all from their corruption, that we will all unite, not just Americans. I argue that in a metaphorical sense, all who seek true and honest liberty are entitled to be called American, and all who seek to destroy others by the power of the fist, the sword, and the gun, are enemies to us, and we will not rest until all who suppress liberty suppress it no more.

 


O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


 

This country is for all who desire freedom from oppression and who seek peace. If we just took a little time to go back to our roots of why we are here and what we stand for, we will see volumes of poetic prose and symbolism that represents the true heart of our nation. We need to unite. We must stop dividing ourselves from one another. We must support the cause of freedom for all. We are all linked, and if one country suffers, we all do. We must join Lady Liberty and support our troops in carrying the great burdens ahead. Not a handful can do it without growing tired. We must link arms and fight together to rejuvenate our nation to become what it has meant to stand for since the beginning of its infancy. We are all more connected than we realize – through history, through experiences, through DNA, through legacies. We need to look beyond our backyards and reach across the fence to our neighbors with an understanding that we will always look out for them and protect them. We need to become communities again so we can heal as a nation.

 

*I know that there is an entire conjoined corridor of countries along a larger North [including Central] and South American continent, but for ease of expression, and for expressing our citizenship the way it is often identified by European nationals and citizens of other foreign countries, I will occasionally use “American” as an identifier for citizens of the United States of America.

Cell Phone Chef Food Mexican by Marriage

Authentic, Irresistible Tacos at Home

If you’ve been anywhere on social media in the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a few standard, non-stop circulating memes:

Brace yourselves

“Brace Yourselves” from Game of Thrones

dosxx

The Overconfident Man from Dos Equis

And then, the comments start to get juicy, and Michael Jackson pops in for a snack:

MJ

There’s always one.

…and then Gene Wilder shows his smug face…

But we all love the smugness.

But we all love the smugness.

And somehow, some pre-middle age ladies can make any conversation about wine.  (I refuse to believe that this demographic is actually that obsessed with it, but that it has become such a social media joke that they have tricked themselves into believing wine is the new sun.)

wine wine wine

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a drunken rhinoceros? ‘ElephWINO!

But there’s always one that seems to say what’s on everyone’s minds, all the time…TACOS.

Juan Taco

NO JUAN. Ever.

And I’ve got tacos on my mind today.  Just call me Juan.

My main squeeze, Yossiho, is from southern Mexico.  Tapachula, specifically….about as far south as you can go without being in Guatemala.

Tapachula

How I’m from Northwoods, USA, and he’s from South Jungle, Mexico, is beyond me.

Being the nopal-on-his-forehead kind of Mexican that he is, our weekend nights are consecrated to tacos.  We live on the east side of the city.  Every Friday night (and sometimes Saturday, too), we attend our sacred taco mass.  We drive 15 miles clear to the west end of the valley to a little hole-in-the wall, Azteca del Oro.  Of course, there are taco carts and dives all along the way.  We’ve tried them all.  But nothing tops Azteca.  Well, maybe Tacos El Gordo in Las Vegas, but I happen to prefer Azteca.  He may leave me if he reads that.

Nestled in a strip mall next to an AutoZone, and across the street from El Coyote night club, the sights, sounds, and smells are sure to delight.  Motor oil, meat grease, and canola oil from the woman frying chicharrones out front will slap your nose the second you leave the car.  And your eyes are in for a treat, too! You’re sure to see plenty of Trival boot and cowboy hat-clad Rico Suaves and sequin mini skirt-wearing mamis hiking up their tubetops and clunking along in their tacones. Don’t forget the insane base shaking the ghetto fab cars pulling into the parking lot.

A tiny Latino market with a short traditional menu by day, on Fridays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m.-5 a.m., Azteca devotes itself to Mexico D. F. style tacos.  You can order anything from your basic al pastor or chorizo to any part of the animal you can think of.  The real deal. (For the record, my favorite is sesos, or brain.  No judging until you try it.)

We go through phases.  Occasionally, we stay home and make our own tacos.  They’re ridiculously delicious and a much cheaper alternative to going out for tacos.  We drop about $28 on average every time to go to Azteca (or anywhere, really…it happens when your husband eats eight tacos in one sitting).  Making tacos at home is not only cost effective, but pretty easy, and delicious!

It also has a much cleaner bathroom, always stocked with toilet paper and hand soap.

Lucky for me, I live with a Mexican.

As I’m a fiend for all things “authentic,” we are a match made in heaven.

I actually eat vegetarian for the most part, except when travel or tacos are involved.  That’s great, because the meat is the heart of the taco.

I’ve perused Google and Pinterest occasionally, seeing what people are up to when they make tacos.  But I have yet to see a Mexican living in the U.S. share the secrets.  And that’s what this post is about to do.

What makes tacos so irresistible?

Admit it – you LOVE tacos.  You would eat them until it hurts.  If you can’t have the real deal, you’ll eat terrifying impostor tacos to get your fix.  Taco Tuesday?  Try Taco Everyday.  There are reasons you love tacos, and you may not even realize why.  Let me enlighten you!

Really good tacos

See? Tasty, authentic, AND homemade.

To make a successful, authentic taco, you need:

  1. The tortilla.

    It must needs be corn.  No question.  Usually, the tortilla is doubled or tripled, depending on the meat.  They’re smaller than an average corn tortilla, so it won’t do too much damage.  There is nothing worse than picking up a greasy, juicy taco, and having it all fall out the bottom.  Use two tortillas.  It’s insurance.

    The easiest is to purchase corn tortillas at the grocery store.  You can use normal size, but it’s too much.  Use a cup or a lid to cut smaller circles out of the large tortillas.  That’s what we do if it’s all we have.  Bonus if you have a Mexican grocery…they sell taco-sized tortillas for ridiculously cheap ($1.99-$2.99 for 60 tortillas).

    You can also make your own tortillas, using a simple mix of corn flour and water.  Once you have handmade, you’ll never enjoy store bought. [Recipe and tutorial coming! – check back]

    If you’re feeling like the domestic goddess of the universe, and you just had a baby with the authenticity police, you can go crazy and grind your own corn, making your own flour, and then making a tortilla.  Trust me, I would do this if I had the tools.

  2. The meat. 

    In the streets, you can order all cuts of meat, usually beef, pork, or chicken, and pretty much any organ you can imagine.  You don’t need to buy an 8-foot long intestine and pressure cook it to enjoy an authentic taco.  A simple good cut of meat and applying some tricks of the trade in prepping the meat before you cook it will yield excellent results.

    Yossiho’s favorite is a particular thin cut of beef.  He lets it sit in pineapple juice for a bit to soften it, macerates garlic and salt, and slathers it all over before cooking.  Unbelievable.  Chorizo is a great home choice because it comes already prepped and ready for cooking.

  3. The crunch.  

    Traditionally, tacos are garnished with chopped onions and cilantro, and [optional] radishes.  Keep it simple.  Too many ingredients will drown out the simple but delicious flavors that are all layered together.

  4. The acid.

    Lime.  Must add a squeeze (or three) of lime.  A good rule of thumb is about 1/2 to 1 lime wedge per taco.

  5. The spice.

    SALSA.  Salsas are the crown jewel of tacos!  They’re also the reason many people regular certain taco joints.  Authentic tacos have a couple traditional options: salsa verde [green], salsa roja [red], and an avocado-like salsa.  However, here is the easiest you can get creative with your tacos.  Salsa recipes are sacred, just like your granny’s spaghetti sauce.  But here I’ll share recipes for the three basic salsas [forthcoming].  We love to make a red onion and habanero quick pickle and use it as a salsa – spice and crunch together mean double delicious.

 

See?  It’s simple!  Tortilla. Meat. Onion and cilantro. Lime. Salsa.

the things

All of the things!

Now you’ll just have to have some discipline.  It’s so incredibly cheap to make your own authentic tacos that you won’t be able to stop.  Invite some friends over, and hours later, you’ve had well over a dozen tacos and already made plans to open your own restaurant.  But I wouldn’t know anything about that. 🙂

 

Have you made your own authentic tacos at home?  Do you have a favorite meat?  Salsa recipe?  Feel free to share.

Travel

How to become an Italian Citizen

I’ve been quiet on the blog front the past few months, but I’ve had loads of ideas and desires to write swirling in my brain.  Part of the reason I’ve been so silent is that I find it difficult to sit in front of the computer any longer than work requires, especially when working on my health.  But another [fabulous] reason I’ve been quiet, is I started a new job as an Assistant Genealogist at AncestryProGenealogists (an arm of Ancestry.com)!  I was specifically hired for my Spanish and Italian skills, and as a specialist in Italian genealogy.  It’s been a crazy ride learning just how much I don’t know.

Vatican

View of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – that was a lovely evening!

One of the first cases I worked on was for a client who was proving his right to dual citizenship.  Of course, almost immediately, my ears perked up and I began scavenging for information on the citizenship laws in Italy, and to see if I qualify.  I had no idea that Italy had an in for foreigners to become citizens without a residency requirement, but it’s the truth, folks!  And a sweet truth it is. I took it upon myself to be the guinea pig.  Daydreams of a second home (well, you know, after I have a first home…) and a life in Italy started dancing all around me, and, even more importantly, a key to open the door of opportunity in the European Union – if it’s even a thing in a few years (thanks, Brexit, for leading that one).   My kids – though just an imaginary spec in my womb – could easily study in Europe, work, and have free reign to many more countries than possible with just a U.S. citizenship.  Priceless.

I think this series will fit great into my blog.  My Sicilian heritage was the line I identified with most as a child, as we spent most of our family time visiting my mother’s maternal family – the Sicilians.  It was a large part of how I formed my identity and my imagination, and it feels like home.

Curious how to become an Italian citizen?  Or want to find out how you even qualify?  I’ve done a lot of the leg work for you in research, and will be using this post as a home base to activate links to steps as I experience them.  There’s lots of great information floating around, but I always find I look for someone else’s experiences.  It’s not too difficult, but takes a little cash and a lot of patience.  I hope this will help you clear the cloud of overwhelming information and find some clarity in your quest for Italy.  Read on!

Altare della Patria

The Altare della Patria, or the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, in Rome.

How to become an Italian Citizen
(in 10 easy-ish steps)

There are multiple ways to obtain Italian citizenship.  I’m going to focus on jus sanguinis, which is by right of blood, through your ancestry.  If you’re reading this, jus sanguinis is likely the way you’re hoping to qualify.  If you have a parent who is an Italian citizen, if you were adopted by an Italian citizen, if you married an Italian citizen, or if you’ve legally lived in Italy for ten years, you may qualify through another method.  Let me know in the comments if this is you, and I’ll see if I can help you out.

Keep an eye out for links to the numbered points as I update with my experiences!

Here is the process, simplified:

1. Find your link to an ancestor that immigrated from Italy.
Note: Italian citizenship could not be passed down from a woman until after 1948, but it could be inherited by a woman. This knocks off three of my own lines and narrows down my possibilities to one tiny line on my tree, my second great-grandfather, Giuseppe Cavarretta.
My line: Giuseppe Cavarretta – Anthony Cavarretta – Annette (Antonina) Cavarretta – Momma Angela – Me. (I know, I missed the ‘A’ name train.)

2. Verify your Italian ancestor was not a U.S. citizen before your first U.S.born ancestor was born.
Your Italian ancestor had to still be an Italian citizen. Becoming a U.S. citizen was considered renouncing Italian citizenship, and no one in your line could have ever renounced Italian citizenship in order for you to qualify.  In fact, on the Declaration of Intention submitted by immigrants wishing to become U.S. citizens, the verbiage actually says, “it is my bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly to __[insert ruler’s name here – for most Italians, this was Victor Emanuel III, King of Italy]__, of whom I am now a subject.”
You can check census records, as they mark if a person was naturalized, had his/her papers in, or was an alien.
If it’s unclear, and you think s/he may not have been a U.S. citizen, submit a request to the USCIS. Actually, you will need to do this, anyway.

3. Submit an inquiry to the United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS).
If you are uncertain if or when your ancestor became a U.S. citizen, request an index search.  This takes 4-6 months to receive a response. If their response is negative (there is no naturalization on file), submit that negative response letter to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for further verification. Wait time for a response in an additional 4-6 months.
If the response is positive, you will need to request an official copy of your ancestor’s naturalization papers from the USCIS or NARA.  These steps are crucial, as you will need official, certified copies of all documents proving your lineage to your ancestor!

If your Italian-born ancestor became a U.S. citizen before your first U.S.-born direct ancestor was born, you do not qualify for Italian citizenship.  But if you do qualify, hooray!  You qualify!  Now get ready to support deforestation and the job security of many government employees, namely county clerks, civil registrars, and postal workers, as well as your bank account, because you’re going to need a lot of official documents.

4. You qualify! Now you need documents. Lots of documents.
You will need to order certified, long form copies of the birth, marriage, and death records for all in the line from yourself to your immigrant ancestor, and their spouses.  This includes records from Italy.
That’s 21 records for me. $15-$25 a pop. You don’t receive the originals back, so if you want an official copy for your own purposes, order it now, as it is deeply discounted when you order more than one copy.  This will take a little research if your family has moved around.  A simple Google search can help, and FamilySearch Wiki is a fantastic resource.  Let me know in the comments if you need help finding where to request your ancestor’s or family member’s documents.

5. You’ll need an apostille on each one of your records.
An apostille is a record authentication for countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. Send all of your records to the State Registrar to get the apostille. This is usually $1-$5 per document.  Lucky for me, my people stayed in Michigan, and Michigan is gracious and charges $1 per document.

6. Now you need to get an official translation of all your English-language documents into Italian.
This is another $30-$50 per page.  Make sure you select an approved translator, or you’ll be out of luck and need to get them translated again.  A political cartoon comes to mind – one I drew in Ms. Quinn’s 9th grade history class, of William Taft romping around in a bathtub full of money.  Swimming in the bathtub, what a glorious day, watching all our troubles [money] go swirling down the drain!

7. In the meantime, set an appointment at the Italian consulate in your jurisdiction and fill out your Italian citizenship application. 
If San Francisco is yours like it’s mine, you’ve got a 5-10 year wait for appointments. Plenty of time to get your documents in order and paid for. 🙂  Of course, if you check on a weekly basis, I’m sure last-minute appointments will open up.  For me, the commute from Salt Lake City to San Francisco isn’t a leisurely jaunt, so it’s not too easy to get there last minute.  (As far as I know, right now Detroit has only a 1-2 year wait.)  Fill out your citizenship application while you wait.  You’ve got time. 🙂

8. Attend your consular appointment with all your documents and applications and hope for the best.
Don’t forget your $250 application fee (pocket change in comparison to the records, if you’ve got to go back four generations, like me).

9. Wait to hear from the Italian government on your approval.
Generally, if you have all your documents, certified and translated by an approved translator, your citizenship will be approved – it’s just a matter of waiting.  The wait can average 6 months to 2 years.

10. Celebrate! You’re now an Italian citizen!  
Put on some Puccini, crack open a bottle of Chianti Classico, and celebrate!
In my case, $1,780 and 5-10 years later (depending on consulate appointment availability)…better make it a bottle of Colossi Sicilia Rosso…super cheap spaghetti wine.  Going to need to save what few pennies are left for that plane ticket back to Italy.

Are you interested in becoming an Italian dual citizen?  Have any questions on the process or where to begin if you think you might qualify?  Leave me a comment and let’s discuss.

Well-being

A New Day on an Elliptic Road

So the road isn’t that new…I’ve seen it before, but never with these eyes.

On Wednesday I did something I haven’t done much lately.  First off, I drank over 64 ounces of water, which never happens.  But the real miracle was that I took advantage of that $28/month membership I shell out and went to the gym.  It was a nice day, but I wanted to go to the sauna, too.  I’ve gotta be honest…the sauna is the reason I keep my gym membership.  24 Hour Fitness in Sugarhouse is a complete dump, a bit shady, and not up to par with what a gym is these days.  But they’ve got equipment, classes, and a sauna.  If I ever made a little extra cash, I’d really like to try out The GYM in City Creek, but even with a discount it’s still a bit out of my reach.  That place seems legit, or at least when it first opened.  No weird vibes.  No diseases awaiting you within its walls.  Clean.  Secure.  Across the street from work.  Yelp has them both closely rated though, so it could just be hype or a missed opportunity on The GYM’s part.  Perhaps vising a 24 Hour Fitness a bit further away, like the one in Murray with a cardio cinema, would help out the situation.

24

24 Hour Fitness in Sugarhouse

I went at the ungodly hour of 6pm…right when all the office slaves get out and go.  Luckily, I found an open elliptical.  Punched in my weight and a 30 minute timer and off I went.

I didn’t push myself too hard.  I found myself thinking back to a couple years ago when I my stamina easily permitted me to go for an hour and crank the level intensity way up.  I still have the burning desire to throw it on a level 25 or speed my cadence at a lower level, but it was a huge wake up call when it wasn’t so easy this time.  Granted, I was a few years younger before and didn’t have any of the health issues I have now.  I ranged between a level 3 and 18 (18 is no easy feat, mind you), and the fastest I got was hitting 70 bpm once, but averaged around 50.  I couldn’t find my iPod so I put on a Florence + the Machine playlist from YouTube (more on her later).  Every three minutes or so I checked my time and thought, no way am I going to make it 30 minutes today.  My legs were feeling uncharacteristically heavy for some reason.  But I leaned on Florence, I had happy nostalgic memories, I stared blankly and felt intensity when I wanted to speed it up without notice, and I made it.  I thought I’d skip out of the cool down, but I made it through that, too.

flo

Florence ties with Alanis for best gym buddy.

After, I awkwardly strolled down the hall and through the locker room like I was still on a moving conveyor belt and entered the sauna, which was packed as usual.  A couple meat heads that go from steam room to sauna to hot tub, an old guy (there’s always one) that breathes really dramatically like he’s doing a pranayama yoga marathon, a guy in a hoodie, a couple dudes looking for other attractive dudes, and a woman in a swimsuit.  I have my favorite seat in the sauna which happens to be the favorite of many others, but the open spaces were either in the back upper row (climbing up to it can demonstrate what phase of the moon is) or sopping wet from the hot tub meat heads, so I stood for a while.  Eventually all the men left and I sat in my favorite seat, which was right next to the woman in her swimsuit.

I took out an earphone and immediately she started talking.

“Did you bring your swimsuit?” she asked.

Nope.  We continued chatting with the camaraderie that ensues between a fat girl and a woman who used to be the fat girl.  She was there for water aerobics and invited me to come on Wednesday nights.  The class is really small, mostly middle aged to old women.  I took Aqua Tone at university once and loved it…took it to replace the Zumba I so desperately wanted to love but didn’t.  The lady, Wendy, told me she used to weigh 300 pounds and now was about 205, and she started with this water aerobics class.  I committed to going in two weeks when I’m available.  She introduced me to the instructor before class.  Friend made, buddy system check.

I got home and waited for the endorphin high.  I didn’t feel it how I used to, but it was there.  I could tell by how I carried myself that I was feeling a bit of the high.  My legs were like cemented sausages and I could barely pick them up, but I was grateful I went, and sad when I remembered I had my second spinal injection the next day and wouldn’t be able to work out for a week.

Looking forward to some casual walks and going back to the gym soon.

Really looking forward to when my spine heals a little and I can go back to kickboxing!

Well-being

Healing Body

Last night, burritoed in a blanket, I sat on the back porch reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

tidy
With every sip of my golden milk turmeric concoction, I sniffled in a loud snort and turned a page…literally and figuratively.  I am on day four of head cold, which came immediately at the end of an irrationally long lady-cycle, which was immediately preceded by a four-day long violent bubonic rapture, formerly known as a full-body flu.

porch

Golden hour & golden milk.

Over the past few days, while I sniffled up my runny nose and poked at slices of habañero and serrano peppers floating in broth as a remedy to drown my congestion, I’ve had a lot of time to think and have a come-to-Jesus-talk with myself.  For much of my life I’ve been pretty bad at following through with major life-changing things, but always have a good heart, strong intent, and a big imagination and visualization.  The past couple years I’ve taken it one slow step at a time to fix myself in a place mentally where I can succeed in a strong go, but something always gets in the way.

death wish

I call it “masochist gourmet.”

Reading that book last night, I thought that the dramatic principles of tidying could easily apply to life.  Declutter it all.  Hold each item and feel it.  If it sparks joy, keep it.  If it doesn’t, thank it for it’s use and discard it.  Do not put anything away or tidy it until you discard all of the things that are no longer useful to you.  Once your life is tidy, everything falls in place and nothing but joy is left.  You will have more order and clarity.

My body has been a mess, and I think it’s a sign of something more than just age and weight, although tackling the latter will help significantly.  I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while to get myself on track and rally in support.  Cheering squads are significantly helpful to those who have a hard time staying on track.

I want to write all the things broken in my body that I want to heal, and take you along on this pilgrimage with me.  (I hate the word “journey” as much as I can’t fathom why people dip baby carrots in hummus…seriously people…just no.)  I’m here, humbling myself, admitting I have weakness and need support.  I’m a strong woman with a decent set of gnads, but some things are more easily accomplished with a cheering section.

Before I list what I want to heal, I want to emphasize that admitting that my body is physically tired and in need of some TLC has nothing to do with body acceptance.  The Complete 360 post I wrote back in December still stands true – you can live your life at any weight, and have a happy, successful life that is suited to you.  Body acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t make changes and always look for ways to progress.  It means you love yourself at all stages, no matter where you are.  We’re always moving, progressing, falling, dusting off, taking steps back, losing our keys, running out of gas, and filling up again.  Life is so dynamic and we need to be gummy with it and know your self, divine, and universal worth at all times.

This morning I told my friend Blair that I’ve been intensely thinking on all these things I want to accomplish, but how I’ve never really followed through with all my passion to get there.  She asked what my goals and desires are.  Immediately, the number one thing that came to my mind was to heal my body.  I think this is the most important step before I can move forward successfully with anything else.  Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.  Even before your husband and children.

meblairbw

Me and Blair wandering D.C.

This will serve as a starting point, and as I move forward, I will explore each of these more, and expand out to other themes that interest me.  I’ve read a lot and have implemented some things to help treat, but this will be my journal.  I approach this list knowing that weight loss is a key component in healing all of these, but I want to think of this in terms of healing rather than stressing over every tenth of a pound I lose.

Things I Want to Heal in My Body

  • Spine.  In December, I had shooting pain so bad that I thought a rib had broken and was stabbing all parts of my body.  I was hunched over, crying a lot, could barely do daily things like personal hygiene.  It culminated to a day at work when I couldn’t walk myself out of the bathroom, and security wheeled me out of the office building in a wheelchair.  The pain was so intense that I remember my coworker telling security it looked like I was going to pass out.  Shots, drugs, physical therapy.  In January I had an MRI of my thoracic spine, and we found that in my thoracic spine alone, I have six herniated discs and one extremely bulging disc at T9/10 (the one that caused me the pain), with a degeneration/narrowing of the nerve passageways in my vertebrae.
  • Menstrual Cycles.  I want to be a fertile Myrtle.  Since my first cycle on Valentines day in 7th grade, I’ve had irregular cycles.  A few years ago I had a new cycle every 6-8 weeks and it was so normal for me that I wanted to throw a party to celebrate.  In my late teens/early 20s, I took birth control to regulate, but I’m not willing to be on that regular hormone treatment as it does more harm than good in the long run.  I’ve always thought I had PCOS (more prominent facial hair, among other symptoms), but my last yearly exam with a new OBGYN told me that people often misdiagnose PCOS, and more often than not it isn’t the real cause.  In me, I don’t have any cysts rupturing, according to my OBGYN.  There are two hormones responsible for your periods.  One is communicating just fine between my brain and uterus/ovaries.  But the progesterone…that darn progesterone isn’t picking up the phone, and that is why I don’t have a cycle regularly.
  • Sleep Apnea.  In October 2013, I began noticing irregular heart beats out of the blue.  I had no idea what it was and it was very concerning.  Stress tests, holter monitors, and a visit with a cardiologist and I found I have PVCs.  In July 2014, I started noticing severe anxiety feelings while trying to sleep.  A year later in July 2015, I had a sleep test and found I have light sleep apnea.  The following month I started sleeping with a CPAP machine.  It took a couple months, but I can now feel the huge difference when I wake up and when I sleep.  My PVCs are mostly gone.  While the CPAP is helpful, I don’t want to be a slave to it.  My sleep doc said mine isn’t permanent, and with weight loss I can rid of it.
  • PVCs, or premature ventricular contractions.  While these have significantly diminished with sleeping with a CPAP, they still occur sometimes.  I can pinpoint when I started noticing them, and can link it to what the cardiologist said – likely a magnesium deficiency.  They’re not fatal or dangerous, but they’re a real pain in the arse when you’re trying to exercise or sleep.
  • Tooth Sensitivity. A year ago I had a cavity filled in a molar in my back upper left tooth.  I had to have it refilled with medication because it was so sensitive.  I still battled sensitivity after that, and was recommended to see a root canal specialist.  Of course, he wanted to perform the root canal then and there.  My tooth is alive, xrays show nothing, and I wasn’t willing to just do it.  (This is what led me to trying chiropractic and acupuncture for the first time.)  My sensitivity has gone down a lot, but I want to start regrowing the dentin and enamel more to build stronger teeth.
  • Costochondritis.  A year ago I started having some more intense pain in my chest, but it’s not a heart issue.  Saw my physical therapist (my old boss) and found I have inflammation in the cartilage in my front rib cage.  This proved completely true as physical therapy exercises helped the pain, and monitoring foods alleviated it, also.
  • Rosacea, Acne.  I have never seen a dermatologist or been diagnosed with rosacea, but my face is significantly redder than my neck or chest.  It started around the time I got a terrible sunburn when I went to Mexico when I was 17, although it bronzed after.  My freshman year of college, I was a slave to tanning beds (why was that ever a trend?), and that couldn’t contributed.  I’ve never had terrible acne, but I always have blemishes, redness, and little bumps here and there, enough to feel like my skin is in puberty and not in its 30s.
  • Eczema, Vitamin Deficiencies.  I’ve had eczema on my lower legs since I moved to Utah.  I’m terrible at drinking water, which is also why I figure my lips are very dry (although never peeling).  My nails frequently break or flake.
  • Varicose Veins.  Perhaps it’s more cosmetic, but on me they can occasionally be really tender.  I only have them in my calves.
  • Build My Immune System. I’m convinced that most colds, flus, and bugs can be avoided by preventative medicine.

I hope you’ll follow along as I work on healing my body and finding more joy in this life.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (3 John 1:2)

Life

Has Not Forgotten

Sometimes it’s hard to feel.  Vulnerability dissipates and I am left with empty chambers.  Voids that claw at walls for fulfillment.  Dark is pain but light exposes.  Solace flits away on the ephemeral gray of tranquility.  The universe once within now presses with the want of gravity.  Floating and pressing, light and weighted, free and snared.  No way to figure.  Unfamiliar with all that was known.  A simple chord rescues.

not forgotten

Take this fainted heart
Take these tainted hands
Wash me in Your love
Come like grace again

Even when my strength is lost
I’ll praise You
Even when I have no song
I’ll praise You
Even when it’s hard to find the words
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise

Take this mountain weight
Take these ocean tears
Hold me through the trial
Come like hope again

Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise You
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise You
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise

Life Mexican by Marriage

The Honeymoon Phase is a Myth

Oh yes, I did.

I said it.  Someone had to.

I’ve been married for a short three months and some change, and I don’t have enough phalanges three times over to count how many times folks have asked me, “Shouldn’t you be in the honeymoon phase?”

I’d like to know who wrote the marriage policy handbook, and where I can get one, because I sure as heck have never seen this policy labeled anywhere in stone.

BrandonBurkPhotography.com

A private moment.

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Travel

5 Ways To Make Friends When Traveling

“You know people everywhere!”

“You have an insane network of people.”

“I go to Spain, I come home with one friend.  You go to Spain, you come back with 150 friends.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve been told any one of these when travel comes up in conversation with friends.  Whether it be during brainstorming on where to visit next or recommending a city, I seem to have the innate (and subconscious) power of offering up relationships I’ve kindled across the globe.  “I have a friend we can stay with,” or “Let me call my friend in __(insert random city here)__ for you…it’s only a 20 minute train ride from where you’re heading, and I know she’d love to meet up for a coffee.”

 

carlos diaz

In the Basque Country with Linda (from Germany), my BFF I made while traveling in Portugal.

 

Since every time I take the Myers Briggs personality test I end up right on the border of introvert and extrovert, I’m always surprised that someone thinks I have such a large network of contacts.  When I travel, I prefer to travel solo.  Solo travel is where I found me.  Perhaps it’s where I honed my extrovert skills, too.  I’ve got friends in over 50 countries, and I feel welcome to visit any of them at any time.

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Life

Merry Christmas Musings

Happy Christmas!

This year I am celebrating my first Christmas as a married woman, and I’ve got to be honest – I was a little stressed out about it.  Not in your typical everything-must-be-perfect-for-family-coming-to-town stress.  I mean “stressed” in the sense that I sounded like a broken record telling my husband about the necessity of creating our own Christmas traditions this year, as if it is the only moment we have to set the precedent for the rest of our lives.  Annual flannel sheets and Life Saver Storybooks, a box of wrapped Queen Anne cordials, the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait, shrimp dip, A Christmas Story on TBS for 24 hours straight – surely we could craft some sort of solid itinerary to follow every Christmas?

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Well-being

A Complete 360: An Update

Wow.

The response to my last post, “Let’s Do a Complete 360,” has been absolutely wonderful and mostly positive.  I am overwhelmed by how many people have identified with some element of what I wrote.

Not even 24 hours have passed and it has been shared on social media over 450 times, first by friends, then by their friends, and now by people I have no social media connection with.  It’s very Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  I’ve received many messages from people ranging from childhood friends and acquaintances to complete strangers.  The post has been read by people in over 30 countries.  The number of views is astronomical and beyond what I ever imagined or intended.  I’m grateful that you, the readers, feel a connection and love from me.  You have it.

There have been, of course, a couple responses which were exactly what I spoke of in my previous post – people who enjoyed the article but felt the need to make sure I know that obesity is not healthy and I’m not being honest with myself by saying it is.  They are concerned of my influence on others, especially youth.  I always appreciate when people are thoughtful and concerned about issues.  That is what brings change!  As I mentioned before, there are a lot of these types of responses online infecting all social media outlets, but unfortunately they are often intently negative and come from an uneducated place, or a place of blind following without understanding knowledge for themselves.  That has not been the case with my “negative” responses, but it is what I referred to in my last post.

These types of responses concern me because they are debilitating to people who are still trying to find their footing and grow into something great.  The person being verbally attacked may be coming from a place I once was – used to bullying, media, and feeling worthless because of their body.  It is dangerous when such a person finally lets their roots dig a little deeper and drinks in nourishment from the well of self-worth, and then someone bored on the internet comes along to put in their two cents on the person’s every flaw, making many assumptions about the intentions and intelligence of the original poster and the effects of their actions on society.  How many times have you watched a YouTube video of a completely tone deaf person doing a cover of their favorite song, only to find a comment section brimming with comments like, “u need 2 kill urself,” “she is so disgusting I hope she dies,” and more?

I’d like to respond to this.

The negative people need to give it up.  Find something beautiful in themselves and focus on that.  In the process, they may meet many great people, some of which might look like or have a history like the people they mock behind the dim glow of the computer screen at 2 a.m.  Put the pride aside.  I get it, because I love to make sure people know I’m right, too.  But human beings – and I say this as someone who has her days of dislike in dealing with lack of common sense – are generally intelligent, intuitive, and all have the same goals.  We want to be better.  We strive for goodness.  We want to succeed.

The purpose of my original post – which most of you welcomingly understood – was that wherever you are at in your life, it is so important for you to see your value and your worth.  It is important to know and feel loved.  If you truly don’t feel like there is anyone out there that loves you, count on me.  Know that my heart has a much larger capacity than my gigantic glutinous maximus, and I have the capacity to love and encourage you.  This world needs more unity, more community.  We achieve more when we feel purpose and a sense of belonging.  I have seen many examples in my life of people – myself included – who have given up because they felt like a burden to society.  I’m sure we all know someone dear to us who has done the same.

Let me make it clear: I am not promoting obesity.  But I don’t think I need to clarify that, because you are smart, intuitive people.  I am promoting self-love, value, and worth, as a way to live your life with joy in whatever phase you may be in.  I’m promoting these values as a way to help you feel more positive and uplifted and to use them as a tool to help you achieve success in all your goals.  I’m encouraging these concepts as a way to build healthy relationships and compassion.

Do I know the risks of obesity?  Yes.  Am I truly, weight aside, free of all illnesses and disease at this very moment?  Yes.  Am I honest with myself about it on a daily basis?  Yep.  The funny thing is, when you’re labeled as something so ugly sounding your whole life, you desperately look for ways to get as far away from it as possible.  I could recite to you every fad diet, trend, life-style, how to perform pretty much any exercise, tell you the going rate of a personal trainer at ten different locations, and lend you one of my 25+ fitness DVDs.  Many of the obese want to get away from it, but the stress of trying to is overwhelming and we can’t quite cross the border.  We’ve got a lifetime of negative thoughts and habits to work through and battle, so we aren’t always successful on the first or fifteenth tries.  We know that we are racing against the clock, and it takes a lot to win the race.

What I have learned is that letting go of the stress of it usually changes my life drastically, which is why I’m keen on encouraging loving yourself where you’re at.  It’s worth looking at your blessings and accomplishments thus far to help you arrive at a place where you are mentally okay to move forward with whatever your goals may be.

For me, that means being okay with myself now and living a fulfilling life at my weight in order to be healthy enough to tackle the huge and daunting task of losing 185 pounds.  It means knowing that life is imperfect at any weight or any stage of physical beauty, and that losing weight wouldn’t make life magically perfect in love.  That frame of mind led me to my recent marriage, to my travel experiences, to my hundreds of friendships across the globe, to better family relationships, and to an actual desire to make healthier choices for myself and look forward to a brighter future.

A Complete 360 is not just an analysis of me at my current weight or physical beauty versus inner beauty.  It is the process of coming full circle.  We often think we need to pull a 180 and change everything about who we are to be a better person.  That is false.  If we take the time to nourish ourselves a little – to let our roots sink deep and explore the soils that feed our souls – we will realize we are actually pretty great where we are and who we are, and we can keep moving forward in the right direction with a little extra self-love and appreciation, value, and worth.

xx Stephanie

with mirth and laughter

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”