Sep 16, 2017 - Peace Corps    No Comments

Peace Corps Update

When I share with someone that I’m joining the Peace Corps, I get one of two reactions:

  1.   “OMG, how long is that?  TWO YEARS! How can you afford to do that? What about work? What about _________________” This exclamation is often accompanied by a facial expression of woe and angst followed by “I could never do that”
  2. “Oh wow, that is so cool. That’s so brave.   I’m really excited/I really admire that you’re doing that.”  This is usually said by someone who is not a member of my generation, or who is a really close friend and knows me well.

Having written this out, I feel like these responses to my decision are a pretty accurate timeline of my own feelings about Peace Corps.

I received my invitation to serve in July 2017.  At first I was really excited, and then lurking worry and fears of the unknown starting to sneak their way into my subconscious. Eventually, I sucked it up and got my fingerprints done, checking off the first task in a litany of Peace Corps related tasks. This is probably one of the finer decisions I have made in life.

Nearly every adult older than me that I spoke with about my Peace Corps decision encouraged me without reservation to pursue that unknown horizon (Reaction #2).  They spoke of looking back on their own lives to places where they met a fork in the road, and now with near unanimity wish that had taken that less trodden path. My biggest hang up was money, though it shames me to say it out loud. I have always prided myself in not being a consumer, not letting things or stuff tie me down or control my life. I never appreciated that instead of stuff, I was consumed by the need to horde money for my future’s sake.  Every single adult assured me that there is always time to make money, and really, money doesn’t make your world go ’round.  Certainly it is important, and I know there are certain things I want to buy/do that will require some savings and a steady job, but those things are worth delaying for something like Peace Corps.

Making the decision to let go of monetary wealth for the next two years was really difficult for me, but I’ve come to the point where I can put it out of my mind for the sake of better things that I’m sure will make me poorer monetarily speaking, but much richer in life. Wealth, after all, is just what you make of it.

Hooray for personal growth!

But not everyone is supportive of this decision and here are some of my thoughts on the most common questions or concerns I get concerning Peace Corps.

Q: That’s like TWO YEARS of your LIFE!  (concerns about commitment)

A:  Yes, yes it is.  However, it’s not like I wouldn’t be living those two years of my life anyway, right?  You have to live them somewhere, and I can either live them in a way where that it is easy to predict my day-to-day, or in a way that it is not.  If I weren’t going into the Peace Corps, I’d being going to graduate school, so it’s not exactly as if I’d be carefree and unencumbered anyway.

Q: Oooh… doesn’t that mean you have to live with no running water/electricity/indoor plumbing/car/etc?

A: Quite possibly yes, it does. But you know what? The lack of conveniences really doesn’t bother me in any significant way. Yes, I love hot showers and all of the joys of plumbing, but they aren’t huge priorities for me.  I’ve lived without them before, and I would do it again.

Q: What if you get sick/robbed/homesick/lonely?

A: I fully expect all of thing to happen, probably all at once and probably more than once. And it will be miserable and without a doubt, there will be moments where I want nothing more than to catch the next donkey cart back to South Carolina. But bad things happen to people everywhere, all the time. They happen to me living here, and I deal with them.  They will probably happen to me there, and I will deal with them there, too.

Q: Oh, so you’re out to go save the world/postpone adulthood/some other irresponsible choice? That probably won’t look too hot on a resume.

A: Oooh, judgy-judgy, aren’t you?!  I am joining Peace Corps for my reasons, and my reasons alone. They consist of pursuing what I find to be personally fulfilling, important, and meaningful, as well as how I see my own place within the world and life.   It’s such a challenge to get out there! To see the world for what it is instead of what it is portrayed to be! I love that, and want to be part of it. Peace Corps is not perfect in any way (is anything?), but they offer an opportunity to serve myself, my country, and maybe in some small way, do something for someone else who shares in my belief in fellow humanity. I think that in itself is cause enough for anyone.

And no, I would dare to disagree that joining Peace Corps is “postponing” anything, except perhaps a fat bank account.  It has taken me a lot of thought and courage to apply and pursue Peace Corps, and if anything, I see it as a remarkable testament to my character, perseverance, and ability to withstand nearly anything.  Also, perhaps it demonstrates a marked tolerance for misery, which is just fine with me. Putting a successful Peace Corps tour on my resume will be a very proud moment in my life, and honestly, would I even want to work for someone who didn’t agree?

And finally…

Q: Oh wow, Peace Corps? I could never do that.

A: Yes. you. could. I hate to hear people downplay their own ability to adapt, change, and remain resilient against the unknown. Women, especially, seem to always discount their own strengths and ability to do something hard.  If you are reading this blog and contemplating your own application to Peace Corps, I would urge you to dismiss outright those fears of what is unknown or unfamiliar. Don’t be discouraged by your own trepidation, or shy away from discomfort.  If Peace Corps (or anything in life) is something you feel calling to you, whispering in your ears with an unheard voice of temptation, then take those reins! Seek that far horizon and do not stop until you find whatever it is that drives you.

For me, Peace Corps is the hand that will open many doors I could never have opened or perhaps even dreamed of myself. Yes, I feel fear, and yes, I feel anxiety. But everything that may ever be gained by stepping into the chasm that is the unseen future is worth the immense challenge it is to rise above those concerns.  It is a process. It will take time and thought and my utmost concentration. But, I have no doubt, that I am ready to serve.

Aug 24, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

In search of the world’s largest bird

When you think of birds, what usually comes to mind?  For me, it’s cute little feathered things like hummingbirds, cardinals, or wrens.  Rarely do I think of owls as birds although I guess technically they are.  Then there are large birds like eagles and vultures, but I rarely see them.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

When I heard that the world’s largest bird was in Colca Canyon, I made it my mission to not only see it, but also find out all I could about this magnificent bird.

It’s often hit or miss to see these birds, but there is a stop on most tours to the Colca Canyon at the Cruz del Condor.  It’s often the best place to get a glimpse of the bird in flight.

Fast facts about the Condor

  • The condor has a wingspan of 10 feet.
  • It can live to to be 70 years old, but the average lifespan in the wild is about 50 years.
  • The bird can weigh up to 30 pounds and is nearly 4 feet tall!
  • Due to its size, it prefers an environment where loft can assist its flight. Under the right conditions, the bird can fly to a height of 18,000 feet.
  • Both parents care for the babies and baby condors stay with their parents for 2 years.
  • They reach adulthood around 7 years old.
  • The condor mates every other year and only lays one egg at a time.
  • The condor eats carrion and eggs; it is not a threat to any type of wildlife.
  • Condors are currently on the endangered species list due to over-hunting.
  • The condors, are more specifically, the Andean Condor, is the national symbol of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

and my favorite fact about these massive birds…

  • Condors mate for life.

In fact, the remaining partner often commits suicide when its partner dies.  The bird just refuses to flap its massive wings and plummets to its death. Tragic, but also somewhat romantic.

Jul 30, 2017 - Life    No Comments

Take me out to the ballgame

“Whooo!” my dad shouts, cheering loudly with the fans sitting next to him.  I look at him like any teenager looks at their parent when said parent does much more than breathe. A player for the Orioles has just hit a home run, bringing in the two guys already on base home making the score 5-2. The crowd, evenly split between Orioles and Red Sox fans, is a mix of cheers and groans.

I look at him strangely, questioning, “Wait,” I turn to my dad. “Who are you rooting for again?” From early childhood the Orioles have been my team. This game was sort of a peace offering. We haven’t attended a sporting event together in nearly 10 years… before I was even in high school.
His reply “I just want it to be a good game.”


I started playing organized baseball in the form of T-ball at age 5, but I’d been playing at home much earlier than that. My first T-ball stand was constructed from a wooden table leg. I got pretty good a whacking the ball because too many misses damaged the stand. I started league play at 5, was the only girl playing Little League at 8 and switched to softball to play on the high school team beginning at age 13, in 7th grade.  Baseball has always been a part of my life.


I’m on the bottom row all the way on the left. I’m a whopping 5 years old. And 12 years later, the boy on the top right would be my prom date. [Ahhh, the joys of small town life]

I have been a Baltimore Orioles fan and a baseball fan for as long as I can remember.  I’m not sure why Baltimore became my team as I grew up more than 500 miles away from Baltimore. While other girls had posters of the latest teen heart throbs decorating their childhood bedroom, I had posters of Cal Ripken, Jr, Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina, and a few of my favorite Cubbies too.

We didn’t have cable when I was growing up, and even if we had, I sincerely doubt Orioles games would have been broadcast in South Carolina. Instead, I listened to the games on the radio… WBAL to be specific [an AM radio station… I was still barely within reach].  When Camden Yards opened in 1992, I was ecstatic. It is [in my humble opinion] one of the best baseball stadiums in the USA.

I was determined to see a game during the inaugural season. As a youngster in the 1990’s, and by youngster I clearly mean teenager without a driver’s license, I saved up all my pennies [and I do mean pennies] in a cardboard box creatively called ‘The Baltimore Box’ and when I had enough for a baseball ticket, snacks, and transportation, I bought a round trip Greyhound bus ticket to Baltimore and treated myself to an Orioles game. I saw the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers 12-0. I came and went in just under 24 hours. And it was awesome. [Oh, I was such a sneaky child. I look back on some of the things I did as a kid and am amazed that I did not die. In my defense, I said that I was running away; it’s not my fault no one actually believed me.]

In 1995, the streak captivated me.  I was glued to the TV every time I could find an Orioles game. [which wasn’t very often, mind you] How could one person play in more than 3000 consecutive baseball games is beyond me, but Cal Ripken did it.  I still remember watching the unveiling of 2131. That was September 1995. I watched it on ESPN. I was in awe. Even though for the past 15 years the Orioles have been one of the most laughable teams in the major leagues, they have still been the team I rooted for… kinda like a marriage… for richer, for poorer… and it’s been hard times, people, hard times.


We found our seats – right behind home plate. As a former catcher, I staunchly refuse to sit anywhere than behind home plate.  Maybe higher than field level, but sitting behind home plate is a must. A few drinks, hot dogs, and pretzels later, we  settled in, intently watching every pitch, predicting where all the fly balls would land, and analyzing strategy. For a few hours for two days, we had something to talk about. Something that we both loved; something that used to unite us. Sport– it this case baseball, a game that I know intimately.

I think it’s for this reason that I always seek out sporting events when I travel. I’ve been an athlete or fan my whole life, and I  know the power it has to unite [and divide] families, communities, and friends. Whatever the sport, even if it’s one I don’t truly understand, I find that I really get into it and really enjoy the passion and zeal of the fans and the strategy of coaches.

I’ve never been one to shy away from doing things on my own, but going to sporting events alone is hard.  I’ll still go, but it’s hard. Partly because sports remind my of my childhood, and partly because sports are a community event. I will go to sports pubs on my own to catch some games on TV when I’m out on my own because I think sport is fabulous insight into a community’s culture.

Minor league baseball can be awesome too: Greenville Drive

Jul 23, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Sunday Snaps: Postcards from the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon is on nearly every travelers’ bucket list, and for good reason– it is simply amazing. It is one of those must-see places in the world. While not exactly nearby, it doesn’t require a passport, and it is somewhere I definitely should have visited before now. I combined my visit with a trip to Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park, and San Francisco. I would have loved to have more time.  I would have loved to taken a helicopter ride or mule ride through the canyon or even white-water rafted down the river, but alas, all I managed was a 4 day hike.  Still… totally worth it.

along the north kaibib trail

scenes from the grand canyon

Not technically part of the national park, buy Kanab Creek is on the way if you are coming from Utah.  I highly recommend it as a side stop or if you have more time a day trip.

The scenery is amazing.  Trees grows sideways and the colors are fantastic.  It takes a unique environment in order for this to happen, but it’s a perfect example of ‘grow where you are planted.’

A friend of mine recently told me I needed to include myself in more pictures because otherwise they just look like postcards… so here’s one with me in it. You still can’t see my face, but it’s the best I could do without asking someone to take my picture.  Although I could have since one of my group’s members accompanied me on this afternoon stroll.

I prefer solo travel, but I hate having pictures taking of me posing in front of said tourist attraction. Nowadays, it seems as if you didn’t really go somewhere unless you have photographic evidence of yourself at that exact spot.  I suppose I could get a selfie stick in order to pose, but the actual scenery is much more interesting, at least to me, than having myself stuck in the middle of the photograph.

Jul 16, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Chac– the most supreme Mayan God

Being in charge is no joke.  Sometimes at work I’m forced into that position, but it’s not a position I enjoy. It’s hard work being in charge. However, at least when I’m in charge I know there are things outside my control.  In ancient Mayan society, rulers were responsible for governance, organization, warfare, keeping the calendar… Oh, and CONTROLLING THE WEATHER. By claiming divine descent and direct communication with the gods, the elite was able to justify its power and obtain necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and status symbols from lower social classes in exchange for divine protection. Great temples were built to house bodies of dead rulers, who were thought to be part god themselves. A combination of rituals and offerings were used as appeals because the Maya believed that their gods rewarded sacrifice with blessings like prosperity, fertility, and military success.

Lubaantun Ruins–Belize

One of the most insatiable deities was Chac, the god of rain and lightning. Chac is often portrayed as being a snake-shaped being with a reptilian face, large round eyes, a down-pointing snout and fangs, and a lightning axe. Chichen Itza is often thought to be acoustically designed so that feet climbing the steps would mimic the pitter-patter of rain drops and please Chac who in turn would cause real rain drops to fall.  Not coincidentally, Chac is depicted all over the exterior of Chichen Itza.

Hello there, Chac

On the Yucatán Peninsula, rain wasn’t a guarantee, but it was absolutely necessary for survival; rulers were even known as supreme rainmakers in honor of their most important job. Rituals involved feasts, ceremonious smashing and burning of ceramic vessels, and even mass public bloodletting with stingray spines. Temples were also important divine pathways, and construction was often punctuated with rituals that left artifacts within the building’s structure itself.

During droughts, however, rituals just didn’t cut it.  During droughts, human sacrifice was a common practice, and young children were often the sacrificees.  Kids represented the same growth and development needed for growing crops that was necessary for survival. On the Yucatan peninsula, archaeologists have recovered the hearts of young boys. Their hearts were ripped out of their body and thrown in the area cenotes. While in the southern highlands, infants were dropped in springs and drowned.

A sacrificial human skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden was found in the dark zone of a cave and dated back to the ninth century, a dry and turbulent era for the Maya. The god Chac was believed to live at the bottom of caves, cenotes, and other dark places, with his pet serpents guarding the layers of water. Though remains are found in cave entrances from the Early Classic period, not until the eighth and ninth centuries were the priest elites venturing into the perilous dark zone with sacrifices like the Crystal Maiden. This may be evidence of a growing desperation to satisfy Chac and pacify an angry populace.

Unfortunately for the elite, the rain didn’t come, despite frenzied temple construction and increased frequency of human sacrifice. Wars and infighting rose, and kingdoms collapsed as the peasant class began to shift blame toward its rulers. Many of the elite were killed for failing to control the rain, and the established social hierarchy deteriorated until the population collapsed. But it didn’t die out, and modern Maya still worship Chac, sending offerings into the cenotes he dwells in.

At least today, no kids are sacrificed. No hearts are ripped from their bodies. And no one is expected to make it rain.

Jul 4, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Happy Birthday USA

I am not the most patriotic person around.  I don’t know where all my ancestors hail from.  I know there’s some Cherokee [the original Americans], Irish, English, Scottish, and possibly German… What I do know is that my ancestors come from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee from as far back as the early 1800’s/ late 1700’s.  In spite of all that or maybe because of it, I do love history  and am often called a history nerd… History classes such Western Civ, US History, and even Spanish/New World Latin American history were always my favorite classes in school; I even wrote my senior thesis on Mayan Art and Architecture.  I love stumbling up hidden historical markers and visiting well known historical sites whenever I am out and about.

The USA is massive and each different geographic area boasts of a different history. For example, the southeast is completely different than the Pacific Northwest.  Almost as if they were different countries.  Yes, we’re all Americans and speak the same language, but culturally, politically, and historically, this two areas are as different as night and day. On this 241st birthday of the United States, let’s s explore some of the things that make the USA different from its neighbors and former ‘masters’. This is more of a Happy Birthday USA post than anything else, and with that I’ll leave you some of my favorite photos of historical sites.

First up:  America’s friendliest city and representing my home state, Charleston, SC

Historical homes on the battery at night.

Boneyard beach… on one of Charleston’s barrier islands

Charleston-Mount Pleasant bridge

And the famous live oak trees that populated the coastal south nearly everywhere

Next up:  Washington DC, the capital city of the USA and sort of the cultural divide between north and south

george-and-the-flag

Washington Monument and American Flag

US_Marine_Corps_War_Memorial_Iwo_Jima_Monument_near_Washington_DC

Washington DC, as the US capital, is one of the most historic spots in America has something photogenic at every turn.

And of course [although not my favorite] New York City

Lady Liberty and her island

The craziness of Times Square

And the Empire State Building viewing sites

Moving on to the West Coast…

Hello San Francisco…

Golden_Gate_Bridge_
Moving out to the west coast, it one of the more iconic bridges in the world… the Golden Gate Bridge painted in its infamous International Orange colour.

Hello, Las Vegas…

las-vegas-city-

The wonderment that is the Grand Canyon [Read my posts about hiking the Grand Canyon]

grandcanyonnp
One of the best natural features in the USA

Mount Rainier–outside of Seattle in Washington.

mt-rainier
and beautiful mountains

and awesome hiking trails on both sides of the country

Jun 14, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

My Favourtite European Cities

I have traveled a lot. Not as much as some, but a lot more than most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked what’s my favorite city/country area, and it’s hard to say.  Sometimes it depends on my mood.  Sometimes it depends on the reason they are asking.  So, I’ve come up with a list to answer what’s my favorite.  OK two lists:  one for smaller cities and one for European capitals.

First up, my favorite European cities.

  1.  Kotor, Montenegro
  2.  Belgrade, Serbia
  3.  St. Petersburg, Russia
  4.  Krakow, Poland
  5.  Bwets-y-Coed, Wales
  6. Cardiff, Wales
  7. Quedlinberg, Germany

Next, my favorite European capitals.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that, in general, I don’t love large cities. Luckily for me, some of Europe’s capital cities are quite small.  Europe is so diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.

 London, England

 

I have been to London 5 times, but only in the last two years have I gotten out and truly explored the city.  I have barely cracked the surface, and there is so much more to explore. I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London [not sure if the NHS hires foreigners or if I’d want to work there, but I digress], I would move there tomorrow; that’s how much I love it. I’ve never pictured myself living in a big city — until I finally explored London for the first time.

Things I love about London:

    • The variety — neighborhoods, food,  museums, parks, historical sites; they’re all here
    • The location — London is situated perfectly to explore Europe, which this traveler loves.  The only time I haven’t flown into London for a European holiday was when I solely toured Italy.
    • The Englishness — the Tube, the castles, the red  double decker buses, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it’s all so quintessential English!

Berlin, Germany

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

 

 

Berlin doesn’t get the attention than Munich or Bavaria does, but that’s OK by me…  I’ve never been one to fall for surface flashiness, and on the surface Berlin is grungy, but it’s OK.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I am in love with Berlin.  You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don’t know if it’s the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there’s no denying that it’s a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.

Things I love about Berlin:

    • The history — from Nazis during WWII to the  Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
    • The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
    • The vibe — it’s a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin is evolving in a way that I find very  exciting.

Budapest, Hungary

August 2015–Danube River–basking in the summer moonlight

I never planned to go to Budapest at least not the first time, but a cheap flight  from Geneva on EasyJet had me landing there one  January afternoon, and my oh my was is bone-chillingly cold.  The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting the Semmelweis Museum, or soaking at the Szecheni Baths while watching snow fall,  I found myself loving everything about Budapest. It’s also seriously awesome ( and hot!) in the summer.

Things I love about Budapest:

    • The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them.
    • The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube.
    • The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman’s Bastion to Buda Castle, there’s plenty of amazing architecture here to view.

Edinburgh, Scotland

 

The capital of Scotland is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it’s roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that unpredictable Scottish weather.

Things I love about Edinburgh:

    • The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street being my favorite example
    • The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
    • The people– Scottish people are a treasure

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle–Cardiff is home of the 2017 champions league and the Welsh dragon is guarding the trophy.

Cardiff, the smallest capital in the UK doesn’t get near as much attention as London, Dublin, or even Edinburgh, but it’s still pretty amazing. Only two hours by train from London, and 45 minutes to Bristol, you can easily get to a bigger city quickly if the small town feel of Cardiff starts to get to you.

Things I love about Cardiff:

  • The size–For a capital city, Cardiff is small.  And that makes it easy to navigate. And that makes me happy.
  • It’s location–Cardiff is perched on a river, quite close to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the Wales Coast Path.  Coastal Welsh weather is unpredictable, but on nice days, Cardiff is close enough to the beach to make an afternoon of it.
  • The Language–Welsh is a language I’ll probably never master, but I love that every single sign is in both Welsh and English.  The history and architecture are pretty great too.

It’s no secret that I prefer small cities to large ones, but this list is a good mix of both large cities and small villages.

 

Jun 10, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

SC State Parks | Stepping back in time

The region south of the Mason-Dixon line is dotted with historic antebellum plantations, but few of them have the history of Rose Hill Plantation.  Built in the 1830’s, Rose Hill Plantation was the home of William Henry Gist, the governor of South Carolina from 1858 to 1860.  Gist is most famous for his leadership of the south’s secessionist movement following the election of President Lincoln, a movement that led to the Civil War.

Rose Hill– shrouded by magnolia and oak trees

In 1860, the plantation reached its apex, producing nearly 300 bales of cotton and over 4000 bushels of corn.  These products would be floated down the adjacent Tyger River or, because the Tyger River is only navigable part of the year, transported by cart to the Broad River.  The plantation survived Union General Sherman’s destructive 1864 march because the flooded Broad River made the plantation inaccessible to his army.  After the war, Gist received a pardon from President Johnson, after which he returned to Rose Hill to lease the plantation to sharecroppers.  Gist died in 1874, and he is buried in a cemetery plot adjacent to the plantation house.

The Gist family headstone.

Today Rose Hill Plantation house sits on the 44-acre state historic site that bears its name, but most of the plantation grounds lie in Sumter National Forest, which surrounds the historic site.  Plantation house tours are offered at 11A, 1P, and 3P Thursday-Monday, but the plantation grounds are open during all daylight hours.  For hikers, two short trails tour the grounds: the 0.6 mile nature trail loop and the 0.94 mile out-and-back Tyger River Trail.  This hike combines both trails to see all the site has to see.

The Tyger River in the spring… water levels don’t get much higher than this

The town closest to Rose Hill is Union, South Carolina although Cross Keys, a dot on the map, has a little interesting history as well.  According to local legend, Jefferson Davis ate his last meal there prior to his final cabinet meeting as president of the Confederate States of America.

Cross Keys House

 

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