Taozi Tree Yoga

The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


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What Aliens are Saying About Us:

And our ROOTS…

 The loss of family ties and how to rebuild them.

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There is an alien spacecraft, hovering billions of miles above the Earth’s surface. They have discovered us. They are watching down on us with their super high definition telescopes and they report back to their home ship the following:

 We have found intelligent life. We have found the human race. What are they like? They all seem to shop at Wal-Mart, and wear things called Jeans and listen to a band called One Direction.  The humans are proud of what they call Globalization. They have become a unified global entity…. Kind of. Currently many factions of the planet can’t seem to get along. They are killing each other. We can see, even from all the way up here, a billion miles away, the potential implications of the simple fact that the governance of the worlds “leading Democratic” body doesn’t agree on anything but war, and money. 

 The people are either starving, living in extreme poverty, or attached to material goods and glued indefinitely to electronic devices and the Internet. They are destroying the planet, knowingly. They have lost touch with their ancestors and their heritage and instead keep their eyes on the future. There is a desperate need to be unique while at the same time, the same. It seems like they are all looking for something and they don’t know what it is. Bustling around from point to point, all day long.

We have found life yes… But actually…maybe they aren’t so intelligent. 

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Obviously, the aliens see a lot of current/emerging problems. Today I’d like to examine one of these.

The loss of family ties and how to rebuild them.

It is important to not to dwell on the problem, but instead to focus on possible solutions. And the solution to rebuilding connections to your roots is ACTION and LOVE… As always.

Here is a picture of me with two of my little Italian cousins… Vivian and Izzy.

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Never before have I been so proud of my family. I am half Norwegian, and half Italian. 50/50. The Italians rein on my fathers side and they are a gregarious bunch. I love them. After this recent trip back to Pennsylvania, only a couple of weeks ago, I love them even more. I admire their willingness to stay connected to each other, a trait that from my limited perception is dwindling in the modern world. Think about it… as it becomes easier and easier to fly around the world and live in x, y, and z… to go outside of the normal 20 kilometer boundary that once inhibited most of the globes population, people are starting to lose their roots. Things have just CHANGED. Big time. To me it is incredibly sad.

My Daddy with Aunt Jo… he misses her when he is away…

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I suppose that a part of this comes from the nostalgic, sentimental, softhearted women in me. I find my heritage, my lineage and my blood relatives to be a beautiful part of who I am. We are a unit. Each human is part of a unit. These days however, with technology and the obsession with personal identity, this seems to have faded. CULTURE, CUSTOMES, HERITAGE, TASTE! Where have they gone!? These are the things that once added color, flare, and interest to the world. I am terrified that as gentrification continues to envelope the planted, all this will be lost. Imagine living in a world that is defined by Wal-Mart, Blue jeans, and One Direction. *Not a dis on One Direction! Just on our loss for zest…

I am honored, proud, and LUCKY to be from a family that still holds onto its individual roots, its family bond. I am aware, that many families just don’t care anymore. I am ashamed to say that it has been easy for me, to drift away… Into the things I think are important and to forget my extended family. After this last trip however, I’d like to make a commitment to stay connected, to stay present with the culture, customs, heritage, and tastes of my Italian roots. These are some of the things I took away from my time with my family…

FOOD

One thing that families consistently pass down from generation to generation, in every culture, is food. As an Italian, I never want lose the eggplant Parmesan, the meatballs and the pasta! In New Castle, PA…the Coney Island hotdogs! While in Pennsylvania, we ate the most incredible foods… for two weeks straight! I’d like to commit to keeping up the recipes and cooking like my ancestors. That being said…. As a yogi, moderation and thoughtfulness are so important! I can’t eat like this forever, no one can. So perhaps it’s a little bit about keeping up with our roots and modifying for modern attitudes about health?

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CHURCH/RELIGION/HERITAGE

This part of my time here was so wonderful to me. I am NEW to the Catholic Church; I just took my first communion in April. A large part of this is to reconnect to my father in a very special way. He is super Catholic, goes to mass every day, and the sweetest gentlest man I have ever met. Since joining the church and going to mass with him, I have felt so much more connected to my family. While in Pennsylvania, every Sunday the “Pope-mobile” (my cousin Todd) would pick Uncle Ralphie, my dad and myself up from the house and we would go to mass. What a cool experience for me and what a beautiful place to feel a spiritual connection. I used the time in the church to reflect and to meditate. When I was getting ready to leave, and come to Mexico to begin final wedding preparations, my Aunt Joanne gave me something very special. My late Grandmother’s Rosary beads. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know how to use them but she gave me a card and I have been practicing. 😉  The sensations that are brought up by doing something so ritualistic, following the footpath of my ancestors, are indescribable. I find it sad, again, that it is now so common to let this drift away from us.

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FAMILY

My parents have parents, and their parents had parents, and their parents had parents, and on and on it goes. The parent’s of my parent’s parent’s (that’s a mouthful eh?) were born in Italy and Norway over 100 years ago. When thinking about this in comparison to today, I can see how things have changed so fast! They were relatively the same for so long…. They all lived together, shared together, ate together, and when they would grow up they would live near by. It seems in the last one hundred to fifty years, with the astonishing speed of technological advances and transportation our cultural norms have been blown away with a BANG! What is so cool about the Italian side of my family is that they have maintained a sense of this.  Many of the Pauline’s (originally Paolini) live in the same area the immigrated to from Campostoto, Italy 100 years ago. While we were there, we were lucky enough to be there for one of our annual family reunions. It totally rocked my world. I met cousins I had never met before, I befriended many amazing people who are my blood relatives. Isn’t that hard to believe? We ate the most delicious Italian food all day long, listened to LIVE traditional music, and played games with the youngsters.  This time was a very special opportunity that I am so grateful for.

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FOOD    FAMILY    HERITAGE

These are the things that originally made people different and interesting. These are the things that bond groups of people together so closely that they are there for each other, no matter what.  I don’t want to lose the ties that I have to such an amazing family; yet, it would be so easy to. Heck… perhaps it is more honest for me to say I HAVE lost the ties and am now working on rebuilding them? Or perhaps I just have to accept the distance, the lack of connection and simply make the efforts to stay as connected as I can with the available resources we have? Maybe Facebook and the Internet can be used to my benefit after all?

All I know is that if we as a species continue to let it all go, and all morph into the same people at the same time, then the thousands and thousands of years of history that come before us will be lost. We will all be, Wal-Mart shopping, One Direction listening, Facebook surfing people. The aliens will continue to be disappointed.

So! To end this on a positive note… What can we do to prevent this from happening? What are some simple Action steps that we can take? Here are some ideas that may help you if you are currently pretty detached from your family and your heritage. I realize that this may only apply to 2nd or 3rd generation Americans but perhaps not?

-Do some research and compile a family tree. Find out what you are. German, Italian, Mexican, Spanish… whatever…

-Start learning how to cook the foods.

-Make a trip to visit your family! Connect.

-Make an honest attempt, enquire as to what your family customs and traditions are and then try to follow them!

-Listen to traditional music…

*** Please visit Taozi Tree Yoga on Facebook for more on Taozi’s travels, inspiration, and yoga pictures!***

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Doug “The Lion” Vitale, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

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Doug and Lex. Many say they never saw a couple more in love. Ever. Doug “the Lion” Vitale, lost both of his legs and suffered sever brain damage after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan. A young U.S Marine, built like an ox, charming,  funny, and passionate.  His wife, the smart, beautiful, courageous, and devoted Alexis, my cousin.

Their story is one of unprecedented courage, compassion, and love. It has sprouted from his service, his tragic accident, his family, his community and ultimately the American spirit. This story has changed my life as well as any one else who has been touched by it.

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 Doug was deployed to Afghanistan with the US Marines in July of 20011, soon after their one year anniversary. On September 25 th, a little over 2 months after he arrived, after many of his patrol had passed by safely, he stepped on a roadside improvised explosive device, instantly changing his life forever.

 The Witch: The War in Afghanistan

 Doug was deployed as part of the War in Afghanistan, started in 2001, after the attacks on the twin towers in New York City, to dismantle Al-Queda and the Taliban, a.k.a “the war on terrorism”.

 Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when meeting Doug and seeing my cousin Alexis for the first time since the accident. I am ashamed to say that for the last couple of years I have subconsciously tuned it out, looked the other way, unwilling to fully embrace the severity of the situation, in hopes of avoiding feeling anything. For those that know me, I can be quite emotional, and this felt beyond my capacity. Being thousands of miles away made it easy to stay in fairy foo foo land. My own opinions and feelings towards the war and our involvement are intense. So much so that I gave up maintaining them after leaving the US in 2007, six years after the US invaded Afghanistan. I totally detached myself. Doug’s accident has brought  the reality of the war into our families heart. And while visiting them in Pennsylvania, during Doug’s homecoming, it was due time to re-evaluate my feelings and to face the truth.

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The war in Afghanistan (as well as Iraq), I just didn’t get it. I was hearing mixed messages and conflicting attitudes about it. Never ending excuses for why the US was sending all these young men and women across the oceans to “protect our freedom” and to “save us from the Taliban/Al Queda/ terrorists”. It was about retribution, about saving them,  saving ourselves, about finding Osama, and constantly about freedom.  Pie charts, diagrams, graphs, maps, images of the war were at one point abound on the news. Too many things swirled around that it was hard to latch on to anything substantial and slowly we all just started accepting it.

 From my limited perception, the results were not what we had hoped for. It looked like confusion, chaos, and there was no end in site. There was no quantitative evidence that things were going well. It seemed as though we were aggravating a hornets nest and our troops were returning home… unhappy, discouraged and torn apart. Men like Doug, only a few months before, over six feet tall with an entire life ahead of them, were coming home…changed men. I have  a new appreciation for how brave our service men and women are, they risk their lives to protect what they believe is our freedom.

 As part of our around the world tour, visiting my Italian family in Pennsylvania was a must. We decided to head to PA specifically for this past week. When Doug would finally return to his hometown and be honored for his service. After we first arrived and we were sitting around discussing the accident, Doug, and Lex… my eyes welled up with tears instantly.  The common factors that everyone would discuss were that a) Doug, has improved… so much so that there is vibrant emotion in his face b) that Lex is a hero, worthy of a medal of honor herself for the way she has stood by her husband and supported him, willingly and happily, the way she treats him like nothing is different… and c) that Doug and Lex’s families, along with the city of Pittsburg has lifted them up and supported them in a way unprecedented and historical.  This past week in Pittsburg PA, we had the honor of participating in and witnessing this support in a first hand way, it was truly a magical and life changing American experience.

The truth is that Doug was very seriously changed by his injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Ghastly so. He suffered amputations of both of legs due to a substantial loss of blood, he suffered two strokes that caused sever brain damage. “Doug was left unable to speak or effectively communicate and unable to move his body appropriately, But his sense of spirit soars on. His sense of humor is right where he left it and he understands much of what is going on around him”. *Lt. Dan Band’s Website. Still,  it is heart breaking to see him. The way that his family and his community has decided to step up and support him and his wife Lex is truly remarkable. They called him Doug “the Lion” Vitale because of his courage, strength, and power before the accident, and they still do.doug 2

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The Stephen Siller Tunnel to the Towers Foundation and The Lt. Dan Band, lead  by Gary Sinise, (Lt. Dan from Forest Gump), united to form a coalition devoted to raising enough money to build a high technology smart home for Doug, who is in need of extra home living support. The smart home will be complete with tracks on the ceiling to help carry Doug from different points in the house, easing the work load for Lex immensely, an art room for Doug to paint to his hearts desire, and wide open doorways to allow him to move freely with his wheelchair.  So much of the project has been developed, implemented, and donated by so many different members of the community that the thanks needed are unceasing.  On Friday there was a concert held here in Pittsburg, starring The Lt. Dan Band and Doug,  with the proceeds from the show and preceding activities devoted with the goal of raising $500,000 USD. For the last week Doug and Lex have been honored and supported in so many incredible ways.

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It began with his homecoming parade with motorcycle riders, fellow soldiers, and hundreds of local supporters welcoming him. Through out the week he got to hang out with the Pirates, the Steelers, his family and friends.  On Thursday at the VFW in Peters Township,  an American patriot by the name of Scott LoBaido dedicated a large American flag painting he did on the side of the building to Doug, a small token of our countries appreciation for the sacrifices made during his service in Afghanistan.  It was here that I met Doug for the first time.  In his face, his emotions, his expressions lies a peaceful Lion.  I felt a powerful affinity for him instantly. Looking into his big beautiful brown eyes, it’s as if he can see right into you. His smile. The most genuine and real smile you can ever hope to see.  While witnessing his interactions with his best friend Brian, it becomes evident the kind of man that Doug is. It brings a smile and a warmness to the heart.

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The Lion

Friday night was the big show. It was sold out and people turned out in droves to support him. As Doug was wheeled out the audience erupted in applause and I could not restrain the tears. The band was incredible, it was fun, there was dancing. At the end of the show, Lex and Doug were honored and presented with checks from the Miller Family, The VFW, and more. They have earned well over the intended amount and the evening proved to be one of the most overwhelming and moving experiences of my life. Seeing Doug on stage, with his smile, sitting next to his wife, and his parents, Gary Sinise and fellow soldiers… recognizing that he was being held up by those around him, with thousands of members of his community in front of him…holding up lit candles… cheering him on, truly incredible.

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It is my belief and guess, that Doug sees more, and understands more about life and the human experience now, then any of us could begin to comprehend. With the combined experience of being in Afghanistan, seeing what he saw,  experiencing the trauma of the accident, the dramatic shift in his physical form, and then the lack of his ability to communicate… it is all fertilizer for growth. If pain is the foundation for growth, then there is no doubt that Doug is now one super advanced human being.

What is perhaps most incredible is how his experience has changed others, in both monumental ways, and small. On a micro level, he has brought the awareness and realization home, that what is going on “over there” is effecting us “over here” in profound ways.  A reminder that the war in Afghanistan is still “on” though it often gets swept under the rug. Doug’s trauma and the awareness it has provided has given his family, friends, and the  citizens of Pittsburg an opportunity to stand up and support him. Doug, a fellow man who was brave enough to serve for a government he trusted and a country he loves.

Doug’s family and friends have been changed in huge ways. Seeing the spirit of Doug, and the supreme surviver he is serves as proof that God is present in his life in the biggest of ways. And Alexis… has shown her true colors as an angel. Deserving of the highest honor for supporting him with devotion and courage unlimited.

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So… how has meeting Doug, and seeing the American Spirit in full swing changed my heart? Well… it has brought me back to a place of TRUST.  If Doug was brave enough and strong enough to trust, then I can be too.

I have come to the place where, because I am American, and because I love the United States for what it fundamentally stands for, I have to trust it.  Trust that the people in charge know more then I do and will do what they think is best for our country and the world. What do I know about foreign diplomacy? Not much.

However… I do know that there is a right time and a wrong time to be involved. A right place and a wrong place to send our troops. A right place and a wrong place to accept casualties both military and civilian. There are right reasons and wrong reasons to get involved. It is a fact that there are only limited factors and quantities of information that lead governments to their ultimate decisions.

 In 2001, before we engaged, we would hope that the US took each question in turn. Is it the right time? The right place? The right reason? We would hope they answered an unwavering yes to each and next, with out hesitating and with deliberate and calculated execution began the operations. We would hope that the US government saw that the sacrifices to come would lead to something positive. That the injuries incurred by Doug were for the greater good. It seems hard to believe.

This is where I always end up. Why? Was it worth it? And again… why? These are the similar sentiments of dissatisfaction and wonder that plagued our country after Vietnam, when broken soldiers returned home. What has  been evident by watching the activities here in Pittsburg this past week, is the way that we treat our veterans once returning home from a war that, even though we may not understand it, we appreciate their service.  Our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about the war do not need to impact the way we treat the men and women who serve.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to say one way or the other what a country should or should not be doing based on the information we have.

It is possible however to trust in its authority and to stand by those who risk so much. I love the United States, I love Doug “the Lion” Vitale, I love my family, and I love the American Spirit that has been so vibrant here in Pennsylvania this past week, so yes… I can trust.

If you are interested in making a donation to Doug, please visit

http://www.ourbravest.org and donate to Doug Vitale.

For more information on these organizations… visit

http://tunnel2towers.org

http://ltdanband.com

*** Please visit Taozi Tree Yoga on Facebook for more on Taozi’s travels, inspiration, and pictures***