Vanessa Embling » A blog about my life & photography

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Vanessa Embling bio picture

    I love photographing people. I love telling stories with pictures. I love watching people and capturing emotions and feelings in an image. I love to have fun. And Laugh. And be silly.

    I am an endless wanderer and my middle name means 'bringer of light' so I try to do that wherever I go! I just moved back to the U.S. after living in Bolivia for the past two years working for a non-profit there. My life is an adventure as I strive to pursue my dream of being a photographer, adventurer, humanitarian and storyteller all at once.

Chicken Soup for the Soul…

I’ve been sick this week and longing for some really good chicken noodle soup.  When I asked around, ‘Where can I buy some good chicken noodle soup in La Paz?’, everyone told me I should just make it.  Well, I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking.  BUT… I really wanted chicken noodle soup.  So, I rallied and went to the grocery store and picked up all of the ingredients… came home and cooked… and enjoyed maybe the most amazing chicken noodle soup EVER along with a tall glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale.  (It might’ve been so good because I hadn’t eaten in a day and a half, but nevermind.)

It was simple and easy and so good.  There really isn’t anything like home-made chicken noodle soup.

I combined a few recipes (one was from Tyler Florence) and kind of winged it… but just thought I’d share!  Also, if you know someone’s at home, sick, in bed… bring them some home-made soup.   Personally, I probably wouldn’t ask that of someone because I wouldn’t want to be a burden… but man, I would’ve LOVED it if someone just dropped by and brought me some.

Home-made Chicken Noodle Soup

2 Quarts of Chicken Stock
(I used water because I didn’t have any chicken stock, just need to add more seasoning then)
1 Medium Onion, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Medium Carrots, chopped
2 Celery Ribs, chopped (I didn’t have any so I skipped it)
1 tbsp of Thyme (dried) or you can use fresh Thyme, but add more
2 Bay leaves
2 Chicken breasts with bone
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
Noodles of your choice
3/4 cup of Quinoa (red or black)

Bring stock (or water) to a boil.  Add raw chicken, chopped vegetables, and herbs.  Simmer for a while (15 minutes?).  Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring water to a boil and cook the noodles.  Taste the chicken soup mix, add more herbs / salt & pepper AND more water or stock if needed.  Add quinoa to chicken soup mix and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes more.  ENJOY!!  Serve together with the noodles, add more salt & pepper to taste – and if you desire, a glass of ginger ale.  For storage: I keep the noodles separate.  If you combine them with the soup they will soak up all of the liquid.

photo 1-2

Chicken noodle soup

photo 2-2

I cut up the chicken and added salt and pepper to taste.


And because I love ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books… here’s a great story from one of their books:

Made a Difference to That One

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. Because it does.”

~William James

Twenty years ago — in the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul book ever published — I read a story by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen that changed me forever. The story was entitled “One At A Time.” Its message? Just because you can’t save the whole world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make a little piece of it better.

Through the years, I was reminded of that message every time I helped a kid learn to dribble a basketball. Every time I delivered homemade oatmeal raisin cookies to a nursing home. Every time I picked up litter or took in a homeless kitten or let somebody who seemed more hurried and harried than I go ahead of me in the grocery checkout line.

But the message hit the hardest the summer Caroline came into my life.

She was standing in ninety-degree heat in the parking lot of the tiny branch library I’d just been hired to manage. “Hey,” she said, as I fumbled to unlock the door. “Are you the new library lady?”

“I am,” I told her. “Who are you?”

“Caroline,” she said. “And I just turned ten.”

Hmmmmm, I thought. Caroline was certainly the smallest ten-year-old I’d ever seen. But it was clear that she could read, for she had obviously noted the sign on the door that said: CHILDREN LESS THAN TEN YEARS MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY A PARENT.

“Come on in here where it’s cool, Caroline,” I said. “Let’s see if we can find you some good books.”

We did. And because not one other patron entered the library for the first two hours it was open, we had plenty of time to enjoy those books. I read to Caroline for a while and then she read to me. I helped her find kid-friendly games to play on the computer. I showed her where the restroom and the water fountain were. But as morning became afternoon, my stomach began to growl. I’d brought a sack lunch — when you’re running a one-person operation, there’s no going out for a meal — but I hated to eat in front of Caroline.

“Don’t you think you ought to head home and get some lunch?” I finally asked.

Her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. “Nobody’s home at my house.”

“Did your parents leave you something to eat?”

“My mom locks the door every morning when she goes to work. She won’t be home till dark.”

I turned away so that Caroline wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. And, of course, I shared my bologna sandwich and tangerine and Little Debbie oatmeal creme pie with her. She stayed at the library all day. And as I watched her curled up in the yellow bean bag chair in the cool quiet, reading about Clifford the Big Red Dog and Horton the Elephant and Amelia Bedelia, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other children there were in this little town and in this big world, locked out and lonely and left to fend for themselves.

There were millions, no doubt. Just thinking about them made me want to weep. To gnash my teeth. To wring my hands in despair. How could I possibly make a dent in such a problem? Then I remembered the story of the man walking along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them — one at a time — back into the ocean so they wouldn’t die.

Every day, that whole summer long, Caroline was waiting for me when I pulled into the library parking lot and climbed out of my car holding two sack lunches. She’d help me unlock the door and turn on the lights and fire up the computers. And then she’d plop down in the yellow beanbag chair and grin at me.

“Let’s start with Horton Hatches the Egg,” she’d say.

It’s true. One library lady in one little town couldn’t make a difference to every child on the mean streets of this planet. But I could make a difference to one.

~Jennie Ivey

Ummmm… are you crying? Because I am!!  What a great reminder right?

Keeping it Real

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time.  It’s not because I haven’t been doing anything.  It’s not because there hasn’t been anything worth writing about… I think it’s more because I have been putting pressure on myself to write things that are well-thought-out and well-written. And, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But, I think at this point, I’d rather just focus on sharing my life with anyone who wants to know what’s going on… and KEEPING IT REAL.  So, it’s about to get real.  I think I’m going to try to do a weekly installation of K.I.R… yes, that means every week.

So here goes.

When people get ‘sick’ in Bolivia, it usually means that they have gotten some sort of stomach bug from something that they ate, and the result of that is really bad diarrhea and sometimes vomiting.  It’s awful.  And it unfortunately is an all too often occurrence with us Gringos here in Bolivia.  I was sick all day today – at home – running back and forth from my bed to the bathroom.  Thankfully, there is a wonder-drug called ciprofluxen that helps make everything better.  But it’s days like today when I’m sick and feeling crummy that I wish my mom was here to take care of me.  All that being said, laughter is always good medicine… so we (the Gringos) have nominated this our theme song:

In other news… I deactivated my facebook because I feel like it can be such a distraction.  And, it’s Fall back home in New England.  That means pumpkin picking, apple picking, football… and oh… all of my favorite things – so it can tug at my heart when I see everyone posting about all of those things.  I can feel jealous or I can feel sorry for myself that I’m not THERE experiencing those things.  But, I want to be HERE… I want to be present and fully engaged in where God has me.  So, for now, I decided it’s better to just take a hiatus from Facebook.  And to be honest, whenever I’ve detached from facebook (for a day…a week or a month…) it’s always made my life better.  And I think it’s probably the opposite for when I’m on facebook… *But, for all of you back in New England – please enjoy all of those things to the FULLEST and feel free to send me a box of everything PUMPKIN! I’d be happy to send you my mailing address here in Bolivia!

Saw this video… thought it was really powerful

On a slightly deeper topic but connected to the last, I have been feeling pretty lonely.  I miss my friends back home.  I miss a lot of things from back home.  But I also realized that amongst those emotions, I question my purpose for being here.  I question God’s plan.  And often I can feel like a failure or like I’ve let Him down. One of the things I am so grateful I had when I was in Boston was a sense of family.  There were several families at church who kind of adopted me and pulled me in.  Once or twice a week I would spend time with these families, we would have dinner and talk and laugh.  We would enjoy football games or cookouts.  I have yet to find that here.  Which is ironic because ‘family’ is so important here.  Everyone is with their families on Saturdays and Sundays.   They just don’t seem to be so welcoming to ‘outsiders’.  I will keep these things in my prayers and I trust that God knows the desires of my heart.

I’ve been having some great prayer times, which I’m incredibly grateful for.  I think it’s easy for me to not pray….to not go to God.  I would rather talk to a person, or watch a movie or stay distracted.  But this week I’ve been forcing myself to get on my knees and talk to God and to Pray Until Something Happens (PUSH through).  I’ve been surprised at the things I end up talking to God about, the things that have been weighing heavy on my heart that I didn’t realize.  It’s been so good to share deeper parts of my heart with Him… and then also to remember who He is according to the scriptures – and choosing to believe truth over the lies.

Tonight, I was reminded of two of my favorite songs – the lyrics touch my heart.

“Faithful to Me” by Jennifer Knapp

All the chisels I’ve dulled carving idols of stone
that have crumbled like sand ‘neath the waves
I’ve recklessly built all my dreams in the sand,
just to watch them all wash away

Through another day, another trial
Another chance to reconcile
To One who sees past all I’ve seen,
and reaching out my weary hand,
I pray that you’d understand,
You’re the only one who’s faithful to me.

All the pennies I’ve wasted in my wishing well
I have thrown like stones to the sea.
I have cast my lots, dropped my guard, searched aimlessly,
for a faith to be faithful to me.

Through another day, another trial,
Another chance to reconcile
To One who sees past all I’ve seen,
and reaching out my weary hand,
I pray that you’d understand,
You’re the only one who’s faithful to me.

“If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens

The pathway is broken and the signs are unclear
And I don’t know the reason why You brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do
I’m gonna walk through the valley if You want me to

‘Cause I’m not who I was when I took my first step
And I’m clinging to the promise You’re not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
Then I will go through the fire if You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that’s not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I’d never go alone

So when the whole world turns against me and I’m all by myself
And I can’t hear You answer my cries for help
I’ll remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will go through the darkness if You want me to

When I cross over Jordan, I’m gonna sing, gonna shout
I’m gonna look into Your eyes and see, You never let me down
So take me on the pathway that will lead me home to You
And I will walk through the valley if You want me to

Below is the video….

p.s. She’s blind… and incredibly talented!!


Stay tuned for next week’s installment of KIR!!

October 22, 2014 - 3:28 am

SC - Thank you for the KIR Vanessa. Your faith in God is truly inspiring even with the daily struggles in life. It reminds me of heaven with is so much more.

-Luke 18:6-8 & Psalm 91

Visiting Ground Zero

I got to spend the day in NYC for my birthday in February – it was incredibly cold and windy that day.  My friend, Steve, happened to be in town from California and so together we ventured down to Ground Zero to remember 9/11 and all of those who died that day.  I was in Manhattan on September 11th, 2001 – you can read about how the day unfolded for me HERE.

I stand in awe of the courage of those who, in the face of danger, did not run away but instead ran toward it – thinking of others.  It reminds me of 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

The Freedom Tower and the two square pools that sit at the base of where the Twin Towers once stood, were definitely a sight to behold… along with the thousands of names that are featured in the granite, in remembrance of those who lost their lives.  VEmbling_140225_0040VEmbling_140225_0045


Our time walking around the memorial was fairly somber and quiet… but, we did manage to have some fun here and there and enjoy some laughs…



Hiking the Devil’s Molar

I recently hiked La Muela del Diablo (the Devil’s Molar) here in La Paz, Bolivia.  It was on my list of ‘things to do’ although I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge – a long hike and a large elevation gain at an already high altitude (12,550 feet).  But, the views we enjoyed along the way and at the top were so incredible, it made it all worth it!  There’s also an option to just take a car or taxi up to the end of the road, and then you have only a small climb… I think I’ll do that next time!  We covered about 10 miles on our hike.


We started off the morning with a good breakfast… salteñas and coca cola of course!


My new best friend!



We took the minibus from Plaza Estudiante to Los Pinos… it cost us about 3bs (less than 50 cents)


The cemetery and the beautiful terrain in the background.


Most of the hike was on a steep incline and there wasn’t exactly a ‘marked path’… thank goodness someone knew where we were going. The sun is also really strong in La Paz because of the altitude so lots of people used their jackets as ‘visors’ from the sun.


Marcelo (aka our sherpa) ended up carrying a lot of our stuff – we were all super grateful!


This was just the beginning of the hike… but wow… what a view!


Every day I fall in love with Bolivia a little bit more. Every day the sky is different, the clouds are different, the light is different – and as I look out at the mountains and valleys I’m simply amazed at God’s creation.


Getting closer! Passing through the village of Chiaraque on our way to la Muela (in the background)


Another view of la Muela…


At the base of la Muela… I was ready to stop here. But, we rallied and climbed up the steep rock formations… it was scary!!


Made it to the top! What a view!!


A few brave souls climbed even higher… crazies!


With the whole group at the top of la Muela del Diablo


No guard rails… it’s a long way down from here!




Another view of la muela…


Hiking back down was almost harder than hiking up – everyone’s legs and knees hurt by the end! But it was worth it!


August 27, 2014 - 5:13 pm

John Willis - It looks amazing. I wish I could join you all. I admire your spirit. Your gratitude is plain to see and admirable. God is wonderful. I wish you well on your life’s journey Vanessa. 🙂

Back in Bolivia

After almost a three month hiatus, I’m back in La Paz, Bolivia – where I now call home!  I’m so excited to be back here.  Still adjusting to the altitude and trying to get settled into my new apartment.  I’m learning to give myself a little bit of grace as I try to navigate the woes of living in a third world country where I am far from speaking spanish fluently.  But, every day is an adventure and I’m so, so, so grateful to call La Paz home.

One of the things on my ‘to do list’ since I’ve been back here was to ride the brand new Teleferico!  It’s La Paz’s newest form of transportation – kind of like a subway system in the sky.  It has been no small engineering feat – but for a third world country to pull this off – I’m incredibly impressed!!  It costs less than 50 cents to ride it one way from the center of the city all the way up to El Alto and takes about 20 minutes.  In the past, this would’ve taken about three bus rides and an hour or more for travel time.  Did I mention it’s amazing!?  Below are some photos and a quick video I put together from my first ride on it.  We went up to El Alto to shop at the huge flea market they have every Thursday and Sunday.  Check out some of the photos and video I took with my phone below.

The New York Times also just did a great article/video on the Teleferico – you can check that out HERE!

Many more updates to come – stories to tell and of course, photos to share about my adventures in the US and all around the world!

Please post a comment or a question if there’s something specific you’d like me to share about or if there’s something you are curious about!


This is the view out my apartment window… pretty awesome.


Getting on the Teleferico!


Riding the Teleferico with my friend Jackie and Melissa (not pictured)