LiebsterThanks to Jadi Campbell for nominating me for The Liebster Award that’s intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs! I so appreciate how bloggers support one another and graciously offer introductions to new people. Personally, I’d be lost…slogging in the blogosphere without the help of friends’ recommendations.

Okay, I’m doing an abbreviated version of the rules. The official rules are:

  • Post 11 facts about yourself (I’m going for 3)
  • Answer the questions of your nominator. (Okay, yes…I’ll answer all 11 since she went to the trouble to ask them)
  • Pose 11 new questions. (I’m posing 3)
  • Post a copy of the badge on your blog
  • Nominate 11 other blogs. (I’m nominating 3)
  • Notify your selected nominees, and include links to the originating blog, as well as to new recipients.

ViandenThree Facts About Me

  • I’ve been lucky enough to travel to 33 countries
  • I just got back from 3 months in Germany. Brrr. It was cold! (I live in Charleston, SC, don’t forget)
  • One of the top countries still on my Wish-To-Visit list: Ireland

My Answers to the Questions Jadi asked:

1. Do you want to live to be 100?


2. If you dream that you can fly, where are you flying to?

Well, if I can fly, I’d go to all kinds of places.

3. What is ‘your’ song? Bittersweet Symphony

4. If you could climb in a time machine, where would you go?

2005. (I have my reasons)

5. Do you need a private space to write, or can you write anywhere? I can write most anywhere. When I have a mind to, I can block out serious levels of hubbub.

6. Are there foods you absolutely refuse to eat? Not that I’ve come across so far. But… the combination of herring, onions, mayo and pickles, common in the Netherlands…that might qualify.

7. Do you have a book you reread over and over? I tend to reread sections rather than reread entire books. But one that I did read more than once? Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

8. What person or past experience makes you sentimental? My father learning all the words to “Con Te Partiro” in Italian and singing them to me for the father-daughter dance at my wedding.

9. What is the best vacation you’ve ever had? Ooh, that’s rough. I’ve been blessed with a lot of them. A few of the top? Italy; Brugge, Belgium; Normandy, France; Scotland; Kenya

10. Do you believe in reincarnation? Nope. God’s too merciful to do that to us.

11. If yes, what do you hope (or worry) you’ll come back as? If no, what do you think comes next? Heaven…across a sea of silver glass…into a far green country. (Anyone get the reference?)

My Blogging Nominees: 


A Dangerous Question

Cornwall Photographic

Question markQuestions For My Nominees: (I’m sticking with my blog theme here)

  1. What cause are you most passionate about?
  2. Why does that cause matter to you?
  3. How do you plan to volunteer for that cause this year?

Actually, I ask these questions of everyone reading this. Let’s hear it!

The Games Makers of the Olympics

We don’t see them on the television. We don’t hear about the work they do. They are the 70,000 volunteers at the Olympics, who quietly make the games happen. The odd jobs they perform hold everything together.

Volunteers direct and welcome people to the right venue, so they don’t miss that key vault that wins the Women’s team gymnastics event, or the final stretch and wall touch for the heart pounding Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay in swimming. Volunteers transport athletes where they need to go, allowing them to focus on their sport rather than worry about where they need to be. They work with the tech teams to bring you as quick and accurate results as possible on your favorite events.

Does the Olympic planning committee in London comprehend the value of volunteers . . . take them seriously? I’d say yes, since they began recruitment back in September of 2010. Over 240,000 people applied to volunteer from the UK and around the globe. So, if you’re interested in volunteering at any of the future games, I suggest you apply early. I’d imagine language skills wouldn’t hurt, either.

They even have a “Young Games Makers” program for 16-18 year-olds (about 2,000 volunteers this Olympics) who get to do things like rake the sand on the beach volleyball courts. (Sounds very Zen.) Certainly couldn’t hurt the high school resume: volunteering for the Olympics and getting a chance to build team working and communications skills. It could also build your teen’s confidence to know they are worthwhile to take part in something like this.

I think it would be wonderful to go to the Olympics, but when you volunteer, you’re actually part of a team. We all want to be part of something greater than ourselves, don’t we? Participating in the Olympics in even a small way must be a heady experience. To be part of a team putting on the biggest sporting event in the world? Awesome.

Volunteers were first used in the Olympic Games held in London in 1948 and have been ever since. They’ve become an integral part of the Summer and Winter and Paralympic Games. And now, we’re back in London where it started.

Do you know anyone who has volunteered at the Olympics? I’d love to hear their/your experiences. And as an aside, what are your favorite events?

If you’ve ever planned a big event, you know the value of volunteers. How have volunteers helped make your important days and events turn out well? 

A Mucky But Fun Road

Feelin’ a little nostalgic today. Vacation’s not happening this year, so, to combat feeling sorry for myself, I got out some photo albums to remember all the places I’ve been blessed to visit. I once had the opportunity to go on safari at the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

Travel plans don’t always go smoothly though. Can anyone else attest to that? Certain hiccups can end up being the best part though—or at least add such depth of experience or hilarity that you wouldn’t take them back, even if you could.

The Masai Mara received a lot of rain prior to our arrival. But that didn’t stop our intrepid driver from venturing off-road for us because the animals don’t exactly lounge conveniently beside them. So off you trek, bumping along through the tall grass, searching for the big game. And what happens? You run into unseen patches of water and wham! You get stuck.  Many times we had to get out and push. It just added to the experience as far as I was concerned. But one time, my entire boot disappeared into the mud and remained squishy for the rest of the day. My friend must have cackled for a full five minutes. (Was pretty funny, I’ll give her that. But she wasn’t much help in pushing the truck). On another occasion, the close proximity of lions served as serious motivation to get the truck moving again. Looking nervously over my shoulder, I realized we were lucky, they had a fresh water buffalo kill and paid us little mind. But let me tell you, that extra adrenaline had us moving that safari truck pretty quick!

When our wonderful days on safari ended, (there’s lots more to tell from those days, but that’s another post) our driver set out to take us back to Nairobi. We left at dawn. The journey back was an adventure in itself.

At one point, we skidded in the mud, right into a tree. It broke the windshield—the person riding shotgun, half-asleep from the departure at dawn, suddenly very much awake. To keep the glass shards from falling inside the vehicle, our driver took a sticker off the side of the van and plastered it over the cracked center. It worked. Over all the rough roads, it held together.

Think I’d change any of this? Nope.

What experiences have you had while traveling that seemed a problem or inconvenience, but have wound up being some of your fondest memories?

Who Inspires You?

I don’t really think you can set out to “inspire” someone. Do you? I think you can definitely set out to encourage them, though.

Encouragement is not quite so lofty. It’s more like walking beside someone through the everyday stuff, not just the big dramatic moments. Encouragement takes conscious effort, whereas being an inspiration would be a nice, unexpected by-product.

I’m honored that Creative Liz and MariaGiovanna at Sharing My Italy, have both nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger award. This is a really sweet show of encouragement for me. And I am grateful for it.

I think it’s a blessing when the things we’re passionate about can, in turn, encourage others’ talents in ways that may be extremely different from our own.

When I started this blog, it was my hope to encourage others to:

  • Read broadly: books outside of your usual genre. You might just discover new interests.
  • Travel: and search for the bright side when itineraries don’t work out as you plan. Sometimes, those hiccups end up being your best memories.
  • Write: at least once a week, a note, email…okay, or text, to a friend who could use a little encouragement.
  • Volunteer: it won’t be conveniently timed. It never is. But later, you’ll be happy you did.
  • Experience New Foods and Cultures: Don’t look for the most familiar items on a menu.
  • Persevere and have faith: Faith makes things possible, not easy. I have this saying, hanging in my kitchen as a daily reminder.

But now, I hope these are just starting points for you.

In (mostly) keeping with the rules for accepting the Very Inspiring Blogger award…

7 (Or, how ‘bout 5) Things About Me

  1. When visiting European cities, cathedrals and old churches tend to be my first sightseeing destination.
  2. I managed to kill a cactus while trying very hard to take good care of it. (Maybe that was the problem)
  3. I love Ethiopian food.
  4. I love to cook, but baking absolutely requires the use of a timer or I burn things.
  5. I’m a Midwest girl who moved to the South many years ago and has yet to get over the novelty of having palm trees in my yard.

Very Inspiring Blogger Rules:

~Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post.

~Share 7 things about yourself

~Nominate 7 bloggers you admire

~Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they’ve been nominated.

Bloggers who I find encouraging in their own unique ways:

Beth Vogt: a great author and woman of strong faith and perseverance, who recently returned home after being evacuated b/c of the Colorado fires. Yay! Loved reading her debut novel, Wish You Were Here and enjoy her daily offering of inspirational quotes and ideas to ponder.

Grace, over at CzechtheFlip, who is Filipino, married to a Czech, and has an American son, blogging about life and culture in the Czech Republic.

Ames over at A Dose of Good, who did a year of volunteering

Miss Zari at Travel. Culture. Food. (self-explanatory, don’t you think?)

Shari at My Writing Life, who shares my love of writing and dance.

Shelley at Fraidy Cat Confessions who shares faith, encouragement and a calling to promote awareness for a cause close to my heart, the eradication of human trafficking. She recently wrote a book on the subject.

Melissa over at Tag(g)lines, whose faith and hard work in writing  has just paid off! She just got an agent! Yay! (I know writers are supposed to be sparing of exclamation points, but there are times that deserve them.)

Who inspires you? Do they know it? Think now might be a good time to tell them?

Impact of International Travel On Teens and Twenty-Somethings’ Career Paths

Get out and see the world: Why it can be a good idea for teens and twenty-somethings before jumping into the workforce.

The irony of traveling in foreign countries, especially when studying abroad or volunteering, is that you learn a great deal about yourself. Beyond self-reliance and how to get yourself around, my own personal experience has been it helps bring you closer to figuring out your purpose in life and what issues in the world matter most to you.

Some tough questions: Is your job or the degree you’re earning in college, right for you? How many of us later in life are NOT working in our field (on purpose)? How many of us would’ve liked to figure out earlier we wanted to do something else? If you want to be a doctor or nurse, maybe it would be a good idea to volunteer for a medical nongovernmental organization, see if medicine is where it’s at for you, or if you chose the profession for other reasons. And this goes for countless other professions as well, since humanitarian work covers pretty much every aspect and need of life.

While volunteering, you might just discover your niche. You might discover the topic of your thesis or develop special skillsets that boost your resume over other applicants. Immersed in a language, you might just become fluent.

Volunteering or studying abroad is thought, in general, to enrich understanding of other cultures and promote greater acceptance of people who dress or talk differently. Recent studies show study abroad programs having a huge impact on people—in particular, for those going somewhere in the developing world.  Many maintain a long-term interest in the places they visit and the cultures where they have made friends, and go on to invest time and effort in development programs or become social entrepreneurs.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, says in his book, Half the Sky, that if you really want to help….”to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it—and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it firsthand, even live in its midst.” (pg. 88) He goes on to say that he believes one of greatest failings of the American education system is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. He is of the opinion universities should require graduates spend some time in the developing world by taking a gap year or study abroad.

What do you think? Should taking a gap year or study abroad in a developing country be a university requirement? (Personally, I would’ve jumped for joy to be ‘required’ to do that.)

Volunteer Vacations: The Good & Not-As-Good

My sister-in-law recently returned from a volunteer vacation at a game reserve in Africa. For those unfamiliar with the term, a volunteer vacation (or voluntourism, as it is also called) is the combination of tourist travel and volunteer work for a charitable cause for a short duration—usually 1-4 weeks. Travel agencies can set up these trips just like they do regular tour packages. Or you can type ‘volunteer vacation’ into Google and up will pop all sorts of online outfits ready to match you with a variety of causes…whether you want to work with animals, children or the elderly…to work on building projects, clear trails or be part of a medical mission. In Costa Rica? India? No problem.

I asked my sister-in-law what her days at the game reserve entailed and she ticked off on her fingers, the following:

  • Game capture: so that tick solution could be put on zebra, wildebeest, springbok, and impala
  • Hole Digging: as prep for planting trees that would eventually offer food, shade and protection for elephants
  • Litter patrol
  • Fence patrol: making sure electric fences remain working and no critters are digging in or out.
  • Predator enclosure clean up: I think we know what this includes.
  • Removal of invasive, foreign trees that were choking out the indigenous trees that elephants like to munch
  • Lion tracking: keeping tabs on pregnant lions and their cubs

Now, she enjoyed her time there, but did not view this as much work for forty volunteers. She often went in search of additional duties because that is the kind of person she is. She became concerned that many of these tasks were simply busy work…that volunteer vacationers had become part of the reserve’s business model. It brought a lot of questions to her mind. Yet, she enjoyed going out on safaris and playing with the lion cubs, and she had a fantastic view over the vast plain from her large hut decorated with furniture like you’d find at Pier One. But with an embarrassed smile, she told me she could have done without the rose petals in her bath water.

Now, not every volunteer vacation is so cush. Don’t get the wrong idea. Like with any vacation, there is potential for getting nothing close to what you anticipated. There are scams out there and poorly planned trips. But really, the point I’m trying to make is how important it is to determine, not only expectations, but motivations…yes, plural, because, if you’re anything like me, you almost certainly have more than one reason to do something. What do you really want to get out of this trip? Where on the spectrum from hardcore work for a cause to ‘hey, it’s a cool behind-the-scenes adventure’, do you fit? My sister-in-law said there were many who wanted to really work and just as many who were content to…as my husband calls it…’max the min’ and hang out watching movies in the air-conditioning for long stretches of the day, when not out on safari or specifically given a job.

There is a lot of controversy regarding volunteer vacations…about how useful they truly are. Personally, I believe there are a tremendous number of long-term positives that can come from these experiences, but the critics do have some valid points that shouldn’t be brushed off. I prefer to see them as opportunities for improvement. This is a subject worthy of a series.

What do you think of the idea of volunteer vacations?

P.S. Here’s a little irony…back in ’95, I went on safari in Kenya. Now, this was straight tourism, mind you. No, volunteering involved. But, our digs were not nearly like my sister-in-law’s while she was volunteering. We slept in tents that had a partitioned section off the back for the ‘bathroom’, which consisted of a hole dug in the ground. The dirt pile next to it had a sign stuck into it that said, ‘Rhinos cover it; so can you.’