Fall & Winter Travel Plans

I’ve got 3 fabulous trips planned to finish out 2017! Three very different trips and some new ways of traveling for me. 🙂


Weekend in Washington, D.C.

This October I am taking a day off work to travel up to D.C. to see a Vermeer exhibit with an old student of mine (very weird, I know but she is awesome and was a student of mine for 2 years!). It’s going to be such an art-filled weekend! This will actually be my first long weekend trip during the school year (crazy enough) and I’ve been exploring the idea of adding more of these to our year schedule, but its so hard being a teacher to take the time to get away during the school year.


Thanksgiving in Southern California

Will and I have been incredibly blessed to be able to combine travel and family over our week-long Thanksgiving break. Last year, it was New York and Cape Cod and this year we are visiting my aunt and Will’s cousin (& new baby!) in SoCal. Thankfully, we are avoiding LA at all costs! In 2012, my family did the “LA scene” so I am looking forward to seeing some of the secretes of the other areas. Will is looking forward to the beaches…of course.

FYI: this is me on a beach in Costa Rica during my honeymoon, not Mexco…close enough 🙂

New Years in Mexico

My aunt has a house on the beach in Mexico nearby Mérida, and my parents, grandmother, Will and I are jumping on the chance to spend a week after Christmas just slowing down on the beach. I am not really “planning” this trip, just made sure to note a couple of things that I HAVE to see/do and letting my Aba lead us around. I’m happy to be able to change up the pace a bit during this hectic time of year.

Let’s see what’s coming up for 2018!!!!



Student Series! Life in Pompeii

Pompeii was a lost city for many years. The remains of the city were discovered by an architect, Domenico Fontana, in the 16th century. Later on in 1997, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of this city are located nearby Naples, Italy.

Note: It’s an EASY day trip from Naples! I’ve been to Pompeii twice, summer and winter, and it was increadible each time.


So, what’s so special about this city? Well, in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, causing volcanic ash to cover the city of Pompeii. The ash covered up the whole city, and Pompeii was completely erased from the map for centuries. The ash also froze the town creating molds of the people in their final moments. These molds show us what Pompeii’s society and everyday life looked like.

The Pompeians went to work right when the sun rise. Farmers began farming, marketers started working, and all the shops were opened and the streets became very busy of citizens. In the afternoon, they might relax after a long meal, go to the amphitheater, or some other entertainment. As the sun started setting they start headed back to their houses to have supper which normally consisted of olives and eggs, and if they were upper class, meat and fish. Ancient people usually ended up going to bed pretty early, by out standards, because the streets weren’t safe at night and there were no artificial lights besides candles.

The wealthy houses in Pompeii were often arranged around a courtyard and in order to get to their house, they would have to walk through a narrow street façade that had no windows and was very ordinary. The inside of their houses were highly decorated with mosaics and fantastical frescoes covering the walls (guess it made up for the lack of windows!)

Almost all well-to-do houses included:

  • 2-3 rooms
  • Small kitchen
  • A Basin- a place to store water
  • They cooked their food by putting a pot on tripods over burning wood or charcoal
  • Very few citizens owned ovens at this time so they had to go to a Baker to bake their bread
  • A living/family room (they used this room when they would eat and/or host company)
  • A garden full of useful plants in their courtyard

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Puja at the Hindu Temple Society of North America

We took a bus from the Union Theological Seminary to the Hindu Temple Society of North America out in Flushing, Queens. I get super car sick so most of this ride was spent trying NOT to look out the window. When we arrived we got treated to a yummy (but spicy!) meal in their cafeteria. Here’s a photo of my plate, but I quiet honestly can’t tell you what we ate. lol


So after our lunch we walked to the main temple space, had an informative group discussion with a board member, then a private tour of the shrine. No photos are allowed inside the space so I took a few outside to get the feeling of the location. One of the funniest signs for were the “coconut breaking” signs. We learned that coconuts are a common item to offer in a puja (ritual worship) and there are specific places to break them open before entering into the shrine.


As you can see from this last photo, once inside all shoes come off (we also did this in the Buddhist Temple and both the traditional and sufi mosques – the idea of sacred ground is common to all these religious traditions). Personally I love taking my shoes off, maybe it’s because I’m a Florida girl, but I feel so much more connected to my surroundings barefoot.

Read more: Student Series! A Hindu Union

They even provide little cubbies downstairs for your shoes. My shoes are on the bottom right – flip-flops all the way!

As I mentioned, there are no photos allowed inside so that we can preserve the sacredness of the space and the rituals within it. In Hindu belief, the statues are inhabited with the spirits of the gods, so the are so much more than just visual representations of deities. They are bathed, clothed, and ritualistically fed by the priests. This temple has about 25 deities, each deity with a different specialty and some worshipers feel more akin to one deity over another at different times in their lives. Although, theologically speaking, not the same as Catholic saints, there is certainly some parallels to be drawn (see my post about the catholic shine of the Bronx Lourdes). This image below is outside the temple, so it does not have the significance of the ones I described above but you can see the clothing and style that is also on of the deities inside the shrine.


Unlike some other houses of worship, there is no prescribed communal worship time. The main action in a Hindu temple is individual prayer and puja. When needed, the practitioners will come to perform a specific action to a deity for something they are asking for or thankful for in their lives. Luckily we got to see two different pujas while  there. I cannot tell you anything that was going on but there was chanting, incense, ghee, and a little cone people kept putting on their heads. I was trying to watch without being intrusive to their worship.

I loved walking around the temple, and as an AP Art History teacher, it really brought to life the Hindu temple and Shiva statue I teach. I’ve never been to India and the Metropolitan Museum is the closest I’ve gotten to seeing a Hindu god in person, so having the ability to see them in situ, in a worship site, really made me understand the Shiva as Nataraja much better.

This is at the Met Museum, not the temple.

After our group departed, I hung around alone a bit to walk in solitude in the shrine. I spent more time looking at the priests doing their daily tasks and the beauty of all the statues. Personally, I loved Saraswati, the goddess of music & knowledge.

Then on my way to the train station to visit my aunts for dinner, I popped into any other sacred spaces that let me in! Here are a few I saw on my walk:



P.S. I am not an expert in Hindu theology or practice and the little I know comes from study in college and teaching high school. If you see something incorrect here, please message me so I can fix it!

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

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Worshiping at Convent Avenue Baptist Church

One Sunday of my Religious Worlds of New York Summer Program took us to a black Harlem house of worship, Convent Avenue Baptist Church. Although a Christian venue, I actually felt more “out of my senses” at this church than at the mosque, Bronx Lourdes, or even the Hindu Temple. I think it’s because Catholicism actually has closer ritualistic roots with other religious tradition than with some strains of Protestant and/or Baptist roots. However, I always think it’s a great thing to put ourselves in “uncomfortable” settings – it’s the only way to experience new things!

So first off, we were told the service could last 2 hours…or more. This surprised me because I am used to “getting in and out” in an hour flat. I had no idea what we were going to do for 2 HOURS. But I was about to find out!



As we were walking in the choir and church members already started their singing, and boy can they sing! If you’ve seen Sister Act, you have an idea of the type of singing I encountered. It was incredibly lively and made you want to move your feet. As I understand, this is a standard in predominately black Harlem churches.

As the service was about to begin the choir members filed in and went to the second-story choir with the organ player (seen in the photo below). They remained an important part of the service for the next few hours.



This aspect was certainly different from what I was used to! There were multiple people preaching and their sermons were passionate to say the least. It’s easy to see how the audience could get wrapped up in the lively messages of the pastor and elders. Most of the sermons aligned with my personal Christian beliefs but there are two I want to point out:

  • During the pastor’s sermon he veered off into the realm of politics, specifically talking about Trump. I personally agreed with everything he said but it does bring up the question of how much (if at all) should religious houses bring politics in such an obvious way to their worship. A few of the parishioners, made their disapproval vocally known with some audible “Why’d you have to bring that man up here!?”
  • Then one of the elders stood up to proselytized about the reason for giving more money to the church. We all know houses of worships rely on donations to keep their doors open but her sermon felt really over the top and I certainly had disagreements with aspects of it. I specifically had issues with the part when she said “G-d always provides for your needs. Don’t worry about the financial aspects.” Now that just feels wrong to me but I understand where she was taking it.


Altar Call

Another part of the sermon that was new to me was the altar call in which the preacher made a passionate call for someone who wanted to convert to come up to “get saved by Jesus.” He kept calling, and calling and I was wondering what would happen if no one came up. And then of course 3 people did walk up to the altar and the whole congregation put their hands up to pray for their conversion. In my tradition, we are not so communal about conversion until someone makes the final step during the Easter Vigil. But maybe we should celebrate the decision to step up to start the journey!

Final Thoughts

I know Convent Avenue Baptist Church is one of hundreds (if not thousands) of Protestant Christian churches in America and it has made me want to research how different churches, both large and small, deal with issues of politics, donations, and conversions.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org



Jumma Service at Islamic Cultural Center of New York

The day after our exhausting Zhikr Service we went to the more tradition and mainstream Islamic Cultural Center of New York, which is actually the largest mosque in NYC.

Gendered Dress


For most of us women, gender roles and proper dress were foremost on our minds. We all wanted to be respectful but weren’t given a ton of tips before we arrived. :/  knew we had to be covered ankles to wrists and wear a head covering. So I decided to dress in my black maxi dress with a tan cardigan and a light grey and cream scarf for my hair. As we rushed out of the cab and I put up my head covering I could feel the eyes of strangers on the street on me. This was interesting as I was explaining how I felt to my small group of all guys.

Read more: Student Series! Women and Islam

Below is my video of trying to put on this head covering in the bathroom on our way out. I guess I did a good job because I got asked by a few of the ladies if I was Iranian…lol


Entering & Segregation


After we dropped off our shoes at the entrance of the mosque, the women were quickly ushered upstairs. Although we all knew we were going to be segregated it bothered me that I couldn’t see a thing! Instead of a clear balcony riling or little TVs, we had an opaque half-wall in front of us. This really prevented me from “getting into it.” And then considering I can’t understand a word of Arabic and we were not given a translation of the Qur’an portion read, I spent most of the time just watching the other ladies around me. There was a huge variety of dress style and level of modesty (although all of us has ankles to wrists and heads covered).



The one part that I could see and partially engage in was the Shahada which is the Islamic creed declaring belief in the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet. The moment that part started all the women got into strict lines sitting shoulder to shoulder and performed a series of kneeling, standing, bowing, and prostrating. It was beautifully orchestrated; kind of what I imagine it looks seeing a bunch of Catholics during the Eucharist if you are an outsider.

I performed some of the same body movements as the other women so I was not “out of sync” with the line but did not proclaim the Shahada: 1) because I don’t speak Arabic, 2) I feel that would be disrespectful, and 3) it’s not my religion’s creed.



After the service we had about an hour Q&A with the imam when he explained all aspects of the running of a mosque to us, from the sermon to donations, charity, and current media pressure. It was a great way to end the past two days learning about the practices of Islam in contemporary New York City.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

Jumma Service

Experiencing a Sufi Zhikr Service


One of the most surprising and unusual site visits while on my Religious Worlds of New York City summer program was the visit to the Dergah al-Farah Sufi Mosque. I really do not have the words (or pictures) to describe this night but I will do my best!

First off, we had no idea we had even “arrived” at our location until our group leader announced that we were here. Everyone kept asking “Where?” and then he pointed to the most unassuming green storefront. I don’t know if they are low-key because of recent attacks or if that is just their normal operations. Anyways this door that you see below was like the rabbit-hole in Alice in Wonderland (the whole night felt like a LSD trip too!).


Unfortunately I do not have any pictures beyond this point; they asked us to preserve the sacredness of the space and the night and we all dutifully listened.

This was the first time that the Religious Worlds program was going to a Zhikr Service so no one was quiet sure what to expect. Our program leader told us it could be a long night but that we could pop out when needed. They actually ended the service short by a FEW HOURS for us and we still left at 10:30 pm. Woah.

Read more: Religious Worlds of New York Site Visits

The unsuspecting group not sure of what the evening would entail!

Introductions & Q&A

The fist part of the night was an informal question and answer session with a few of the mosque’s leaders and practitioners. I can’t remember the questions but it really helped me to understand Sufism’s place within Islam and some of the similarities and differences between their practices and other “more mainstream” Islamic rituals.

From where I was sitting, I had a good vantage point of the front door so I could watch people streaming in and going upstairs to prepare for the rest of the evening. The most striking thing to me were the type of people coming in. I totally had to check my stereotypes of what kind of New Yorker would spend their Thursday night gyrating at a Sufi Mosque. This one guy especially threw me off because he looked like a typical Key West fishing charter captain (with his Colombia fishing shirt to match). And not only was he there tonight but he had been coming to the mosque for 20 YEARS. Goes to show you never know what are on people’s hearts!

Tea Break

This is tea I had while in Rome, but reminded me of what we were served this night.

After about an hour, we took a break upstairs for some tea, dried dates and conversation. This was an opportunity to have more one-on-one time with some members and also talk to each other about surprises we had so far. The tea was sweet and strong, which was going to be necessary if I was going to survive the night. I was determined to stay as long as I could but a few others and I made a plan to leave by 11 pm at the latest if the service was still in full swing.

Chanting & Whirling


We were told that the next part of the night was going to be the “real service.” We were invited to participate as much as our personal religious consciousness would allow and thankfully they translated all the Arabic first so that we knew what we were saying. I decided to participate fully, except for this one chant about Muhammad as the ultimate prophet since I felt it wouldn’t really be right for me.

As we were chanting, I tried to mimic the body swaying of the female lead (who had a break taking voice and rhythm). Once I started to sway in tune it all started falling together into a trance-like state. I cannot even count the hours or minutes of anything we did that evening!

At one point two people, a man and a woman, got up and started to whirl (picture above for reference). The incredible thing (and I do not know if this was planned) was that he was in all white and she in all black. As they started to rotate around the center and then around each other, they blurred into a human ying-yang. It was an incredible view of opposing forces in tandem: light v. dark, male v. female, old v. young.

Once they started to whirl, the rest of the group got up to dance in a circle around them. We were chanting, jumping, swaying, and moving in this heart-beat union. And then it all suddenly stopped. I felt like I woke up from a dream. The leaders told us thank you for participating and we were on our way, back on the cold and noisy New York streets onto a world that had no idea what was behind that small green storefront.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org

Zhikr service

Decorating with Travel Souvenirs

Most people like to bring something back from their travels as a reminder of an awesome experience or funny story. We also love travel souvenirs but wanted to make sure that they were functional as well as beautiful in our home.

Picking out what to bring back

german steintray with coffee maker

Each person (or family) has their own personality which will drastically change the type of object they’ll pick out. So make sure your souvenirs are something YOU love and what to showcase in YOUR home. Personally, Will & I decided very early on that the objects we bought had to 1) be unique to the area and 2) be useful in our home.

We do a little bit of research beforehand to have a list of things in mind but more often than not, while out and about, the perfect gift just appears. We love cooking so something food-related is always on my mind! The two images above show a German beer stein from Fussen and Costa Rican coffee grounds with a “sock” coffee maker.

Packing your gifts


You would hate to unpack your suitcase only to find that beautiful porcelain bowl is now shattered. Packing objects carefully is 80% of the battle. With limited resources, use your clothes to “bubble wrap” objects and nestle them in gently. I like to bring back souvenirs in my carry-on purse so I can personally guarantee their safety.

However, while in Amsterdam this past spring break we wanted to buy a cheese cutter from the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room but, because it is considered a weapon, we couldn’t take it on our carry-on luggage. So instead, I ordered it from the store and had it shipped to our house with a sampler pack of cheese. Sure it cost me more money, but it was guaranteed to arrive!

Displaying or using souvenirs in your home

Because we typically get practical gifts, we actually end up using a lot of the stuff we collect. However, there are some things that are more decorative around our house. It’s a fine balance between feeling like your living in a gift shop and displaying souvenirs. I try to incorporate souvenirs into the natural decor of my house and I try to coordinate things like style, size, and color scheme.

The images above are two little religious decor items currently on display by the entrance to my kitchen and front door. The image on the left is a “Pax et Bonism” tile from Rome, Italy and the one on the right is the “Hand of Fatima” with a blessing for the home from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. I made sure both items were in the same color scheme, around the same size, and “went well together” since I knew I would be displaying them nearby.


What kind of things do you like to bring back as travel memories?

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