When going into Madrid, I didn´t really have any plans for must-see attractions. But I did have some must-eats! And I think I ate everything I hoped for, from tapas, to paella, to toast covered in tomato sauce and olive oil. But I definitely did have a favorite, and that was chocolate con churros.
Churros in Madrid may be very different from churros you´ve had before. In North America, churros are thick, straight, and rolled in cinnamon sugar. The Spanish churro is thinner and teardrop-shaped. While it still comes fried with ridges, you have to add the cinnamon yourself if you want it. But you might as well skip the seasonings because it is much better with a nice cup of chocolate!
When you order chocolate con churros in a cafe, you´ll receive the chocolate in a small mug. The consistency is thicker than hot chocolate, but thinner than melted chocolate. Not as much sugar is added like you’d find in most chocolate, but it’s sweet enough. It´s perfect for dunking, or for eating straight with a spoon!
After my first Madrid hostel, U Hostels, served me Spanish churros for breakfast, I was hooked! But they only offered toppings like sugar or butter or chocolate powder, not actual chocolate. So I looked up a few local chocolaterias so I’d know where to go to test this treat
The good news is, there is no one “best place” to experience this deliciousness. Whenever I came across a cafe with the label “Chocolateria” above the door, I knew it was a good place to go. I didn’t notice any sort of difference between the churros or chocolate among the chocolaterias, so the only thing that makes one better than another is the price.
Okay, there is one notable difference, but I didn’t discover it until after I left Madrid. In Barcelona, because this area of Spain wants to be its own country, everything is different, including the language. Here, if you go to a Xocolateria for some xurros, you won’t get them in teardrop shape. My Barcelona xurros were cut into smaller lengths that curled slightly in the fryer, and we served in a paper cone. Interesting how one local treat can go from a cafe snack to a fair food!
Have you eaten chocolate con churros? What’s your favorite foreign snack?
There is a place in Spain that offers a nice break from large cities like Madrid and whisks you away to forest-covered hills and mountain views. Here you can enjoy three-course meals, pool facilities, and a retreat to a villa. Best of all, you can get this for free.
The catch? At this Spanish location, no Spanish is allowed!
This shouldn’t be much of a problem for native English speakers, but each of these people, referred to as an “Anglo”, will have to spend all day talking with native Spanish speakers who want to improve their English. The English-only rule is a bit more difficult for the Spaniards!
In order to expose the Spaniards enrolled in the program to different accents and expressions, the program, called Pueblo Inglés, recruits Anglo volunteers from places like England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. I was one of the volunteers representing the United States in a recent program. Volunteering does require putting in long hours of sometimes difficult conversation. Most of my day consisted of talking one-to one, having group discussions and partipating in activities that somehow helped practice English. But in return, I received transportation from Madrid to a scenic resort, three-course meals and a stay in a villa all for free!
Of course the Spaniards do have to pay for this language learning experience, but it is an incredibly effective program as it is an intensive eight days of speaking nothing but English. I saw many people who started the program having difficulty understanding me even when I was speaking slowly, but towards the end of the week we were chatting like I would with someone from home.
Over the course of the week, Anglos and Spaniards do everything together. At meals, each four-person table had two Spaniards and two Anglos. Group activities included discussions, icebreakers, parties, and even a tour of the nearby town La Alberca. Now THAT is an experience I must tell you about!
Most of us chose to walk from our hotel to the town through a backroad. On the way, our master of ceremonies told us about the La Alberca black pig. This area is famous for their ham, and one way they promote it is by having the community raise a pig each year that roams around town. We were warned that the pig isn’t always in an easy-to-find area, but at that point I was praying for a special experience of finding the pig! And boy, was that prayer answered!
After looking at few of the notable La Alberca sights, our group sat on the cathedral steps a block away from the town square while we listened to the beginning of a story of an earthquake in the town. Suddenly, someone sitting in the back began shouting. Among other choice words, he notified us that there was a pig climbing up another set of steps. Of course, the story had to be paused while we all attempted to take a selfie with the famous pig. But after a few minutes of trying to get the pig to smile, out MC convinced us to sit down again as the pig started to wander away from the excitement.
Little did we know, once we were settled down, the pig wanted to cause some chaos. She wandered up behind us. Then, she decided to root for food right where I was sitting! I never expected to get that personal with a pig! But it only got worse. Since she couldn’t find any food underneath me, she did a taste test of me! She bit the closest part of my body she could find. Since I was trying to stay seated on the step and not interrupt the entire group, there was one particular body part right next to her face. At this point, there was no way that the group wouldn’t be disrupted as everyone was already pointing and laughing and getting out their cameras. The pig continued to make her way through the group, sampling the bags and shoes she came across. Our MC finally hollered, “Forget about the earthquake story; let’s move this way and leave the pig!” The rest of the tour finished the way a normal walking tour typically does. When we had some free time after that, I busied myself exploring the cobblestone back roads, but from a distance I spied the pig, who had found new victims to harass. To continue our time in town, we were treated to a wine, cheese, and meat sampling where we learned the secret way to cut the perfect slice of ham straight from the leg. I dont normally eat pork, but since the pig tried eating me, I sought my revenge by eating a tiny bit of pig.
I just finished my last day of Pueblo Inglés, and it was surprisingly hard to say goodbye. I had come to teach the Spaniards English, but they taught me even more about the world and life in general. The week had a feeling akin to an adult summer camp, so along with that came the kindling of new friendships that I believe will last a long time. I hope to see many of them again, either by traveling to their home country or by inviting them into my home. And I may have to attend another program in the future!
Spending a week volunteering (or possibly enrolling in) Pueblo Inglés may be one of the most meaningful and most fun things you can do in Spain. Just make sure to keep a safe distance from that pig’s snout!
I haven’t done any traveling this week. But sometimes even staying at home can lead to an unforgettable travel adventure!
I went to Cieneguilla, Peru in 2007 and 2009. It doesn’t feel like it’s been nearly six years since my last visit! While there, one of the many people I met was Ruby. I have kept up with this fellow adventurer through Facebook as she has gone through different ministry programs. Not too long ago, I saw she was fulfilling her dream of taking her first trip to the United States… including Southern Oregon!
Ruby’s schedule while here was tight, but fortunately we managed to squeeze a couple hours in this afternoon when we were both available. I decided to take her to the local tourism town of Jacksonville. I played tour guide as I showed her the famous homes of the Nunans, the Britts, and the Beekmans, as well as a few other sites related to the Gold Rush. We then finished up our time with a lunch at Bella Union, including sharing a mud pie for dessert!
Instead of seeing the local culture that I’ve seen countless times, it was unique to see things through Ruby’s eyes. Even the small things were special, like having cars stop for us so we could cross the street instead of waiting for all the speeding cars to go away. We also discussed how Peru has changed since I saw it six years ago. I recalled the things I found shockingly different during my time in Peru, and she shared a few of the American practices that she hadn’t expected. We both were missing the Peruvian food!
Pretty soon I had to drop Ruby off with some friends so that they could spend some time with her. I joked that Ruby has near celebrity status since she’s so busy with everyone wanting to see her! But I’m am super thankful that she spared a couple of hours to spend adventuring with me!
What do I think is the biggest barrier to worldwide travel? Languages. Ugh! Sometimes I just have to throw my head back and ask God if He could have possibly done anything different to take care of the Tower of Babel issue without spurring all these different languages. I mean, really. If everyone in the entire world spoke the same language, wouldn’t you be much more comfortable traveling in foreign countries? Of course, language is one of the cultural differences that helps make each location unique, but there certainly is an advantage to knowing the native language! And a big problem with Europe is that, with each different country I hope to go to, I’ll be exposed to a completely different language.
I have taken multiple trips to Latin America (Mexico and Peru), all which were done during my high school and college years. Because I knew while I was still in middle school that I wanted to visit one of these countries, I began studying a bit of the Spanish language. Having a purpose for learning a language certainly does help when it comes to studying! Fortunately, I had already been given a program that would be a huge help:
Using Rosetta Stone was a good primer for Spanish vocabulary, and I do appreciate that it uses pictures to help you identify rather than English words. (It’s almost, but not quite, like immersion.) This program was my only real Spanish study experience before my first trip to Mexico. It turned out that everyone in the tourist ports I visited would speak in English, but I was able to decipher many of the signs. Still, I don’t think I would be able to hold a conversation at all!
The next school year, I began taking Spanish class, and would continue to do so through college. I did have a bit of an advantage thanks to my foundation with Rosetta Stone, but the Spanish class itself was taught much differently, and I will say much more effectively. I’m sure it helped a lot to have that face-to-face interaction with someone who was actually fluent! My first year of Spanish class was by far the most effective, and although I was barely conversational at the end of the year, I had all the tools I needed to interact with the people I visited in Peru that summer. I’m not sure if it was because I learned so much by immersion in Peru, or because I couldn’t get my original Spanish class teacher for the following years, but the subsequent years did not seem as effective for me. Sure, I learned some, but not as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, I’m not actually supposed to know Spanish during my time in Spain. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)
Diverbo is a Spain-based one-week language learning program… for learning English, that is! Spaniards who are book-smart in their English studies, but may not be comfortable in English conversation, come to this retreat where no Spanish speaking is allowed. So how do they improve at their conversation skills? Diverbo gets volunteers from English-speaking countries to spend a free week at a Spanish resort in exchange for talking, talking, and talking. I have been accepted to be on the waiting list for an upcoming program. I really do hope I get selected. Besides, it’s been so long since I last took a Spanish class, I won’t be tempted to utter a word of it. Let’s just hope I retained enough to survive in the city!
If Spanish and English were the only languages spoken in Europe, I would have packed my bags and headed out long ago. But, oddly enough, none of the countries I’m going to are primarily English, and Spain is the only one with primarily Spanish. If I really wanted to converse like a local, I would have to also learn French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, and perhaps a couple more languages. So how to deal with that?
I recently started taking lessons from Duolingo. At first, I thought it would be most beneficial to learn French. But after a few lessons, I got frustrated with the way words are pronounced and figured that Paris is close enough to England that all I would need was a convincing British accent. So, just while taking a break from French, I started the Italian course. Wow, I grabbed a hold of that language MUCH easier! And while I can’t figure out how to drop French from my Duolingo languages, I don’t have to worry about giving up that commitment. Duolingo is completely FREE and you can choose from many different learning languages including Portuguese, German, and, coming soon, Klingon! Lessons can be completed on a computer or with the phone app. And I’m not sure about other brands of smartphones, but with the Android app, you don’t even have to be online to work on lessons! There are some downsides to Duolingo, though. A biggie is that, unlike Rosetta Stone, it does not try to simulate immersion and heavily relies on translation. I also downloaded the Rosetta Stone app, and while I haven’t really used it since it works slower than Duolingo, I probably should compare the two to see which one will teach me better Italian. Overall, I think Italian will be the best third language for me in Europe since I will spend more time in Italy than any other country, and it will probably be useful in Italy’s surrounding nations as well. One problem is that it has a lot of similarities to Spanish, and I’m already getting them mixed up in my mind!
However, with all this language learning, I have yet to set foot anywhere close to Europe. From what I understand, most Europeans learn English in school as it is the language of business, so maybe I could get by with just that. Or maybe hand gestures and miming would suffice. But I don’t know. What do I need to know about surviving the language barrier in Europe?
Note: None of the programs mentioned in this post are affiliates or sponsors. I just wanted to voice my opinions about the studies I’ve experienced and I’m interested in hearing about the experiences of others!
Chinese New Year is officially on February 19th this year, but the city of Jacksonville, Oregon decided to celebrate it a couple weeks early. Each year, the historic town honors the Chinese workers who contributed so much during the formation of the town during the gold rush by celebrating all the culture and festivities that go along with Chinese New Year.
Several years ago, I managed to get a day off of work to attend the festivities with my sister. I hadn’t been able to do it any other year that I lived in Oregon, but it sure was fun! I wanted to make a point of attending this year, but it just so happened that I was scheduled to work. Fortunately, my job for the day was my childcare job. After asking the mom, we both thought the kids would benefit from a fun day at the Chinese New Year festivities. As an added bonus, it saved a bunch of money by learning about Chinese culture just a few miles away instead of heading on a trip to China!
The main attraction is the parade. Tons of local businesses and organizations get involved. Since it was hard to find a parking space at one of Jacksonville’s most populated days of the year, we had to walk a ways to get to the main street where the parade was taking place. We found a nice empty space of curb near the end of the route just as the parade was beginning.
It started off with some cool classic cars.
The Southern Oregon University Raiders used this opportunity to promote some of their programs, like foreign exchange.
And then there’s one of the Jacksonville trolleys. I took a tour of Jacksonville in this trolley several years ago, and it sure is fun! During the parade, the seats were filled with orchestra members. That sure beats playing in a marching band!
Being a parade to mainly celebrate Chinese culture, there were several of the traditional dragons. Some of the dragon cast members had fun getting up in kids’ faces and pretending to bite at them!
There were several different dance groups. Here was the first one in the lineup:
And there were a few costumed characters. The dragon one was more elaborate, but nothing beats the adorableness of a panda!
Although this is more British than Chinese, these were performers from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so I guess it sort of made sense.
Several school groups got involved too, such as the school one of “my” kids attend. Another school made their own Chinese dragon costumes.
And how can you resist the cuteness of a young girls’ cheer team? They did “Go Rams” cheers, since this upcoming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Ram.
There were quite a few dragons considering that it wasn’t even the Year of the Dragon. This could be a scary parade for some children!
One group paraded all the animal years, starting with this year’s Year of the Ram. Although I was born in the Year of the Ram (so does that make this year some sort of special anniversary for me?), I think I would prefer to be Year of the Bunny!
And some old fashioned cars. I think the drivers had fun breaking all the rules of the road as the zigzagged the entire width of the street!
And bagpipers. Bagpipers are pretty nifty, even though that’s really more Irish than Chinese.
Then again, the parade celebrated many different cultures, not just Chinese. These flamenco dancers seem to prove that…
…And hula dancing originated from a different land as well!
This picture didn’t turn out so great since this tractor was going fairly fast, but this daycare turned a cute little tractor ride into cute little rams!
A historic-futuristic mashup tourist attraction in Jacksonville is their Segway tours. Oh, how I want to try out a Segway!
And even more dragons…
The parade ended with a decked-out motorcycle!
When the parade ended, the festivities were nowhere near complete. Special activities all over town were taking place. One advantage of Jacksonville is that nearly everything is within walking distance, even if you have a couple of tykes tagging along! If I had gone by myself or with someone closer to my age, I probably would have enjoyed the artifact exhibitions and the martial arts self-defense class. Since I was with kids, we ended up jumping in a bounce house (well, I didn’t, although it did look like fun!), making crafts, playing games, and learning origami. Although we only went to the activities marked specifically for children, I even had a bit of fun with the challenge to try to transfer marbles in a bowl to another bowl using only chopsticks!
After several hours, we had to leave the festivities, but the events in my day weren’t over yet! After bringing the kids back to their house, I headed over to my own home to get ready for my next event of the day. But I’ll wait until tomorrow to share that experience!
I’m not Jewish. I celebrate Christmas every December. I believe with my whole heart that Jesus is Lord. But ever since I was young, I was taught the games, songs, and traditions of the “Other Winter Holiday”.
No, not Kwanzaa.
Regardless of religion, Chanukah is a memorial to miracles and blessings. For many years now, I’ve taken these eight days to look for miracles and blessings in the small stuff. For example, Chanukah started last night, when I was in a meeting at the Magdalene Home. It was a miracle that I could get the schedule from one of my other jobs changed so I could finally be a part of this amazing staff. There we were blessed with delicious food, an ornament exchange, and a few other gifts. When I went to my other job (where I was also blessed with some gifts: a candy cane and a turkey!), I drove through the downtown area where I could see beautiful light displays. I haven’t really been able to see many lights since I typically go to work in the afternoon before they turn on and come home in the middle of the night long after they’ve been turned off. But as I drove past them, full of warm fuzzies, I realized that I had finally gotten into the Christmas spirit. A Christmas miracle- at the start of Chanukah!
A couple years ago, I bought a five dollar menorah on Amazon. I looked in several different stores to get candles to go with it, but I couldn’t find any. (I’ve even looked in several different WalMarts with no such luck! Which brings me to another point- why did they rename all the things in what used to be the Christmas section as “holiday decorations” when the only holiday they’re for is Christmas? But I digress…) So that year, I just used some way-too-small birthday candles that burned out after a couple of minutes and had to be replaced every single night. The next year, I didn’t light my menorah since Chanukah started on Thanksgiving and thus I spent most of those eight nights as a guest in a coworker’s family’s home. But of course that year, I found menorah candles in just about every store (except for WalMart, of course).
This year, my WalMart endeavor once again proved unsuccessful, so I forgot about it until just yesterday when I realized that Chanukah was beginning. I decided to stop at Walgreens after I got off of work. Even if they didn’t have menorah candles, they’d certainly have some sort of candles I could use in a pinch! So when I got off of work at midnight, I drove right past the awful WalMart and turned into the parking lot of the other store that begins with Wal. And there I saw it: a big lit-up sign that read “Open ‘Til Midnight”. And of course, it was just a few minutes past! But then, I remembered something I saw on Pinterest:
This wasn’t an emergency, but it would have to do. So when I got home, I filled my menorah with crayons. (From the same exact kind of box as is shown in the Pin, mind you.) It was actually a miracle itself that the crayons fit perfectly in the candle holders. Then after finding something to light the shamash with, I set a lit match up against the prominent crayon…
And this is all that happened:
Pretty exciting? NOT!
So although my menorah looks colorful, it’s not going to actually have flames unless I find some candles today. But I’ll continue to look for all the little miracles and blessings in each day anyway.
After we landed for the night, we waited forEVER in the immigration line. Then it was on to grabbing luggage, customs, and finding Gary and Estabon so we could take the bus to Loma Linda. There were some really cool lighted buildings, like a Vegas-style “Hello Hollywood”, a bank tower that had lights shooting across it, and a cadaver art exhibit. Most people fell asleep, but I stayed awake, listening to Dale and Gary talk about Peru stuff and watching the slum buildings go by outside. When we got to the hotel, I was put in room 20 with Nicole, Callie, and Patty. We even had a TV! We also got other luxuries like a closet, extra soap, and a toilet seat. We pretty much went to bed.
Around 8:30, I woke up and took a shower. After getting ready, Nicole and I went exploring. We went up the hill trail and over to the water tower. Soon, it was breakfast time. Bun buns and eggs- with ham- and papaya juice. We then had time off, so a bunch of us went to the store for Inca Kola, and walked to the suburbs, which was very interesting to see real Peruvian homes up close. We came back just in time to go to the orphanage… finally!
We took public transportation, which was definitely a learning experience! It’s one thing to cram on a bus with the team, but another to cram on a bus with people you don’t know! We had to walk a few blocks from the dropoff to get to the orphanage, but once we got there, it was great. The orientation included the kids singing songs in Spanish and Quechua, dancing, and asking us to join for some jumping song, Every Move I Make, and Happy All the Time. Introductions were made, lunch was served (rice, meat, fries, and Pecan cake- and the beverage selection included Inca Kola), and then we just hung out. I talked with the older girls after lunch, but after that, I spent most of my time playing with a little girl. After getting tired of playing volleyball, I went off to talk with a girl on the play set (speaking of which, a play set, volleyball court, and new building were built on the school side since we left). I still don’t know her name, but she had a blast chasing me, throwing pebbles at me, having me chase her, and riding on my shoulders. She barely spoke, just laughed. In the midst of this, I also hung out with the 2-year-old twins (which is a rare thing to take in kids younger than 3, because of diaper costs and stuff. The twins must have had a really devastating situation), as well as some of the older girls and Melany. Melany didn’t forget how I gave her shoulder rides from last time, because as soon as she was on my shoulders, she covered my eyes. Aw, good times. Soon, we left for hotel. Before dinner, I was insane enough to go with Nicole for another hiking trip- to the padded room and the far side of the hotel. That got us ready for dinner, starting with my favorite soup, which made it hard to eat the rice, fries, chicken chops, and caramel crepes, along with my favorite warm drink. Then came ad-libbing Spanish Disney, devos, and finally winding down for the night. Good night!
Highlight of the Day: While hiking this morning, Nicole encouraged me to take a shortcut downhill. I followed her but I slid down… hard. Dale was in frong of his room when I walked by, with my hand bleeding in two places. Apparently, it took awhile to get ointment and band-aids because the medical stuff hadn’t been gotten into yet (they weren’t anticipating an accident so soon). Krista had to take me in her room, clean my wounds, cut off my skin, and so forth. Dale made fun of me all day.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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…
…the kooky rock star at Lifelight Music Festival…
…Joining a bunch of little cowboys at Camp Tadmor…
…some super-heroic adventures in babysitting…
…and meeting Phineas and Ferb while dressed as Perry the Platypus!
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.
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.
Yesterday at my Toastmaster’s Meeting, we had a fun night with snacks and costumes. Check out my egg-cellent apparel!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!