Friday, May 9, 2014


It was a pretty typical day, just last Friday, when a beautiful 3 and 1/2 year old boy with free flowing, flaming red hair, Ryan Cruz Saldana ran out to retrieve a Frisbee that had flown into the road. Little did this carefree boy know, a vehicle would head his way and strike him. He returned to his Heavenly Father that evening. I read this devastating story on and burning tears of sadness and frustration immediately flowed down my cheeks. I couldn't believe that happened to such a sweet little boy with the sweetest smile. I couldn't even begin to imagine how his dear parents must be feeling right now. Grief, hurt, longing, unfairness, confusion... It hurt me deep inside and I haven't been able to shake that sadness since. No mother, I mean NO mother should have to bury their sweet child. My heart and prayers go out to this family at this time.

What you can do to help:
  • Pray for healing, peace, comfort, understanding and that God walks them through this time. "God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted." -Matthew 5:8
  • Support them financially by donating on the Thrive Moms Blog.
  • Share a picture of this sweet boy with the hashtag #redballoonsforryan. Almost 17,000 pictures already!
  • Purchase clothing and items from the following shops where 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Saldana family
  • Ruthie lists clothing companies that will donate 100% of proceeds to the family here.
{these ideas were from Ruthie's blog, Chronicles of Ruthie Hart}
Look at his beautiful wild hair. It reminds me so much of little Boston. It just breaks my heart...

I have faith that little Ryan is in the great care of our Heavenly Father now. <3>

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Life as a Foreign Exchange Student

In about a week and a half, I'll be flying to NYC to meet up with my family from Brazil and…wait…I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how I came to have family from Brazil and how gaining this extended family changed my life.

After high school graduation, I deferred my admission to UCLA to take the path less traveled: I embarked on a foreign exchange to Brazil via Rotary International. Yes, that's right, without knowing a single word in Portuguese, I left my family, friends, and then-boyfriend behind to live with complete strangers, attend school in a foreign language, and act as an American student ambassador for a year. I wasn't sure what to expect because I didn't know much about Brazil. I heard there were some beautiful places like Rio, Foz do Iguaçu and the Amazon, and I knew they spoke Portuguese, but that was it. So, not having done a ton of research ahead of time [because I wasn't really tech-savvy], I packed two suitcases filled with summer clothes, a journal, a Lonely Planet phrase book, and got on a plane headed for Brazil (crazy, I know).

Little did I know, this exchange would open my eyes to a whole world beyond my little Fresnoan one and change the direction of my life forever. I remember looking out the window of my plane and seeing tons of red roofs as I was about to land. I started feeling nervous. What am I doing? I thought. Oh God, please help me survive this! There is no turning back now. I was greeted by host cousin, Daniela, and had the funniest time trying to communicate, which continued with everyone I met for the next few months. It was such a struggle! But I kept at it. I got on my connecting flight and met my host parents and some friends in Dracena, the town I would call my home for the next 12 months. Those first few days were filled with hand motions, stuttering, Portañol (Portuguese mixed with Spanish), broken English, and laughter. It was beautiful. Luckily, I had my phrase book to help out a bit. I met SO many new people and I wanted to get to know them and hold real conversations with them. I knew it would take a lot of studying on my own and asking LOTS of questions, so I got out of my comfort zone and got to work. I was excited and eager to learn. Through all of this, it didn't take long to overcome the language barrier and love my Brazilian families and friends. Something you have to know about Brazilians is they possess a very, very warm culture of embraces and kisses. The beauty of this process is that we were all trying and learning from each other, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience for all of us.

Part of the adventure of being a Rotary foreign exchange student is getting to meet other students from different countries and hang out in their cities and Rotary activities. Because we were all away from our families and in the same situation, we had an automatic bond, and friendship flourished from there. I met some of the most amazing kids, some crazier than others, but we had so much fun together. It's been 7 years or so since then, but I have done my best to keep in contact with them. I've even been able to visit some some of them in their own countries during my travels. So blessed!

Being sent to Brazil was one of the greatest blessings of my life. I loved everything about my exchange and learned so much from it. It took a lot of work on my part to get out of my comfort zone and expose myself to new things, but it pushed every part of me to grow and mature. Being immersed in the culture allowed me to learn their stories and way of life, and see how similar we are as humans, cross-culturally. It further demonstrated to me how no matter where we are around the world, we are all created in the image of God; beautiful individuals with great potential and destinies, granted if opportunities are available. We can all seek to be more understanding of one another. There is a connection I feel with these people that will last until the end of time. The family and friends I gained and everything I learned about this new world are invaluable and have contributed tremendously to the person I am today. My new Brazilian family helped me get through some of the toughest times in my life (my parents got a divorce while I was gone and I was really worried about my siblings but that's a story for another time) and really took me in with open arms. That alone made me feel like God really knew me and He knew I needed these specific individuals in my life during that time. They did everything to make this a wonderful experience for me. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Just grateful. As I'm writing this a gush of longing and desire to be with them just overwhelm me… I think about them often and I can't wait to go back home soon.

In the mean time, this coming month, I finally have the wonderful opportunity of getting to host my host-parents from my first host-family, Adel and Telma. They are coming all the way to the U.S. to see me again [after 7 years] and to meet my own family! I'm beyond thrilled! We have so many great things planned from visiting New York City to Vegas to California (my home state)! I'm a bit nervous because so much has changed over the years, for one, I'm in a wheelchair now and another, I just had a baby - so baby fat is everywhere. jk. but seriously. Anyway, I'll just have to get passed that because getting to see my parents again will be glorious! I'm so excited for my little boy to meet his grandparents, aunt, and uncle. SO Excited! P.S. In case you couldn't already, going on an exchange was the greatest thing ever for me and I would highly recommend it [I secretly really, really hope Boston wants go on an exchange as well]!

Follow us on our vacation through the states in the next few posts. I'll do my best to keep you all updated!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Savory & Sweet Stir-Fry

One of my go-to dishes when I want something quick and easy for dinner is this stir-fry recipe my mom shared with me when I came to college. It's one we ate often in my home growing up and now I get to share it with my own family. I'm so glad they love it! This is a healthy meal with lots of vegetables [totally adaptable as needed] and a yummy mixture of savory, sweet, and maybe even a little ting of sour, which is pretty typical of Cambodian/Chinese dishes. I hope you'll love it as much as we do and let me know if you made any changes so I can try it out your way. Enjoy!

Serves 4
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

2 tbsp. of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
½ lb. chicken breast, cut into strips
2 tbsp. of olive oil
½ cup of water
3 tbsp. of corn starch (or until the thickness you like in sauce)
2 stocks of broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
2 carrots, cut into bite sized pieces
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
½ onion, julienned
1 cup of mushrooms (optional)
1 cup of snow peas (optional)

1st sauce mixture
½ tbsp. of soy sauce
½ tbsp. of oyster sauce
1 tbsp. of brown sugar

2nd sauce mixture
1 tbsp. of hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. of soy sauce
1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
1 tbsp. rice [wine, interchangeably used] vinegar

1.     Begin by preparing rice so that it’s ready when the stir fry is ready.
2.     Heat up olive oil and garlic on medium high heat for about 3 mins in a wok or a large pan.
3.     Add in chicken and stir until juices run clear and add in 1st sauce mixture, set aside.
4.     In another pan, heat up olive oil and add in carrots and broccoli for about 4 mins. and 2nd sauce mixture.
5.     Add in the rest of the vegetables until soft to your taste.
6.     Serve with rice and Sriracha sauce (hot sauce, if you like spicy)