Spotlight on my Abuelo


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A few weeks ago, I threw a “happiness project” out there. Shout out to my Abuelo, who had eye surgery today. He has always made me chicken soup when I was sick (even when I was a moody teenager), he knows how to make everyone laugh, and he knows that food and celebrations are the gateways to happiness (which is why he hosts so many parties!)

As a world-class interior designer, Abuelo can turn rubbish into something beautiful. The man taught me to always be presentable, to let gossip roll off my back, and that I need to learn how to cook so that I can get a husband ;)

Below, Abuelo talks about his Cuban and Spanish heritage, the happiest times in his life, and the beauty in life.

Abuelo and Ross

Abuelo and his great-grand child, Ross. (Photo taken from my cousin’s facebook.)

Name: Enrique Julio Dorta

Date: November 2nd, 2015

Location: Atlanta, GA, USA

What is your family background and heritage? Be as specific as you want.   tenerife seasonal jobs                                     My father, Bernardo Dorta was born in Tenerife, The Canary Islands, Spain and my mother Angela Hernandez was born in Trinidad, Cuba, second generation Spanish and French.  My father emigrated to Cuba when he was 18, trying to avoid to become a priest, started a life for himself and met my mother, they married and had 2 children, my sister Juanita and Myself.  In Spain it was the fashion at that time that the First born would become a priest, since his older brother also left, it was his turn, so he decided to leave also.  My father’a father was a Pyrotechnitian by Royal Decree and my mother’s father was a landowner in Siguanea, La Villas, Cuba. They both came from large families.Cuba

Are you proud of your family heritage?                                                                                                          Yes, I am very proud of both my Spanish and Cuban heritage.

What is your definition of happiness?                                                                                                            Happiness is hard to define, but I think the simple things in life, like time with the family, strolls through Nature, friendships, are what bring happiness to me.  Art, music, dance and beautiful things also add to the happiness.

What is your current way of making money? And what parts of it do you enjoy?                                I am retired, so I enjoy getting my SS check every month.

Where you are in your life right now, what moments of the day make you happy?                            To know that I am still alive when I wake up every morning, and when I see my children and my grand children, and now I have a great grand child.  The precious moments that I spend with them are very enjoyable.  Also to see my friends, I have many and I enjoy everyone of them. Also when I,m cooking for family and friends, really there are so many moments that are happy to me.

What times of your life have been the happiest?                                                                                        I guess my childhood, my puberty, my marriage, the coming of my children, grandchildren, etc.  Family gatherings.  Graduating from schools,and to see the fruit of my work makes me happy.

What is your passion?                                                                                                                        I guess Beauty in everything. And maybe travel.

What people in your life make you happy?                                                                                         My family and my friends and intelligent and educated people.

What decisions have you made that lead you on the pursuit of happiness?                                        I guess the most important decision was to leave Cuba and everything behind to  give my family a new and free life in the United States

Think of a small moment in your life where you were the most happy. What made you so happy?    

Twice, when both my children were born.

Abuelo dancing with my mom and my sister (and dog) at Thanksgiving 2009.


Abuelo and his son Jorge in the 90’s.

What in your life hinders your happiness?                                                                                           Backwards and ignorant attitudes stemming from lack of education.

Take a step outside of yourself. Would someone looking in on your life think you are happy? Why?                                                                                                                                                                      I think everybody that knows me thinks I’m always happy,  Even thou many times I may not be,  my attitude is that the mere fact that i’m alive overshadows any vicissitudes that I may have.

What Students Really Need to Hear


I am printing this out and handing it to my students on the day after Thanksgiving!

Originally posted on affectiveliving:

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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3 Bigger Issues on the black girl being dragged out of her desk


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As a high school teacher, I am both completely disgusted and utterly confused by the video going around of a school resource officer using brutal force on a high school junior that refuses to give up her phone in math class. The problem is much bigger than insubordination–it boils down to three things:

1. Public Education

First rule in classroom management: treat your students with respect, and they will respect you more for it. They may not understand completely why they want to behave well and succeed in your class, but if you treat them like a person, they will act like a person… usually. Every student is a success until they are told that they are not.

Did anybody think to ask why she did not want to give up her phone? Did anybody ask her how her day was going? In the South, poverty and heartbreaking stories come in all forms. She might be checking on her mom who was in the hospital, she might be texting her brother to see if he could pick her up from school, and heck, she might even have a specialized learning plan and not have understood the request.

Everyday I go into my classroom expecting to learn something new. The kids I teach may look like adults but they are far from it. One minute they are saying something profound and deep, then the next minute they throw a paper ball at their friend across the room and whack another student in the face, creating chaos. Kids are not as they seem.

However, it is clear that I, as the teacher, have no authority in the classroom. I often will threaten detention or referrals but these are simply scare tactics–the real authority goes to administration or the resource officer.

People are scared of teachers because we are with their kids all day. We have been stripped of power, money, right to perform at our best, but are expected to teach kids who KNOW we have not power to discipline them, and we have to make sure these kids pass our standard tests or OUR job lies on the line. So my fate rests with the kid in the back with his headphones in who shouts out a cuss word every five minutes…awesome.

As a teacher in a Title 1 school, the odds are stacked against these kids and teachers more than ever. With about 95% of students on free or reduced lunch, school is not sometimes their priority.

High schoolers are still children, people! Trust me–I look at my freshman and I am SO relieved that they have four more years to go before they go out into the world. All they want is love and clear, obtainable goals and a safe space to go to everyday. For some kids, school IS their safe place and the school personnel are the ones who care for them. Think about all the teachers that stay way past the last bell to listen to a student who is upset or sad about something. Or the lunch ladies who pile extra food onto the kids’ plates everyday because they know that may be the only meal that kid gets that day. Or our resource officer who pokes his head into classes just to see what they are learning, making the students feel safe.

Research has shown that a student’s frontal cortex (the part of the brain that makes decisions) is not fully developed until they are 24 years old. Which means that kids have no idea what they are doing! And yet THEY run our classrooms!

2. Police Brutality

I have seen kids get high in the bathroom and then come to class, only to make a complete fool of themselves and get arrested in front of their friends. I have seen bad fights break out so fast that I don’t even have time to react before other students break it up. I have seen a boy that thinks he is clever, slap a girl on the butt, only for him to be clocked in the face by that girl’s boyfriend, then escalating to the point that a coach had to physically push one kid onto the cafeteria table behind him. Our school resource officer always is calm in these situations, even when a kid was dealing marijuana at school and had to be handcuffed in front of the entire student body.

I am not saying by any means that our resource officer has never had to use the proper protocol for taking control of the situation, but again, there is proper protocol. In public education there is always a hierarchy. It starts with the teacher, and when the student did not follow directions, an administrator or counselor should have been called in to handle the situation in a calm manner. If the student had escalated in behavior, then an administrator could have taken the necessary protocol for getting the student to comply.

Again, this being a student, she might not have understood directions. As a black teenage girl who is already in trouble, “Come with me” coming from a white police officer coined as “Officer Slam” for his brutal reputation, is terrifying and confusing.

Sometimes I will say to a student “Please follow the rules,” only for them to look at me dead in the face and continue doing what they are doing. But when I say “Everyone, sit up in your chair, with your feet flat on the floor, with your headphones and phones put away so that we can begin,” is 100% more effective. Lo and behold, within seconds all of my students are sitting up with their phones away–they just needed specific directions.

3. Racial Tension

I do not know the situation with the girl in South Carolina, but I do know high school students. As a Jewish/Cuban/white teacher as a French teacher in a predominantly black school, I learned so much about racial tensions and differences. The kids have taught me more about America than I could have seen from my own, simple perspective.

Last year, when several cases of police brutality against black people and other minorities surfaced onto the media, I had a student state during class that she “didn’t like the officer and he should just go away. All police officers suck.” I tried to tell her that not ALL of them suck and overgeneralization leads to bad things, but she stuck to her perspectives by saying “Look at us–we are black–we get pulled over for no good reason and the officers be looking at us some kind of way.”

Today I had the joy of taking my senior homeroom class to see a motivational speaker, Dr. Donald Arnette, the first African-American student to earn a Ph.D in any discipline from University of Texas Southwestern. He walked on stage wearing jeans and a t-shirt and opened by asking a student in the audience “what he thinks he does.” The student replied “uh…basketball player?” Everybody laughed and Dr. Arnette said “No, actually, I am an oncologist–I treat people with cancer.” He explained how perception is everything. He talked about police misconduct against him as a student at UT, and how he won a lawsuit against the state for being mistreated.

In south Atlanta, there are big billboards that say “STOP. DON’T RUN. REPORT POLICE


This “Stay Calm” ad was put in place to remind citizens to report police misconduct. The campaign was later suspended because it was believed to give the wrong message about police. Photo Credit: WABE Atlanta’s NPR Station


MISCONDUCT.” (They have been suspended as of March 2015 because it sends the wrong message, however there are still some fading in neglected parts of the city.) In what country do we live in that we need to fear the police in our hometown? My ancestors came to America to begin a fuller life as equals among other citizens, why can’t we guarantee that? Why do we need ads against our law enforcement?

I am not saying that the student was in the right, or that the officer was in the right–I am saying that this situation escalated too quickly and there are ways it could have been avoided.

There are much bigger issues here with the girl being dragged out of her desk and thrown a few feet. Clearly America needs to pay more attention at finding better ways to approach public education, police brutality, and racial issues for a 21st century world. How are we supposed to become a better country if we refuse to acknowledge these three issues at a federal level?

The Happiness Project


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Life is full of happiness, and tragedy. Confidence and doubt. It is a perfect blend of yin and yang, and every person finds their balance in their own way. In the end, we are all searching for happiness. We make decisions that change our lives, not always in the way we expect, and we find ourselves through this journey.

Searching for happiness is not a new concept. People have strived for happiness for as long as we have understood the concept. Some people make themselves miserable looking for happiness, others come to the end of their journey to find that they were happy all along.

In the fast paced, media driven day and age, we are told what makes us happy. A product or a life change will make everything better, and your life worth it.

What makes a person truly happy? What perfect blend of yin and yang make you happy and present in the moment?

The pursuit of happiness and each individual human perspective have always fascinated me. I want to know what makes YOU happy, and I realize it is not the same for everyone. This is my “Happiness Project.” I want to highlight one person each week about their search for happiness. Through this project, I hope to learn more about the people around me, all over the world.

If you are interested in being part of the “Happiness Project.” please copy and paste the answers below into an email message (with your own personal answers) and send them to

Readers from abroad, I would LOVE to hear from you. Even if I do not know you that well, I want you to try this. Especially fellow travel bloggers–we are all searching for happiness and I want your perspective.

Answer as many or as little questions as you want. If you naturally cover one of the questions in a previous question, just make a note. Pictures, videos, links to your own blogs or websites are encouraged!

The Happiness Project




What is your family background and heritage? Be as specific as you want.

Are you proud of your family heritage?

What is your definition of happiness?

What is your current way of making money? And what parts of it do you enjoy?

Where you are in your life right now, what moments of the day make you happy?

What times of your life have been the happiest?

What is your passion?

What people in your life make you happy?

What decisions have you made that lead you on the pursuit of happiness?

How do you/did you grasp at happiness?

Think of a small moment in your life where you were the most happy. What made you so happy?

What in your life hinders your happiness?

Take a step outside of yourself. Would someone looking in on your life think you are happy? Why?

Please email your responses and any images or videos you would like to share to Feel free to share with family and friends. I look forward to learning about your pursuit of happiness!

Port St. Joe, Florida: The Forgotten Coast


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Port St. Joe is a tiny town on the panhandle of Florida, on the stretch of land that is coined as the “Forgotten Coast”. Right on the Gulf of Mexico, the town is an ideal vacation spot for any beach bums that crave seclusion and white sands. What used to be a booming tourism industry on the coast is now a sleepy, easy going beach town that makes any vacationer feel welcome.

Getting there

Drive! It is really the best option. There is not really an airport close–there is Tallhassee which is two hours away–but you will definitely want a car while you are down there with all your beach gear!

Where to stay

  • Moon and Stars house, rented out by RealJoy Vacations, is the most fabulous getaway for large families (sleeps 6-8 comfortably) or even just for couples. It is in the Windmark neighborhood, a short walk on the boardwalk to the beach, and close enough to the city of Port St. Joe to make a quick errand if you need. The hardwood floors make it easy to come in from a sandy day at the beach, and the large living area lets in happy sunlight.
  • The Barefoot Cottages, also rented out by RealJoy Vacations, is a great neighborhood for families. The cottages are large and airy, and there is a pool in the middle of the neighborhood. These are the most bang for your buck–they are usually the same price as a hotel room in the summer, but you get the entire house to yourself to cook, come and go as you please, and not have to worry about cleaning crew coming in!
  • The Driftwood Inn is a cute boutique hotel that is right on Mexico Beach. Its cute outside speaks for its adorable inside.

Continue reading

Non-profit startups and education: how your dreams will both fuel and betray you


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Part of what I love about teaching is autonomy. I love that I can build unique and creative lessons based on what I can do, and what the kids can do and like. I enjoy creating something from scratch and then implementing it. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes, my ideas are more of a success than I realized. Sometimes, I start an idea to implement, but my brilliant students take the idea and make it better. I am the teacher, but the kids are my collaborators.

It is like running a business–each day, I come in early and check data to see how everyone is doing, the kids come in an hour later and some are in great moods, others are ready for lunch, some don’t like each other, some work together really well, but we all have a reason for why we are doing this. For me, I have to keep this business afloat and performing highly, otherwise I am out of a job. For the students, who serve as volunteers in this business, are in it for different reasons–whether it is to better themselves as people, to take a nap in a safe place, to impress all their friends by knowing all the answers, to make their parents happy…no person’s reason is the same. Continue reading

Photos of Valencia, Spain


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Valencia, Spain: Best city for young people


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Valencia is home to a beautiful beach and an enormous university, but still manages to not be too “touristy” like some other major European cities.

Getting there

If you are coming from any other city in Spain, hopping on a Renfe high speed train is your best option. Look up timetables online and book in advance if you can figure out the mess that is the Renfe online booking. If you get frustrated easily, STAY AWAY FROM THE RENFE WEBSITE and just go to your nearest train station and buy a ticket at the kiosk or with a customer service representative. Any way you do it, you will need to use that useless high school Spanish chapter about train travel in order to book tickets. (Not so useless anymore, is it? Yeah, you, kid in the back throwing spitballs!) 

Tickets sell out pretty quickly in the summer, so buy them at least a day ahead.

What to do

Valencia is teeming with university students, clubs, and excitement. The old city is beautiful, you have to see: Continue reading

Barcelona, Spain: Best Art, Culture & Nightlife


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Art thrives and mosaics flow in the city of famous architect, Gaudi. As seen in the Woody Allen film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it is easy to unleash your inner artist and follow your passions in one of the prettiest and laid back cities in Spain.

What to do

Art thrives in Barcelona, and one of the most famous artists from this area is Gaudi. He hated straight lines, so his works are curvy and flowy. He loved to design around St. John’s tale from the New Testament, which includes St. John fighting a dragon and slaying it. After observing a few of his works, it seemed to me that he was just obsessed with dragons, and wanted to add a little more spark to the contemporary art age. Gaudi might be the star of the show in Barcelona, but there is art from many people. Below is what you should do: Continue reading

Andorra La Vella, Andorra: Best road less travelled by


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Andorra is the tiny country between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. I know, I know, most of you are probably thinking “hahaha there is no country between France and Spain! What are you on?!” But I know all the geography majors can back me up. Look at it on a map (break out your binoculars)…

Map of Andorra

Map of Andorra

It might be small, but it is there! As a principality, the country still uses euros as the currency, but does whatever it wants. The official language is Catalan, but most people speak Spanish and learn some French in school.

High season is winter, when avid skiiers and snowboarders flock to the Pyrenees for the slopes.

We went in summer, anxious to see what it was like. After a few Google searches, we knew as much about Andorra as we knew before–not much.

So we hopped on a three hour bus to see the road less travelled by. Continue reading


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