Good Genes

My first birthday list item of the new year is checked off. Last weekend, a friend and I saw Deepak Chopra give a lecture on his new book with Rudolph Tanzi, Super Genes.

At times, I felt as if we were attending a college biology lecture, and I really wish I had taken notes. Deepak said so many fascinating things!

The main premise of the new book is that we do not necessarily have “good or bad” genes. Only 5% of our genetic makeup is set in stone, which means that we can change 95% of our genes through “what we think and do.”

This information was life changing for me. Having done a good amount of genealogical research over the past few years, I was convinced that I had “bad genes.” Well, I may have some bad genes, but I apparently have the power to change some outcomes.

One tidbit I do remember is that it’s been proven that genes have memory. How amazing is that?? A study was done during which mice were shocked after smelling a certain food. For the next SEVEN generations, mice freaked when they smelled the same smell (they were not shocked).

I’ve always thought that my love for travel “is in my genes,” because I didn’t travel much while growing up. Maybe there is some truth to that after all! My maternal great-grandparents globe-trotted quite a bit at the turn of the 20th century.

I could have listened to Deepak for hours. He ended the lecture with a meditation, and it was simply thrilling to meditate with 1,200 other people.

If you ever have the opportunity to see Deepak speak, do not miss it!

A Reunion and a Mystery

A few weeks ago, my dad and I attended a family reunion with 100+ strangers.

Let me explain.

About a year ago, as I was doing some genealogy research, I learned that a family reunion was being planned for August 2015 in the town where my mom grew up. The reunion was actually for my father’s relations, but he grew up a couple of towns over from my mom.

The reunion was for the descendants of William Bloom, my sixth-great-grandfather. I knew that I wouldn’t know a soul, but I had high hopes that my dad would find a long-lost cousin there (he had many aunts and uncles).

I also thought that the reunion would be a good excuse to visit Pennsylvania again. I have many good childhood memories of traveling to see my grandparents and great-aunts in Pennsylvania (my parents moved to New York when they married).

We started off the trip with ice cream at 10:00 am. Hershey’s ice cream…








It’s not the most exciting drive, but I relished the journey’s traditions, such as clapping and hooting as we came upon the Welcome to PA sign.

I was saddened to learn that “the Indian store” had closed. It was a shop that sold Native American crafts and candy, and we would always stop there to get gas. I was also saddened to learn that we were no longer able to drive through “Stinky Town,” a town with a huge paper mill at its center. Now the highway goes aroouund the town.

We stopped and visited with my aunt and uncle on the way to check in to our apartment rental. It was great to listen to them talk about people they grew up with. Lots of drama in those small towns!

On the way to the reunion the next day, we stopped in downtown Curwensville. All of the places we used to visit were long gone. Buzzard’s candy store, the Tastee-Freeze. The only shop that was open was the Dollar Store and it was packed.

The reunion was held at the town park. When we arrived, there were probably 100 people there already. As we ate our lunch (it was bring your own) we made small talk with our neighbors at the picnic table. Many people had traveled from other states, which surprised me.








The one descendant to whom we were all related had 14 children. So someone was taking photos of each child’s descendants. My dad and I laughed when it turned out that we were the only people representing poor Elizabeth Bloom. I was glad that we were there to represent!

After chatting with people for a couple of hours, we headed back to the apartment. I walked downtown to scope out a restaurant for dinner. Even though we were staying in the county seat, the place was a ghost town. I saw exactly three stores and a few restaurants/bars. I found a nice-looking restaurant. And I also found this:

A relic from long ago...
A relic from long ago…









Yes, a video store! My dad and I went in and I bought three previously used DVDs. Oh, how I miss browsing the movies at a movie rental shop.

All in all, it was a fun trip and my conversations with some fellow genealogy nerds inspired me to restart the research.

Oh, what’s the mystery, you ask? Well, it has nothing to do with the reunion…

When I visited the Bahamas a few months ago, I was looking to buy some tea at the grocery store. I picked up a box of Twinings “Nightly Calm” tea. I’d never heard of it, but it looked interesting. I ended up loving it.

I’ve been looking for it in stores and haven’t found it yet. So imagine my surprise when I was poking through the bathroom cabinets in the apartment and found this:








A. What is a tea bag doing in a bathroom cabinet with toiletries.

B. What is the tea that I’ve been searching for for months doing in a bathroom cabinet with toiletries.

I do not have the answers to these questions. I took this as a sign of… something…When I came back home, I ventured to the Twinings website and learned that a grocery store near me should carry it. Hooray!

I leave you with a photo of the open road:

Heading back to Rochester...
Heading back to New York…

Feeling Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m celebrating with a Shamrock shake, green Peeps, and some Cranberries.

This shake is totally worth the 600 calories.
This shake is totally worth the 600 calories.











I feel a little more legit about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day since discovering that I have a few Irish ancestors. According to AncestryDNA, I am 4 percent Irish!

I couldn’t help but feel 100 percent Irish at the Dropkick Murphys concert that I attended last week. This band was founded almost 20 years ago in Boston and bills itself as “Celt punk.” For as long as I can remember, the band has played multiple shows in Boston around St. Patrick’s Day. I decided that this would be the year that I put Dropkick Murphys on my birthday list.

I only knew one song going into it and I couldn’t make out any of the lyrics to any other songs, but I had a blast. Punk music with bagpipes, flutes, and young Irish step dancers = impossible not to have fun.

Courtesy of Linda
Courtesy of Linda









And at the end of the show, they invited fans to come up on stage. Party time!

Courtesy of Linda
Courtesy of Linda









I checked off another item last week: Visit the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum. Dallin was a sculptor who lived and worked in Arlington, Massachusetts, for more than 40 years. The museum docent, a sweet man in his 70s, told us stories about Dallin and his work as we made our way through four small rooms. Dallin was very talented and I enjoyed learning about his career.








So that leaves me with 22 things left on the birthday list. April and May will be busy!






Broke Through My First Brick Wall

I broke through my first brick wall recently!

A metaphorical, genealogical brick wall, that is.

I can’t even describe the surprise, relief, and elation I felt ALL AT ONCE. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.

My family tree has pretty long branches—some going back to the 1600s even. Except for one lonely, stubby branch. This branch has been lonely and stubby ever since I started researching the family tree a couple of years ago.

It’s my mom’s maternal branch. Everyone in this branch is long gone, and my mom only knows a few oral stories. So for the past couple of years, all I’ve found on her Italian grandparents are a few Pennsylvania census records and a couple of ship manifests (passenger lists).

Anyway. So I had a rough idea of their towns of birth, but I wanted confirmation. I sent away for their death certificates, hoping that they would have their towns of birth listed. Nope. I sent away for their naturalization records, which were not found. I spent hours looking at 20 years’ worth of Gioia Tauro birth records on microfilm, hoping to find my great-grandmother’s birth record, to no avail.

And then.

I decided to look on again, where I had found the Gioia Tauro microfilm. I had checked the available records for Grizzana Morandi, my great-grandfather’s alleged birthplace, before. There wasn’t any microfilm available. But when I checked this time, there was a link. Had I missed that link before?? The link took me to a list of online records! The available birth records started the year after he was born so no go there. I noticed that there were some marriage and death records listed as well. I didn’t think that they would get married in HIS hometown. But might as well check…

I hastily figured out their approximate year of marriage and started looking through the 100-page online document. There was no index; I just had to page through. Now mind you, these documents are all in handwritten Italian. I skimmed name after name until page 24. I read their names incredulously: Francesco Grandi and Francesca Repaci. I let out a gasp. But they were common names, after all. I kept skimming, looking for any other clues. And lo and behold, there were their parents’ names!!!

I yelled; I cried. I have no idea what this record says, but I could make out that they were both living in Gioia Tauro at the time and that civil officers from both towns had stamped the record.

So now I know where they were born: She was born in Palmi, south of Gioia Tauro, and he was born in Vimignano, outside of Grizzana Morandi. This record makes my quest to piece together their lives before their arrival in the United States that much more possible. I’m on the other side of the brick wall…


A page of my great-grandparents' marriage record
A page of my great-grandparents’ marriage record

Bloodswept Lands and Seas of Red


I hurriedly looked at some photos of Will and Kate at a beautiful installation at the Tower of London during a break at work the other day. The purpose of the installation didn’t register with me at the time. But then, a few days later, Abby sent me a link to photos on a different website. I read more about it and watched some videos about the installation.

And I found myself in tears.

The installation of 888, 246 ceramic red poppies commemorates the centenary of World War I. Artist Paul Cummins and his team are making every ceramic poppy by hand. And volunteers are helping “plant” them on the Tower of London’s grounds.

888, 246 poppies: one for each soldier in Britain and its empire who died in the first World War.

The poppies are for sale, with proceeds going to six charities. I was all set to buy a poppy until I realized that it would cost around $90 to have it shipped to the United States. It’s out of my price range at the moment. Even though I love Britain (those who know me know that is an understatement), I felt strange donating money to charities that are helping British vets when plenty of American vets need help.

*Light bulb appears above my head.* I would find a charity in the States that reunites soldiers with the animals they worked with or met while deployed.

Last month, I read this article about soldiers who are dog handlers, training and taking care of military working dogs who accompany them to sniff out IEDs. And a few weeks ago, I saw a TV news story about a soldier being reunited with a dog he worked with while deployed.

I’m a huge animal lover, so I CAN imagine how important these animals become to soldiers. Not only do the animals sometimes physically save the soldiers, but they also save them emotionally.

I also learned that some soldiers take strays under their wings during deployment. I just reserved this book from the library about a British marine who started a shelter for strays in Afghanistan. What an amazing story!

So I am making a small donation to Puppy Rescue Mission, in honor of all those who died in World War I. More than 30 million people.

I don’t believe that any of my relatives fought in this war. I found WWI draft cards for three of my great-grandfathers. One was 35 years old, one was 24, and one was 20. Did any of your relatives fight in World War I? How will you remember them?