Should You Become a Voluntourist?

Most of my travels are not simply vacations. On the contrary, I like to use my travel experience as a way to give back to the communities I visit. It all started with a mission trip to Cieneguilla, Peru, back in 2007.

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My friend Erika and I with our little Peruvian friend Melissa.

My high school youth group went to the Posada de Amor orphanage and their neighboring Eliel Christian School. We did construction and painting projects, taught English, and spent quality time with the children. I had such a great experience, I returned two years later.

Playing games with the Rayitos group at Posada.

In 2010, I heard about another church that owned a mission in Carmen Serdan, Mexico. They offered trips for people to help out with the handicapped orphans they care for. I went along, and although we didn’t see even one touristy thing, I had a great time!

The orphans at the Mexico mission were all ages, such as 41-year-old Lupe.

Even though I haven’t gone on another “mission trip” since then, I have incorporated volunteering into elements of my travels. Ever since I was old enough to help, I’ve loved volunteering at camps offered by the Girl Scouts and churches, like this time at Camp Tadmor near Lebanon, Oregon.

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Some of the nine girls in the yurt I was in charge of.

When I went to Nashville in 2012, I realized that was the headquarters of a nonprofit magazine that I write for. Before going, I e-mailed the editor asking if we could meet. She responded, saying I was coming during important planning days for the magazine, and I was invited to help with this. I was glad to help out!

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In the building where we worked on Devozine.

This past summer in Niagara Falls, I learned about a ministry called the Magdalene Project, which helps homeless people, prostitutes, and low-income families. I called up the director and asked how I could help. After asking me about my skills and passions, she offered to let me help chaperone a trip with their kids’ club.

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Daisy and I touring Fort Niagara.

After all this volunteering in my travels (the buzzword for this is “voluntourism”), you’d think I would encourage everyone to go out and try to volunteer on all their travels, right? Well, sort of. I’ve learned a lot since my first trip to Peru, and I’m now more selective about how I voluntour.

Before I volunteer afar, I volunteer near home. I taught a local youth group a game where they got to slap peanut butter bread on me!
Before I volunteer afar, I volunteer near home. I taught a local youth group a game where they got to slap peanut butter bread on me!

I think the most important rule is this: if you wouldn’t volunteer at home, you shouldn’t volunteer while you travel. Hapless volunteering is a terrible way to try to make your trip meaningful. If you want to volunteer while you travel, find a local charity to work with before your trip. This will help you gain experience and make sure you’re cut out for the job. Don’t want to help near your home? I hate to break this to you, but this indicates that you shouldn’t volunteer afar either. If you want to help your destination’s community, you can still make a difference by purchasing from family-owned shops, staying at local accommodations, or sending donations to worthy causes. You must be dedicated to give your time.

Comparing heights with little Angela and her tutora. This is one of the local women who are hired to care for the orphans, thus forming a long-lasting and mutually effective relationship.
Comparing heights with little Angela and her tutora. This is one of the local women who are hired to care for the orphans, thus forming a long-lasting and mutually effective relationship.

I’ve also learned that just because an opportunity exists doesn’t mean I should go for it. In fact, this can potentially hurt their community! For example, our Peru trip leader told us that two of our tasks were to play with kids and do construction. The problem was, I never picked up a power tool before! I should have at least learned the basics before going. Better yet, the money spent on my plane ticket could pay local experienced construction workers to do the work. Then, instead of just helping the orphanage and school, we could help local impoverished workers as well!

Now, while I’m no construction expert, I do know how to play with kids. But was that beneficial? The kids did have fun playing with us, but I know it hurt everyone emotionally when we left. Volunteering long-term, or at least keeping in touch through letters and frequent visits, would be a less harmful way to form relationships.

Looking back, I think the one thing we did that was of real value was teach English. This is a sought-after skill in business, thus breaking the cycle of poverty. Since we were the only native English speakers in that area, we were best suited in this department.

The kids in this program were told I was just helping for one day to prevent attachment. I was able to utilize my childcare and health skills in the pool and at the park. (The kids also got the treat of sharing my waterproof camera in the pool!)
The kids in this program were told I was helping for just one day. I was able to utilize my childcare and health skills in the pool and at the park. (The kids also loved sharing my waterproof camera in the pool!)

Contrast this to my recent voluntourism experiences. Before I went to Niagara Falls, I talked with the ministry director and offered to help in any way needed. (I also worded it so she wouldn’t feel obligated to place me if it was a hassle to get me involved.) She did what all charity leaders should do: asked questions! She wanted to know about my past volunteer experience, profession, church involvement, and even my hobbies! With that information, she could find the role where I would be most effective, which happened to be chaperoning a field trip.

Same thing goes with my experience in Nashville. If I hadn’t spent several years writing for Devozine, I would have been more of a burden than a blessing. In addition, I didn’t waste money by making special volunteer trips. I’d already planned extended travel in these places, so I was able to maximize my buying power by staying in locally-owned small hostels, buying from local businesses, and spending time learning about the actual culture and needs of the area.

Are you still interested in voluntouring? If you’ve read this far, I assume you are. The above wasn’t meant to scare people from voluntouring (because it CAN be a meaningful and helpful endeavor), but rather to just get people thinking about how they voluntour. I could continue to provide information on other things to think about, such as your ability and availability, safety limitations, legal requirements, and how to find worthy organizations to voluntour with, but all this information could fill a book! Instead, I’ll refer you to someone who already wrote a book! I learned a lot from Kirsty Henderson, a worldwide traveler who has volunteered in several countries. She wrote The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. The eight chapters are filled with essential information, such as why you should (or should not!) pay a fee to volunteer, different types of volunteering, and a guide with a country-by-country breakdown of organizations you can help and what they provide their volunteers. I used this to discover a few opportunities that I’m looking forward to being a part of!

I would like to thank Kirsty Henderson for providing me with a digital copy of The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. And no, she didn’t pay me to say nice things about it- I just really like her book!

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Throwback Thursday: Costumes and Fall Fun

 

I did a little bit of trick-or-treating as a kid. I was a clown, a doctor, a prairie girl, and once even a Lowe’s employee! But when elementary school ended, so did the Halloween festivities. But not too many years later, the costumes came back, and they were better than ever!

Costume parties inspired me to get creative and make my own costumes. It all started when I stuck a laundry basket around my waist and filled it with clothes. The following years included a street, a playing card, a bucket of popcorn, a postal package, and this picnic table:

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Although I haven’t gone to any costume parties in the last few years, I started making a dress out of plastic bags. I finished it in 2012 and wore it while volunteering at a church event. It turned out to be a good thing, because I made popcorn for four straight hours, and the plastic dress saved my clothes from grease stains! While moving out of Ohio, I found it in my closet and had to take one final picture for old time’s sake.

 

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Of course, I don’t save costumes for being October-only. I even dress up in my travels!

There was the traditional Peruvian dress in Peru…

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…the kooky rock star at Lifelight Music Festival…

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…Joining a bunch of little cowboys at Camp Tadmor…

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…some super-heroic adventures in babysitting…

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…and meeting Phineas and Ferb while dressed as Perry the Platypus!

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There are a few other activities I’ve done to celebrate the harvest season. I loved learning about Latin American culture, so one year I decorated a Dia de los Muertos table.

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I wanted to enter some pumpkin carving contests, but when I went to the store, I realized that watermelons were a lot cheaper. This foot carving in the watermelon won two awards! I also roasted miniature s’mores inside the melon.

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Yesterday at my Toastmaster’s Meeting, we had a fun night with snacks and costumes. Check out my egg-cellent apparel!

Photo: We had great fun tonight at our "themed meeting". Our guests were astonished. Lewis won for Best Table Topics.

Carry-On Toiletries, Part One: Hair Styling

This is the first chapter of the series “Carry-On Toiletries”, for those of us who accept the challenge of traveling with just a carry-on, along with all the TSA requirements for taking toiletries. Stay tuned for the next several weeks for more installments of this series! 

I’ve had hair that ends at my ears and hair that ends at my waist, and every length in between. No matter how long my hair is, it has a tendency to cause problems in travel. At times it’s been so frustrating and unmanageable, the thought of shaving it all off entered my mind! Maybe you feel the same way too. But before you grab a razor, keep reading for a few tips on how to care for your marvelous hair, no matter where you are.

Flat irons, curlers, and other large hair styling items sacrifice way too much space in a carry-on. It’s hard to sometimes even fit a hairbrush! I will usually pack a foldable brush or a flat, thin comb. But even if you style your hair perfectly each morning, the environmental factors of your destination, such as heat, humidity, rain, and even thunderstorms, can effect how your hair turns out. Flyaways, frizz, and uneven curls are far too common in travel.

Rocking a fedora in Chicago. This hat was great at not losing its shape despite being crushed among the rest of my belongings.
Rocking a fedora and ponytail in Chicago. This hat was great at not losing its shape despite being crushed among the rest of my belongings.

Of course, the easiest solution is to hide it! A ponytail holder takes up zero space inside your carry-on. You can even slip it around your wrist for easy access! If I’m going somewhere that I know I’ll need sun protection, I’ll take a hat with a brim. I prefer bucket hats to ball caps because bucket hats are soft and can be crunched up to fit anywhere in your bag. Earlier this year, while attending a conference, I was given a sample product that changed the way I look when I travel. It was a buff, or at least a knockoff one called a Tubie. I can wear it as a headband, and if my hair gets too unruly, I can extend it to cover all my hair. If my hair happens to be behaving, I can keep the Tubie around my neck or on my wrist to absorb sweat.

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After spending a week riding the bus, hiding all my hair under my Tubie was the best I could do.

Hats and tubies are great to hide problem hair, but what if you want to show it off? Maybe you want to show off a new hairstyle, or your outfit doesn’t match any of your headwear. For a long time, I didn’t know how to deal with this on the road. With TSA’s 3.1 ounce rule, you can’t really take enough hair product with you. For years, if I was traveling with a group, I might bum some product off someone who brought checked luggage. If I was by myself, I really had no choice but to hide my hair. But just a few weeks ago, I discovered a new product that offers a great solution.

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A new company called Zizilia created “The First Pomade Bar”. I didn’t even know what pomade was before finding out about this product, but it is a hair styling product that does a really good job at keeping your hair in place. Zizilia makes them in solid bars, which means one less liquid that you have to take in your travels! The bar alone makes this pomade travel-friendly, but Zizilia went one step further and made them travel-sized! These cute little squares of pomade are great for plopping in your toiletry bag and taking anywhere. The reason this is a solid is because it’s made with beeswax along with other natural and organic ingredients, and I definitely prefer to not carry around unknown chemicals! This is the first Zizilia product I’ve tried, but they have dozens of other products that I’m excited to try out.

How do you care for your hair in your travels? 

A big thank-you goes to the small business Zizilia for introducing to me and sending some great products! 

24 Hours in Ashland

This weekend, I spent the night in the lovable, quirky city of Ashland, Oregon. It’s part college town, part hippie town, part art town, part outdoor town, and part I-don’t-even-know town.

My first stop was the Ashland Commons, which was nice enough to let me stay in a private room overnight. It was a very interesting hostel.The hostel was an apartment complex, so each apartment unit has two to three rooms and at least one private bathroom, along with a kitchen and living area. Unlike many hostels that display blank walls, each room is beautifully decorated.

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After a quick stop at the Ashland Food Co-op to get some natural snacks, I headed over to Lithia Park. It had been raining all day, but it finally let up as I arrived at the park. The 93-acre park typically has some nice nature trails, but because everything was still so soggy, I stayed on the paved path. I walked past playgrounds, tennis courts, a stage, a stream, and fountains. The highlight was spotting some deer in the woods by the tennis courts. As I walked closer, I realized there were five deer, and two of them were babies! The adult does kept their distance, but the babies stayed put even as I walked five feet from them!

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The low of the park was the water that Lithia Park was named after. The park entrance features a fountain display of Lithia water and even a drinking fountain with the same water. This mineral water is supposed to be healthy, but even health nuts would stay away from this stuff if they smelled it first. Ew!

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It started raining again, so I decided to end my stroll through the park and visit some of the local downtown shops. I loved the outdoor shop, with sales on all kinds of tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, and anything else needed for outdoor adventure. I’m sure they get a lot of business since the Pacific Crest Trail is only a few miles away. Another good business for the area was a costume shop, since the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is just a block away. The costume shop was really busy when I went, probably because Halloween is right around the corner. Although I walked away from all the stores empty-handed, I had to at least try on the fox onesie!

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After window shopping, I crossed the street to Martoni’s where I had their signature macaroni and cheese. I then walked back to my car through the Shakespeare theater area, and spent a lovely night at Ashland Commons. It was so relaxing, I stayed there for half the next morning! After a visit to Ashland Christian Fellowship, I headed back home, just as the Oregon liquid sunshine started plopping onto the windshield!

Note: This post was made possible in part by Ashland Commons, which offered me a free night’s stay. I would have loved it just as much even at full price! 

A Super-Exciting Week!

I have so much to share with you right now:

1. Look at the top of this page! See that? Yes, this site is now JessicaLippe.com! To celebrate the launch of this website, I’ll have exciting things to share all next week!

2. But I won’t be sharing tomorrow, because I have an awesome trip planned where I’ll be taking a short break from the internet. Where is it? Well, you’ll just have to come back next week to find out!

3. This week I am a guest writer on The Traveling Praters. Tonya Prater and I have some differences in our travel, such as she is focused on family travel while I’m more focused on single travel, but we also have a ton of similarities. At one point in time we both lived in Ohio (less than an hour apart, yet we never saw each other!), we’re both Christians, and we both love travel so much that we had to start a blog about it! Another difference is that I love geocaching, and Tonya has yet to try it out, so on her blog I wrote “The Joys of Geocaching”- click here to read it!

4. G4C Magazine, which I am the editor for, is experiencing a ton of growth and changes! To celebrate that, we are having a contest on its Facebook page. Click here to enter the contest!

5. Speaking of Facebook pages, this website also has one too! Please visit and like it!

These are just a few of the things that I’m excited to share. I’ll wait until next week to tell you about even MORE awesome happenings!

Throwback Thursday: Around the World in One Room

In spring 2012 at Camp Rivercrest in Nebraska, we were gearing up for summer camps. Our summer theme was “The REAL Adventure”, and I wanted to use that theme for all it’s worth. The one downside of working at summer camps is that you can’t really utilize the summer to travel. Since I was the camp nurse, I had to stay at camp 24 hours a day except for my day off. (But then again, I didn’t have a car at the time so I was completely at the mercy of coworkers offering a ride.) Because I couldn’t spend that summer traveling the world, I instead brought the world to the camp chapel.

Of course, I couldn’t do this alone. I worked with some very talented artists who did all the detailed art, including a stage scene and globe that aren’t pictured. But I did enjoy coming up with ideas, like turning each section of the chapel wall into its own continent.

My favorite was the Antarctica wall because I got to put the winter camp decorations to re-use. I also put the most work into this wall, making everything except the penguin and dogsled.

Antarctica

And of course there’s the continent where I’ve had most of my travel experience, North America. While I had a wealth of experience in this continent, the only representatives I made for the North American road trip are signs for Route 66 and In-N-Out. The funny thing is, I’ve been to In-N-Out several times and don’t see too much that makes it special, and the only times I’ve been on any part of Route 66 is when I’ve visited California and it’s the quickest route to make it to a nearby destination. So this wall wasn’t very representative of my travels.

North America

I guess I don’t have a finished picture of the Voyage to Asia, but the program coordinator brought in a bunch of decorations that she got from her time in China. In fact, a year after that summer, she moved to Asia!

Asia

The Europe wall wasn’t complete in this picture either. I hadn’t been inspired to backpack across Europe yet (or else this would have been a MUCH better wall), so we focused it on athletics and called it Tour de Europe, which is why you see the yellow jersey biking along the path, and we later added Olympic rings since they were held in London that summer.

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Then there was Latin America, the only other continent I’ve visited to date. Although it ended up being more of a Mexican theme than true South American, I did enjoy cutting all of that papel picado!

Latin America

Because of last-minute inspiration, I later decorated the Australian Outback Adventure wall with colorful boomerangs. I also painted the koala, but someone else drew it!

Australia

I didn’t do much with the African Safari wall, except add the black dashes (which connect all the continents around the room) and make the continent. I actually made all the continents, though I got help with the painting and cutting. I looked up pictures of each continent on my computer, then plugged my computer into a projector. I hung paper where the projection was, and traced. Africa was probably the easiest because there aren’t so many nooks and crannies to trace and cut!

Africa

While I had a lot of fun helping decorate each continent wall, it was important that the partitions in the front of the chapel were also decorated. Stage right was a map from the United States to China, because it was our goal to raise money for a Chinese orphanage. It made a great visual reminder. We covered the stage left partition with all sorts of maps. These giant foam cutouts were just falling apart in storage, so I decided to give them new life and use them as decorations.

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Each circle had John 10:10, the summer’s theme verse, in a different language.

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Being able to look at at amazingly-decorated chapel all summer certainly encouraged me to live a full life!

Eating Kangaroo

I believe in trying (almost!) everything twice. I had learned that kangaroo was butchered for meat in Australia, so I figured I would have to try kangaroo twice…if I made it to Australia. But this morning, I learned that not only can you find kangaroo meat in the United States, but a Jasper’s Cafe near my hometown serves it as one of their specialty burgers! So I figured I had to try it out. One try down, one more to go! Hopefully the second time I try it, it will be fresh and Down Under. Here’s the video of my first bite.

You may have noticed it was, well, messy. In addition to traditional fixings, this burger also included an egg, beets, bbq sauce, and bacon (which you saw me remove- I know, I’ve been told that hating bacon is practically unamerican!). So I probably didn’t get the full taste of the kangaroo with all the other flavors. However, the server did warn me that the burger might make me “jumpy!”

The restaurant staff actually was pretty funny. When the waiter was taking our order, he asked for my name. At first I was just going to say Jes, but halfway through speaking I decided to give my full first name. So it came out like “Jess-i-ca?” My sister made fun of me, and the waiter joined in on the laughs. Here’s what he put on our bill:

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7 Budget-Friendly Activities for Traveling Anywhere

I don’t believe that you have to be rich to travel. In fact, as long as you’re not in debt, there’s a trip out there that can fit your budget perfectly. Whether you’re headed around the world or simply to the next town over, here are a few ways you can get the most out of your travel experience- and still stick with your budget!

Eat Ice Cream

Twist O' The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!
Twist O’ The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!

I’ve visited (and once even lived in) several towns with triple-digit populations. There isn’t much in these places, but there’s usually an ice cream shop. Ask for a scoop of the most unique flavor on the menu, and you’ll be reminded of your visit whenever you taste, smell, or even hear that flavor. If you’re visiting an area that has several options for ice cream, pick a place that serves flavors from a local creamery. Sure, a small cone at an ice cream stand may cost more than a whole tub at the grocery store, but these few dollars won’t break anyone’s budget.

Visit a Church

One of the best churches I've ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!
One of the best churches I’ve ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!

If you want to meet locals, experience culture, and look at unique art and architecture for free, then head to a church near your destination. Churches are found throughout the world, even in places where it’s illegal, so you’re likely to find several churches within a short radius. Because this is part of your travel experience, don’t be bound by denomination or feel like you have to agree with everything the church believes. I’ve used travel as a way to experience Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and Catholic churches for the first time. Some churches have a historic significance to the area they serve, and may even be open during non-service times for visitors to see what makes the building unique.

Take a Walk

Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!
Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!

Not only is walking free, but it can actually save you money if you use it in place of buses, taxis, or car rentals. You can experience a lot more of the area by walking. While I remember taking some long walks on family vacations, my first trip with extensive walking was in Nashville. It was there that I went to RCA Studio B, where Elvis first recorded. I didn’t intend to go there, it just happened to be one of the many fascinating places I ended up stopping at while on my way somewhere else. Besides, walking ensures that you can enjoy all that ice cream you’ll sample, guilt-free.

Go On a Bike Ride

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

Some areas are not pedestrian-friendly, either because of a lack of sidewalks or because all the places you want to visit are a few miles apart from each other. In that case, I recommend seeing the area on two wheels. If you cannot bring your own bike to your destination, many hostels and other travel-related businesses can rent a bike to you (with a lock and sometimes a helmet) for a daily fee. Bicycles are the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to notice most of the unique things you would if you were walking, but you can also travel faster and for further distances. While staying at a hostel in Canada, I met a fellow traveler who came from Japan to ride a bike from Los Angeles to New York City, with lots of side-trips along the way. Imagine all that he must have seen!

Photograph Everything

The best part of Chicago's Cloudgate "Bean" is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!
The best part of Chicago’s Cloudgate “Bean” is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!

Getting a durable, quality camera may come with an upfront cost, but it is certainly worth all of the memories you’ll be able to capture. Naturally you’ll want to take pictures of the sights you see and the people you share it with, but you can also spend some time and actually get creative with the photograph. If you take a picture of a famous place, it will look the same as the millions of other photographs that other people took of the same place. However, can you incorporate your own unique flair? I once read a traveling shoe ambassador’s blog that put a face on a flip-flop and took pictures of it in several countries and states. If you take a fun spin with a photo, be sure to share it with me!

Go To Unique Sites

Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World's Largest Ball of Stamps!
Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps!

When traveling, you probably pick your destinations based on what you can see there. Of course you’ll want to visit what your destination is known for, but also keep an eye out for unique, little-known sites and attractions. People go to South Dakota’s Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, but only a portion of these people stop at the wacky Wall-Drug on the way there. Find out about roadside stops that can enrich your travel experience at places like RoadsideAmerica.com. You can also follow road signs to any interesting-sounding attractions or, better still, ask the locals for their inside information.

Chat Up People

Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat's photo booth with her!
Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat’s photo booth with her!

Okay, I have to admit that I’m not naturally inclined to walk up to random strangers and start a conversation. But I do appreciate it when another (non-creepy) traveler comes up to me to talk. Being a native English speaker, I have had the privilege of helping people from all over the world practice their foreign language skills simply by chatting with them! While I had the luxury of speaking my own language, I have been able to hear all kinds of interesting first-person stories, and have also picked up a few tips for my travels. If you want to meet new people on your travels but aren’t very outgoing, try staying in hostels, riding the bus or train, or simply standing in a long line for a tourist attraction, and eventually someone will start talking to you!

What are some ways that YOU make the most of your adventure while spending little money?

Chocolates, Chess, Caching, and Camps

I spent yesterday in Medford, Oregon. This large metropolitan area of Southern Oregon provided a lot for me to do! I started out by attending a business seminar about marketing, sponsored by Southern Oregon University at their downtown Medford campus. This was the same place that I went to college, and I drove the same van I drove to college and parked in the same parking garage that I parked in during college and walked down the same street to the same building that most of my college classes had been in. Ah, memories. I then went down the street to an event at the Harry and David world headquarters, where I was sure to munch on all kinds of chocolate-covered goodies. The only thing left on my agenda was to attend a banquet that evening, but since I had some time before that began, I went back to downtown Medford to play chess with some man.

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For the past twelve years, this man has been sitting at Vogel Park trying to determine his next move at chess. He’s really into the game. Nothing can distract him from his contemplation, even through stolen chess pieces, spray paint on his face, and other acts of vandalism. Across the table from him is an open seat where any passer-by is invited to play against him. I tried, but since I don’t know how to play chess and his turn was taking way too long, I got a little frustrated.

losing chess to a statue

One of the reasons I visited this piece of art was because there was a nearby geocache. Now typically, I don’t like geocaching in high-traffic places, and this little park is on what is probably the busiest corner in Medford. When people walked by, I would nonchalantly sit there, pretending to check a message on my phone or something like that. As soon as they were out of sight, I would duck underneath a table and search for the geocache. Since there were always cars waiting at the stoplights, I tried to stay on the side of the tables that faced away from the streets. I finally got to the chair that I was almost certain had the geocache underneath. But lots of people were walking by at that point, so I had to just sit there as I casually tried to feel the bottom of the chair for something magnetic. Finally, when everyone was gone, I looked under the chair and found that coveted geocache!

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As I was emptying this little cache of its contents, I found out that one of the drivers in a truck waiting at the stoplight was obviously watching me. He rolled down his window and yelled “Did you find the geocache?” I’m glad he at least knew what geocaching was. Oftentimes, people who catch me searching think I lost something, or that I’m just plain crazy!

After finding the geocache, I went back to the van and drove down the street a little ways to the inn where I would be attending a benefit banquet for Wildnerness Trails, which provides free camps to kids in crisis situations. Now, I recently ended a three-year career in camp ministry, but while you can take a girl out of camp, I guess you can’t take the camp out of a girl! Even though I won’t be working for Wilderness Trails, I did use the evening to meet the Girls Camp Director and turn in a volunteer application so that I can help with winter retreats whenever I’m available. Oh, and the banquet was amazing! There were several guest speakers who were campers, leaders, and local pastors, but I have to admit that the highlight was definitely the catering! Two types of salad, vegetables, and several main course choices. And the dessert was amazingly rich whatever it was. To me it tasted like a huge slab of fudge drizzled with raspberry syrup and topped with a raspberry. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed such a fancy meal from a camp-organized event!

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Although I’ve never been to the Wilderness Trails camp, between talking with the volunteers at my table and reading about all the great things they do, I am definitely looking forward to going there this winter. For winter retreats, there is a cozy lodge to stay  in, but in the summer they have archery, canoeing, lake ziplines, horses, and they sleep in tepees! In the room outside the banquet hall, they had a few camp-themed items set up, including one of their tepees!

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Throwback Thursday: Last Time at Crater Lake

All the photos must be altered. Every picture I’ve seen of Crater Lake looks unreal. Even when you go and see it for yourself, it takes some time to convince yourself that no, you mind is not playing tricks on you, that beauty is actually there!

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Since I grew up about 75 miles away from the deepest lake in America, one would think that an adventurous person like me would be there all the time, right? In actuality, I only remember going three times: once when my cousin visited, once to go snowshoeing with my youth group (and everything was so white you couldn’t even see the lake, so I’m not sure if that counts), and once as my last hurrah before moving away from Oregon.

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All of these pictures were taken the last time I was at Crater Lake. I went with my parents, and we drove around the entire lake and stopped at interesting and informational viewpoints along the way.

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Like I said about when I went snowshoeing, wintertime at Crater Lake means lots and lots of snow. In contrast, I could probably count on my fingers the snow days I had as a kid. I suppose in Oregon, all the snow gets stuck in the mountains! As we drove around the lake, I realized there were long poles on the sides of the road. That helped people know where the road was in the winter! Even though we went in July, there is so much snow in the winter, we found piles that weren’t even melted. Of course my mom had to encourage me to play in the summer snow!

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I suppose that many people out there did not study Crater Lake as intently as we did in my school, so here’s a little history about it: Crater Lake was originally Mount Mazama, a volcano that erupted and blew the top off the mountain. Over the years, the bowl shaped that was left behind filled with water, until it became the deep, blue lake that we know and love today.

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There are two notable islands on Crater Lake. Wizard’s Island is the large island seen at the top of this post. My favorite one is ghost ship. Whenever I’ve been able to see the lake, I’ve been able to see this ship-shaped island, but it’s named because supposedly it has a tendency to disappear in fog.

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Now that I’m back in Oregon, I really need to go to Crater Lake again. I’ve read about lots of long hikes that can take you down closer to where the lake actually is. Plus, pictures just don’t do this scenery justice! A few of my friends also want to go, we just need to plan a time that works for all of us. Hopefully we can get to it before we need snowshoes!

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