In Memory of my Nona

This Thursday, November 19, 2015, my grandmother passed away following a downhill battle with Alzheimer’s. In the wake of her passing, I have decided to use her life as a way to all model or modify our lives for the better. Here are some of the best tips I can glean from my grandmother’s life.

Be resourceful: During WWII, my Nona (as we called her) and her siblings (8 in total), barely had any food to eat. There were days that all they had was a single orange and they had to split it amongst one another! This is an extreme example of being resourceful but we can be resourceful by remembering to use and cherish the “things” that we already have.12250013_10207990853988022_2578307721244392510_n

Put time into your appearance: I am not saying we should care completely about what others think or that we need to spend a ton of time in front of the mirror, but take pride in yourself. During my Nona’s life she only were a dress or a skirt with stockings and loafer shoes. She NEVER wore a pair of pants in her entire life until she entered a nursing home. She may have had her own style of dress influenced by her life growing up in the early 1930’s, but I think it is important to put your best foot forward. From my personal experience, looking good helps you  feel good.

Learn a skill you love: During her younger years, my Nona was a seamstress and learned sewing skills as a young child. In addition to that she made the best pasta fagioli in the world.Her domestic skills were her greatest pride and growing up, I found my own love in reading and piano. I think everyone has the ability to be great with at least one thing in their lives.

In addition to these lessons, I will note that my Nona was not only intelligent and gained wisdom during her 91 years on the Earth, but she loved her family the most. If we all learned to love each other regardless of race and regions–the way that my Nona loved her family–there is no doubt that this world would be a better place.

If you have lost someone special in your life, what are the greatest things that you learned from them?

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Refugee Crisis at a Breaking Point

It seems that almost every Facebook post this week has been about the refugee crisis and debate. Refugee migration issues have been an ongoing issue but especially after the attack on Paris this past Friday, there has been a surge of Westerners who have vocalized their thoughts via social media. So far, I haven’t seen a person who has a neutral position; they are extremely supportive of efforts to help refugees or are extremely against all of those efforts.

I can understand the sentiments of wanting to keep potential terrorists out of our country. I just do not understand the sentiment of keeping every refugee out of the country. However, the problem is that there are so many refugees and not enough resources to house and care for displaced groups of people. It is also hard to filter out those who are associated with terrorist groups. However, because of a select group of psychopaths with guns, the Western part of the world is in a bit of a panic over Muslim people as a whole.

A Syrian refugee child who fled the violence from the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud, poses for a photograph at the border town of Arsal
Photo courtesy of Newsweek.A Syrian refugee child who fled the violence in his Syrian town.

Take the article I read last night. A few Muslim passengers were booted off of a Spirit Airlines plane after one of the men in the group was looking at news on his phone–which apparently seemed suspicious to one of the female passengers. No one had any weapons or plans to terrorize anything. It was a case of racial profiling prompted by the events in Paris. Yet, the airline can play it off as a safety protocol. Honestly, it looks like everyone is just losing their cool and taking out their anger on Muslims. Let us remember that a bunch of Christians that once called themselves the Klu Klux Klan mass murdered dark-skinned folks but we don’t tend to look at Christians as terrorists.

As a whole, Americans should remain vigilant, but not lose their cool on every person with dark skin that they see because not everyone is a terrorist. As for the refugee situation, the U.S. should fine-tune their protocols to screen potential immigrants into the country or work with other nations to find designated areas for the refugees. It would seem hypocritical to keep potential immigrants out of the country because all Americans arrived from immigrants (for me, my grandparents came from Italy in the 1940’s). However, it is clear that our system for accepting incoming immigrants should be revised. In any case, this problem is very sticky.

Are you pro-refugee or adhere to more conservative policies regarding immigration?

Being in NYC During a Time of Panic

On Thursday, November 12, my coworker commented “Tomorrow is Friday and November the 13th. Nothing good can come on that day!” She alluded to the Western superstition that “Friday the 13th” is an unlucky day but I told her how in Italian culture, we believe the number 13 is a lucky number. Friday did not turn out to be so fortunate for the world on this particular Friday the 13th, and it seems a little eerie that my coworker was right.

On Friday afternoon, I arrived in New York City on a long weekend trip with my boyfriend. Our bodies crashed to the bed after 5+ hours of travel and a long hike through Central Park. When we flipped on the TV, we saw the news in France about suicide bombers attacking the city. That seemed a little odd, and it was. I love France and I was pretty upset for the rest of the evening. I went all the way to the Big Apple so I didn’t want to let the attacks scare me. However, I did notice a LOT of police officers with big guns patrolling all of the tourist areas (so everywhere I went) such as Rockefeller Center and the next day, outside of the 9/11 Memorial. Even though this could have freaked me out, it made me feel safer knowing that NYPD was on high-alert, reading to protect the city from new kinds of threats.

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While those series of attacks were terrible to say the least, they made me wonder why other attacks were not as highly publicized such as the attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, and Lebanon, to name a few. The answer my sound simple: France is our ally. However, I am not sure how satisfied I am with this. The attacks in Paris are an eye-opener for Westerners who view Paris as a fantasy land of sorts (baguettes, wine, free education, oui oui!..). However, when a country turns a blind eye to other world atrocities, this is how how discontent is created.

I am still in the process of forming my ideas on what the best course of action should be for our country with dealing with terrorists. What are your thoughts?

Religion Done Wrong: The Starbucks Red Cup Controversy

If you are like me, you probably saw headlines about controversy over red cups at Starbucks. When you first saw this, did you understand it? I didn’t at first! When I decided to look it up via one of the greatest inventions of all time, AKA Google, I was confused about why it was so controversial. Then, I was annoyed.

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Photo courtesy of Huffington Post.

Controversy synopsis: Christians are angered that Starbucks is not featuring the phrase “Merry Christmas” on their holiday cups. There are a few problems with this anger.

1) Starbucks is a business and businesses can do what they want. It would be bad PR if Starbucks had alternatively decided to write, “NO MORE CHRISTMAS,” instead of leaving the cup with a blank canvas.

2) Christmas is not the only religion in the world. There is not much more to be said. It is true that the vast majority of American citizens follow/identify themselves as following this religion, but Starbucks should not be pressured to single out one religion on their cups.

3) Christianity, like other religions, is a religion that teaches one to help others who need a helping hand, and to do so with love and humility. This is probably the biggest part of the controversy which annoys me. People who could actually use help in this world–like the hungry, the disabled, the poor, etc.– could use more attention than Starbucks (they rake in billions of dollars, after all). Sadly, some Christians have decided that their priorities should be with Starbucks’ Design Department. Just no.

For a multi-billion dollar organization, Starbucks does give back. I don’t even go to there often–maybe once a year–but their charitable efforts are something I support.

This guy gets it. Photo courtesy of Twitter user @billyeichner.
This guy gets it. Photo courtesy of Twitter user @billyeichner.

How did you feel Starbuck’s holiday cup design for 2015?

Iceland: A Warm Welcome from the Land of Fire and Ice

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but, by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”  Maya Angelou

Over the summer, a friend of mine told me about a trip to Iceland she was going on and that if I wanted to come, she would love it. That very day, I booked a two-way plane ticket (under $400, round-trip with insurance included). Iceland was never a place that I thought to travel because something about the word “ice” never appealed to me, being a New Englander who tries to escape the cold! As an adult who has traveled a lot and experienced many cultures, I realized that relying on presumptions is never the way to live. I counted down the months and days until we took off at the end of October.

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This is the frozen part of the Lagoon.

I can’t lie–when we landed, there was indeed ice on the ground. Actually, for the whole trip, I lived in layers since the weather was at a high of 40 degrees F(~4 degrees C) with sprinklings of rain. We had some issues because after renting our vehicle, we had trouble converting our GPS system to Icelandic–but we did it, and arrived at our hotel at 8:30 AM, just in time for a cat nap. We were so tired from our bumpy start and little sleep but we eventually made it to the beautiful Blue Lagoon, the famous geothermal spa. It is the stereotypical thing to do but nonetheless, you have to do it!

Throughout the next few days, we rested up but then were on the go. We rode horses, hiked, and did a lot of driving. We drove all the way to Vik, a small village east of the capital, and then took a bus back (one of our travel buddies took the car around the country for 3 more days). As much as I loved the sheer beauty of Iceland, probably one of our most memorable experiences was our last night in Reykjavik, when we decided to party all night before my flight in the morning.

Our partying was so fun because we chatted with two amazing girls from the city. We were waiting in a seemingly endless line to get into a popular nightclub on Halloween night but it was taking too long. I noticed two pretty girls speaking in Icelandic but I decided to strike up a conversation in English. Normally, I would at least preface a conversation with, “Do you speak English?” but thankfully my instincts were correct. They turned out to not only know English (they all learn in school), but they were hilarious and knew more lyrics to American songs than I did. What surprised me the most was that that even in a cold climate, they were naturally friendly. Another note is that Icelandic young people rage harder than any group of club-goers. This is probably to keep warm. Overall, Iceland is a cool place–in more ways than one–the people are friendly, and they love to share the beauty of their country.

Have you visited any new interesting places lately?

Beautiful Iceland (narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic).

Privilege: What Most People Have but Overlook

Most people that know me know that I work full-time in Marketing, but that I dedicate additional time to not just read about issues that I care about– such as poverty alleviation and female empowerment–, but that I work hands-on with those issues. About 8 months ago, I got involved with an organization called Budget Buddies, a non-profit organization that pairs volunteer financial literacy coaches with low-income women.

The way the program works is that each volunteer is assigned a “buddy” who is trying to build financial literacy and every other week you meet with them and a large group of volunteers and buddies to discuss such topics as “Keeping Your Money Safe” and “Smart Credit” strategies and the weeks in between, you meet one-on-one with your buddy to make SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound). In total you meet once a week for 6 months (or about 22 hours). The final day is celebrated with a graduation ceremony where women are given an extra boost of confidence to be financially independent and savvier than before.

How Privilege Comes Into Play

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My “buddy” and I worked diligently on creating a vision board. She dreams of taking a vacation to Jamaica with her baby.

I met my first buddy after a short meeting with volunteer staff. My buddy is in her early twenties with a 1.5 year old baby who is just beginning to complete her GED. She grew up in Boston and but somehow ended up being placed in a shelter. I do not know too many personal details about her, but all I know is that even though her situation seems like a sad one, she carries herself with dignity as every person should who is working towards a better life. My buddy does not have many privileges but she still makes her life “work.” She has a lot of potential; to get a job, go to school, whatever her heart desires. There are other people in the shelter that are in far worse situations–they have become addicted to drugs and/or have lost custody of their children, are currently pregnant, and even have many children living in the shelter. The shelter is a transitional housing facility that holds 15 young mothers and their children and even with the tight space, you can still hear and see children laughing and playing.

Upon reflection, it isn’t hard to see that most of us are enormously privileged. There are more than 32,000 families in MA alone that are living below the poverty level and I have never been part of that group. That is great fortune. Most people get caught up on problems like “What new car should I buy?” and “How can I negotiate a higher salary?” but during those stressful times, people  forget that the most basic things that they do have would be a dream-come-true to a lot of people. Even with so much that I feel like I need to accomplish in my life, I continuously like to check-in with myself to reiterate that during all the times that I am stressing over something, a far worse situation could be presenting itself to someone else. Count those blessings.

Better to Be a Crusader for Peace, Than For Violence

When I think of September 11, 2011, I only think about one of the saddest days of my childhood. Though I was lucky enough to not lose a loved one that day, the amount of sadness was palpable anywhere you went. I was only 12 years old at the time, and that is when I first heard the word “terrorist.” My mother was taking me home early and when I asked my mom what happened–why all the teachers were acting strangely at school–she said that “there was a terrorist attack,” but I did not know what that meant. We went straight home and watched the footage together on the television but even then, I could not completely grasp what had happened. It did not look real. It was not until years later that I accepted that there are people in the world that would commit such evil crimes, and I would get an idea of what a “jihad” or “holy war” was. As much as I value the opinions of others, it sometimes still shocks me that there are some people in this world that have violence so deeply ingrained into their lives; where they need to use violence to make a statement.

A terrorist is like a murderous bully. A terrorist will use fear tactics to disable a person because they are unhappy about something, just like a bully would. In both situations, the victim is normally weakened, but only temporarily, until they are able to build strength and even become stronger than their opponent. The feeling may be universal: At one point or another in our lives, we encounter at least one person who wants to make us feel miserable and brings us down. It is only until we come to terms that it is due to some problem on their part, when we can start to rebuild confidence. On 9/11, terrorists targeted three symbol representations of the United States: The Twin Towers for representing globalization and economic wealth, the Pentagon which represents U.S. military power, and the Capital building (whose attack never came into fruition due to the brave passengers of flight 93) which represents American political power. The terrorists chose some of the best representations of the United States to tear down, just as a bully would tear down the unique qualities of an individual. Although a stereotypical bully is not even close to matching the violence of radical Islamic extremist, both feed on negative energy to harm others.

Photo courtesy of NBC New York.
Photo courtesy of NBC New York.

The late Nelson Mandela was a man who understood how violence had no place in a society trying to create peace.  “People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.” The terrorists of September 11 could have had an opportunity to create peace among two nations if they had wanted, but instead chose to commit senseless acts of violence. As much as I try to understand the indoctrination process of becoming a radical extremist, I still get stuck on the idea of choosing between peace and violence, and why shedding blood would be considered before trying to spread peace.

If anything good comes out of 9/11, it is that Americans have become stronger than ever. They share their stories and strength, as opposed to only brewing hatred towards those who took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people. America is nobody’s victim. Today is a day in which bravery and the human spirit is commemorated so that we can continue to try and coexist peacefully with others.