Building Trees

American artist Sam van Aken is taking everyone by surprise. Aken has taken two seemingly unrelated subjects, art and agriculture, and has created something beautiful beyond words.

The blossoming Tree of 40 Fruit. (Property of
The blossoming Tree of 40 Fruit. (Property of

The Tree of 40 Fruit was a project that started several years ago when Aken made it his “mission to combine the aesthetic of sculpture with the agricultural wonder of planting trees” (HuffingtonPost).   Through extensive research, Aken discovered that there are many, many varieties of stone fruits, such as peaches, plums, and cherries, that are not always extremely popular or well-known. He eventually bought an orchard that was going out of business where he was able to nurture and cultivate his hybrids, created through a methodical and meticulous process of grafting branches to the host tree.

Every addition is carefully diagrammed and kept track of, allowing Aken to have an idea of how the tree would look like at different parts of the year according to the various blooming and producing schedules. In this way, he is able to make a “living sculpture” that has become popular among collectors and some museums. On top of that, his labors are producing literal fruit.

The trees were displayed at an art exhibit of called “New Edens” held on the campus of Gettysburg College back in 2011. The tree both shocked and amazed, causing many to ask what was the purpose behind this almost Frankenstein-like creation. Aken wanted his viewers to decide for themselves what the message was, but it would be difficult to miss the Biblical references: 40 fruits to represent the 40 years of Moses in the wilderness and 40 days and nights of Noah’s voyage, also it’s a “Tree of Life” in Eden. The tape-wrapped buds also give light to the digital age in which we live (EveningSun). In other words, there’s a little something for everyone.

“I look at the Tree of 40 Fruit as an artwork, a research project, and a form of conservation,” says Aken in a TEDxManhatten presentation earlier this year (YouTube). He is changing how the world views art, agricultural, and the fruit which the tree produces, many of which are seldom produced heritage and native species. A complicated and magnificent feat that Aken has scientifically and artistically accomplished in this unique and important project.

To learn more about Sam van Aken’s projects, check out his website at:

Artist Sam Van Aken is silhouetted against an image of a full-grown hybridized fruit tree. (Property of
Artist Sam Van Aken is silhouetted against an image of a full-grown hybridized fruit tree. (Property of

I never thought I’d see a single tree produce more than one kind of fruit until I got to heaven, but Sam van Aken has proven that God truly has endowed mankind with remarkable creativity and knowledge to be able to accomplish amazing things. Wouldn’t be awesome to try one of this special tree’s fruits? Almost like a bit of heaven on earth.

-Wandering Minstrelette


I’ll Never Be Home Again

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

Você nunca vai estar completamente em casa de novo, porque parte de seu coração será sempre em outro lugar. Esse é o preço que você paga para a riqueza de amar e conhecer pessoas em mais de um lugar.”

Miriam Adeney

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Orquestra Sinfônica Aprendiz

Until we meet again.

Até nos encontrarmos de novo.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Object Lessons

My time here in Brazil is quickly wrapping up, so I figured that I needed to squeeze in one last adventure.

As I had no responsibilities scheduled for the afternoon, I decided today would be the day I would go to Corcovado and see for myself the statue that represents Brazil to the rest of the world, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), along with what is considered on of the most glorious views of Rio.

There was, however, one complication…

Corcovado - Whiteness

Yeah… It was foggy. And raining. And really windy…

At the ticket office, the teller told me that the view was going to be very poor and that I should consider coming back later. “The weather is supposed to be bad all weekend, but Monday will be beautiful!” Whelp…

I figured since I had already made the trek from Rio by bus and taxi to get there that I would at least see what I could. I took the adorable red train up the side of the morro, through the forest of Tijuca, and was able to get a quick view of the city from above. There were a couple of Egyptians who were sitting behind me on the way up who were lamenting the fact that the weather was so poor but they had no other day to reschedule since, like me, they would soon be leaving the country.

It became colder at the higher altitude and just as we got off the train the wind decided to pick up, blasting cold rain in every which direction. Determined to at least get some semblance of a picture, I bravely hiked the steps to the Cristo with my poor, little umbrella that only managed to keep me less wet than if I had not had it. The one perk about the weather though was that there was barely anyone around.

The view that was supposed to be so glorious was engulfed in white; it was like being in a cloud.

Corcovado - No view

It was quite a feat trying to get a picture of Cristo without getting myself and my camera soaked, even harder to get one with me in it. I ended up settling with this as an acceptable portrait, fitting for the weather:

Corcovado - Cristo under Umbrella

During my rather pathetic attempts of taking a selfie, I encountered a fellow American named Josh who volunteered to assist me in my efforts. We ended up chatting in the rain for a bit, talking about California (he’s from LA), and about Brazil’s lack of individuals with English skills (if you’d like to read more about my opinion on that subject, please read the other blog I write for:

A few men walked past by us and Josh ran after them when he recognized one as being a sports newscaster on ESPN. HeCorcovado - ESPN newcaster asked the gentleman, who had an Australian sounding accent, if he minded saying a little blurb for a friend as encouragement for her country in the next World Cup. The guy happily obliged and later was walking around the statue filming himself and his buddies, who were all part of the ESPN crew.

Soon after, Josh and I decided that we had enough of being soaked by the wind and rain and walked back down to the vans, where he met his friends, and I went on to the train station. While waiting for the train down, I met two other Americans – Brian from Texas and Brandon from Arkansas – who also had come to see the statue. Surprisingly, they were not here for the Cup, but just decided to have an impromptu vacation. We chatted on the train heading back about things to do in Rio and Niteroi as they had only been here a week and were leaving in a few days, but wanted to find something cool to do. Hopefully the weather of the weekend won’t dampen all their plans.

So, my first encounter with the Cristo statue was not perfect but I have to admit that even in just being able to see the shadow of the statue, I felt an awe for what it represented. The statue was placed overlooking Rio de Janeiro in 1931 as a representation of Brazilian Christianity and has since become an icon for the city and Brazil ever since. I also love the symbolism of Christ watching over the people, reinforced by the fact that the statue can be seen from most any part of the city,  and with the weather I encountered I was reminded of the verse that says, “He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45b, NLT).  Definitely a powerful object lesson.

My adventure, although soggy, proved not to have been in vain. I met some cool people, got to ride the cute red train, and catch of glimpse of the statue. I even managed to get an obligatory open-armed photo, thanks to Josh.

Corcovado - Obligatory Pose

All this means is that I’ll have to come back some day to catch a day with better weather, a day when I can see his face. But you know what’s really cool? Regardless of whether or not I could see the face of the statue, I knew it was there. Just like the real Christ – in times of sunshine and times of the storm, He’s there with His arms open wide, watching over me. Praise God, what a glorious lesson to experience.

-Wandering Minstrelette

The Great Embarrassment

The day started cloudy and threatening, but now its almost as if the weather is crying with Brazil tonight.

In all things, Germans are known to be efficient, effective, and ruthless. But this… This was slaughter.

I doubt there has ever been a soccer match like today’s of Brazil against Germany. 7-1, Germany; it’s simply unheard of. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in soccer, but it sure happened today…

Photo Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

All those around me at the Nobrega Restaurant looked absolutely dumbfounded, expressing they shock and astonishment in a mixture of curses, silence, and eventually clapping for Germany’s last two goals cheering, “Flamengo! Flamengo!” (one of Brazil’s regional teams has a uniform just like the one Germany used tonight), almost as if trying to shake off the great humiliation and ridiculousness of the situation. The stadium was nearly silent at the beginning of the second half, as all the Brazilians seemed to holding their breath in hopes that somehow, someway, a miracle would happen.

From the screen that had been raised in the middle of the street, images of bawling Brazilians and jubilant Germans interchanged as the game wound down. Many people had left at half time, recognizing that there was no way for Brazil to make a comeback after Germany scored 5 goals in the first half; those who stayed were hoping for something, anything, to make this situation less mortifying which somewhat manifested itself in the form of Oscar scoring the single goal of the match. Of course, it couldn’t erase the gravity of what was happening, but at least Brazil didn’t go under with nothing.

Now, I’m not a sports expert or commentator by any stretch of the imagination. I do not pretend to understand sports, but I would like to give a stab at to what I think happened tonight.

The loss of Thiago Silva and Neymar Jr., one not allowed to play and the other injured, resulted in a psychological meltdown in the rest of the team. This meltdown, despite David Luiz’s best efforts, caused the team to be disorganized, disorderly, and ultimately, unfit to play. It was amazing, in a bad way, to watch the Brazilian players acting dazed and confused, wondering what was going through their minds. Could the injury of Neymar really have had such a drastic effect? The self-confidence they had had in previous games dissipated almost the moment they stepped on the field.  To top it off, the stress of playing in the semi-finals on their home turf must have also taken its toll on them mentally. From the flailing attempts to score to lack of defense, it is evident that Brazil was simply not equipped to play today.

To be honest, Brazil had not been playing well throughout the Cup. True, there were some glorious moments (most of which involved Neymar), but overall this is not the jogo bonito that every Brazilian citizen is taught to love about our soccer players. If I may, its been a while since Brazil has truly been up to its past standards.

Herein lies one of Brazil’s major faults: I believe that Brazil has been resting on its laurels. This, indeed, is a fault of many people and organizations; pride truly comes before the fall. For decades, Brazil has been known as producing some of the best soccer players in the world. It is also the only country to have won the World Cup 5 times and its team is the only one that has participated in every single Cup since its initiation. Logically, now that the Cup was on their soil, they would win. Well… As with any organization, it is important to be proud of past accomplishments but it is even more important to be proactive in striving for the next level.

Please, don’t think I am trying to diminish the efforts of the Brazilian national players. They are all excellent in their own right and their coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, is known for his technique and capability. But what was missing, in my humble, un-sports-educated opinion, was the sense of a team. There were articles being written about how Brazil had never before depended so greatly on a single individual for success and when that star fell, I believe the light went with him. It never was, as it should have been, about the team.

Julio Cesar Photo Credit: O Globo, Facebook page.

It was truly heartbreaking to see the tear-filled eyes of Júlio César and David Luiz after the game. Júlio César, I’m sure, feels that he has once again let down his country (the last Cup he made a public apology to Brazil for ‘letting’ the other team make the winning). David Luiz, who tried so hard to pull together the troops was ultimately unable to fight the mentally trauma, left the stadium crestfallen, looking into the stands and mouthing “Desculpa… Desculpa…” (I’m sorry… I’m sorry…). [See his heartbreaking post-game interview here:] I know neither of them will probably ever read this, but I hope they understand that neither of them as individuals are responsible for this loss. They may feel like they’ve let down their country, but they did so as a team – not as a single person. No one deserves to carry that sort of pressure and heartache…

Photo Credit: O Globo, Facebook page.
David Luiz Photo Credit: O Globo, Facebook page.

Now, do I believe that if Thiago Silva and Neymar Jr. had been playing that Brazil would have won? No, but I do feel that it would not have been such a “massacre.” Let’s face it – Germany’s team is great. They played well, they played as a team. They were in it to win it, without the added stresses of being at home, losing their best players, etc. But there is no doubt that they are truly excellent.

I feel genuinely sorry for the players of Brazil. Tomorrow, I’ll probably encounter some extremely depressed individuals, but right now there’s a party happening in the street behind the apartment building with singing and dancing; people are eating, drinking, and being merry. It seems regardless of whether we win or lose, we choose to celebrate. Which, once again in my humble opinion, is a pretty great attitude to have.

Brazil has one more game on Saturday to fight for third place. I truly hope they win. As for the World Cup champion… Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

-Wandering Minstrelette


This weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting family members in Petrópolis, about a two hour bus ride from  Niterói. The landscape is so beautiful there, with mountains and greenery… But, it is also much, much colder.


Yes, ladies and gentleman, Brazil does indeed get cold.

I ended up getting sick due to the climate change (warm and balmy  to cold at a high altitude) and was a bit distraught that there wasn’t any tea in my uncle’s house. In my home back in the States, we have a cabinet in the kitchen that is basically dedicated to tea (an idea we got from friends), so the thought of not having tea was a bit astonishing. I guess it shouldn’t have been… Brazil is not very big on tea, it’s always been more of a coffee country. But a solution was not far off! We ended up pulling leaves off their lemon tree, washing them and boiling them and had some of the most amazing tea ever. From leaves of a tree in the backyard! Know anywhere else you can do that? I don’t.


Sabbath morning was spent at the church at Instituto Petropolitano Adventisa de Ensino (IPAE), the school that my mother and most of the rest of Igreja do IPAE 2my aunts and uncles went to school once upon a time. I was honored to have the chance to play a couple of special numbers for the service. The pianist was remarkable – we didn’t have any rehearsal ahead of time but we stuck together basically the entire time. Its always great to play with people with such a level of musicianship.Playing at IPAE


Saturday evening was spent in Teresópolis, home of the Brazilian Seleção (national soccer team). No, we didn’t get to see any of the team, as cool as that would have been. By the way, for those who have been following – keep Neymar Jr. in your thoughts and prayers. Its hard being the star with such a high profile at such a young age and then be injured, almost considered paralyzed, and then be forced to back down from one’s biggest dream. He’s young and thankfully his injury isn’t as serious as first thought, but he will be out the rest of the Cup. Whether you’re routing for Brazil or not, we can all agree that no one deserves to be hurt in something like this.

Anyways, we went to Teresópolis for a “prayer vigil,” or at least that what I think it was called. A large Adventist event that had famous Adventist Brazilian artists performing and well-known pastors preaching held in an old Olympic indoor sports stadium. Sadly, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy it because I was starting to feel rather ill…

SDA Stadium Vigil

In the Crowd

Instead of going home, though, you know where we went? A pizza rodízio. There really isn’t a proper translation for this word… But essentially, its when you sit at you table and waiters come around offering various food items you can choose from. Its like an all-you-can-eat buffet where the food comes to you. It’s very common for Brazilian churrascarias (steakhouses/barbecues), but I had never heard of one for pizza. There more kinds of pizza than you could imagine, including chocolate! It was definitely an interesting experience.

This morning was supposed to be spent seeing some of the tourist sites of Petrópolis, as this was where the last emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, lived before the country became independent as well as the home of Alberto Santos-Dumont, who is credited in Brazil as the father of aviation (read about him here: However, traffic was completely backed up due to the annual Bauernfest, where Brazilians celebrate all things German. Suddenly, my fascination with the German language makes sense – it seems to be a natural part of being Brazilian! After a quick look around the festival, filled of course with beer, sausage, and traditional clothing, we went to eat one last lunch together before I had to return to Niterói.


Marching Band at Bauernfest

Crystal Palace

German "Houses"

I’m thankful for the time I was able to spend with my family. Its not often that I get to see them; its kind of hard when you live thousands of miles away. The last time I saw my uncle was in 2003. Hopefully it won’t be such a long period of time before we see each other again.

Now I’m back in Niterói and am ready to take on this last week of my internship! Wow… Has it really gone by that fast?

-Wandering Minstrelette

Fly Like an Eagle, photos

The pictures are finally here! Enjoy. 🙂

Setting up the cameras; GoPros, of course.


Practicing Flight Position


Game face

The assistant, who was from Angola, kept encouraging me while we were waiting for the right kind of wind.


Take off!




Our legs were released from their straps to make landing easier.

Not the most graceful of landings…

We survived!

What an amazing experience! Can’t wait to do it again.


-Wandering Minstrelette

Making Waves – Globo Niterói

I was surprised to find out yesterday that my coming to Niterói has caused a much larger stir than I expected. Since the arrangements for this trip were somewhat last minute due to complications, especially pertaining to the World Cup, the people who were contacted to make my coming here possible come from rather high positions in local society. Apparently, the Secretary of Culture in Niterói on down are aware of my time here and are excited.

Excited about what? The fact that I, as an arts management student, have come to Brazil from the States to learn how the arts function here has taken several aback in surprise but has also made several extremely happy. Arts management is still fairly new as a field of study; George Mason’s program is 10 or so years old. In Brazil there is a similar type of program that involves administration over cultural affairs and events, but it is not large or extremely popular. I have been told that when I announced my vision of learning about Brazilian culture through its music and working on the behind-the-scenes of running a youth orchestra during my time here, it got people talking.

Programa Aprendiz, where I am doing the majority of my internship work, has already started talking about creating a system or exchange program with international educational bodies to encourage more people like me to come and work with them on the constant improving upon reality that is management. Performing Arts Abroad also is hard at work at creating a more solidified program offer for future applicants to their program (I was the very first from their program to come to Brazil, so I’m kind of the guinea pig).

Luiza Carino, the head manager of Instituto Memória Musical Brasileira, the company that manages the affairs of Programa Aprendiz.
Luiza Carino, the head manager of Instituto Memória Musical Brasileira, the company that manages the affairs of Programa Aprendiz.

All this has created enough of a stir that it was requested that I be photographed and interviewed for Globo Niterói, a small chapter of the larger Globo multi-media organizations, the largest of its kind in Latin America. Needless to say, I was taken completely by surprise!

I was photographed today at the Municipal Theater in the center of Niterói, a tiny, beautiful, and historic space. I’d love to go back and see a performance there sometime before I leave, because it looks absolutely lovely. There was a journalist who came by as well and conversed with me, but didn’t jot anything down. I’m guessing a more proper interview will be arranged at some other time. Whenever the article is published, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Globo foto - palco
Teatro Municipal João Caetano. It was built in the 1830s and named after the “father of Brazilian theater.”

Isn’t it amazing how sometimes we make bigger waves than we expect? I had no idea that my decision to come here would have this sort of reaction. Now, ideas are flowing, conversations are happening, and changes seem to be on the horizon for several groups and people. All I can say is that I hope that my being here would be a blessing that lasts for longer than the moment. Not that I need people to remember that something happened because of me, but that something happened and it continues to work in the lives of those who are touched by the organization.

-Wandering Minstrelette