Category Archives: health

Full Text of the Reproductive Health Act

Since there is an abundance of biased news sources reporting on New York’s Reproductive Health Act of 2019, I have decided to read through the language of the actual bill to ensure a non-biased look into its language.  Full text here.

Here is what stands out to me:

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States.

As a teacher of rhetoric, I know a logical fallacy when I see one.  What evidence is there to back that claim?  The bill itself provides none.  One of the safest medical procedures compared to what?  What exactly constitutes a medical procedure?  Is it safer to have an abortion than to get my blood drawn?  Probably not.  Safer than an EKG?  No.  Safer than an MRI?  Nope.

Here are some risks from abortions:

-pelvic infection

-blood clots in the uterus

-heavy bleeding

-cut or torn cervix

-puncture or tear of the wall of the uterus

-anesthesia-related complications

-scar tissue on the uterine wall, which can lead to future infertility or miscarriages

-depression

(Even the abortion pill can cause bleeding, blood clots, and infection, according to Planned Parenthood’s website)

Okay, let’s keep reading the bill.

A health practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized under title eight of the Education Law, acting within his or her lawful scope of practice, may perform an abortion when according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgement based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”

“Or health” is concerning to me.  This isn’t about saving a mother’s life.  Countless OB-GYNs have said that third trimester abortions are never medically necessary to save a mother’s life because the baby could just be delivered alive and still live.

But what could now fit the “or health” aspect of the bill?  Can a mother who is fed up with gestational diabetes choose an abortion?  One who is sick and on bed rest?  “Health” is much too vague.

“‘Person,’ when referring to a victim of a homicide, means a human being who has been born and is alive.”

So there won’t be any double counts of murder for a guy who murders his pregnant girlfriend.  But what happens if he beats her up badly, but only enough to kill the baby that is living inside of her?  What happens then?

Pregnancy can actually be a trigger for domestic violence.  This bill is not helping that situation at all.

 

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Abortion is Not a Celebration

Every piece of news I hear regarding New York’s Reproductive Health Act of 2019 (RHA) sickens me even worse.  How this law is being celebrated I cannot even fathom.

See, I am against abortion for a variety of reasons, and I understand that some of those reasons coincide with my Catholic faith.  However, I don’t think it is necessary to be Catholic or even to believe in God in order to see how horrible this bill truly is.  And I think that Bishop Scharfenberger explained all of this quite nicely in his letter to Governor Cuomo.

First, he mentioned how Cuomo has said that he is Catholic and has said that we should “stand with Pope Francis” on previous occasions.  He cannot proclaim a Catholic faith while also allowing for the killing of defenseless babies.

The bishop says that this bill is an example of “aggressive extremism,” which is absolutely true.  As a teacher of rhetoric and argument, abortion sometimes comes up in the papers my students write for me.  Although some of them think differently than I do about abortion, they always say that it needs limits.  There is no reason for a woman who is 8 months pregnant to need an abortion.  Even if her life is in danger, the baby can be removed while keeping both the baby and the mother alive.  That baby is fully viable and can live outside of the womb if it isn’t brutally killed.

This bill even allows “non-doctors” to perform abortions.  WHAT?  Nurses, PAs and midwives will be allowed to perform the.  I know that the pro-choice camp likes to mention those dangerous back-alley abortions as a reason for legalization.  But now you don’t even need to be a certified medical doctor?  Abortions already come along with a slew of potential complications that any abortionist readily admits because, like all surgery, there is room for error and side effects.  So now we will allow people who are not certified medical doctors to perform them?  This is NOT a protection of women’s lives; it is the exact opposite.

The bill also removes criminal sanctions for pregnant women who are murdered.  So a perpetrator who kills a pregnant woman will no longer receive two counts of murder, at least in the state of New York.  And what about those angry boyfriends who beat their girlfriends/wives badly enough to kill the baby but not the mother.  He will not be charged with unlawful killing?  Yet we view this as a protection of women’s rights?  I would be more afraid to be a pregnant woman in the state of New York now than before the passing of this bill because I know that I will have no protection if someone wants my baby dead.

The bishop says, “Condoning coerced or involuntary abortions by repealing criminal sanctions even in cases where a perpetrator seeks to make his partner “un-pregnant” through an act of physical violence does not represent any kind of progress in the choice, safety or health of women.”

Typing this, I have a combination of anger and despair.  I am livid that New York has enough politicians who view this bill as a success, but I also grieve for the precious lives that are going to be lost.  I grieve for the mothers who are going to battle depression and potentially suicidal thoughts.  The mothers who may feel guilt for the rest of their lives.  Now I know that not every woman will react this way, but many of them will.

The bishop continues, “Removing protection for an infant accidentally born alive during an abortion is abject cruelty, something most people of conscience would deem inhumane for even a dog or cat. Finally, allowing late-term abortions is nothing less than a license to kill a pre-born child at will.

So what happens if a baby is “accidentally” born alive during abortion?  It can now be killed?  Now we are legalizing infanticide as well?

See, the thing is, that the argument surrounding abortion used to come down to people disagreeing about when life begins: conception, birth, or some time in between.  But that doesn’t even matter anymore.  Anyone would agree that a live baby that is outside of its mother is a living, breathing human being.  But we can still allow for its intentional death?

Nobody used to argue that a woman who was 9 months pregnant didn’t have a human being inside of her.  The problem is that now it doesn’t seem to matter to the world at large when life begins.  They can acknowledge that it is life; they just don’t mind putting an end to that life.

The bishop also says that he finds himself “wondering how it can be viewed as “progress” to have gone from a society working to make abortion “rare” to one that urges women to “shout your abortion” as some advocates of this bill boldly announce.”

Abortion advocates used to say that abortion should be a woman’s right, but they also hoped that it would be rare.  Instead, we now praise the women who have the “courage” to “shout their abortion.”  We seek to put abortions more out in the open.

So an abortion is something to be proud about?  I don’t think too many people are happy about their need for an abortion.  Nobody wants to get pregnant and end it.  It is a difficult process for anyone involved and I don’t think that “shouting out” their abortion is helping the emotional state of these women.

With the #MeToo movement, more women are opening up about sexual harassment and assault that was committed against them.  But they aren’t proud of that fact.  Rather, they are sharing their trauma.

Instead of shouting out about our abortions in a positive way, we need more women shouting about the damage that was done to their bodies, their families, and their emotional well-being as a result of their abortion.  We need them to share the pain they endured (and are still enduring) as a result of their abortion.

We need more people like Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood Director who had abortions herself.  She left Planned Parenthood after 8 years after learning about all of the lies she had propagated while working for them.  She now works to help other abortion workers to leave their jobs.  There is an upcoming film about Abby’s life the is coming out, called Unplanned, and the actress who plays Abby, Ashley Bratcher, knows that she may be blacklisted from future Hollywood films as a result of her involvement with this type of movie.

We need more people like Lila Rose, President of Live Action, who, although never having had an abortion herself, conducts undercover research in abortion facilities across America, exposing how the clinics do not recommend young women who have been victims of statutory rape to report the crime but rather only suggest abortion. (She posed as a 15-year-old girl impregnated by a 23-year-old man and they advised her not to go to the police.)  She has proven that Planned Parenthood intentionally breaks laws and covers up abuse.

We need people like Stephanie Gray, founder of Love Unleashes Life, who is an international speaker who makes logical, secular arguments against abortion.  She has debated abortion advocates.  I watched her debate with late-term abortionist, Dr. Fraser Fellows in front of medical students.  Although she has a religious background, she can shut down pro-choice arguments through the use of stories, questioning, and logical arguments.  She also gave a talk at Google about abortion.

The bishop also said, “How is it progress to ignore the harm that this will do, not only to innocent infants, born and unborn, but to their mothers? Does the heartache of so many New York women who have been pained by their abortion decisions matter? Is anyone listening to them? How is it really “pro-choice” when a law, which claims to guarantee choice, moves to expand only one option for women?

Dr. Fraser Fellows, a late-term abortionist, admitted to Stephanie Gray in their debate that some of the women definitely have emotional problems after their abortion.  But our society isn’t looking at that more closely.  And it’s even interesting that he is considered a late-term abortionist.  He could only perform abortions under 24 weeks gestation.  Now, if he was a New York resident, what he does wouldn’t even be considered late-term.  We can now kill babies at 36 weeks pregnancy.

At 24 weeks old, a baby already looks like a baby.  It has the potential to survive.  This is a premature baby at 24 weeks old:

Image result for baby 24 weeks

Dr. Fellows would dismember it, remove it from the woman, and then piece it back together to ensure that none of it was left inside of the mother.  For many people, this is gruesome to consider.  Many pro-choice advocates even think that this should not be allowed.

But New York just took it a step further.  New York will allow for the death of a fully grown baby, if that is what the mother wishes.  That baby would look more like this one:

Image result for baby at 36 weeks

Stephanie Gray spoke to a woman whose child died as a result of the Rwandan Genocide.  Her child was slaughtered to death with a machete.  Almost anyone would agree that the situation was horrific and despicable.

Yet she said the the death that follows abortion is worse.  Why?  Because she and her child had the ability to run away from their assailant.  The unborn baby has no  protection.

Image result for rwandan genocide  vs abortion image.

The bishop asks some interesting questions as he continues his letter: “If abortion is deemed a fundamental right in New York State, will the State then still be able to issue licenses to pro-life nurses or physicians? Will health facilities which do not provide abortions be certified? Will the law allow that even one dollar be given to maternity services without offering women the “choice” of abortion? These are unanswered questions, but I shudder to think of the consequences this law will wreak. You have already uttered harsh threats about the welcome you think pro-lifers are not entitled to in our state. Now you are demonstrating that you mean to write your warning into law. Will being pro-life one day be a hate crime in the State of New York?

I recently began looking for an OBGYN who does not perform abortions.  This was actually more of a difficult task than I originally expected.  I have to drive an hour to get to this doctor.  My other option is almost 2 hours away.  Not everyone in the state of New Jersey is pro-choice, but it is difficult today to be a pro-life doctor and we don’t even have New York’s new law passed here.

I will not go to a doctor who would give me the option of abortion, but as society supposedly “progresses,” my choices are being eliminated.  I want the choice to have a doctor who is against abortion the same way that I am.  I want to choose to not support an organization that kills babies.  However, I am in a teacher’s union.  Many teacher unions help to fund Planned Parenthood.  Part of the salary of these teachers allows abortions to be performed.  These teachers are forced to perpetuate abortions.  They have no choice.

Give me my choice back.  See, we say we want choice, but that’s far from the truth.  We don’t want women to choose.  We just think we know better.  We think that any unplanned pregnancy would be better off being ended.

But what about adoption?  Is it difficult to endure 9 months of pregnancy only to give the baby away?  Absolutely.  But sometimes that is the best option.  There are many difficult things in life that we simply need to endure.  Is working out difficult? Yes, but if we want a healthy body, we must persist.  Is it difficult to watch a family member suffer through an illness?  Yes, but we don’t just turn our backs on them because it’s too hard.  We suffer with them.  And there is a lot to be said about suffering and its redemptive power.

The people we view as heroes are those who have surpassed insurmountable odds.  Those who have faced horrible situations and suffering but who have made it out stronger.  As human beings, we suffer, plain and simple, but it makes us stronger.

There are so many people in America who yearn to adopt.  Many families struggle with infertility, yet it is difficult to adopt today.  Why?  Because our babies are being killed rather than being put up for adoption.  Now, part of the reason that adoption takes so long in our country is because of the home study and pre-placement period.  But even after that is complete, many people must wait months and even years to have a placement.  Some wait 5 years before bringing a child home.  That’s not just because of the legal process.  It’s because babies that would have been adopted are instead being killed.

In 2016, Planned Parenthood made only 1 adoption referral for every 149 abortions.  Is adoption a difficult option for a pregnant woman?  Absolutely.  But then she has the knowledge that her baby will be safe and loved rather than dead.  An abortion costs around $1500.  Adoption is free because the adoptive family pays for all medical expenses.

If more women who were pregnant and informed about the benefits of adoption, I am sure that the numbers of abortions would decrease, but that’s not the reality.  Planned Parenthood doesn’t want adoptions.  They would lose money.  Their revenue comes mainly from their abortion services.

2019, you’re not looking so great.

First, the longest ever government shutdown which is already posing disastrous effects on thousands of government employees.

Now the RHA being passed in  New York.

These are tough times in which we’re living; they are not times that we should be proud of and celebrate.

 

2018 Year in Review

Just like I have done for the past four years, here is my 2018 review of my year: (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017).

2018 was a complete whirlwind.  We were planning our wedding and honeymoon. I was moving things out of my apartment to make room for AJ to move in after our wedding.  We were attending many other weddings.  I turned 30.  Here are some 2018 stats:

-Attended 8 weddings in 4 different states:

  1. Doug & Leslie – Michigan – May 27
  2. Brady & Emily – Pennsylvania – July 21
  3. Austin & Kate – August 10
  4. Ours – August 18
  5. Steven & Amy – Texas – September 1
  6. Adam & Gabriella – September 22
  7. Sway & Denielle – November 9
  8. Brian & Taynara -November 24

-Attended 2 bachelorette parties, 6 bridal showers, 2 engagement parties, 5 rehearsal dinners

-Spent time in 8 states and 2 countries:

New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Indonesia, Qatar

January:

-Acro yoga during a snowstorm

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley with AJ and my family in Claryville, NY

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February:

-Grandma’s birthday

March:

-My mom’s birthday

April:

-Easter in Connecticut

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-Celebrating my mom’s birthday (belated) going to the churrascaria

-Gina & Shehab’s engagement party

-AJ’s birthday: carrot cake, Indian buffet, and Kane brewery

-Leslie’s bridal shower

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May:

-Mother’s Day in Connecticut

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-Kate’s bridal shower

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-Doug & Leslie’s rehearsal dinner in Michigan

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-Doug & Leslie’s wedding in Michigan

-LBHS senior prom

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June:

-My bridal shower in New Jersey

-Father Walter’s goodbye Mass

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-AP English Language & Composition scoring in Tampa, Florida

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-LBHS graduation

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July:

-My Connecticut bridal shower

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-Grandpa’s birthday

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-Belmar Five Miler with AJ

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-Early birthday mini-golf & churrascaria dinner for my 30th birthday

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-BBQ with Bible study friends

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-Parasailing with AJ for my early birthday present

-Early birthday dinner with my mom & AJ at the Bedrock Bistro

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-Surprise birthday gift from AJ: a map to track our travels

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-My 30th birthday and  Brady & Emily’s rehearsal dinner in Pennsylvania

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-Brady & Emily’s wedding

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-Went to Mass at Franciscan University the day after Brady’s wedding, which was the first time I returned after graduating in May 2010

-Gabriella’s bachelorette party at the beach

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-Long Beach Island with my mom

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August:

-Kate & Austin’s wedding

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-Gabriella’s bridal shower

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-Spending time with Vanessa and Carlos before my wedding

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-My bachelorette dinner at the Shrimp Box

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-Our rehearsal dinner

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-Our wedding day

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-Bali honeymoon: part 1 – 4 days in Ubud:

-Hiking up Mount Batur to see the sunrise:

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-Seeing/jumping off of/sliding down lots of waterfalls:

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-Walking through the rice terraces:

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-Enjoying our private villa with a private pool:

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(and temples, monkey forest, wandering around downtown Ubud)

-Bali honeymoon part 2 – 4 days in Sanur:

-Hidden canyon hike:

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-Melasti Beach:

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-Bali Seawalker:

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-Layover in Qatar and a tour of the city of Doha

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-Amy & Steven’s rehearsal dinner in Texas

September:

-Amy & Steven’s wedding in Texas

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-Starting my 9th year of teaching, which began with a district meeting at the beach

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-Denielle’s bridal shower

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-Gabriella & Adam’s wedding

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October:

-Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze in Sleepy Hollow with AJ’s college friends

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November:

-Sway & Denielle’s wedding

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-Thanksgiving with AJ’s family

-Brian & Taynara’s wedding

December:

-AJ’s work Christmas party – AJ won physical therapist of the year for his company!

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-Christmas Eve in Connecticut at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas Day in Connecticut at my aunt and uncle’s house (with their new puppy)

-Christmas Holy Hour with the Young Adults in Faith at the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine

-Game night at AJ’s parents’ house

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It was a busy year, so I’m hoping for a calmer 2019 and excited to see what life brings.

30 Years of Memories

I turned 30 on Friday.  I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet.  30.  Like 3-0.  Like I am no longer in my twenties.  I’m an actual adult, and although this has been the case for over ten years, it still doesn’t feel as though that is the case.

When I turned 28, I wrote a blog called “28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years” and they are still true today, so rather than writing about my 30 years of wisdom, I wanted to write out 30 years of memories.  Now, I don’t have memories from when I was a baby or toddler, so rather than writing something for each year, I am going to write about 30 memories that stand out in my mind.

1. Long Beach Island vacations with my mom

7856_699041469580_1359668740_nEvery year since I can remember, we spent time in LBI.  After she was divorced, we spent time at LBI at the house my grandparents rented, but as soon as she was able to, we started going to LBI for yearly vacations, usually around my birthday.

2. Growing up in Candlewood Shores

I loved growing up so close to the lake.  I spent tons of time at the beach, swimming in the lake, kayaking, and walking my dog around the neighborhood.  During the winter, I would go sledding in my yard or on the hill at the end of my dead-end road.

3. Frost Valley adventures with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins

1928832_505726713900_6999_nAlso every year since I remember, I have been going to Frost Valley with some of my family members for a long weekend in January.  I have so many memories of the great times I’ve had at Frost Valley.  Tubing, cross country skiing, hiking, using the low ropes course, the cable bridges, exploring, building snowmen, hiking to the observatory.

4. Myrtle Beach vacations

I went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina three times with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins.  Going to the beach, boogie boarding, swimming in the pool, hunting for hermit crabs in the gullies at night, getting ice cream, playing mini-golf.

5. Family parties

I was always excited to attend frequent family parties.  My favorite were those that took place in the summer at the marina where my grandparents kept their boat.  We would swim, barbecue, and go out for boat rides.  I am grateful that my family has always been so close, getting together for birthdays, Christmas Eve and Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, you name it.

6. Birthdays

Having a summer birthday, I always felt like my birthday lasted forever.  I would have a birthday party with my friends, and then I would also have other birthday celebrations with my family and at Long Beach Island with my mom.

7. Getting Adam Sandler’s autograph

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Adam Sandler came to Connecticut to shoot part of the film, Mr. Deeds.  Fun fact of the day: Winchestertonfieldville, Iowa is actually a town called New Milford.  And the film was set in the winter, but it was shot in June, so the film crew had to make fake snow each day.

My mom and I went to see part of the filming and we stood in line for hours waiting for Adam Sandler’s autograph.  My mom also got to meet Peter Gallagher and she saw Winona Ryder.

8. Butterscotch

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I remember begging my mom for years to get a dog.  Finally, on my sixteenth birthday at Long Beach Island, my mom surprised me by telling me that her gift to me was going to be a dog.  It took a little while to find the right one, but when we entered that shelter in Monroe, I fell in love with Butterscotch immediately.  My mom was a bit unsure since he really wasn’t excited to see us or play with us.  I think that he was just too hot since it was August.  But he ended up becoming a significant member of our family.  We had ten awesome years with Butterscotch.  I wish I could have had a few more, but I will always remember the memories of that cute little guy, and all of the places we went like Kent Falls and Tarrywile.

9. Anti-Prom Party

I know that my mom still regrets my decision to skip my senior prom (or any other high school dance, for that matter), but I do not.  My friends and I had an anti-prom party, which consisted of going to the playground, going out to dinner for pizza, going to Il Bacio’s for ice cream, and then watching movies and having a sleepover.

10. Steubenville East retreat with my youth group

Although I hated my mom for forcing me to go, Steubenville East was the pivotal turning point in my faith journey.  It was there that I decided to devote my life to Christ, and also the time during which I realized that I had an interest in Franciscan University, even though the distance terrified me.

11. My first flight to the Dominican Republic with my mom

1928832_505725611110_8849_n (1)Once I knew that I would be attending Franciscan, my mom wanted me to get on an airplane in case I ever had to fly home from college.  As it turns out, I did fly home twice from college (once to attend my goddaughter’s baptism and once to go to a Lyme disease specialist).  So my mom planned a trip to DR to celebrate her 50th birthday and to get me on an airplane.  I was extremely scared on the flight, and I still don’t exactly enjoy flying, but I’m happy to have conquered my fear since I now travel quite a bit.

12. Franciscan University of Steubenville

I’m so grateful for the education that I received from Franciscan – not just in terms of the teaching pedagogy but also my faith formation.  I was fully prepared to enter the classroom after graduating thanks to the fabulous faculty members at Franciscan and their strong education program. And in terms of Franciscan’s passionate Catholicism, I don’t know where I would be today in my faith journey if it were not for Franciscan.

13. Becoming a Godmother

18700536_10100108079416230_3671843442035731509_oMy goddaughter, Abby, was born during my freshman year of college, so I flew home to go to her baptism.  I can’t believe how old she has gotten and how quickly time is passing.

14. Getting Lyme Disease

I was on a walking pilgrimage in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with my youth group.  I loved the experience, but a week later, I was as sick as a dog, unsure what was wrong with me.  Once starting my sophomore year at Franciscan, I learned that I had Lyme, which is relatively treatable in most people.  Little did I know how much it would change my life, turning into chronic Lyme.  But I have grown in many ways as a result of the Lyme, so although I don’t necessarily embrace it, I see how God has used it to form and strengthen me.

15. ResQ

1929958_509778648790_8041_n 2I can’t really remember how I wrote my first rap, but I just randomly found a beat, wrote a rap, and eventually met Oscar (aka II X).  We recorded six songs together during my years at Franciscan and we performed at three coffeehouses.

16. First mission trip in Ecuador

I had been scheduled to study abroad in Austria, but had to cancel as a result of the Lyme disease since I would not be able to bring enough antibiotics into Europe to last me for an entire semester.  Looking back, I am so happy that I never made it to Austria because if I had, I would have never been able to sign up for a spring break mission trip.  Ecuador was a tough trip — definitely the most grueling mission trip I have yet to experience, but I also found my love for the missions field while there.  We hiked for hours through the mud, carrying heavy backpacks, guitars, and bags full of medical supplies.  We brought doctors, nurses, and priests into remote, jungle areas outside of Misahualli to serve the people.  We set up medical clinics, played with the children, prayed with the communities, had Masses and baptisms, and spent time with the people.

17. First Year of Teaching in Bridgeport, CT

It was a crazy year: starting at Paul Laurence Dunbar School, teaching 7th and 8th grade reading and language arts only to be transferred in October to Central High School to teach 9th and 10th grade due to overcrowded classes.

18. Traveling to San Diego, California

184596_550658969300_3900568_nAfter graduating from Franciscan, I missed my two closest friends, Lizzy and Amy.  Lizzy lived in Virginia and Amy lived in California.  For spring break, I flew out to San Diego to visit Amy and her housemates and fellow Franciscan alumni, Kara and Lea.  Lizzy also flew out and it was so nice getting to see everyone again while exploring beautiful San Diego.

19. Four Years of Teaching in Danbury, CT

I loved working in Bridgeport, but had to switch jobs due to a budget crisis that took place the year that I was hired.  Little did I know that Danbury High School had group of staff members that were incredibly welcoming.  I absolutely loved my four years in Danbury and it was extremely difficult when I decided to leave that job to move to New Jersey.  I remember the tears I shed walking out the doors for the last time and I still miss my fellow colleagues there, but I am very happy teaching in Long Branch now.

20. Traveling to Brazil to meet my sister and Brazilian family

252120_661138756920_781866846_nAfter my sister messaged me on Facebook back in 2012, I was excited to plan a trip to Brazil to finally meet my family.  I went there during Christmas break and it was a whirlwind of a trip.  We had 11 flights in 10 days, traveling to Manaus, Cruzeiro do Sul, and Rio de Janeiro.  I met my sister and her fiance at the time, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  My grandpa died not too long after my trip to Brazil, so I am thankful that I was able to meet him before his passing.  Since then I have traveled to Brazil twice: once for my sister’s wedding and once for my grandmother’s 99th birthday.

21. Teaching Trip in Haiti

22008_693890252660_823665868_nA fellow teacher at DHS informed me about a trip for teachers to Port-au-Prince where they needed teachers to provide professional development to teachers in Haiti through Project Teach.  Many teachers in Haiti only have a high school education, so we taught them how to utilize more engaging strategies.  Since I had only been teaching for three years at the time, it was incredibly humbling to be providing professional development to the class of teachers in front of me.  One of the men had been teaching for 35 years and yet he was eager to hear every strategy I had to share.

22. Running a marathon

1378251_710296374660_118341198_nAfter getting Lyme, I was determined that I would start running once my health improved.  I first signed up for a half marathon and then my first full marathon.  Since then, I have completed 5 half marathons, two full marathons, two Spartan Beasts, one super Spartan, three Spartan sprints,  one Tough Mudder, two Belmar Five Milers, and one 10-K.

23. Seeing Eminem in concert

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Eminem has been my favorite musician since some time around eighth grade when I was finally allowed to buy his CDs once we found the edited versions at FYE. When I heard that he was coming to perform with Rihanna at MetLife Stadium for their Monster Tour, I knew that I had to go.  I spent more than I would ever spend again on a concert to go and then arrived super early on the day of the concert to ensure that I would be in the front row since my section was standing room only.

24. Moving to New Jersey

The timeline was crazy.  Go to the last interview for Long Branch and accept the job offer.  Find an apartment in under a week.  Go on a mission trip to Rwanda.  Pack up my apartment in Danbury and fill a U-Haul.  Drive to Jersey to begin my new teacher professional development day at Long Branch while living out of a spare bedroom at my ex-boyfriend’s parents’ house while I wait for my apartment to be ready.  Leave work to meet my mom and uncle at my house with the U-Haul to begin unloading.  Go to my first day of work while my house is a mess of boxes.

25. Scoring AP exams

13450962_910561681380_7318586538020961940_nI traveled to Kansas City, Missouri for my first year scoring AP exams and I was really excited to get to room with my friend from DHS and to see my friend, Kristin, who was a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo.  I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to Tampa, Florida, twice for AP scoring.  I have learned so much through my years of scoring and it always helps me to improve my teaching practice.

26. Mission trip to Nicaragua with Living Water International

14138684_930197101840_4572372580567899979_oI went to Nicaragua for a week to help drill a well for a community that lacked access to clean water.  We also provided hygiene lessons, played with the kids, and did arts and crafts with the women and children while the men were working on drilling the well.  Our translator was sick, so I also helped to translate Bible stories into Spanish, despite the fact that I hadn’t really been practicing my Spanish much.

27. Becoming a part of Young Adults in Faith

14890390_947361404440_2687692922311237888_o 2I had been wanting to start a Catholic young adult group at my church in Belmar, but our parish doesn’t have that many young adults.  I met Gabriella, a Catholic DJ who soon became a close friend.  She invited me to Bible study and holy hour and I became a member of Young Adults in faith, which has been such a blessing.  Through the group, I have formed great friendships and that is also where I met AJ.

28.  Mission trip to Rwanda with Go Be Love International

I had always wanted to travel to Africa, so I was extremely excited about having the opportunity to volunteer there.  We traveled to Gisenyi, which borders Lake Kivu, Bugesera, where some of the most poor Rwandans live and Kigali, the capital of the country.  We volunteered our time, shared our love, and we visited the Genocide Memorial Museum to keep everything in perspective.  And then I stayed two extra days to meet Patience, my sponsored child, and to go gorilla trekking.

29.Mission trip to Uganda with Go Be Love International

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Last summer I traveled again with Go Be Love, but this time to Uganda, where we visited a children’s prison, volunteered with Sole Hope to remove jiggers and provide people with a pair of shoes that had been made from jeans that were donated and cut by myself and my students at Long Branch, and we volunteered at Amani Baby Cottage.

30. My relationship with AJ

When was your first date?  People sometimes ask that, but we never really had one.  We met at Bible study, initially not considering a relationship at all.  I thought AJ was a lot younger than me.  He thought that I was into the dating scene and interested in older guys.  But during Bible study, we noticed some similarities, especially regarding working out and our love for spending time outside.  The first time we hung out together was to go kayaking.  Then we went hiking at Hartshorne Park (one of the most fun days ever) and out to dinner at Mr. Shrimp for Restaurant Week.  Then we went to the movies to see Hacksaw Ridge.  Soon we were hanging out all of the time.  Eventually, I went to the Poconos with him for his friend, Sway’s birthday, and I guess the rest is history.

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I have so many other memories, but these are the ones that came to mind the most quickly.  30 years of adventures, and so many more still in store.

 

 

The Almighty Dollar

In America, the almighty dollar is our God.  Attaining wealth seems to be everyone’s goal.  Although I’m aware of this, I still find myself getting caught up in that idea from time to time.

I’m an English teacher – not a job that will ever cause me to be rich, but I love it.  My job fulfills me and for that I am grateful.  I get to work with around 100 students every year, helping to prepare them not only for college and careers, but also guiding them through life.  Some of them come talk to me about their struggles.  Others cry in my room about failed relationships.  I try to do my best to be strong role model for them and teach them that being an ethical, kind human being ultimately matters more than a hefty paycheck.

I understand that money is necessary; I’m not saying that money is evil.  However, as a teacher, I am earning enough to pay for life’s necessities, and I still save to go on vacations, mission trips, and out to dinner.

Yet people in America think that we all need to be climbing a ladder to our fortune.  I got my master’s degree because in the state of Connecticut, it was required to get it before one’s fifth year of teaching.  And yes, of course it was nice to get the increase in pay as a result.

Now, people suggest that I get my administrative degree.  That’s the next step, after all, isn’t it?

I don’t think it is.  These people started to get into my head, especially after I moved to New Jersey and started working at a job that pays for some tuition reimbursement.  I would be foolish not to take that opportunity, right?  I could become a principal and earn six figures.

Don’t get me wrong; becoming a principal isn’t a bad thing.  I know people who have done just that and are very happy in their new positions, but I don’t believe that it is for me.  If I worked to become a principal, the only reason I would be doing it would be for wealth and maybe those worldly feelings of “success.”

I say worldly because I believe that I have already attained success.  To me, success has more to do with happiness than wealth.  I love my job as a teacher.  I don’t want to become a principal because I would be removed from the classroom.  I wouldn’t get to form hundreds of relationships with students each year.  Sure, I would know some of them, but it would be much different.  I wouldn’t be teaching the English content that I love.

Teaching should not be viewed as the bottom rung on any ladder to success.  To me, it is the top.  That doesn’t mean that I am complacent.  Rather, I want to continue improving in my practice and finding more ways to help my students to achieve.  I don’t think that I have to become a principal in order to do that.  Who knows, maybe after 15 years of teaching, my opinion will change.  If it does, then I may consider the administrative track, but right now, I am happy and that is enough.

I consider myself, like most Americans, to be goal-oriented.  I have finished my eighth year of teaching and I am proud of the progress that I have made since my first year.  I can continue to make goals for myself, despite my desire to remain a teacher.  I have goals that relate specifically to teaching, but I have other goals aside from my career.  I would like to buy a house after I get married.  There are certain places that I want to travel to.  If I become a mother,  I hope to raise children who will be faithful Catholics.  And my ultimate goal is for my fiance and myself to make it to Heaven.

I think that Americans believe that their goals must correlate to their careers, but there are so many other things to shoot for.  How about we all strive to help the poor, the homeless, the victims of violence?  How about we strive to make a positive impact on the world? How about we strive to be the best versions of ourself – the most generous and kind? How about we strive to spend quality time with our loved ones rather than remaining in the office, only concerned about dollar signs?

Studies have found, when researching the lives of people who have won the lottery, that they end up no happier than the average American after seven years have passed.  We all think that million dollar fortune is what we need, but maybe we just need a day at the beach with our best friend.  Maybe we just need time to play with our kids.  Maybe we just need time to pray and maintain our relationship with God.

One aspect of my job that I love is that I have summers off.  I don’t work much in the summer, other than some part-time summer school.  I know that people look down on me for that, thinking that I’m being lazy.  Excuse me, but as a teacher, I spend hours of unpaid time during the school year planning lessons, calling parents, sending emails, and grading papers.  I get to work by 6:30am and usually leave around 2:40pm, but work is by no means over at 2:40.  I usually work out and then continue my hours of grading or planning.  I work for every penny I earn; the difference is that I do it over the course of 10 months rather than 12.  If I have the ability to take the summer off, I would rather not be judged for doing so.

If I am in a situation in the future where I need to work in the summer to provide for my family, then sure, I’ll find a job.  But Americans forget about our need to relaxation.  I LOVE my summer break.  I get to revive my faith life, since I can finally attend some daily Masses.  I restore my health, working out sometimes twice a day since I have the time to do so.  I read for pleasure.  During the school year, I rarely find the time to read books aside from the ones I’m using for my lesson plans.

Some teachers have to work in the summer and I understand that, but I don’t.  I am careful with my spending.  I have the same, old car, that I bought used 7 years ago, full of dents and scrapes.  My clothing was mostly bought at Kohl’s on the clearance rack on a day when I had a 30% off coupon.  I am frugal with my money so that I can enjoy my life and not work during every free minute.

I wish that more people could act like this rather than literally working themselves to death.  They always say how nobody ends up on their death bed wishing they had spent more time at work.  They instead wish that they had more time with their families, traveling, simply enjoying life.

Unfortunately for some families, there is no other option.  Life can be difficult and I know that some people do need to work as much as possible simply to get food on the table.  But for many people, that is not the case.  For many of them, it is their greed that has turned them into workaholics.

My fiance is more new to his career than I am and I can see how the world gets to him at times.  He loves helping people through his job as a physical therapist, yet he sometimes talks about different positions he could one day attain, which would come along with a higher salary.  He seems surprised when I don’t care at all.  I tell him how I would prefer him to earn a lower salary than his current one if it meant more time together.  I don’t need wealth; I need a fulfilled life.  I don’t care if he accrues so much in his retirement fund that we can retire to a beautiful, beach-front location; I would rather be happy now, when I am young enough to take advantage of life’s adventures.  Sure, he could maybe become a director of his own practice one day, but at what cost to our lives and our relationship?

We can make good decisions and maintain our savings and retirement funds while also enjoying life now.  After all, only God knows how long our lives will be; retirement money will do us no good if we don’t take care of our health.

This probably sounds a bit hypocritical to anyone who has been talking to me lately since money has gotten a strong hold of my mind since I have to spend so much on wedding planning.  But I’m definitely not proud of that.  I know the financial aspects of the wedding stress me out, but I have to remember to regroup and realize what matters.  I don’t care if my friend has a more beautiful flower bouquet than mine at her wedding.  I don’t care if my wedding doesn’t impress people as much as others.  I just want to have a beautiful sacramental marriage to the man I love, and who pushes me to grow in my holiness every single day, surrounded by our family and friends.  And then I want to enjoy every second of our honeymoon, since AJ and I have never had an entire 10 days (or even two) to ourselves ever before.

So don’t try to impress me with your fancy car, your designer clothes, or your six-figure paycheck.  I don’t care.  Are you happy?  Does your job or vocation fulfill you?  Do you spend time with your loved ones?  Do you have the time to take care of yourself and exercise?  Do you take time to relax and unwind? Do you give back and help the less fortunate? Or has the almighty dollar become your God?

Faith & Exercise = Essential, Not Optional

My faith is the number one most important aspect of my life.  My loved ones would come second, but right after that is exercise.  My fiance would likely say the same thing regarding his own life.

Many people I encounter cannot understand that about us.  When I complain about my busy week, they don’t understand why I still make time for holy hour on Monday night, FCA on Wednesday morning at work, Bible study on Thursday night, Mass on Sunday, and additional time spent in prayer.  I mean, that’s over four hours of my week, after all.

Others who do understand my faith cannot understand my workout regimen.  If I’m having a busy week, I should just skip the gym, shouldn’t I?  I don’t need to bother with that run.  I look like I’m in decent shape.  What’s one missed day?

Although it’s true that one missed day at the gym won’t kill me, I believe it’s that exact mindset that has led to the obesity epidemic.

We’re all busy.  We have jobs, families, and unexpected emergencies.  We must go grocery shopping, cook meals, eat, work, clean, and sleep.  If I let my workout be an optional activity that only occurred when I had extra time, it would NEVER happen.

I always have more items on my to-do list.  There is always something more that can be done.  That is why my workout, just like my faith life, is not optional.  Rather, they are both entirely necessary.

So I’ll start with faith since that’s number one.

#1: Faith

My goal is simple: get to Heaven.  That’s it.  That’s why I’m on this earth.  I want to live the best possible life that I can while I am here, and yes, I want the joys that life entails, but ultimately, everything is meaningless if I do not get to spend eternity with Jesus Christ in Heaven.

Do I always act like that is my top goal?  No.  Just like anyone else, I sin, I fall, I get overwhelmed by this life. There are many times when I focus my eyes on happiness, success, my career, and other false idols, but I get back up and try my best to refocus my eyes on the true prize: eternity.

If I place anything on a pedestal ahead of God, then I am telling Him that I want that item/person/feeling/accolade/job more than I want Him.  If I fight for a promotion with every minute of my time, then I am telling the Lord that the job is more significant than Him.  If I love my fiance more than I love God, then I am worshipping him rather than God.  God has to remain first.

And if I really think about the amount of hours I spend in prayer, it isn’t nearly enough.  To the world, it looks like a lot.  A whole hour at Mass on Sunday? And then another hour at adoration on Monday? Bible study every week?  How do I do it?

Let’s be clear here: I’m no saint.  Compared to the world, yes, maybe that’s more than the average person.  But if God is number one, then does one hour a few times a week really suffice?  Absolutely not.

I don’t always follow these ideals.  Sometimes my hectic life gets the best of me.  Planning my wedding this year has been a trying task.  When I went to confession a few months back, though, the priest gave me great advice: make each of my tasks into a prayer.  I can’t stop planning my wedding.  Sure, there are certain items that must be crossed of the list; however, I can take my frustration and offer it as a prayer instead of a complaint.

We should strive to live a life in which every mundane task becomes a prayer.  Stuck in traffic?  Pray.  Offer it up.  Getting out of bed in the morning?  Thank God for a new day.  Annoyed by someone at work? Pray for that person. Going to bed?  Thank Him for the day, even if it was a difficult one.  Now, I haven’t perfected this myself, but I’m working on it.

Too many Catholics squeeze in Mass only when it fits.  Sports and football have become their gods.  Football game?  Sorry, gotta skip church.  Son has baseball practice?  Oh well, no time for church.  Went to a wedding Saturday night and slept in on Sunday?  Oops, too bad, need my sleep.

Maybe you didn’t realize, but there are so many Catholic masses that there isn’t an excuse to miss it.  I can go to Mass on Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday midday, or Sunday evening.  There is even a church in my area that offers Mass at 7:30pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Others have Mass at 6:45am on Sunday.  So no, that football game isn’t an excuse.  You’re just being too lazy to get to the Mass that takes place first thing in the morning.

If Heaven is my goal, then God must be first, not an afterthought.

Which brings me to my next priority: exercise.

#2: Exercise

My mom’s side of the family is not too keen on exercise.  Luckily, I think I inherited some of the genes from my dad’s side of the family.  Exercise is a huge part of my life.

Now, this wasn’t always the case.  I never played a team sport.  I wasn’t ever overweight, probably because I don’t have the biggest appetite in the world, but I definitely wasn’t very athletic.  I was active, but I never had much of a routine other than following along to some pilates videos after school.  I mainly just wanted to grow (I heard that pilates can help to lengthen your spine, and I was 5’1.5″ at the time) and I wanted abs.  When I was younger and visited my dad on the weekends, we would bike and rollerblade, so I wasn’t that kid who was always in front of the television, but I wasn’t as active as all of the kids on sports teams.

Then everything changed after I got Lyme disease.  Suddenly, I had a hard time just walking across campus during my sophomore year of college.  All I wanted to do was run, so I decided that if I ever got better, I would start running.

That’s what I did; I started running, little by little.

And then I relapsed.  But once I started regaining my health, I began running again.

Initially, I’ll admit, the running was for aesthetic reasons.  I did not like what the Lyme medicine had done to my body.  I had never worried about my weight, but Mepron, the last antibiotic I took, was not water soluble; it only dissolved in fat.  I had to take it twice a day, both times with about 20 grams of fat.

Not only was I sick and unable to work out, but I had to take my medicine with fat.  I didn’t gain more than about 10-12 pounds, but on a 5’2″ frame (I guess the pilates worked for that last half inch), that is quite a lot.  Just looking at my face, the difference was apparent.

Here is the progression of my face:

Fall 2007 (pre-Lyme), freshman year of college:

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Summer 2010, after college; had been battling Lyme for about 3 years:

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Summer 2013, after I had been running regularly:

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Did I start exercising for the health benefits?  No.  I just wanted my smaller body back.  But the more I ran, the better I felt.  It seemed ironic because when I was sick with Lyme, my back and knees would ache like crazy.  Running didn’t seem like it would be the best exercise for me, but the more I ran, the less my knees hurt.

I signed up for my first ever race: a half marathon.  Then a full marathon.  Then I just kept running and racing in either running races or Spartan obstacle races and a Tough Mudder.

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Hartford Marathon – 2013
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Atlantic City Marathon – 2016

Now, it hasn’t been easy.  I’ve relapsed since then.  I didn’t get to run any races at all during 2015, but I’ve found a direct correlation between eating healthy, exercising, and the disappearance of my Lyme symptoms.

If I get too busy to work out, I start to notice back pain.  My workout is therefore not an extra part of my life; rather, it is essential to maintain healthy functioning and keep the Lyme at bay.

Sometimes the people around my fiance and I cannot understand why we are so regimented with our workouts (him even more than me).  Although he doesn’t have a chronic disease, he values his workouts just as much as I do, if not more.

I just wish that more people could understand that our bodies weren’t meant to sit on the couch for hours on end, watching Netflix.  My students cannot fathom this.  How can I not have a television?  Or a Netflix subscription?  Or a video game console?What do I do in my free time?  Well, I don’t have that much free time because of my devotion to God and my ability to prioritize my exercise.

My fiance works insane hours, yet he still wakes up every day to do two things: go to Mass and go to the gym.  These are not options for him, but requirements to a fulfilled life.

So many people say they cannot find the time for exercise.  I understand that.  The problem is that you will never find the time.  Rather, you must make the time.

I work a full time job.  I have an apartment.  I cook my meals, clean, do my laundry.  I spend lots of time grading papers since I’m a high school English teacher.  I know that I have fewer tasks than others since I’m not yet married and I don’t have children, but it’s not like I have tons of free time.  I have to keep my workouts as part of my schedule.

When I’m training for a marathon, the schedule is easy.  I need to get that weekend long run in no matter what.  Whether that is 8 miles, 13 miles, or 20 miles, I have to find the time.  I plan around it since those long runs are crucial to success on race day.  I do speed work on Wednesdays.  Again, a crucial step if I want to beat my previous times.  I have other runs built around those two days, plus cross training, strength training, stretching, and yoga because I want to be my best.

The same is true with my faith life.  My Sundays are planned around the Mass I will be attending.  Thursdays are planned around Bible study.  These are not added bonuses that only occur if I find the time.

Right now I’m not training for anything, so it’s easier to skip workouts on busy days.  Does that happen occasionally?  Sure.  Life happens.  But most weekdays, you will find me at the gym after work.  Or, if the weather is nice, I can be found running on the boardwalk, at the reservoir, or working out outside.  That’s my schedule.  That’s what I do to keep myself sane, happy, healthy, and Lyme-free.

Watching the video below is actually what prompted me to write this blog.  It’s about the benefits of exercise on our brain.  So if you have no other reason to make exercise a part of your routine, do it for your brain and to prevent or delay dementia and Alzheimer’s.

 

Now I know that people will probably continue be baffled by me for keeping my faith as my exercise priorities, but I just don’t care.  They can view me as insane.  That’s fine.

All I know is that at the end of the day, my faith and my exercise are what I need for a fulfilled, healthy life.

Wedding Blues

I feel like such a complainer, but I can’t even describe the hatred I feel towards wedding planning.  I know, I sound like a stupid, stuck up, spoiled girl.  Oh, life sucks, my boyfriend proposed and I’m getting married.  Life is so hard.  But it does suck.  I hate it.

I have seven weddings to attend in 2018 including my own.  Yes, SEVEN.  I’m a teacher and my fiance has tons of student loans.  It’s not like we can easily afford all of this.  Not to mention, I’m a bridesmaid in two of the weddings and he is the best man in one and a groomsman in another.  So we’re involved in a significant way in 5 out of 7 of the weddings.  Oh, and one will require a flight to Michigan (plus hotel), one will require a flight to Texas (plus hotel), and one will require a six-hour drive to Pittsburgh (plus hotel).

Right now we’re expecting to pay over $5,000 just on the other weddings between the flights, hotels, dresses, tuxedos, presents, showers, and bachelor/bachelorette parties.  For ours, we’re trying to keep a tight budget, but getting married in New Jersey by the shore is not cheap.

I’m not having an engagement party or bachelorette party.  We’re having brunch instead of dinner, we removed the cake to save some money, I’m probably going to use old shoes and do my own makeup, possibly even my own hair.  We’re hoping to rent SUVs instead of hiring drivers or limos or fancy cars.  We got free engagement photos and super cheap save the dates.  We’re using a videographer who is a friend and a DJ we know through family.  I’m looking for cheap invitations that still look nice.  My mom is hemming the dresses I need for the other weddings we’re attending.  I feel like we’re trying to cut prices wherever possible.

I am also doing everything I can to save money in my day to day life.

Ibotta app?  Got it.  I’m sending in every receipt when I go grocery shopping or to the drugstore because every 50 cent reward adds up.  So far I’ve earned $22.  Dosh app? Got it, but since we’re not going out to dinner since it’s cheaper to eat at home, I haven’t really made money there.  QuickThoughts survey app?  Yep, that too.  I’ve made $30 since January.

IPSOS I-Say surveys?  Yep, I do those.  I’ve made $25 since January.  Not bad.  MyPoints website?  Yep, I do that also.  $10 made since January.  Ebates installed to my computer?  Yes, but I don’t really buy much online, so it’s taking time to earn much.

But all of that work still only comes to a grand total of $87.  That’s enough for my left shoe.  (Okay, that might be a bit hyperbolic, but that’s how it feels.  I’m actually most likely re-using shoes I already own because who the heck is going to see them anyway?)

I’m thankful that I can grade AP exams in June and teach summer school this summer to earn extra money, but still, it’s all overwhelming.

And then there’s everything I’ve given up.  My sessions hot yoga ran out, so I’m not buying any new ones.  I’m not signing up for any Spartan races or half marathons this year.  My fiance and I aren’t going out to dinner, out to aquariums or museums, or really doing anything that costs money.  I bought a Groupon the other day so that we could at least get a cheap dinner at a pizza place because there is nothing to do anymore on the weekend aside from reading and building puzzles and discussing more wedding plans.

I used to only buy organic foods, but now I’m buying regular eggs, some regular produce, and even some regular meat.  I hate that because I know how unhealthy that is, with all of the antibiotics present, but I can get 3 pounds of turkey for $7.  Wild salmon for $17.99/lb is a thing of the past.

I even have frickin frozen pizza in my freezer.  I cannot even remember a time when I bought non-organic frozen pizza.  I honestly don’t think I ever have before.  But guess what?  Freschetta frozen pizza was not only on sale at the supermarket — it also came with a $1 rebate on Ibotta.  So one pizza cost me $3.  That is 2 to 2 1/2 meals for me.  I just can’t beat the price.

Yet at the same time, I’d like to be in my best shape for the wedding, so I’ve been working out any time I have a free moment.  Unfortunately, that time is limited since I’m staying late at work any time I can to help students with assignments so that I can earn a few more dollars.  So my workouts are inconsistent, and I’m occasionally eating garbage like frozen pizza, yet working toward abs.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t really work like that.

I don’t want to go to any doctors.  I should go to the eye doctor because my contacts have been bothering me, but instead, I’m just using eye drops to remove my red eyes.  My students probably think I’m high or something.

I am looking into a naturopath to go to for my Lyme, but again, it’s unlikely to happen unless my insurance covers it because I know how expensive that will be if I’m paying out of pocket.  I should find an OB-GYN since I haven’t gone to one of those since living in CT, but that’s another expense.  I’m praying for no cavities because my dental insurance sucks, so if I get a cavity, that’s a chunk of our wedding budget immediately gone.

And I’m not even going to get started on the whole living situation.  I’d like to buy a house in the near future, but every $1000 spent on the wedding is $1000 less in our savings to purchases a house one day.

I just feel like there is nothing to look forward to other than my honeymoon.  I have no spring break plans, obviously.  I can’t afford to plan a fun weekend for my fiance’s birthday like I did last year.  On my 30th birthday, we’ll be driving 6 hours to a wedding.  I’m not excited for anyone else’s birthday because again, that’s just more money being spent.

I should be excited for our wedding, but all I can think about is how excited I am for the wedding to be over.  I don’t really enjoy weddings anyway, so I have a lot of weekends of wedding showers and weddings coming up in 2018, which isn’t my favorite thing in the world.

And I usually go on a mission trip every summer, but I’ve cut that from my expenses as well.  So now I feel even worse because here I am spending all of this money on one day of my life when that same amount of money could have saved so many children from poverty across the world.  I could travel on at least five overseas mission trips for the amount we’re spending on our wedding and others.  That just hurts my heart.

Is this all really worth it?  I wish I could go back, un-invite everyone, and have a small Catholic ceremony with my closest family members and call it a day.

I’m obviously just in a terrible mood today, but I feel like this is where wedding planning has brought me.  The usual happy, optimistic, joyful Stephanie has turned into this negative Nancy.  I don’t like it, but that’s where I am right now.

I don’t even look forward to weekends anymore because weekends are just extra time to grade papers, begrudgingly work on wedding plans, and take as many surveys as I can to save up a few more bucks.

Welcome to the engaged life.

 

 

 

2017: My Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past three years (201420152016), here is my 2017 year in review.  Last year, I was incredibly thankful for having met my new friends from Bible study and starting a new relationship.  Now, I have even more to be grateful for this year.  So here is what happened since last year:

January:

-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut

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-Then we went hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT and Kent Falls in Kent, CT the next day

-Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)

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-Camden Aquarium with AJ

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-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold

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February:

-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ

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-Grandma’s birthday party

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-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch

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-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle

March:

-My mom’s birthday

April:

-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady

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-AJ’s 25th birthday party

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-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina

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-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil

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-Easter in Connecticut

-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday

-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ

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May:

-Bible study at the Freehold Mall

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-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden

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-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study

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-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital

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-My cousin Lauren’s first communion

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June:

-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida

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July:

-Acro yoga in my back yard

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-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday

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-Vacation in LBI with my mom

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Barnegat Lighthouse

-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner

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-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard

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-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International.  Sole Hope in Jinja

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-Free day at the Nile River

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August:

-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja

September:

-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago

October:

-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

-Getting engaged on October 9th

-Connecticut for a family party

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-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake

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-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling

November:

-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us

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-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ

-Hiking at Hartshorne Park

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December:

-Christmas Eve in Connecticut at Grandma & Grandpa’s house

-Christmas Day in Connecticut: morning at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, shoveling snow, and then Christmas Day at Aunt Suzi & Uncle Bob’s house

-Young Adults in Faith Christmas celebration at St. Robert’s in Freehold

2017 was a great year.  Looking back at January, when AJ and I had only been together for a month, I never expected that by New Year’s Eve, we would be planning a wedding, figuring out where we want to live, and having intense conversations about the future.  So much can change in one year and I am thrilled to see what 2018 entails.

I thank God for all of His abundant blessings and pray for an amazing 2018.

 

 

Female Chauvinist Pigs

I recently finished reading a book written by Ariel Levy, called Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.  Although I don’t agree with some of her assertions in the book, I was nodding my head while reading along with others.

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The book centers around women, feminism, and how we have been fighting for equality for years, only to behave in ways that are only pushing us back in terms of progress.

What is crazy to me is that this book was written in 2005 and to me, it seems that things have become even worse than when Levy wrote the book.  There was no Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, or Bumble back in 2005.  If anything, things have only gotten worse since her book was published.  Without ruining the book for you, here are some of my key takeaways:

Females going to strip clubs

I have never understood why some heterosexual females go to female strip clubs with friends or even boyfriends.  I would rather not go to a male strip club either, but I really don’t understand why women are going to watch other women strip.  According to the women she spoke to, it was “liberating.”

Liberating to watch women remove their close while men are ogling them?  Gaining the right to vote is liberating.  Earning equal pay for equal work is liberating.  Watching women take their clothes off while strange men stare at them is not my definition of liberating.

Playboy

Years ago, women were picketing against Playboy because they found it exploitive and mysogynistic, but now women themselves purchase the magazine and get tattoos of the bunny logo.  Many women view Hugh Hefner as a chauvinistic pig himself, but now many others are Playboy enthusiasts themselves, wishing that they could be playmate.

Girls Gone Wild

These women are basically fighting for a chance to show their naked breasts (or more) to the world.  They not even getting paid because they are not actual porn stars, but they all want a chance to be in front of the cameras.

Hey Mom, guess what I got to do on spring break?  Show off my breasts for free to a sleazy cameraman!  Isn’t that great!?

How is is possible that women do not understand that this is degrading to women.  It focuses all of our worth on our bodies.  It does not matter how intelligent we are or what our personality is like; what matters is only that we have a nice rack.

Yet women are upset if they are on a legitimate date with a guy and he stares at her breasts the entire time.  We cannot act as though we are wild, free, and slutty and then expect guys to treat us as though we are ladies.

Ladies do not bare their chests for a Girls Gone Wild cameraman.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

Many female Olympic athletes pose nude (or almost nude) in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated magazine.  Levy writes about how some of them seem to feel the need to show off their bodies as feminine since they sometimes appear masculine while participating in their sport.

These women are in their prime in terms of their bodies and fitness, yet they are still seeking approval for their beauty and femininity?

There are not too many male Olympians who feel the need to pose naked in order to prove their masculinity.

I live by the beach and I have seen so many girls this summer taking photos that look like they belong in that magazine.  They lay in the sand, arching their backs to get the best shot.  Girls who would never want to be covered in sand are laying in it to get the perfect Instagram pic.

Others are kneeling in the water, even on days when it is freezing.  They spread their legs wide, flip their hair, and make pouty faces.  It looks absolutely absurd.

Here are some of the words I heard from two girls on the beach one day:

“Use the up angle so we look skinnier.  Up angle is the bomb. Is my hair okay?  Do I look fat?  Should I put my hair half up?  I’ll edit them and then send them to you.  Don’t worry, I won’t post anything yet until I edit them.  Take some candids so it looks like we’re laughing at each other.  Should we lay on our backs or our stomachs?  Let’s put our legs up.  Put your arm on your hip.”

I cannot even count the number of girls who talk about how much skinnier they will look once they edit their photos.  So now we are not only photoshopping celebrities in magazines, but we are photoshopping ourselves so that EVERY photo is a lie.

Guess what, ladies?  You might look beautiful on Instagram thanks to the filters and edits, but do you not realize that it is all a facade?

If you are overweight and wish you looked skinner, photoshopping is not the answer.  It will take healthy meals and exercise to fix the problem.  But we live in a fast-paced society that seeks fast-paced solutions, so more girls turn to their photo edits rather than an actual healthy lifestyle.

Plastic Surgery

According to Levy, “between 1992 and 2004, breast augmentation procedures in this country went from 32,607 a year to 264,041 a year–that’s an increase of more than 700 percent.”  700 percent increase?!?  Those numbers are outrageous.

I have never previously heard of this, but there is even something called “vaginoplasty” that makes the vagina more attractive.  It can lead to painful nerve damage, but hey, we want vaginas that look like those of porn stars.

Sure, sex may not be fulfilling ever again, but it’s worth it in the name of beauty.  This sounds terrifyingly similar to those tribes that partake in female genital mutilation so that women are unable to enjoy sex.  Yet we’re doing it intentionally in the hopes of a hotter vagina?  Insane.

Pornography

Years ago, being a porn star ruined a person’s credibility.  It was something that could easily destroy a woman’s image.  Yet today, there are celebrities like Paris Hilton who are not actresses or musicians; instead, they are famous because of a sex tape.

Levy talks about the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder that is prevalent among sex workers.  Many of them face long-term emotional problems as a result of their work.

The majority of them experienced some form of sexual trauma before entering the porn industry.  They are sexually traumatized, which is only increased after spending time as a porn star.

I have not researched porn very much since it isn’t something that I have struggled with, but there are many secular articles that have been written about the way that pornography ruins marriages and relationships.  A simple Google search of “how porn ruins marriages” yields thousands of results, both religious and secular.

Casual sex

In my own experiences, I have found it amazing how sex has become so casual.  People act as though it is normal to have sex on the third date.  As a Catholic who does not believe in sex before marriage, I find this appalling, but I understand that many people are not as strict as my beliefs.  However, sex on the third date absolutely blows my mind.  But this is completely common in today’s colleges — even sex on the first date, or a one night stand without the prospect of ever meeting up again in the future.

This summer I overheard some conversations by females at the beach that simply broke my heart.  Here is one that I overheard recently:

Girl 1: I need to raise the body count.

Girl 2: Like people you’ve had sex with?  You want to be a slut?

Girl 1: No, I just feel like I need to sleep with more people.  I’ve only been with 3 guys.

In case you were wondering, girl 1 was only 22 years old.  Why did she feel the need to increase her “body count”?  And why did she refer to it in that manner anyway?

I’m not even going to get into the spread of STDs here.  We all know that they exist, yet nobody seems to care or be worried about that.

Girls acting like guys

Levy said that because of the way male chauvinists have acted, girls feel as though they can empower themselves by treating sex as casually as some men do.  They want sex without the emotions, just notches on their bed posts.

And I guess that it what is happening, but this should not be viewed in a positive light.

More women are promiscuous, are flaunting their bodies, and are talking about how many men they have slept with.  Does this lewdness make us feel equal?

Rather than seeking out gentlemen in the sea of chauvinists, we are becoming chauvinists ourselves.  Are we taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach?

Some of us are using our looks to get men, power, and career advancements.  Why not use our brains and our charisma?    I will not feel accomplished if I use my body to advance in the world.  I want to be taken seriously as a strong female because of my hard work in my job, and not my hard work in bed.

Women – those of you who are acting in this way are ruining progress for all of us.

Clothing

I did not know this before, but thongs were created in 1939 in order to cover the genitals of exotic dancers in New York City for the World’s Fair.  “The thong was born to placate [mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s] decree while exposing the maximum amount of skin.”

Now they are being sold to children in stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, which market clothing to 7-14 year olds.

Girls are wearing shorter shorts, so short that the underside of their butt cheeks are visible, with crop tops that expose their entire stomach and back, and often quite a bit of cleavage as well.

I wrote a previous blog entitled How Did Modesty Get Such a Negative Connotation?   Do we no longer want to maintain any degree of mystery about our bodies?

There are tons of students and parents fighting back now against school dress codes. (I also wrote a blog entitled School Dress Codes are Not Sexist.)  The dress codes simply want boobs, butts, back, and stomachs covered.  That isn’t sexist, but today’s females think it is appropriate to come to school looking like a stripper or a prostitute.  And unfortunately, some of their parents agree that that should be allowed and accepted.

Have you seen girls on Halloween lately?  That’s another separate blog, What Has Halloween Become?

Adolescents

One of the most upsetting parts of Levy’s book was the section in which she talks to adolescent girls about their sexual experiences or those of the females in their schools.  Sex in 7th grade is not uncommon.  The verdict among most of the girls she spoke to was that the sluttier a girl appeared, the more popular she probably was.

Many of the girls are giving oral sex to the boys to increase their popularity.  One girl called oral sex “super casual.”

These girls aren’t doing it because they enjoy it or because they love these boys so much; they want popularity.  Instead of gaining popularity by being a star athlete, or having a great personality, girls in the 21st century are becoming more popular based on the number of blow jobs they have given.  Progress right there.

“About a quarter of girls between ages 15 and 19 describe their first time as ‘voluntary, but unwanted,’ according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.”  Girls are losing their virginity intentionally, yet it is something that they do not want.  They want the attention and notoriety that comes with sex.

Girls on girls

Many females are also making out with other females, not because they are lesbian or bisexual, but because they know that guys like it.

How many guys would start making out with other guys (all heterosexual) just to appear sexy to women?  Very few, I would imagine.

Yet we are acting as though we love kissing girls so that guys will view us as sexy and wild.

It seems to me that there are a lot of broken girls who crave attention; they want to feel desired.  What they fail to realize is that the guys who do desire them only do so for their sexual promiscuity.  Hooking up with a guy at the bar who was only attracted to you because you were drunk and making out with girls is unlikely to help you to find a meaningful relationship.

It’s unlikely that you will even find a guy who respects you for more than your appearance.  Yet we still get angry when guys fail to take us seriously.  News flash, ladies: you’re making the problem worse.  It’s hypocritical to act like a stripper at a club and then expect a man to take you out to a nice dinner.  You can’t show off your boobs and expect a quality man to want to pursue a relationship with you.  You’re not wife material; you’re one night stand material.  Is that really what you want?

 

In the conclusion of her book, Levy writes, “When you think about it, it’s kind of pathetic. ..We are selling ourselves unbelievably short.”

And that’s exactly what it comes down to.  In our disrespect for our own bodies and minds, we are selling ourselves short.  There are amazing guys out there who will treat you like the princess you deserve to be treated like; however, you will never find them while wearing those bright red stripper heels and twerking in the tight bodycon dress while making out with a girl who looks as slutty as you.  If all you want in life is one night stands and hookups, then proceed, but I have a feeling that most of you don’t truly seek that in your deepest desires.

You want attention and you want to feel desired.  You don’t realize that you really want to feel loved.  But because love is a scary thing, and because it makes you vulnerable to heartache, you settle for sexual desire.  If a guy ogles you, or even sexually harasses you, you feel beautiful.  That is the problem.

You must not accept anything less than the respect you deserve, but it starts with you.  Will you act in a way that shows that you don’t just want respect, but that you are demanding respect?   Or will you continue being a female chauvinist pig?

Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

If you missed the first blog, you can find part one of my trip to Uganda here.

Lake Victoria / Nile River

On our free day (Saturday), we went shopping for souvenirs in downtown Jinja.  Then we went out to an Indian restaurant for lunch, followed by a boat ride.

The boat ride started out on Lake Victoria.  We saw some prisons that have land that leads right into the water, but there were no fences.  Our guide told us that 96% of Ugandans are unable to swim, so they know that the prisoners will not escape.

We also saw fish farms in the middle of the lake where tilapia are harvested.

We stopped at a fishing village where we walked around and saw all of these little silver fish that they were drying out in the sun.

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All of the children in the village were excited to see us, and they cried out, “mzungu!” (“white person!”)  They all wanted to hold our hands, but what was interesting is that many of them were also smelling our hands.  I have no idea why they did that.  I’m not sure if previous white people maybe had a lot of perfume or scented lotion on.  Or maybe our skin just smells different than theirs.  I’m not too sure.

After leaving the fishing village, we headed to the source of the Nile.  The Nile River is the world’s longest river and it flows north, from Uganda to Egypt.  The water started moving more quickly once we got closer to the area where the lake and the river meet.  The guide told us that it was because of the huge difference between the depth of the lake and the depth of the river.

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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After volunteering with Sixty Feet and Sole Hope, we spent our last three days at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja.

Initially, when reading about the trip to Uganda back in December when I registered, we were going to split all of our time between Sixty Feet and Sole Hope.  It was only more recently that the three days at Amani were added.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed at the addition of Amani to our itinerary.  I’m not a huge baby person.  I teach high school students because I prefer the older kids.  I was excited for the other two volunteer opportunities because I knew that there would be children of many ages.  Hearing the words “baby cottage” did not excite me at all.

Fortunately, I found out that Amani housed children from ages 0 to 5, so I was hoping to get to spend most of my time with the older kids.  Five year olds I could deal with (or at least I thought so); it was the babies I was not ready for.

Amani Baby Cottage

According to its website, Amani Baby Cottage (ABC), “was established in 2003 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children…Many are orphaned when their parents die due to AIDS, birth complications or other factors. Some are abandoned in the hospital after birth. Others are found abandoned at taxi stops, in latrines, or on the street…To date, a total of 328 children have been cared for in our home. 107 of these have been reunited with their parents or extended family members, 135 have been fostered into new families, and 26 have been transferred to other ministry placements. We do not refuse children in fragile health, thus 23 children have died while in our care.”

Everyone on my team had different tasks during our time at Amani.  There were 43 children there, ages 0 to 5.  Different team members helped with the infants, the toddlers, the preschool, cleaning, changing diapers, rocking babies, you name it.

There are Ugandan women working there who are referred to as “Mamas.”  It’s really cute hearing the children call the women “Mama.”  Any time the mamas hand out a snack or help a child with something, the kids say, “thank you, Mama.”

When volunteers come, they calls us “aunties” and “uncles.”  It was nice having that routine set before we arrived because even if they didn’t know our first name, they could still address us.

The first day at Amani, Rachel, Cortnie, and I were helping out with the preschool.  The students met as a group at first to do their morning routine, learning about the weather and the calendar.  Then they separated into three groups for different activities.  There were the zebras, giraffes, and lions, according to their ages.  They would rotate through different activities so that the groupings would be smaller.

It was amazing to see how well organized everything was.  The mamas had the schedule down to the minute and the kids were very well-behaved and polite.

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

I was with the zebras and our first activity was to go outside to play.  They ran around, played on the swings and monkey bars, and the mamas led them in some fun exercises like frog jumps and songs that had body movements incorporated.

After that, all of the kids regrouped, said a prayer, had porridge and a snack, before separating into their animal groups again. Each of the kids in my group were given a card with a letter on it.  They had to replicate that letter by building it with blocks.  I was really impressed by their language skills.  The other children we met in Uganda knew some English, but here their English sounded perfect and they were completely fluent.

Their schedule shifted a bit after that because the Auntie Rebecca, who had been their preschool teacher for the past month as a volunteer, was flying back home, so she gave out lollipops and they spent some time taking goodbye pictures.

Then we watched some Australian learning videos that were absolutely hilarious to Rachel and me.  They were super corny and the main actor was really strange, but the kids loved them, marching and dancing along to the songs.  There were songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and then others that I hadn’t heard of.

We helped get the kids ready for lunch and then their nap, and then we left for lunch.

After lunch, we came back to play outside with the kids.  I mainly pushed kids on the swings.  Other people on our team were running around, playing with balls, or doing face paint.

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The next day, we expected to return to Amani to similar tasks.  However, upon arriving, we learned that the Mamas had professional development scheduled that day.  They had tried to reschedule it, but there were people who traveled from Kampala to go there.

Due to the change in schedule, preschool was cancelled.  Mission trips always require flexibility and this is the best example of that.  There was no time to complain or ask questions; we just needed to get to work.

Kimi, Joe and I went to the one of the male cottages, which housed ten boys: Edmond, Solomon, Jimmy, Silas, Babu, Michael, Dominic, David, Jonah, and Jonathan.  Jonathan was the only baby and Jonah was around two years old.  The rest were toddlers.

I cannot even begin to describe the chaos that ensued.  There were a few times when I looked over at Kimi and asked, “Am I being pranked right now?  Is this Candid Camera?”  During those moments, all we could do was shoot terrified glances over at one another and then simply laugh at the ridiculousness that we were experiencing.

The boys had acted like little angels when their mamas were around, sitting in a perfect formation, saying thank you, and using good manners, but it was like a switch flipped the moment the mamas walked out the door.

They were stealing toys from each other, running around, and trying to climb the shelves.  We put on a movie, but they wouldn’t stop talking so they couldn’t hear the movie.  I found two books, so I tried reading to them.  They listened to the first book, but by the second, their attention span was gone.

Every now and then, though, one of the mamas would come in to check on something or to make sure that things were going alright.  The minute they entered the room, the boys returned to their perfect angel state.  All a mama had to say was, “boys, stop talking,” and there was silence.  Kimi and I just looked at each other in amazement any time this happened.

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Watching a movie

Then it was time for their snack (porridge and a banana).  Mama Georgina told us to stir the porridge with a cup before serving them because it was too hot.  The boys were watching something on the TV while we stirred.  Then, one of the boys started the prayer before meals: “Hand together,” he said.  And they all repeated, “hands together” while putting their hands into prayer position.  “Eyes closed,” he continued, and they all shut their eyes.  They went through all of the prayer.  I couldn’t understand all of the words but it was something like: “Hands together, eyes closed.  Bless our porridge, bless our mamas, bless our aunties, bless our uncles, in Jesus’ name, amen.”  They would all clap while they said “Amen.”

Kimi and I thought that it was really cute that they just said their prayers on their own while watching the movie.  Then, a few minutes later, another boy started the prayer.  When he finished he said, “auntie, we would like our porridge.”  The problem was that it was still extremely hot.

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Prayers before snack

The same thing happened a few minutes later, with another boy starting the prayer.  This time we decide to give them the porridge because we knew they wouldn’t stop praying and asking.  I have no idea how they drank it since it seemed to be burning hot, but they loved it.  One boy in the room has special needs and he doesn’t have full control of his arms or legs.  He spilled the porridge all over himself, so we had to find him a new change of clothes.  I hope that he didn’t burn his chest.

After snack, we were excited that we could bring the boys outside.  We expected it to be less crazy than being cooped up in the cottage all day.  Boy were we wrong!

There were people working on the grounds of Amani, doing various tasks like gardening.  The boys ran out of the cottage and made a beeline for the yard tools.  The workers weren’t there at the moment, but their shovels, hoes, and rakes were.

I found myself running toward the edge of the property, wrestling these garden tools out of the hands of the toddlers.  Initially, I told the kids not to touch them and to put them down and they listened, but the moment I walked away, I saw kids chasing each other with the tools.

So back I went, running around in an attempt to avoid witnessing a child being impaled by a gardening tool.  Rachel came outside of her cottage with the girls and she was somehow able to grab a rake out of one of the children’s hands, despite holding two babies on either hip.

Katie told us later that the whole scene was hilarious.  Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at the chaos, but in the moment, I was feeling completely overwhelmed.

At different points during the day, I paused to say a prayer asking God for help.  It sounds so funny now, but gosh, we were all feeling completely overwhelmed and unprepared.  I couldn’t have gotten through that whole day if I wasn’t confident that God had placed me there for a reason and that He was going to help me to continue.

After the garden tool fiasco, we just played outside and then we left for lunch.

We usually went over our highs and lows each day at dinner.  Every team member would discuss their day and it was a nice way to debrief.  This day, we decided to do highs and lows at lunch since we were all exhausted and less than enthused about the thought of returning to Amani.  Many of our teammates were peed on, pooped on, or spit up on.

Kimi and I had been thinking that we had it the worst with ten boys between us, but we came to find out during lunch that Cortnie and Rachel had it even worse in the girls’ cottage.  There were 13 girls and it sounded like they were behaved even more badly than the boys.

Serving at Amani that day definitely gave us a quick dose of humility.  It also increased our respect and appreciation of the mamas exponentially.  The mamas do such an amazing job caring for and loving those children and I’m sure that they have their fair share of difficulties.

The children at Amani come from a variety of backgrounds so although everything looked like it was down to a science on our first day there, I know that doesn’t just happen out of nowhere.  Establishing the routines, rules, and procedures takes a lot of work and those mamas are simply amazing.  It is also clear how much they truly love those children.  If I ever considered adopting, I would have no hesitation to adopt a child from a place like Amani because it is obvious that they are extremely well cared for.

After lunch, we were all hesitant about returning, but it was much calmer.  We played with the kids outside.  We played on the swing set and we also brought bubbles.

Something that was really interesting to me was that the swing set was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.  It had a plaque on it that included the names and ages of everyone who had died in Connecticut that day, along with the names of companies and churches that had either donated the supplied for the swing set, donated money, or helped to build it.

There were stores from Bethel and Danbury, Connecticut listed on the plaque, which is where I used to live before moving to New Jersey.  What a small world that I was playing with kids in Uganda on a playground that was made with supplies from my former town!

Sarah and Mary brought their Polaroid camera, so the kids LOVED having their pictures taken.

We found out that afternoon that the professional development was a two-day course. Upon leaving, we knew that we would probably have another chaotic day in store for us the following day.  I was thankful for a calmer afternoon, but nervous what the next day would entail.

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

Some of us switched roles the next day.  I stayed in the same room as the previous day because I figured that it would be helpful that I knew all of the names of the boys in that cottage.  Rachel, Cortnie, and Joe were in that cottage with me.

This was our last day volunteering in Uganda, so I think that most of us hoped that it would be a better experience than the prior day.  Fortunately, it was definitely better.  There were definitely still crazy, chaotic moments, but not nearly as many.

The woman who is the current director of Amani bought new movies, hoping that the kids would behave better if they were interested in a new movie that they hadn’t seen before.  That worked really well; the boys were engrossed in The Lion King.

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The only slight problem was that every kid wanted to sit in our laps, but there were only three of us.

They watched all of The Lion King, so we followed that with The Good Dinosaur.  They were less excited about that movie, so they got a little antsy.

We had snack time with more prayers, porridge, and bananas, and this time it was much better because the porridge wasn’t too hot when I got it from the kitchen.

We turned on Cars instead of The Good Dinosaur since they really didn’t like that one.  We could hear noises coming from the girls’ cottage and some of the girls ran into our cottage to show the boys some crafts they were making.  Cortnie, Rachel, and I were nervous that would cause the boys to become rambunctious as well.  We shut both of the doors so that the girls couldn’t distract them and then we brought out the crayons and coloring books.

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It went well, other than one kid who was eating his crayon:

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We left for lunch and when we returned, the mamas had a variety of hand-made items out on display.  It was great to be able to support the mamas by purchasing some souvenirs from them.

Then the kids had pineapple for a snack before going outside.  They wanted us to play “Let it Go” from Frozen on our phones.  Katie had that song on her phone, so she had played it for them before, but she wasn’t with us.  They didn’t understand how it was possible that we didn’t have the song.  We had a phone just like her, after all.  I tried to play them other songs on my phone, but they were unimpressed.

Then it was time to go outside for the rest of the afternoon.  Mama Georgina handed me a pair of nail clippers and said to trim the boys’ nails.  I wasn’t too sure how that was going to play out, but the boys were actually really good at staying still while I clipped their nails.  I’m not sure if I have ever clipped anyone’s nails before that.

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We had nail polish, so we painted their nails.  That was a bit of a mess since they kept moving too soon after and smudging the nail polish, but they liked it anyway.  We also had more bubbles.

It seemed like there were fewer kids that afternoon, so it was much calmer.  I was told that some of them were going to therapists or other appointments.

After playing for a while, it was getting close to our time to leave.  The mamas had the kids form a circle so that they could sing farewell songs to us.  That moment was really touching.

They sang some songs in English and some in Luganda; there were some that we were familiar with, such as “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” and others that we had never heard.

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One girl started singing a Christian song and it was just precious.  Both her and her twin sister had one hand on their heart and one hand raised to the sky, praising God.

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The songs were really cute, but then it was time to leave.  One boy, Silas, had been sitting on my lap during all of the songs and he had been following me around a little bit that afternoon (he’s the one who ate the blue crayon).  He was holding onto my skirt as I got up to walk away.

I had to physically remove his arms from around my waist and then he started crying.  As we walked out of the compound, some of the kids (like Silas) were crying.  One boy, Edmond, ran up to the fence and waved goodbye.

I couldn’t stop a few tears from rolling down my cheeks.  I couldn’t help but consider how many people the children must say goodbye to.

It’s awesome that so many people go to Amani to volunteer, but there’s always a goodbye.  Some of these boys were abandoned by their parents, and I just felt like I was continuing the cycle of loss.

It was bittersweet, though, because at the same time, we were really needed there.  Although we did a lot of work with Sole Hope, I’m sure that they could have found anyone to help wash feet or pass out lollipops or stickers.

But when the mamas needed their professional development, I’m not sure what they would have done had we not been there.  Us being there helped take a lot off of their plate and I’m thankful that I was able to show my gratitude to them by removing some of their daily duties for a few days.

I know that God placed me and my team exactly where He needed us, so I know that I shouldn’t feel sad, but walking down the road and away from those children was really hard.


After leaving Amani, we went back to our guest house to pack our bags since we would be leaving early the following morning to take the long drive back to Entebbe for our flights home.

We left around 6:30 to drive about three hours to Entebbe.  We had our last lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria.  It was nice to have one last team activity before heading out.

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We had a five and a half hour flight to Dubai, followed by a four hour layover.  When we landed in Dubai, we had to get off the plane and board a bus to take us to the airport, but Rachel was flying to Germany and Cortnie was flying to Dallas, so they had to get onto a different bus than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t expected that, so we didn’t really get to say goodbye.

The temperature was around 95 degrees even though it was 10pm in Dubai.  It was so hot and humid that my camera lens fogged up when I tried to take a picture.

Now this is completely random, but something weird about Dubai International Airport is that the toilets seemed to have hot water in them.  I’m not sure if it was hot simply because it was so hot outside.  (It was around 107 degrees on our trip in the opposite direction since it was day time in Dubai at that point.)  Or maybe they heat their toilet water, though I can’t imagine that.  It felt like sitting on a steamer or something when I sat on the toilet.  TMI?  Probably, but it was interesting to me.

After our layover, we flew about 14 hours to JFK and luckily, that was my last stop.  We went through immigration/customs, got our luggage, and I said goodbye to my team, most of whom had to wait for another flight later in the day.

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

To everyone who donated money to help me to go on this trip: thank you so much.  I would have been unable to do this work if it hadn’t been for your great generosity.  Although you were not able to be on the trip in the flesh, I brought you with me in my prayers.

To everyone who donated jeans or helped me to cut the jean patterns: thank you.  I was able to witness the entire shoemaking process, from jeans, to jean patterns, to sewing and creating shoes.  And then I was able to help out at the actual clinic and see the shoes on the feet of people who were now jigger-free.  Although you may have simply given me a pair of old jeans, they are now helping someone to avoid a jigger re-infestation.

To those of you who prayed for me and my team: I appreciate it so much.  There were a few teammates who experienced minor illnesses, but we were healthy for the most part.  We were safe, and we had an excellent, rewarding experience.

To my teammates, Kimi, Bart, Jacob, Katie, Cortnie, Rachel, Sara, Haley, Mary, Mia, and Joe: I am grateful for meeting you.  I know that God formed our team with each of you in mind.  We each brought along our own strengths and weaknesses and together, we were able to help spread love throughout Kampala and Jinja.  I will continue to pray for each of you and I expect to hear more amazing things that each of you are doing in your lives.  You are all inspiring.

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip: