Category Archives: Brazil

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.


-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey


-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

Posing with the snowman and my cousin
Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
The crew


-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands


-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.



-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.


Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.


I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.


-My mom’s 60th birthday


-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April



-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn


-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ


-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo


-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55


-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party


-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run


-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar


-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

Birthday lunch


-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House


-I started riding my bike all around the shore

Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.


The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day


-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands

-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n


-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam


-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam



-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook


-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study


-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall


-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween



-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.


-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House


-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate


-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving



-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday


-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday


-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ


-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house


-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house


-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ



So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!


How Will You Leave Your Mark on the World?

For my AP classes, I’m about to start analyzing the arguments of music videos with them.

So I decided to make my own video with an argument about leaving your mark on the world.

For this video, I compiled clips and photographs from my volunteer experiences in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, plus some stuff from Brazil.

Here is the video if you’re interested in checking it out:

Manaus – March/April 2016

For spring break this year, I traveled to Brasilia and Manaus.  I already wrote a separate blog about my time in Brasilia.  You can read it at that link if you wish.  Now for the second half of my trip.

Tuesday, March 29th:

Upon landing in Manaus, the process to actually get to my family was much easier than it had been in Brasilia since it was a domestic flight, so I didn’t have to deal with customs or any lines.  I walked out the doors and saw my Aunt Celi and my cousin, Junior.

In Brasilia, I didn’t really speak any Portuguese.  There wasn’t a need to since Carlos, my brother-in-law, is fluent.  I had wanted to try to use more Portuguese, but it’s hard to force myself to use it when it’s not completely necessary.

Things were very different in Manaus than in Brasilia.  My aunt speaks no English at all and my cousin can understand some, but I was basically on my own to figure out how to say anything I needed.  I think that my aunt was surprised at how much I knew since I could say almost nothing during my last trip to Brazil, but there were still definitely quite a few struggles.

I unloaded my luggage at my aunt’s house and said hello to my soon-t0-be 99 year old grandma, who I had only met once before, during my first trip to Brazil in 2012.  I could tell that she was really happy to see me, and the feelings were mutual.


Then they asked if I wanted to go to a zoo.  So the driver, Silvio, took me, my cousin’s son, Pedro, and a girl who lives with my aunt, Raimunda, to CIGS Zoo.

Pedro speaks some English and Raimunda was trying really hard, using a book that she had from school.  The car ride was so funny because it was a mix of English and Portuguese between the three of us trying to communicate with each other.

It wasn’t a huge zoo, but it was still fun.  There were snakes swimming through the water.  They had beautiful birds.  Usually I’m not a big fan of the bird section at the zoo, but in Brazil, the birds have such amazing colors.



After the zoo, went to the beach area by the Rio Negro to get some açai.  I had açai with granola on top and some sauce that’s similar to caramel, but less thick (we don’t really have anything that’s comparable in America).  It was delicious and I think it’s relatively healthy.  The fruit is a superfood and I know that many people eat it after workouts (probably without the extra toppings) because of its antioxidants.


My cousin, Junior, told me about an amazing waterfall that is on the border of Brazil and Venezuela that he will take me to next time I visit Manaus.  It’s a 10-hour drive and he might have a herniated disk, so he said that he wouldn’t be able to go this time.  I do hope that I have the opportunity to go there in the future.  I love waterfalls so much.

At dinner I saw my cousin, Deborah.  She speaks fluent English, so she was able to clarify a few things.  We talked for a while after dinner about Trump, Hilary Clinton, and politics. Everyone in Brazil seems really scared about the possibility of Trump winning the election, which was interesting to me.  I didn’t think our politics mattered to Brazilians, but I was most definitely wrong.

She told me that Brazil’s public schools are terrible and that there is also a big problem with child prostitution.  These children sometimes only earn $2 per client and nobody really knows about it and the ones who do don’t really care.  She said that it’s common in Acre (the state where my grandparents and dad are from), and in some poor areas of Manaus.  She said that the U.S. is so much better than Brazil in terms of volunteering.  She said that she knows of nobody who volunteers in Brazil.  I found that interesting.

This was my first time to Brazil by myself.  The first time, both of my parents were there.  The second time, my dad was there for part of the trip.  I found that by being there alone, I learned so much more than on my previous trips.

Wednesday, March 30th:

Wednesday was my grandma’s 99th birthday, and the main reason I decided to go to Brazil for spring break.  I gave her a card.  I also gave her present to her that Vanessa and Carlos had purchased for her.

She seems to be relatively healthy for being 99 years old, but it just seems like life must be boring.  She is either in bed or sitting in her chair all day.  There is always someone in there with her, but it is a bit monotonous.  Throughout my time in Manaus, there were many times that I just sat next to her, watching TV with her.  She was the most difficult relative to speak to because she couldn’t really understand what I was saying and I couldn’t really understand what she was saying either.  So usually I would say something in Portuguese and then someone else would say it more loudly and clearly (and in the correct pronunciation) to her.  She would just look at my and smile all of the time.  It was really sweet, even with our lack of communication.


In the morning, I went for a walk/run with my uncle Clovis.  Actually, every day we went out and we would walk in one direction and then run in the opposite direction, just like we had on my past two trips to Brazil.

We went to my aunt’s husband’s shipyard to have lunch.  I had seen the shipyard a few years ago when I visited Manaus and this time it had grown substantially.  They made us a really nice lunch there.  It was delicious.


After lunch, the sun came out, so I went out by the pool.  I swam around and then read my book in the sunshine.


Then I went inside and sat with my grandma for a while.  Raimunda helped to translate.  She said that my grandma said how she already can’t wait until the next time I come back.

During the evening of her birthday, my uncles had my grandma talk to all of our relatives who couldn’t make it to Manaus for her birthday.  Everyone was very excited about her turning 99.

Grandma Angelina talking to my dad on the phone on her birthday

A bunch of people came over to my aunt’s apartment for the birthday party.  I knew most of them, but there were a few family members (or maybe friends) who I hadn’t met before.  Everyone was just chatting and listening to music.  My aunt was dancing with her brother.  It was nice.  What’s so great about going to Brazil is that although I’ve only met most of my family members 2 or 3 times, I’m immediately accepted and I don’t feel like an outsider even though I can’t speak Portuguese fluently.  I go there and I feel completely welcomed.  It’s really great.


For dinner, they made special dishes with lots of seafood and different sauces that I hadn’t had before.  There was a cake for dessert, but by then, my grandma had gone back to her bedroom.  They said that she was just getting too emotional with all of the activity.  She has some heart problems, so she can’t get too excited.  At least she got to sit at the table with all of us while we ate dinner before going back to her room.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

In the morning, I went with my Uncle Clovis to my aunt’s farm across the river in a town called Iranduba.  We had to drive through these windy dirt roads that ran right through the jungle to get to the farm.  In some places there were huge pools of water that we just drove right through in the SUV.  I guess that’s why we took the SUV and not the car.  A small car never would have made it through all of the water.  There were chickens, pigs, goats, dogs, and cats at the farm and there were also lots of banana trees.


Uncle Clovis and I wanted to walk closer to the river, but the grass was pretty tall.  Suddenly, while walking through the grass, I felt a sharp, burning pain on my left foot.  I looked down and my foot had a bunch of tiny little black ants on it.  Apparently, I had stepped into some fire ants.  They hurt way worse than I thought they would since they’re so tiny.  Uncle Clovis said we should turn around anyway since there could be snakes lurking around in the tall grass, so that’s when I mentioned that I had been bitten.


The bites hurt for a really long time.  It didn’t matter that I wiped the ants off within seconds of feeling the pain; the burning sensation lasted for at least two hours.

With Aunt Celi and Uncle Clovis

After that, I went for a walk with my uncle.  We walked down to the beach at the Rio Negro.  He could tell that I wanted to go swimming, so I swam parallel to the whole beach while he walked along the edge, holding my sneakers and tank top.  The water was insanely warm.  It had to have been over 80 degrees.  I was a little bit nervous because the water is a dark brown color, so you can’t see the bottom even in the shallow parts.  They had a net (presumably to block out any snakes/alligators), but I was still a little bit nervous.  Despite any hesitation, I just love swimming so much that I hoped for the best.

Then we said goodbye to my Aunt Celi, her husband, Chiquinho, and her grandson, Pedro.  They were flying to Sao Paulo.

I went with Uncle Clovis and Raimunda to a place called AMPA.  I think it’s basically a conservation-type place.  They have lots of huge trees, so it feels like you’re in the rainforest even though you’re in the center of the city.


They also have some manatees and alligators.  It was fun, but it was super hot and humid.  There was also an indoor section with some dead bugs, butterflies, and huge slabs of massive trees and some huge leaves.


Then we went to get some more açai.

Later on I was sitting with my grandma, showing her pictures of the American side of my family on my phone.

Friday, April 1, 2016

In the morning, Uncle Clovis and I walked 4 kilometers and then ran back the same distance.  In Brazil I actually get pretty sweaty when I run…not the case in the United States.  I can run so far in the U.S., even on a hot day, barely breaking a sweat, so I was excited to finally be sweating a decent amount.

Uncle Jose came over and took me and Uncle Clovis on a boat ride to go swim with wild dolphins in the river.  I never knew that rivers have dolphins.  The boat pulled up to this floating house and a pregnant lady put on a life vest and started splashing around in the water.  She had some dead fish that she threw into the water and in less than a minute, two pink dolphins (boto-vermelho) had arrived.

It was awesome because we got to swim near them and touch them, but they’re wild, so we didn’t have to feel guilty that they were living in captivity.


Then when we went to leave the dolphin place to go get some lunch, the guy went to pull the cord on the motor and it broke off in his hand.  Nobody seemed to concerned.  We just waited for the boat to float by the floating neighborhood.

We drifted over to one of the houseboats and there was a Swiss man who saved the day by helping us out.  He had all of the tools that we needed to fix the boat.  He had been living on the river for the past 6 years because he wanted to get away from busy life in Switzerland.  He had a wife and kids and was planning to return to Switzerland soon since his kids were going to have to go to school.  There is a floating school on the river, but it’s probably not the best educational option.DSCN4809

So we fixed the boat and went on our way.  We stopped at moon beach for lunch.  It was awesome.  There were a bunch of tables right in the water, music was playing, and almost nobody else was around.  The only other customers was a group of three women.


We swam around in the river.  Then we sat on some chairs in the middle of the water.  The water was so warm, it felt like a bathtub.



Eventually, lunch was served.  We had an appetizer of three small fish.  Aside from the head and tail, you just bit into it and eat the whole thing.  From the picture, it looks like I’m hesitant about it, but I only was in the beginning.  It tasted great.


Then the main meal came, which was rice, farofa, and a big fish.  Again, that was delicious as well.


Later that night, I went for a walk with Raimunda.  They close the road by the beach every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday morning.  There were tons of people running, biking, and just hanging out.  In Brazil it seems that there are many places like this where they close certain roads on certain days to cater to people who are exercising.  I think that’s a really cool idea and also something that I’ve never heard of in the United States.

Then I went out to dinner with my uncle, my dad’s half sister, and my cousin.  They ordered ants for me as an appetizer.  It was a real appetizer, but they also found it amusing since I had been bitten by ants the previous day.


For dinner we had a huge fish from the local river.  We also had farofa, rice, cooked bananas, etc.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

My uncle was feeling sick today, so I went for a walk/run by myself.  I ran stairs a bunch of times by the river.  Then I went to the pool to swim and read.

Saturday was also the day I had to fly home.  I really didn’t want to leave.  I spent most of the day just lounging by the pool, reading my book, and sitting in my grandma’s room.  She likes to sing a lot, so she kept singing songs to me and it was really cute.

Once it came time to leave, I went to say goodbye to my grandma.  I guess she didn’t realize that I was already leaving.  She held onto my arm and said that she didn’t want me to leave already.  She told my uncle that she wished that she could give me a gift.  He tried to make her feel better by telling her that I will be back next year (which hopefully is true), or that she would come visit me in the United States (which obviously can’t happen with her age).  I was able to speak to her more than the first time I met her, but I still wish that I had been able to say more.

My uncle Clovis and Raimunda drove me to the airport, but they wouldn’t let us check in until a certain time, so we wandered around the airport for a while.  There was some big party in the parking lot, which was kind of strange.  There were tents up and the music was blasting.

Eventually I said my goodbyes and went through security, tears running down my cheeks.

It’s so hard to leave because I have such a good time when I’m with my family and I never know when I’ll be back.  I’d like to think that I’ll be there again next year for my grandma’s 100th birthday, but obviously at this age, anything can happen.  Also, I have family in Manaus, Cruzeiro do Sul, Brasilia, and Rio, so I never know exactly which part of Brazil I will be in next time and which relatives I will get to spend time with.

I am so thankful that they are now a part of my life, since I had never been to Brazil until 2012.  It was an amazing trip and I can’t wait to go back!


Brasilia – March 2016

My memory is not the best, so I like to write about the trips that I go on so that I can look back years from now and remember some of the details that have slipped from my mind.

For spring break this year, I traveled to Brazil.  First I went to Brasilia to see my sister, Vanessa, and brother-in-law, Carlos.  I was in Brasilia from March 26th to March 29th.  Then I went to Manaus to see other family members and to be with my grandma for her 99th birthday.

This is what I did in Brasilia:

Friday, March 25th (Good Friday):

Friday was Good Friday.  Good Friday is my favorite day of the year in terms of church services and getting ready for Easter, so I was disappointed that I would miss that since I needed to get to the airport, but it was the only good option for flights for me.

My first flight was about 3 hours to Miami, followed by a 3-hour layover, and then a 7 1/2 hour flight overnight to Brasilia.  When I got on the airplane for Brasilia, I was disappointed to see that I had the middle seat in the middle section of 3 seats.  I’m not the best at sleeping on airplanes and I knew that it would be even harder with random people to each side of me.

But next thing I knew, the flight attendants were closing the overhead storage bins and I realized that I was silly for being frustrated with my seat.  NOBODY was sitting on either side of me!  That meant extra blankets, pillows, and the ability to lay down to go to sleep rather than sitting up in my seat.  I was thrilled.

I had already eaten dinner at the airport, so I planned to sleep for the entire flight.  As usual, flight attendants were waking everybody up at some point for dinner.  At first, I thought I would just keep sleeping, but then I realized that airplane food is really one of my favorite things ever.  So I got up for the meal.  It was chicken and rice, some chocolate pudding sort of dessert, and some other stuff that I can no longer remember.  I just think airplane food is so much fun.

Saturday, March 26th (Holy Saturday):

I slept better on that flight than probably any I’ve ever been on, so that was good.  Eventually we were woken up in the morning for breakfast and soon enough, we were landing in Brasilia.

I was so excited to finally be there, but the line to exit the airport was INSANE.  Our flight was coming in from Miami at almost the same time that a different flight was coming in from Orlando.  My bag took forever to come through on the conveyor belt, so I was close to the end of the line.

There were supposed to be 2 lines – one for foreigners and one for Brazilians, but there was really only one.  Many Brazilians travel to America and bring back a ton of stuff, so their bags need to be checked in customs.  I finally made it to the front of the line after a full hour of waiting and then the lady just let me through the exit (passing customs), where I met Vanessa and Carlos.  If there had been two lines, it would have been a much faster process.

We went out to a French place for breakfast.  It was delicious.  There was a fruit salad that came with a lime cream sauce to drip the fruit in.  There were a few different types of croissants – regular, ones with nuts, and ones that were filled with chocolate.  Then for dessert I had an eclair.

Breakfast at the French restaurant

Apparently, Brasilia, which was created about 50 years ago, was planned out in the shape of an airplane.  So when looking at a map of the city (and capital of Brazil), it’s interesting to see the unique shape.

Breakfast at the French restaurant

When driving to my sister’s apartment, we passed the soccer stadium that was built for the 2014 World Cup.


After going back to my sister’s apartment to get changed and put away my bags, we drove around Brasilia to see the city.

We went to the Roman Catholic cathedral.  It’s a beautiful building that kind of looks like a crown.  It has beautiful stained glass.  We didn’t get to go inside during the day because it was locked and they had to get ready for the Easter Masses, but we were able to look through the door.  My pictures don’t do it the cathedral justice, but during the day the stained glass is beautiful bright blue.


Outside of the cathedral, there are four statues of saints.

Then we walked over to the museum.  Again, it’s a really unique building that looks like Saturn or something.  It was free to go inside, so we looked at some of the artwork.  The building was huge, but it didn’t have that many pieces of artwork inside.  The ones it did have were nice though.

We saw the Congress buildings.  We saw some protests that were going on since many Brazilians want President Dilma to be impeached for corruption.  Then we saw some memorials, a huge Brazilian flag, and an eternal flame.

We also saw the office building where Dilma works.  There was a group of women praying outside of the building.  We tried to go to see Dilma’s house but the road was blocked since there have been so many protests lately, so they didn’t want people going near her house.

Praying outside of Dilma’s building

It rained on Saturday.  We went to look at this really cool bridge that was designed to look like a pebble skipping across the lake.  The architecture in Brasilia is really unique, probably since it’s such a modern city.


Then we went to see the Saint Benedict Monastery.  In Portuguese, his name is São Bento, so I didn’t realize at first that it was Saint Benedict.  He is my mom’s favorite saint, so I thought that was so interesting that it was his monastery where we ended up.

For lunch, we went out to a restaurant called Coco Bambu that overlooked Laka Paranoá.  It was a really nice view for lunch and the restaurant was huge.  We had some sort of fried shrimp, but very different from American fried shrimp.  They weren’t greasy.  They were coated in some sort of breading that had sesame seeds in it and there was lime to put on top.  On this trip I realized how much I really like the flavor of lime on pretty much any type of meat or fish.  Our main dish was a shrimp/rice/cheese mixture that was topped with chopped potato chips.  I was so full by the end of lunch.

Then we went for a walk by the lake.  It’s a man-made lake.  Brasilia has extremely low humidity, so much so that people sometimes start to feel sick when it gets below 10 percent.  Many of the buildings have water around them in an attempt to create humidity.  They also created a lake for that purpose.


We drove around the area where the embassies are.  They are all in the same general area and each one was built with architecture to represent the country it is from.

We went back to the church at night to see what time masses would be for Easter Sunday, but it was still closed.  We took some pictures by the fountain and the “I love Brasilia” sign.  Then we went up the elevators of the TV tower.  From the top, there is a great view of the city.

After that, we went home and skipped dinner since we were all so full from our huge lunch.

Sunday, March 27th (Easter Sunday):

We got up early so that we could get breakfast before heading out to Salto do Itiquira, a big waterfall in Formosa, which is in the state of Goiás, which is north of Brasilia.

We went to Fran’s Cafe for a delicious breakfast.  We had potato rolls that had cheese inside.  Then I had a grilled turkey and cheese sandwich.  Carlos had açai with bananas and granola, so I also had some of that.  It was delicious.


We then drove probably about 1 1/2 hours to get to the waterfall.  It was awesome.  I love waterfalls so much.

The closer we got to the waterfall, the windier and wetter it got.  Once we were right in front of it, it felt like we were standing in the middle of a rainstorm.  The wind was blowing like crazy and we were soaking wet.  I had my bathing suit on underneath my clothes, but I hadn’t expected to get drenched before actually swimming, so my clothes, shoes, and socks were all soaked.  But it was awesome.


Apparently there is a 2-hour hike to the top of the waterfall.  I would love to do that, but it was closed when we were there since it had rained the night before and they were nervous that the rains could cause some rocks to fall.

Carlos and I went swimming in one area below the waterfall.  We weren’t under the main part of the falls (that would probably be too dangerous), but there was a different area where we were allowed to swim.  The water was pretty chilly, but it was fine since the air temperature was so warm.  There was a rope that said not to pass it, but Carlos asked the lifeguards if we could and they said that yes, we could swim past the rope at our own risk.  They were just nervous about some of the rocks falling.

So we climbed those rocks while Vanessa took pictures of us.  Carlos was trying to get to the waterfall area, but the current was so strong that it was really hard to swim against.  We eventually made it over from the other side, so we were both able to sit under the water.

It was really fun, but there were definitely a few times when I wondered if there were any creatures in the water, or any snakes lurking.  I didn’t see anything, but here I was swimming in a random waterfall in the jungles of Brazil.

Once we were done swimming and dried off, we took some pictures and then headed back to Brasilia.


Here is a video I made from the trip to the waterfall:

We went to a traditional Brazilian buffet for lunch. The building was massive.  I went to the bathroom and some of the sinks were full of flowers.  It was really random, but it looked nice.


There was also a statue of a man painting the wall, but I thought it was completely real.  I didn’t find out that it was fake until we were done with lunch and I saw someone touching the statue.


The buffet was so big.  My eyes were definitely larger than my stomach, but there were so many things to try.  Plus, there was a dessert buffet.  And I LOVE dessert.  I had a brigadeiro (my favorite Brazilian dessert), some sort of lime pudding, dulce do leite, and some chocolate mousse.  It was delicious, but I felt like I would never be hungry again after that meal.

After lunch, we went to the artisan fair.  I got a pair of earring and two dresses.

We went home to get changed and then we went back to the cathedral for Easter Mass.  Since it was in Portuguese, I didn’t really understand the homily or anything, but since Catholic Masses always go in the same order, I at least had an idea of what was happening.

After Mass, we went to a fancy mall to get a birthday present (pajamas) for my grandma’s birthday.  The mall had super expensive stores inside of it.  And it had flowers everywhere.  I expected them to be fake, but they were actually real, beautiful live orchids all over the place.  There was also a huge blow up ship/octopus inside of a big ball pit.  It looked really fun.

Then we went to a place where they had a bunch of food trucks.  I was full, so I just had a juice.  It was tangerine/carrot/lime.  It was really good.  Most of the food trucks sold burgers and fries.  They looked really good, but I was way too full for that.

Monday, March 28th:

Monday was my mom’s birthday.  I had scheduled flowers to be delivered to her at work, so all day I kept checking my phone every time I had access to wi-fi to see if the flowers had been delivered.  She only got the flowers around 4pm, so all day I was nervously awaiting that email.  Luckily it all worked out and she was thrilled and surprised.

So on Monday we went to the same breakfast place as Sunday and this time I had the açai with bananas and granola.

Then we went to a market to get some produce.  There were so many fruits and vegetables that I’ve never seen before.  There is a fruit called an apple banana.  It looks like a banana and has the texture of a banana, but apparently it tastes like an apple.  I didn’t get to try one, but it definitely sounds interesting.

I did try goiaba, which I’m pretty sure is the same thing as guava in English.  It was yummy.

Vanessa also showed me how to make dulce de leite, one of my favorite Brazilian desserts.  It’s kind of like caramel.  And it’s SO easy to make, I couldn’t believe it.  There is literally one ingredient: a can of condensed milk.  You just take the closed can, cover it in water, put it in a pressure cooker for 20-30 minutes, depending on how dark of a brown color you’re looking to achieve, and then you have perfect dulce de leite.  Amazing.

We went to lunch at a place that serves the chicken still cooking on this mini grill that they bring to the table.  There was also potato salad, polenta, fried polenta, tomatoes/lettuce, farofa, and pasta with meat sauce.


Unfortunately, we spent some time at the hospital on Monday because my sister had a rash on her cheeks and eyelids.  Then we went to three different pharmacies looking for the two medicines she was prescribed.

For dinner we went to an amazing pizza place.  For one price, you get unlimited slices of pizza.  It’s like rodizio pizza.  The waiters come around with all different types of pizza and you just take whichever ones you’re interested in.  Brazilian pizza is really thin and a lot smaller than most pizza in America, so I was able to try a whole bunch of different kinds.


My favorite were the dessert pizzas.  They sound weird since they still have cheese on them, but they are amazing.  One had cheese, bananas, and cinnamon.  The other had cheese, chocolate, and strawberries.  I wish we had them here in the United States.  They are delicious.

Tuesday, March 29th:

Tuesday I had to fly to Manaus, so we went to the airport in the morning.  The airport was pretty frustrating.  It was a domestic flight, so we only needed to get there an hour early, but we decided to check my bags and then have breakfast at the airport, so we got there 1 1/2 hours early.  However, the line to check the bags took literally over an hour.

What happened was that there were lots of people who were late for their flights.  In the United States, they would just have to stand in line and miss their flight since it’s their fault that they’re late.  But in Brasilia, there were TSA people whose job it was to yell the names of late passengers who hadn’t checked in yet.  Then, if they found any of these passengers, they would immediately bring them to the front of the line.  Thus, we waited in line FOREVER while late people passed us.

It’s a never-ending problem though because it actually forced me to almost be late for my flight so that eventually it was my flight being called, looking for late passengers when really none of us were late when we had arrived.  That line took so long that I was still standing there when my plane started boarding.

Anyway, I did make it to the plane on time and then I flew to Manaus.  I will write a separate blog about my time in Manaus.

It was a great few days in Brasilia, but the goodbyes are always difficult.  When I say goodbye to my American family members, I know that they’re only a short drive away.  Saying goodbye to my Brazilian family is so much harder because although I know I’ll see them again, I have no set date of return.  It could be years before I see them.  Hopefully not, but it’s possible.  So there are always tears in the airport when I’m saying my goodbyes, but I’m so thankful for having my sister and her husband in my life.


Here is a compilation video that I made from my time in Brasilia:




My 2016 Goals

Most people do this in January.  It’s March, but that’s okay.

This is what I hope to accomplish in 2016:


-Get back into a regular workout routine of running, lifting, plyometrics, and taking hot yoga classes

-Eat healthier

-Run either a half marathon or more obstacle races (or preferably both)

-Learn more Portuguese before I go to Brazil for Spring Break, using Duolingo

-Practice my Spanish so that I don’t continue to forget it, using Duolingo

-Go to Eucharistic adoration on Monday evenings at least once a month

-Prepare spiritually for my mission trip to India in August

-Write in my journal

-Continue to write blogs

-Walk to Mass whenever the weather is nice

-Drink two 32-oz bottles of water every day (more if it’s especially hot or if I’m working out)

-Remember to take my vitamins / herbal supplements

-Listen to Christian radio on my drive to work even after Lent is finished

-Read books even when it’s not summer and it seems like I don’t have time to read for pleasure


I’m going to Brazil in less than a month.  I’m half-Brazilian and I have been there twice before, but  I don’t actually speak Portuguese.  I can speak a decent amount of Spanish thanks to taking AP Spanish in high school, so that helps, but I really need to learn more Portuguese so that it’s easier to speak to my family members when I am down there.

Some of my family members speak English, and the past two times I went to Brazil, I was either with my mom or dad (both of whom are fluent in Portuguese).  But this time there may be situations when I could be with my aunt and/or grandmother alone.  Neither of them speak any English.

Last time I was in Brazil, I could understand a bit of what people were saying due to its similarities to English.  But this time, I’m hoping to learn at least a little bit more before I go down there for spring break.

I found this website called Duolingo, which is completely free and helps with learning a new language.  So far, I really like it.  The website makes it really fun to learn the new words.  Some of the words are a bit random, so I’ve worked on some sentences that I will probably never use (like: “The bird drinks milk.”), but I figure that any addition to my vocabulary is a help.



Something interesting to me regarding Portuguese is that there are only really two named days of the week (sabado & domingo – Saturday & Sunday).  The rest of the days are just counted.  Segunda-feira = Monday.  Tercer-feira = Tuesday.  Quarta-feira = Wednesday.  Quinta-feira = Thursday.  Sexta-feira = Friday.  And there is no first day, since Monday means “second day”.

Anyway, this isn’t the most interesting blog post in the world, but I’m hoping that writing it down makes me feel more accountable for following through.  My plan is to practice some Portuguese every day until I leave.

Today is day 3.  Here we go…

Traveling: A Necessary Component to a Fulfilled Life

I recently signed up for my next mission trip: a trip to Visakhapatnam (nicknamed Vizag), India this coming August.  I have never before felt the desire to go to India, but upon reading the details about the trip, I was hooked.  Any time I sign up for a new trip or buy my plane tickets, I feel the travel bug hit me, along with all of its excitement and anticipation.  I ended up watching a few interesting TED Talks about traveling.  There were a few quotes that caught my ear.

The following are my favorite quotes about travel:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

It’s very difficult to maintain prejudices if you’re constantly venturing out of your own town, city, or country.  By placing yourself around people with backgrounds that are totally different from your own, you begin to find a deep appreciation for all of these differences and a greater understanding of the world around you.  Rather than looking down upon those who are different, you learn to embrace them.

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

I could go on for weeks with all of my stories from the various trips I have been on.  When teaching, I sometimes have to stop myself from telling stories because I could waste entire class periods just talking about my experiences in foreign lands.

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Although I hate airplane takeoffs, I love the feeling of excitement when I am about to travel to a place I’ve never been to before.

“No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson

This quote reminds me of my experiences in Haiti.  When I signed up for Project Teach, some of my family members were very upset and nervous about my safety.  Why would anyone ever want to go to Haiti?  After all, isn’t the country full of violence?

The reason why American automatically hear the word Haiti and think violence is because of the media.  Remember when the earthquake hit?  The media made it seem like the entire country was destroyed.  I am by no means downplaying that disaster — it was devastating; over 230,000 people were killed.  But the earthquake did not ruin the entire country the way the news made it seem.

Thus far in my travels, I have yet to see a more beautiful beach than those I encountered in Haiti.  The news sure doesn’t tell us that story of Haiti.  We hear about the earthquakes, the deaths, violence, the tensions between Haitians and Dominicans.  We don’t hear about the hardworking Haitian teachers who walked to my classroom 2 hours each day for my professional development seminar, only to then walk 2 hours home.  We don’t hear about the gorgeous beaches that are still mostly untouched since tourism is not as prominent in Haiti as other resort-filled islands like the Bahamas.

This is Haiti, the country that I was told was dirty and disgusting, and violent.  They failed to mention the sheer beauty of the land:



The same is true with Brazil.  Although people don’t think of Brazil as being on the same level as Haiti, many Americans are hesitant to travel there.  They hear about all of the violence and assume that any American will instantly be mugged.  Yes, there is violence, but I never felt unsafe either of the times I was in Brazil (or when I was in Haiti, for that matter).  Of course, you also can’t play into the ignorant, stupid American stereotype.

Brazil, like Haiti, is breathtaking.  If you listen to the people who tell you that you shouldn’t go because it’s too violent, you’ll miss views like this:




Boat ride on a river in the Amazon rainforest on Christmas Eve of 2012
Boat ride on a river in the Amazon rainforest on Christmas Eve of 2012

I know that there will be people who will try to tell me about all of the negative things about India before I leave, but honestly, I don’t really care.  I will experience India for myself.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

To travel is to be filled with humility.  In Haiti and Rwanda, I had no idea how to speak Creole, French, or Kinyarwanda.  Ecuador was less frightening since I know Spanish, and despite not really knowing Portuguese, I can still understand the gist of the conversations when I am in Brazil since it’s similar to Spanish.  But being in places where I can’t communicate more than a few simple words is not only a bit scary, but it definitely provides humility.  I become reliant on the translators to help me to understand what is happening.  I am not in control when I am in these foreign lands.  I realize how insignificant I really am.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

I don’t want to be on my deathbed with a whole slew of money and a lack of experiences.  I would rather have the memories and the photographs with me than a pile of money that is gone the moment I die.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama

I hope that I can do this in my life.  I hope that, even once I have a family and more responsibilities, I can always go some place new.  That doesn’t even have to be a different country.  A new city or state would also be fine.  Although I also enjoy returning to familiar places (like Long Beach Island, NJ, where I vacation each summer), it’s necessary to also experience new places.

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

When I taught in Bridgeport, CT, there were students who had never been outside of their own city.  That astounded me.  Forget about leaving the country.  These students had never crossed into neighboring towns.  Their worldview was only based on what they had seen in one city.  That saddened me so much because I know how much they were missing out on.  Although it’s not their fault, they will never truly understand the world around them unless they are able to leave that city and experience new things.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous

People sometimes think that travel is extravagant.  I’d like to disagree.  I believe that buying that Michael Kors watch or the Coach purse is extravagant.  To me, even Vera Bradley items and Alex & Ani bracelets are extravagant.  This just comes down to a personal opinion.  I save my money so that I can travel.  I don’t splurge on clothes.  Although I sometimes buy new clothes, it’s always on sale, and always from a store like Kohl’s that has reasonable prices.  I’ve never bought anything that was designer-made.  That just isn’t my priority.  I could have a closet full of designer items, but that wouldn’t make me richer.  On the other hand, I love looking at my walls of photographs and paintings from all of my travels.  Those experiences absolutely make my life more complete.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

I want to experience as much of the world as I possibly can.  I strive to see as many new places and cultures as possible.  I want to read every page of that book, not just the page of my little section of the United States.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

I spend quite a bit of money on my travels — even when I volunteer and raise money.  From flights, to vaccinations, to Malaria pills, to accommodations, to visas, to food, it all adds up quickly.  I am incredibly grateful to the people who donated money or supplies toward my trips to Ecuador and Rwanda.

But even if I was unable to find anyone to contribute anything to my trip, I would make the necessary sacrifices to continue to travel.  Let’s say I spend $4,000 on my trip to India (I’m hoping to spend less, and I’m hoping to fundraise for part of the cost again).  In 10 years, will I think, “Gosh, I shouldn’t have gone to India.  I would have $4,000”?  Of course not.  You can’t put a price on all of the experiences I have been able to take part in on my various trip both for vacationing and for volunteering.  They’re absolutely priceless.

If I were to save every penny I earned, where would I be in 50 years?  Richer, maybe?  Retired with a whole bunch of money but without any rich experiences from traveling?  When I die, my money is useless.  Although I am trying to save my money for future needs (like buying my first home), I always make sure that I also save with travel as my goal.  It’s not an option, but rather a priority for me.

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

Is Haiti violent? Sure, in some parts.  Is Brazil violent?  Yep, same answer.  But then again, I’d argue that America is also violent.  Think of all of our mass shootings.  Maybe better advice than not traveling out of America is the opposite: get out of America, where you’re more likely to be a victim of gun violence than in many other parts of the world.

“You don’t have to be rich to travel well.” – Eugene Fodor

I am by no means rich, but I am very careful with my money and savings.  The items I spend most of my money on are my trips and food, since I prefer to eat organic produce and meat and wild-caught fish, which are all quite pricey.

Thanks to my ability to save a large portion of every paycheck, I am able to travel at least once a year.  Some of the places I’ve been to include:


New York

Rhode Island

New Jersey



New Hampshire



West Virginia

South Carolina





-Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

-Quito and Misahualli, Ecuador

-Port-au-Prince, Haiti

-Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, and Cruzeiro do Sul, Brazil

-Kigali, Gisenyi, and Bugesera, Rwanda

-And this year I will be going to Austin and San Antonio, Texas, and Visakhapatnam, India

Some of these places were quick, weekend getaways or day trips, while others were trips that lasted for two or more weeks.  Some were paid for by my family members when I was younger and on other, more recent trips I paid for them with money that I had saved up.  For Ecuador and Rwanda, I paid for a portion of the cost, while I fundraised for the rest.

I really believe that almost anyone can go on vacation; they just need to determine their priorities.  If travel isn’t a priority, then it probably won’t happen.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

If you knew that you had one year to live, what would you do?  I would definitely spend time with my family, but I would also travel to as many places as I could.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

I love this one.  There have been many experiences in my travels that were not necessarily the most comfortable situations.  But that’s what stretches each of us as human beings — getting out of our comfort zones to experience something new.

American Health Care Contradictions

With the Affordable Care Act comes free preventive medicine. This obviously has many benefits. However, I find some contradictions with the items that are free and those that are not.

Preventive exams are free. Below is the list of items that are free for adults:

1. Abdominal aortic aneurysm one-time screening for men of a certain age who have been smokers

2. Alcohol misuse screening/counseling

3. Aspirin use for people of a certain age for cardiovascular health

4. Blood pressure screening for adults

5. Cholesterol screening for adults of a certain age or a higher risk

6. Colorectal cancer screening for adults over 50

7. Depression screening

8. Type 2 Diabetes screening – for adults with high blood pressure

9. Diet counseling for adults with higher risk for chronic disease

10. HIV screening

11. Vaccinations, including:

-Hepatitis A and B
-Herpes Zoster
-Flu shot
-Measles, Mumps, Rubella
-Tetanus, diptheria, pertussis

12. Obesity screening and counseling for adults

13. STI (sexually transmitted infection) prevention counseling for adults at a higher risk

14. Syphillis screening for adults at a higher risk

15. Tobacco use screening for adults

-There’s a whole separate list just for women:

-And another just for children:

Also, annual physicals, bi-annual dental cleanings, and annual gyno checkups are included in most insurance plans at no cost.

According to a website for the North Carolina State Healthcare Plan teachers and state employees, healthcare plans are required to cover recommended preventive services and medications without charging a copayment, coinsurance or deductible. The State Health Plan, in consultation with Express Scripts, the prescription benefit manager for the Plan, has developed a list of medications and criteria (i.e., gender and age) to support preventive medication requirements based on the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be covered under the pharmacy benefit.

Effective January 1, 2014, the Plan will provide medications in the drug categories listed below at no-cost share specific to age and gender requirements of the ACA for the Enhanced 80/20 Plan and Consumer-Directed Health Plan (CDHP). All medications will require a prescription.

Here is the list of free prescriptions (with the age/gender of the people eligible):

Aspirin – men 45-79; women 55-79 (for cardiovascular health)

Fluoride – children 6m months old – 5 years old

Folic Acid – women through 50 years old

Iron supplements – children 6-12 months who are at risk of anemia

Smoking Cessation (gum and patches)

Vitamin D – men and women over 65 who are at risk of falls

Bowel preparation for colonoscopy screening – man and women 49-76 years old

Women’s preventive services – women through age 50 – the services that are free include:

-Birth control patch
-Birth control pills
-Birth control ring (NuvaRing)
-Birth control shot (Depo-Provera)
-Cervical cap
-Contraceptive implant
-Permanent contraception methods, such as tubal ligation
-Emergency contraception (Plan B, Ella, and Next Choice)


Now, I’m confused about the Pill being free. It’s preventive for the people who use it in order to stop an unwanted pregnancy. But is it still free for people who take it for other reasons (i.e. acne, menstrual problems)? Because I’ve had to take various prescriptions for illnesses and never have they been free. Why is it that contraception is one of the few free prescriptions? Just because we want to control population growth? There are so many people who have taken a wide variety of prescriptions, but almost none of those is free. What makes contraception different?

I can’t get any medicine for free, preventive or not. I’ve travelled to many foreign countries. To go to some of these places (Ecuador, Brazil, Haiti, Rwanda), I’ve needed malaria pills and vaccinations. None of this is free, despite it preventing me from various illnesses.

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My Malarone prescription for malaria prevention typically costs about $100. Now, there’s an alternative brand, Mefloquine, that I’m also always offered because that prescription only costs around $10. However, one of the side effects is hallucinations, and I know multiple people who have experienced this side effect; it’s not one of those side effects that is extremely rare. I could risk it and take the Mefloquine, saving myself $90. However, I’d rather not experience hallucinations, especially not while in a foreign country. Regardless of this major discrepancy between the cost of the prescriptions, why is this not free since it is preventive? I don’t have malaria. My insurance company would have to pay significantly more money if I were to contract malaria while in Rwanda this summer. So it’s up to me to pay the $100 out of pocket to prevent it. The insurance company will do nothing for me until I contract malaria. How does that make sense? I know people who have intentionally not taken the malaria pills due to the cost. Obviously, this is an unwise decision; however, it is the insurance companies that are losing money since the treatment costs much more than $100 for the preventive pills.

But if this type of prevention is not free, then why is all of this contraception free? If the United States wants preventive measures to be free, then shouldn’t they all be free? Why is it more important to avoid pregnancies than to avoid malaria?

And what about vaccinations? When I travelled to Ecuador, I spent over $400 on all of the vaccinations that I needed, from yellow fever, to Hepatitis A, B, and C, and typhoid. Again, all of this was paid for out of pocket, in addition to the fee for my appointment at the travel clinic. But if I had contracted any of these illnesses, I would be costing the healthcare system significantly more money than the price of the vaccinations. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

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I understand that we don’t have to travel to foreign lands, but we also don’t have to have sex if we don’t want a child. What makes one preventive measure more important than another?

I’m thankful that I can get a physical or a dental cleaning for free, but I’m a person who rarely goes to the doctor. I rely on mostly naturopathic measures to treat my illnesses, which are all paid for out of pocket. I understand why the government doesn’t believe in paying for those. However, when all I do in any given year is have my cleanings at the dentist and purchase malaria pills and/or vaccinations, it’s frustrating. I see so much money being taken out of my paycheck toward health insurance, yet I still pay for most of my medical expenses on my own (it’s a significant amount of money even without counting any of my natural supplements).

The same was true when I was going to my specialist for Lyme disease. Because insurance companies were fighting the doctors who were trying to prove to insurance that Lyme CAN and DOES last for more than a few months, they would not pay for my specialist visits, which cost $900-$700, not to mention the prescription costs. I was living in Ohio at the time, flying home to go to the specialist, so the cost was even more than that. Other times, I had phone visits with the doctor that were still $300 a pop. I needed the specialist in order to improve my health since my general practitioner refused to give me prescriptions with a high enough dose of medicine to effectively treat the Lyme.


I had health insurance, but I was still paying such an insane amount of money. I have chronic Lyme. Although the symptoms subside, mostly thanks to all of the natural methods I have used as treatments (sauna therapy, exercise, earthing, and a whole slew of herbal supplements including andrographis, cat’s claw, resveratrol, probiotics, krill oil, vitamin B-12, astragalus, you name it), I will have it forever. If I ever have a relapse in which I become sick enough to require another Lyme specialist, I will pay for most of the cost of the visits out of my pocket. It’s absolutely ludicrous.

And I’m not alone on this. Back when I was really struggling to control my Lyme, I read lots of message boards about the illness. Many people had a difficult time finding money to pay for their doctor visits and prescriptions. These are not people who are completely uninsured; their insurance simply refuses to pay for Lyme treatments. How can that be? How can so many thousands of people have Lyme disease and receive so little help from their insurance companies?

I can have my free physicals. I could get free birth control if I wanted. But I have to pay for malaria pills, vaccinations, and Lyme doctor visits out of pocket. Over the course of my lifetime, an insane amount of money will be taken out of my paychecks, yet I will still be paying for so much medical care by myself.

There are many beneficial aspects of the healthcare reform, but there are also many problems with it.

Words versus Pictures

I recently watched the film Words and Pictures. Basically, it’s a battle between a high school English teacher and a high school art teacher. The English teacher contends that words are more significant and effective than pictures. The art teacher stands by the cliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

As an English teacher myself, and having previously considered becoming an art teacher, I found the topic quite interesting. In my AP Language class, although we obviously focus on language, we also analyze the arguments of various visual texts (posters, advertisements, commercials, music videos, etc.).

Most people can agree that words and pictures are both significant, especially when paired together. But if you had to choose, which would it be? Words or pictures?


-“A picture can tell a thousand words, but a few words can change its story.” –Sebastyne Young

-“The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader. That’s why we go to the movies and say, Oh, the book is better.” – anonymous

-“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” –Rudyard Kipling

-“We live and breathe words.” –Cassandra Clare

-“Which one of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?” –Cornelia Funke



-“A picture is worth a thousand words.” – anonymous

-“Words can be twisted into any shape. Promises can be made to lull the heart and seduce the soul. In the final analysis, words mean nothing. They are labels we give things in an effort to wrap our puny little brains around their underlying natures, when ninety-nine percent of the time the totality of the reality is an entirely different beast. The wisest man is the silent one. Examine his actions. Judge him by them.” –Karen Marie Moning

-“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” –Marc Riboud

-“I never read. I just look at pictures.” –Andy Warhol

-“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams

-“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” –Walt Disney


I love writing. I am much more easily able to convey my feelings by writing them down rather than expressing them verbally, or through facial expressions and gestures. But sometimes there’s something that I feel or experience that is simply incapable of being expressed through this sort of description. Sometimes I can’t truly describe my deepest emotions. But could a picture? I guess that’s the whole question.

There are many paintings that can cause viewers to truly feel the emotions that the artist was experiencing. The same is true of many photographs. When viewing pictures of people who are living in third world countries, the image can be absolutely moving, more than if I attempted to simply describe what I was seeing in those pictures. The same is true regarding the ASPCA commercials. I have to turn the channel when those ads come across the screen because they quickly make me feel such sorrow for the abused, malnourished animals. But could a description do the same?

Sometimes, especially when looking at a beautiful landscape or sunset, many of us feel that the picture just doesn’t do it justice. What we can see with our eyes is magnificent compared to the washed out image that comes out in the actual photograph. In this case, I would prefer to hear someone’s description of such a sunset than see an image that is only mediocre.

Let’s look at a few examples:


Sunset in Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Sunset in Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Another sunset at LBI
Another sunset at LBI

Both of these sunsets are vivid in my memory for the bright colors that were present in each of those moments. Although I like the pictures, they don’t move me. They just don’t do the sunset justice. If I described the sunset through writing, I believe that I would capture the essence more fully. Granted, with a professional camera, I may be able to capture more of the real image as my eye saw it, but sometimes it is only through filters that these professional pictures look so perfect. Sometimes what we are seeing never actually existed before the digital enhancements. So does that mean that we’re left with these 2 choices for photographs?:

A) An image that just doesn’t look as remarkable as the original

or B) An image that does look remarkable, thanks to filters and photoshopping


I don’t believe that I could describe any of these pictures well enough to do them justice. Yes, I could tell you the situations surrounding the pictures, and maybe that would make them more effective, but would they still be moving without the images? That’s for you to decide.

A boy in Ecuador
A boy in Ecuador

#1 – Ecuador – While visiting a very small village in the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle, we were sitting in the main room coloring with the children while the nurses and doctors worked in the clinic. There was a boy who did not speak much, but he was transfixed by my water bottle. We learned through the doctors that most of the Ecuadorians were dehydrated. They drank only three small glasses of water or tea each day, despite the humid, hot weather. This little boy was probably around four years old. His tanned skin glistened with sweat. His dark brown eyes stared up at me while his smile lit up his round face while he reached for my water bottle. Because many of the villagers had parasites, I could not allow him to take a sip from my bottle, but he just kept smiling at me and trying to take the bottle because he was so thirsty. His lips glistened with moisture, as if he was salivating just contemplating the water he was about to drink to quench his thirst.

Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre, Brasil
Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre, Brasil

#2 – Brazil – My Uncle Cezar took me out on the Rio Croa on Christmas Eve two years ago. We stopped at a few small villages set alongside the river. One of the villages had a few children who were intrigued by us ‘gringas’ who had suddenly appeared. One girl in particular was very inquisitive. She sat on the edge of the porch of her small wooden home, positioning herself behind a wooden pillar, almost as if to hide herself from us. Her small, dirty feet curled under her. I could tell when I took her picture that she wanted to smile, but she didn’t know if I could be trusted. She wanted to take some time to watch us and decide for herself whether or not she could relax around us.

Boys outside an orphanage in Haiti
Boys outside an orphanage in Haiti

#3 – Haiti – These boys were sitting outside of an orphanage I visited while in Haiti. This day was especially sunny and brutally hot, so they were not interested in playing in the field or on the basketball court any longer. Probably due to the extreme circumstances they had lived through, they had built up some walls around themselves, not wanting to let just anyone in. One of the boys, who had been a bit rowdy while playing basketball, stared at me with doubt in his eyes. I could tell he wanted to put on a tough facade despite his pink converse sneakers. These were probably the only shoes in his size when the orphanage went through the duffel bag full of shoe donations.

I’m sure some famous authors could have written much more detailed descriptions, but the question remains — if you could only choose one, would you want the picture without the background story/description, or would you choose the words without the picture? If I was an outside viewer, would I prefer to know more details, or would I be content to look at the images out of context?


In terms of the following pictures, I don’t feel that any of them fully capture the beauty of the places presented.

Whale Watch - Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Whale Watch – Cape Cod, Massachusetts

During the whale watch, I didn’t want to waste too much time with my eye behind my camera, not actually witnessing the beauty that was right in front of me. The sheer size of the whales as they lifted their tails out of the water was astounding. But the picture just seems adequate, nothing that special compared to the actual experience. Maybe in this case neither words nor pictures could do justice to the situation; maybe it’s just a “you had to be there” kind of moment.


Because it was February, this beach was basically empty. It hadn’t been freshly raked that morning. But I found the palm trees lining the edge of the beach to be so beautiful, with the homes and apartments set behind them.

Manaus, Brazil
Manaus, Brazil

This was just around sunset on the edge of the Rio Negro in Manaus. I was standing on a big rock formation at the edge of the water. It was quiet and peaceful, as my mom and I were the only ones wandering around during that time of night.

Frost Valley - Claryville, NY
Frost Valley – Claryville, NY

Although we visit this waterfall every year, it’s always slightly different, and there’s always a variety of colors in the ice, from blues to browns, to yellow, to white and gray. You can see these colors in the picture, but the size is where this photo falls short. You can’t envision the height of the rock wall behind the ice.


This picture was taken from a row boat off the coast of Haiti on one of the days when we traveled to a resort. Although it captures the public beach and sailboat, it doesn’t do justice for the massive mountains that can be seen in the distance, past all of the palm trees.

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

I’m not sure what color I would use to describe the blue of the ocean here in Copacabana. The color of the water seems to be the same as the way I remember it, but Sugarloaf Mountain on the right side just looks like any ordinary mountain. The patterned sidewalk doesn’t appear as obvious in the picture as it does to the eye when you’re actually there looking at the landscape.


In these pictures, I don’t really believe you need words to understand the emotions felt during each of these scenarios.


Super Spartan - New Jersey
Super Spartan – New Jersey

Despite the look on the girl next to me, I was so happy to be swimming along during the middle of the Super Spartan race. It was a cool, refreshing break for me, and I think my face shows just that.

Fear (although staged, I think I do a nice fear impression):

The next 3 pictures, although during the exact same event, show a variety of emotions:


Hartford Marathon
Hartford Marathon

Intensity (on top of some excruciating pain) while nearing the finish line:

Feelings of accomplishment/pride/disbelief/elation:

But the most significant is this picture. It’s one of the only pictures I have of myself without a smile. It is a picture of pure sadness, grief, and anguish, when I was about to put my dog to sleep. And it really needs no words. I have not yet been able to view this image without crying:

RIP, Butterscotch
RIP, Butterscotch

But the questions remain – could these places have been described in a better way? I’m an avid reader and there’s many instances when the words strike me in such a powerful way that I don’t believe any picture could ever affect me quite so much. The same is also true with song lyrics.


My favorite book is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Here’s some of my favorite quotes/passages:

-“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used–to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.
And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

-“You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.”

Another favorite is A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah about his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.

-“We were still traumatized, and now that we had time to think, the fastened mantle of our war memories slowly began to open. Whenever I turned on the tap water, all I could see was blood gushing out. I would stare at it until it looked like water before drinking or taking a shower…Other times, the younger boys sat by rocks weeping and telling us that the rocks were their dead families.”

-“I would dream that a faceless gunman had tied me up and begun to slit my throat with the zigzag edge of his bayonet. I would feel the pain that the knife inflicted as the man sawed my neck. I’d wake up sweating and throwing punches in the air. I would run outside to the middle of the soccer field and rock back and forth, my arms wrapped around my legs. I would try desperately to think about my childhood, but I couldn’t. The war memories had formed a barrier that I had to break in order to think about any moment in my life before the war.”

And then there’s my favorite quotes:

-“I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” – Henry David Thoreau

-“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

-“When good people in any country cease their struggle, then evil men prevail.” – Pearl S. Buck

-“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein

-“A coward dies a thousand times before his death; the valiant never taste of death but once.” –Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

-“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi


And I also find so many song lyrics that speak to me so deeply:

-“You gotta find that inner strength…and get that motivation to not give up and not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.” -Eminem “Till I Collapse”

-“You even had the same type of childhood I did, sometimes I just wanna know why is it that you succaim to yours; mine, I survived it.” – D12 “How Come”

-Some days wouldn’t be so special if it wasn’t for rain; joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain.” -50 Cent “Many Men”

-“I’m learning to breathe, I’m learning to crawl, I’m finding that You and You alone can break my fall. I’m living again, awake and alive, I’m dying to breathe in these abundant skies.” -Switchfoot “Learning to Breathe”

-“And you said I know that this will hurt. But if I don’t break your heart, then things will just get worse. If the burden seems too much to bear, remember, the end will justify the pain it took to get us there.” -Relient K “Let it all Out”

-“If you give the things you love for something greater, if you risk the things you have to live what you believe, if you look without your eyes to see something greater, if you love Me on your knees, you will find the greater things.” -Holyfire “The Greater Things”

-“Sometimes pain’s the only way we can learn. You can never fall too hard, so fast, so far that you can’t get back when you’re lost where you are. It’s never too late, so bad, so much that you can’t change. At the foot of the cross you can change who you are.” -Unspoken “Who You Are”


-“If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3


-“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean on Him not with your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

So in the end, which is more meaningful? Words? Pictures? I don’t really have a definite answer. I find both images and words so captivating. I’ll have to take the easy answer by saying that it just depends on the situation. I think that pictures can be much more moving in certain situations, but words have the same effect in other situations. But it’s an interesting topic to consider.

Trip to Rio – October 2014

I was fortunate enough to go to Brazil recently for 4 days to attend my sister’s wedding.

View of Copacabana Beach from my uncle's apartment
View of Copacabana Beach from my uncle’s apartment

Thursday: I got on the plane from JFK to head out on a 10-hr direct flight to Rio. I love making friends with people on airplanes, but sitting in the airport, it seemed like everyone flying to Rio was Brazilian. And since I don’t really speak Portuguese, I figured that I would just sleep on the plane.

But to my surprise, after taking a seat in the middle of a 3-seat middle section, two British guys sat on either side of me. I can sometimes be that annoying “hey, let’s get to know each other since we have to sit next to each other on the plane for a really long time anyway” person, so I tried to gauge whether or not the Brits wanted to talk. I offered to switch spots so they could sit together, but they said they’ll be together long enough on the trip. Then the one on my left put on his sleep mask and passed out almost immediately. So I figured his friend wanted to do the same.

I tried to fall asleep, but I’m really bad at that on airplanes. I dozed in and out and then dinner was served around 11pm. At that point, it was awkward to stay silent, so I started talking to Sean on my right. And boy did he have an interesting story. It was actually him and 3 of his friends who were flying to Rio. 2 of them had quit their jobs and 2 had taken leaves of absence. He had his sister move into his apartment. They had a flight to Rio and a flight home from Colombia a few months later. In between those tickets, they would take buses and short flights across South America. They would be in Chile for Christmas, so Sean’s mom had a family Christmas the week prior, complete with setting up the Christmas tree. It was so interesting learning about their plans.

Eventually, we realized we needed some sleep. I slept on and off for a few hours and the next time I woke up, the TV screens had a message asking for people with medical training to report to the back of the plane. Now, before leaving, my mom had gotten a little nervous about me flying due to the Ebola scare. She wanted me to take Echinacea as a precaution. I told her that she was crazy because a) nobody on the plane was going to be infected with Ebola and b) if they were, I would probably get it, regardless of the echinacea. So when the announcement came on the screen, obviously my first thought was oh my gosh, my mom was right, I’m going to come down with Ebola!

Luckily, a guy a few rows behind me was a doctor, so a whole bunch of people were huddled in the back of the airplane for a while. I tried not to look too much because I didn’t want to get freaked out. I guess things turned out ok because we didn’t need to make any emergency landings, and nobody was rushed off the plane before everyone else. It made me wonder how likely it is to have a doctor on any given plane. What would the flight attendants do if nobody knew anything medical-related? How much medical training do flight attendants receive? And with those thoughts, I passed out until breakfast.

I happen to love airplane food. I know it doesn’t taste the greatest, but I love the packaging. I just think it’s really fun. I always hope that my body will wake up when the flight attendants come by. I would be so disappointed if I slept through a meal. One of the first things I checked after booking my flight was which meals I would be served. Dinner and breakfast on both flights? Score!

So I got to the airport around 9:30am and met my cousin Marcello. We then waited for my dad’s flight to come in, which was delayed quite a bit, considering that he was supposed to land the day before me. Once we met up with him, we went back to my uncle’s apartment. Then a whole bunch of us went out to lunch for my sister’s birthday at a churrascaria.

Vanessa's birthday at the churrascaria
Vanessa’s birthday at the churrascaria

Then a few of us we went for a walk along Ipanema. It was a beautiful, blue sky day, much nicer than the chilly fall weather I had left in Connecticut.

Walking along Ipanema
Walking along Ipanema

Later we went shopping at a mall and then it was time for bed for me, as I was pretty exhausted after not sleeping more than probably about 5 hours on the flight.

Friday: I always wake up pretty early, so each morning I would get up around 6:30 and read a book or write in my journal. I need to document things that I really want to remember since my memory is not the greatest. Once everyone woke up, a bunch of us went to the beach at Ipanema. The water was actually colder than I had expected, but once you were all the way in, you could get used to it.


We swam for a while and then laid in the sunshine. It felt lovely. I tried matte, a tea/energy type drink that’s common in Rio. I also had coconut water. Then my dad and I want for a walk on Arpoador, a big rock formation between Copacabana and Ipanema.

Later that afternoon, we went hiking up the smaller mountain next to Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar), Morro da Urca. During the hike, we saw some cute little monkeys, though my cousin told me that they’re not the best because they are eating all of the fruit since they’re not native to the area and have no natural predators.

Hiking up Morro da Urca
Hikinh up Morro da Urca

So we hiked up to the top of the mountain and stopped a few times to look at the beautiful views. I love hiking, so I was having a great time.


Once we got to the top, we could see all around Rio. We also saw Sugar Loaf. We didn’t go all the way up to that mountain, but we took pictures in front of it. Then we hung out until 7pm, when we could ride the cable car down for free, rather than hiking down once it was starting to get dark.

Sugar Loaf mountain
Sugar Loaf mountain
Pao de Azucar
Pao de Azucar

Later that night we went out to dinner and then my dad and I went shopping for souvenirs.

Saturday: On Saturday, my uncle asked if I wanted to go for a walk with him. We walked to the end of Copacabana and then ran back. He said it was 8 kilometers, which is about 5 miles. Then we changed into bathing suits and went stand up paddle boarding on the ocean for a little while.

This is
This is the area where we did stand up paddle boarding

Then my dad wanted to go ride bikes, so we biked the 5 miles down to the end of Copacabana and back. We stopped to take a few pictures and get some coconut water.

After riding our bikes to the end of Copacabana
After riding our bikes to the end of Copacabana

Then we went out for lunch and then it was time to get ready for my sister’s wedding. I went to a salon with 2 of my aunts to get my hair, nails, and make-up done. Now, neither of them speak much English, nor did the employees. And I am not a person who typically ever goes to the salon. I had my nails and done only once before (for my 8th grade dinner dance), and I had never had my makeup done. So even speaking fluent English, I wouldn’t exactly know what to ask for. I came prepared with some pictures, and just hoped for the best. Luckily, I’m not super picky, so everything turned out fine. The makeup was a little too dark, and I knew the word for dark was “oscuro,” so I was able to tell the lady to fix that and then I was good to go.

First time ever getting my make up done
First time ever getting my make up done

Since my dad and my cousin were part of the wedding party, we left first to be sure to get to the chapel at PUC (a university in Rio) on time. It was fun seeing all of my family members all dressed up for the wedding.

With my cousins
With my cousins

I was a little nervous about the actual wedding procession since I don’t speak fluent Portuguese and I knew the wedding would be somewhat different from an American wedding. Raphael and I actually processed in after everyone else because we brought in the rings halfway through the ceremony. We stood in the back in the beginning to watch everyone else process in and to watch Vanessa and Carlos say their vows.


The vows
The vows

Then it was our turn to bring the rings up. Raphael and I walked up to the altar, gave the pillow with the rings on it to Carlos, and then we sat next to the rest of the wedding party.


We then took taxis over to the Jockey Club for the reception. There were no assigned seats or tables, so everyone sat wherever they wished for the appetizers. During this time, we took a few pictures with the wedding party.

With my cousin Marcello, also part of the wedding party
With my cousin Marcello, also part of the wedding party

Once Vanessa and Carlos came in, they did their first dance and then the music played almost continuously for the rest of the evening, which was different from American weddings. The bouquet toss was really interesting. Rather than tossing a bouquet of flowers into the air, Vanessa had a bouquet of 6 or 7 stuffed St. Antonio dolls. She tossed those into the air and it was the same idea where any woman who catches one is supposedly going to get married soon. Then the dancing continued.

Their first dance as husband and wife
Their first dance as husband and wife

In the beginning, they played older American disco-type music like “Celebrate” and “Kung Fu Fighting.” Then they played some current, top 40 American music. Then they switched to Brazilian samba music for a while, and then a few more current American songs at the end.

They had some silly glasses, masks, and wigs to wear
They had some silly glasses, masks, and wigs to wear

The wedding festivities continued until around 2am. The desserts were delicious. I didn’t have the wedding cake because they had a whole table of other desserts like brigadeiros, which are my favorite Brazilian candy. They’re kind of like a caramel-y truffle.

With my sister and new brother-in-law!
With my sister and new brother-in-law!

We got home around 3am and by then, I was completely exhausted.

Sunday: Unfortunately, since I had to get back to work, Sunday would be my last day in Brazil. I went out for breakfast with my aunt, cousin, and my cousin’s son. Then I saw Vanessa and Carlos again to give them their wedding presents before they had to leave that evening for their honeymoon.

Opening their wedding presents from my mom and me
Opening their wedding presents from my mom and me

I then went out with my cousins to a burger place for cheeseburgers and dulce de leche milkshakes, which were delicious. Then a big group of us went to do some cool sightseeing around Rio before they had to drop me back off at the airport.

First, we went to a place called the Chinese view, which had a nice place to look out over Rio.

At the Chinese View
At the Chinese View

We then went higher up the mountain at the Parque Nacional da Tijuca to a place where people run and jump off a ledge to hang glide down to the beach. We weren’t planning to go hang gliding, but we did sit on the ledge and take pictures. I like heights, so I thought that was awesome.


With my cousin Gabriel
With my cousin Gabriel

Then we went to a waterfall that was really pretty.



And then we unfortunately had to drive to the airport because I had a flight that evening.

Checking my bag in the airport
Checking my bag in the airport

It was such a great 4 days that I was really sad to be leaving so soon. My family brought me to the airport. They waited while I checked my bag and then they walked me over to the security area. We said our goodbyes and I promised to return again, hopefully for a longer trip this time. Last time (my first time) in Brazil, although I was there for 10 days, I was never in any one place for a very long time because it was Christmas break, and I had a short amount of time to travel to 3 different cities. This time I only had 4 days. So I’m hoping that next time I can stay longer to have time to relax a little and to hopefully learn some Portuguese.

I smiled while waving goodbye to my family, but once I passed the gate for security, I started crying because I was sad to leave. But I know I’ll be back. Who knows, maybe even this summer.

It was a great trip and I’m so thankful for finally knowing my dad’s side of my family and for feeling so welcomed when I go to stay with them.