An Ode to Brussels Sprouts

Ask yourself–when is the last time you challenged yourself to try something you normally wouldn’t try?

For me, I think it was about a week ago. I saw my roommate making brussels sprouts and I thought to myself–that is seriously gross. And then, I really started to think. Why were they so revolting to me? Have I ever really given brussels sprouts a fair chance? What do I really have against these little green mini-cabbages? I’ve had delicious brussels sprouts before at restaurants, but I’d always attributed it to a fluke or some seriously skilled chefs. My childhood self thought they were gross and that is the category they would stay in because, after all, my childhood self is right about everything (duh!).

The thing is, we all have these preconceived notions about what we think something will taste like, how we assume certain people will act, and how we believe a certain scenario will turn out and, most of the time, we couldn’t be further from correct. Where does this come from? Why did I just assume that brussels sprouts were disgusting?

We have a tendency as human beings to frame things into different categories without ever really validating how these decisions are made. Vegans are hippies, jocks aren’t smart, skydiving is extremely dangerous. Well, I’ve been a vegetarian for over half my life (and mostly vegan) but, while I do enjoy a good Jefferson Airplane tune, I also spend my weekdays at an office job while earning my MBA degree at night. Check out some of these brilliant athletes, according to AOL Sporting News–a degree from Yale in biophysics and biochemistry–not too shabby. And, according to the United States Parachute Association, fatalities over the past five years have averaged about one fatality per every 141,509 jumps, mostly due to human error rather than equipment failure. Look at how wrong we were!

My point is, many times our perceptions, without the proper validations, can be grossly inaccurate. So I went to the store, bought a bunch of brussels sprouts, googled ways to prepare them, did my best chef impression, and, voila, delicious and nutritious brussels sprouts. Instantly, my perception was transformed! Now, I can’t get enough of these beautiful green spheres of mouth-watering deliciousness. I’m serious–I eat them like they’re going out of production.

So in conclusion, I issue this ‘challenge’, if you may, for lack of a better word. Go against the grain. Question the norm. Challenge your preconceived notions. Do your homework. Don’t knock it before you try it. Don’t be scared, skeptical, critical, judgmental, or negative until you really know the what, when, where, why, and how. Do something different. You might just discover your very own brussels sprout.


Viva El Peru!

A few weeks ago, my friends and I spent a week and a half exploring the beautiful country of Peru, wandering around the Cusco area and spending four days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Just to get some perspective, trekking the Inca Trail was the most physically challenging thing I’ve done, hands down, in my entire life (and I run half marathons so I’m in decent shape). The trail ranged from about 3,000 m above sea level to about 4,200 m above sea level at its highest point. It was cold and the stairs were steep. I felt dirty about 95% of the time and I barely slept. The ground we slept on was hard and uneven and we didn’t shower for 4 days. I got altitude sickness. And I wouldn’t take back even one second of it.

Day one was absolutely the easiest (and the cleanest). We hiked for about 5 hours and it was relatively flat. We had a luggage issue so we started later than everyone else but it was actually a lot nicer that way because we didn’t run into any other hikers on the trail. I was really surprised to find that people actually live along the trail. The children that live along the trail actually wake up really early on school days and walk miles to the nearest school. That makes me feel pretty lazy for hitting snooze a few times before I get up on most mornings. I spent most of that night literally paralyzed in fear because I heard a creature outside our tent. I thought it was a rabid dog or a wolf and I swear I heard it growling. I was terrified to make any loud or sudden movements. Come to find out in the morning, that creature was a mule. Clearly, I’m a nature person.

To make up for a casual day one, day two was easily the hardest. We spent about 5 to 6 straight hours climbing steep hills and jagged, steep stairs to reach the trail’s highest point. Mind you, when you are hiking at over 3,000 meters, the air is so thin it is very hard to breathe and you get winded much more easily. Breaks were frequent and welcome. Once we reached the top, Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 m, we thought we could celebrate a job well done. Little did we know we still had over 2 hours of downhill/downstairs. Going down steep and uneven stairs like that is a lot harder than you would think–and not easy on the knees or ankles. This steep descent was also the reason for my altitude sickness. By the time we got to camp around 3 pm I spent the next 2 hours in and out of consciousness, trying to sleep off the nausea and headache.

I should probably mention how absolutely gorgeous the trail is before I keep sounding like I am complaining. All the physical pain and exhaustion I endured throughout the entire hike was well worth seeing views that most of the world will never get to see. It’s really really special and I genuinely mean that. Each day we witnessed a new terrain, more beautiful than the last.

Day three was almost as difficult as day 2 but also probably my favorite day (minus the rain). We started on an hour long ascent up MORE stairs–in the rain. Stone stairs + rain = a pretty slippery situation. When we got to the top of the pass, we performed a ceremony to thank the mountain gods and make a wish. Then, we spent hours hiking through the jungle, which was unanimously the most beautiful part of the trek for everyone. Day 3 ended with us descending down 3,000 extremely steep steps and reaching a beautiful Inca ruin overlooking the mountains with the Urubamba River cutting through them.

At this point I was tired, sore, dirty, and greasy. I hadn’t showered or used a proper bathroom in days. This was the most low maintenance thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. And, mind you, we had porters carrying our bags. If you want to feel extremely humbled, just think about these porters. It is their job to carry 50 pounds worth of the stuff that we use for camping–our clothes, our tents, our food, etc. I was tired and cranky and wanted a shower and some heat. These men have been portering for years, trekking the same trail over and over again, faster than any of the tourists who are carrying much less.

Day 4, we woke up at 3:30 am so that we could wait on line to start the trek to the Sun Gate, which is the first view of Machu Picchu. Even the fog completely covering Machu Picchu couldn’t take away from the beauty. When we got to Machu Picchu, everyone who came via train looked like they smelled very good and were so clean. But I had accomplished something that few can say they have. I had fought through the doubt and the pain and realized I could finish anything I put my mind to–and that is something I’ll never forget. I’d take the grease and dirt over a boring train ride any day.

Machu Picchu

A Celebration of Life and Love

I sit here a little anxious, knowing I have so much work to do. But every time I go to start my homework, I get distracted by my thoughts. In the least cliché way possible, I need to get this thought out, just share it so it’s not sitting here clouding my head while I try to work. Life is so precious–so so precious. These past couple of years, more than ever, have taught me that. I’ve seen a perfectly strong and healthy former classmate and teammate fight off an extremely serious lung infection due to MRSA. A few years ago, I witnessed another former teammate lose her battle with cancer in the prime of her life. And now I’ve seen my beautiful, kind, and loving second cousin pass on suddenly due to cancer at such a young age, leaving behind two daughters and countless loving family and friends.

My cousin Nancy who, up until a few years ago, I never met, was my friend. I met her at a family reunion right before I was starting my first year of college. I told her I was going to Ramapo and she was so excited–she lived only a few short minutes away over in Franklin Lakes. I got her number and she insisted that I call and come by to visit so she could cook me dinner and I could hang out with her and her family–her husband and two daughters Kayla and Emily. One minute, she knows me only as Louis’ daughter. The next, she’s inviting me into her home for dinner. That’s just Nancy, always warm, friendly, open, and welcoming. I spent many a night in that home during college, always so thankful for a nice, home-cooked meal. Nancy was an amazing mother. Kayla and Emily were the sweetest, most well-behaved and intelligent young girls I had ever seen. Now, they are young women who have lost a mother way too soon.

I regret so much the fact that I lost touch with Nancy after I graduated. I regret that I was too scared to call her when I found out she had cancer last year, not wanting to bother her during such a vulnerable time. I regret that I wasn’t able to visit her before she passed away. I want her to know that she has been in my thoughts every single day since I found out that she had cancer. She will surely be missed by everyone who has ever been blessed by her presence.

So I leave off with this thought before I sign off and get back to the reality that is homework. Don’t ever take life for granted. I know how lucky I am but I also know how quickly everything can slip away. Cherish each moment that you spend with the ones you love and remember how lucky you are that they are in your life. Appreciate everyone you love every minute of the day.