Big Sky Country

The many facets of the Montanan skyline are jetting, jagged and raw. There are things and people and surroundings that you never thought even possible. As time passes slowly there is an effervescence that seems to blanket the landscape. The people are hardworking and just, they’re frontiersmen and they’re strong willed women. They’re the start of a new generation and a generation that’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect their land. There are some that will do anything to turn the land they call home into countless dollars.

As you drive into the endless canyons and crevasses and jutting rocks, you never really see the end of the skyline and you start to realize why they call it “Big Sky Country”. There are fields of green and brown, cows and buffalo that graze tirelessly, farmers hoping for one more day of rain.

As Big Oil has started to move in, you start to notice the strife of what used to be. There are people who rely on that money and there are people who will do everything in their power to protect themselves from these blood-sucking companies.

There are days where you seldom see more than 10 people and there are days when you see more people than you can count to. It’s an ebbing and flowing conglomerate of degenerates, natives, workers, families and farmers. As the constant tide of change rolls in, few are readily accepting.

Time is indifferent here, the passing of the seasons, the moon skimming the stars and the ever so sharp tick of the clock as each second passes is like something out of a movie, time is sluggish and lazy. Everything you do is in slow motion from waking up in the morning to the car ride to work. Time just moves slower here, no one knows why.

This glorious state has so much to offer and so many secrets to keep.

 

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Bahamas Cruisin’

This past week I had the awesome, and somewhat unexpected, chance to go on a cruise to the Bahamas for my and my best friend’s birthday. We’re about a week apart so we tend to cluster our birthdays together to make the most of it.

We left out of Port Canaveral, Florida and boarded Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. My friend, Drew, and I shared a room while the two couples we were with shared rooms as well. There was 6 of us and we were excited for what was to come.

Now, I’ve cruised before but on Carnival and I feel like the experience was completely different. When I cruised with Carnival, I left out of Tampa and went to Cozumel and Grand Cayman. I also had gone with my best friend and we were much more focused on excursions and seeing as much as possible.

This time, not so much. We had booked the cruise about 3 weeks before departure date so our budgets were a little limited and we were more focused on drinking.

Royal Caribbean offers an amazing deal where you pay one solid price at the beginning of the cruise and you can drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) as much as your heart desires. We opted for the Premium Package which cost us about $239 for a 4 night cruise. When you think about it, each drink normally costs about $10-15, so in order for the package to pay for itself you needed to drink 15-18 drinks over the course of 5 days which is 3 a day. That’s child’s play.

Needless to say, we drank our share of the package within the first 48 hours.

Drew and I stayed in a Large Oceanview Stateroom and we were on the 3rd floor near the front of the ship. The room itself was awesome, a King sized bed, desk and couch, and the bathroom was a decent size.

I would recommend staying near the center of the ship if possible, though. The anchor noise woke us up every time it was deployed and sometimes the rocking of the boat could be felt a bit more than we would have liked.

Nassau

Our first stop was Nassau which was beautiful. It was like any other port city with it’s bustling stores, taxi drivers who swear they’re the best priced, cruisers who are a bit too sunburnt from their day at sea and loud beach bars.

We stopped in Senor Frogs and stayed there for a few hours but quickly realized that there was “free” alcohol on the ship and made our way back for a couple hours.

This particular sailing we were scheduled to be in Nassau from 8am until Midnight so we had more than ample time to explore.

After a few drinks, I decided I wanted to see more than just the port city and since it was only 2pm, I decided to strike out on my own and take a scooter ride around the city. I was offered an awesome deal with a man named Charles who was missing at least 6 teeth but was as harmless as a gnat.

I paid $10 for a two hour ride around Nassau and saw everything from the Atlantis-style mega resort at the end of the island to the lesser known ghettos surrounding the outskirts of the city. Charles made sure to point out every single man that could sell us pot. Although it’s not my thing, it was funny to hear him say “There’s soandso, he get you a good deal. Let’s roll up, sweetie” at least 7 times.

I tipped him a few bucks and made my way back to the boat since I hadn’t seen any of my friends in a few hours. I met back up with Drew and we proceeded to drink the day away on the much less crowded pool deck.

After dinner, our group of 6 went back out to Senor Frogs for one last hurrah before the boat set sail.

Cococay

The next day was Cococay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. It’s a tendered port, so you have to get onto another boat to get to the island but it’s only a 5 minute ride either way.

Once on the island, your drink and food packages still apply which is so incredibly convenient, so no having to worry about extra cash.

The island itself has so many things to do and so many places to escape the mass amounts of people that constantly surround you. I HIGHLY recommend going to Barefoot Beach, it’s a little out of the way but there is absolutely no one there and the bar is usually empty, so drinks come out pretty damn quick. If you’re looking for a little solitude, Barefoot Beach is the way to go.

Back on the boat, it’s a ghost town when you’re docked at Cococay because a majority of people are laying out on the beach or on an excursion. Although a lot of the bars were closed because the workers have to go to the island, it’s still a nice time to get away from people and just relax.

The last night on the boat we went to the Viking Crown Lounge where we were surrounded by all of the friends we had made over the past week. It was a nice last farewell and great to meet so many different people from all walks of life.

I had such an amazing time and I would do it again in a heartbeat, in fact, I think I might start planning another one now ;).

What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition

Camp is one of those places where you feel at home, where an adventure is steps away and where a smile never really leaves your face.

Being a camp counselor is the best job you’ll ever have. Hands down.
There’s something about waking up in the morning and loving what you do. In every sense of the word. There’s something about being surrounded by kids who look up to you unabashedly and that think you’re the coolest person they’ve ever met.

There’s something about swimming and laughing and playing and creating and making and loving and jumping and running and dancing and laughing some more.

I work at a camp in Maine and you can read about that here. But, I have to admit that I was completely lost when I found out I had gotten the job. What do they wear? What should I expect? Do we decorate our own cabins? There were so many questions that wouldn’t be answered until I got to camp, but I figured I’d write about my packing list to make it a bit easier for everyone.

The camp I work at employs us from mid June until the beginning of September so I need to pack enough to last me 2 months, barring small shopping trips. Since I’ll be flying up, I’m limited as to what luggage I can bring. I will be bringing a backpack for my carry-on and 2 suitcases as my checked bags.

My backpack is a Thule Enroute Backpack.

backpackIn my backpack I will have:

  • My Phone with charger
  • Wallet with necessary ID’s, check with your Program Director as to what you’ll need for paperwork
  • Extra pair of clothes and swimsuit, just in case
  • Books for downtime, I suggest “A House In The Sky” and “All The Light We Cannot See
  • Journal
  • Sunglasses
  • My Macbook
  • Pressure Reducing Earplugs – I have terrible ear pain on flights

As for my suitcase, I have the tried and true Samsonite luggage. It’s the perfect size, it’s durable and it’s been to 10 countries with me.

samsonite-luggage

If you’re more interested in just bringing one large backpack worth of stuff, I have a great High Sierra Appalachain 75L that holds everything that I need, barring linens. Your camp might specify that they provide linens, so just ask!

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When it comes to clothes, comfort takes precedence over everything. You will be running, dancing and composing absolute tom-foolery, so looking good kind of goes out of the window.  Think about what you wear to work out in when no one is looking, now think a little grungier and you’re pretty much there.

My luggage packing list goes a little like this:

  • 6 T-Shirts
  • 5 Running Shorts
  • 5 Yoga Pants for sleeping, exercising, etc.
  • 3 Crazy patterned leggings-look here for some ideas
  • 5 Tank Tops- make sure to find out if there’s a dress code regarding tank top strap thickness
  • 1 Rain Coat
  • 1 Pair Rain Boots
  • 2 Pairs of Tennis Shoes
  • 2 Pairs of Flip Flops
  • Shower Shoes (an old pair of flip flops work perfectly)
  • Undergarments, enough for at least 2 weeks
  • Socks (mixed thickness, it can be really hot and pretty cold)
  • Sweatshirts-it can get down to 50 degrees at night in Maine
  • Ben’s Bug Wipes-so much easier than a spray

On to toiletries. Keep in mind that you may or may not have access to shopping during the summer so make sure you know how much of each you should pack. At my camp, there’s a Walmart about 10 minutes away so a few people don’t pack any toiletries and just buy them all when they get there. Up to you.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • DEODORANT, you may or may not shower for 4 days at a time
  • Room Spray becomes a necessity especially in the boy’s cabins
  • An abundance of hair ties
  • Shampoo/Conditioner- there are some really great biodegradable ones if you will be bathing in lakes or rivers
  • Lotion

For your cabin, find out what the living conditions will be like. Typically, we stay in a cabin with 3-10 campers depending on age and we have a dresser and a bed to ourselves. While my camp provides bedding, especially for International counselors, I prefer to bring a few things of my own. Most counselors bring their own pictures and decorations from home to showcase who they are and their interests. Contact counselors that have worked there before to get a lay of the land! I will be bringing:

  • 1 Comforter
  • 1 Sheet Set
  • 2 Pillows
  • 2 Tapestries
  • Pictures From Home-it’s always a nice reminder
  • 2 Strands of Christmas Lights-it definitely helps if you have really young campers who might still be afraid of the dark or for “flashlight time”

Obviously each camp is different and depending on where you’re located will adjust what kind of clothes you’ll be wearing but this is just a basic guideline for those embarking on counselor-ing for the first time.

Enjoy your summer!

 

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There’s an old saying that goes something like;

Find what you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life.

This past summer, I did just that. Hopelessly lost one day in January, I was on Facebook dreaming of all the things that I wanted to do this year, all the things I wanted to accomplish. I saw an ad that, for some reason, stuck out to me. It read “Change Your Life This Summer Working With Kids” and had this picture of a counselor smiling and a camper smiling even harder. I made a mental note of it, but didn’t act on it, after all, I was too busy dreaming.

Two days later, the same ad popped up. I decided to check it out. You know how God sometimes opens up doors for us that we didn’t even know were there? This door was a camp called Kingsley Pines in Raymond, Maine and God seemed to have flung open 20 doors at once.

I applied, was accepted after an extensive interview process and made travel plans to start working in June. I was to be teaching Ceramics and Pottery and as the time to leave grew closer and closer, I realized that I physically could not wait. I researched articles on how to be a good camp counselor, I brainstormed ideas for games and I daily checked out pictures of KP. The calm waters and the pine trees and the distant mountains seemed to be calling for me.

I packed, repacked and reached out to at least 6 counselors on what to pack. I felt like I was in such new territory. I had been to camp as a kid but I couldn’t remember what to bring, I couldn’t remember what I wore and as I was to stay there the entire summer, I didn’t know what to expect.

But the day finally came where I took everything I had fit into two suitcases and a backpack and headed towards my new home.

I was greeted at the airport by a guy holding up a sign that read “Welcome to KP Stephanee” and it had a (very well drawn) buffalo. This struck me, I remember. I was born in Montana and there are buffalo everywhere, just roaming and free. Montana is my place to gain clarity, to see things wholly again and having a buffalo seemed to be a sign that this was where I was meant to be and I just remember smiling so hard that it hurt.

sign

I was here. It was beginning.

We picked up another girl who was a newbie just like me and we could barely contain our excitement in the backseat of that van. As a 23 year old woman, I have never been more giddy. It was like we were the kids on our way to camp.
We talked about our goals for the summer, how we were both searching for something, anything to give us direction. Both of us had reached a point in our lives where we lacked not a purpose, but a passion. We had high hopes that this place would be the answer to that dilemma.

IMG_0279As the van pulled onto that gravel drive and we drove past the greenest grass and the thick woods blending and swirling into this beautiful landscape; it was like an oasis for the weary, a jolt to the heart of everyone who felt lost.

That first day, no, that first week was a blur. We were in and out of meetings and orientations and trying to sleep whenever possible.

 

Session 1

The day came when our first campers came, and I honestly don’t know who was more excited; the campers or the counselors. I was assigned to Hatcase with 7 girls who were all 13. At first, I was intimidated. That’s a whole lot of early teenage girls but the second they hatcasearrived, all of my worries were dispelled. They were goofy, charming, sweet, and even more goofy.

They were at this age where looks and what everyone else thinks are starting to matter but they’re not quite ready to let go of their childhood and they recklessly abandoned their worries. It was 3 weeks of laughing and giggling and dance offs while cleaning the cabin and absolute tom-foolery. They were my nuggets.

Some memories will always stay with me and others add to the memory of camp as a whole. One memory in particular sticks out about this session. The cabin, as a whole, has to come up with a way every morning to show unity within the cabin and we seemed to be running late that morning (no surprise there…) and I was in charge of cleaning the shower. When I came back out, there were all 7 of my girls sitting on the floor in a circle writing things about each other that they appreciated.

They had, on their own, created an idea together and had governed themselves to do this act of writing out how they felt. And not just “You’re really nice” or “You clean good”…they were things like “The way you try new things at camp makes me want to try new things too” or “I really like having you in my cabin because you’re my best friend”. It’s amazing what a few words strung together can do for a teenage girl’s self esteem.

I honestly have to say my favorite thing about Session 1 and Hatcase was the absolute gut-wrenching laughter that happened every day. Whether it was laughing at the girls being silly, laughing with the girls at a camp fire skit or laughing at myself, it brings a smile even thinking about it.

Session 2

Opening Day was always hectic for me. It’s moving 200+ kids into cabins scattered all over. It’s lugging trunks and suitcases and bags. It’s airport runs, It’s integrating campers into their new environment and affirming parents. It’s teaching and learning and absorbing. It’s a beautiful chaos that runs effortlessly well.

This Opening Day was no exception, I had come back from an airport run of picking up 8 campers in Portland and I learned that I would be with the OGC that session. I was excited, scared, nervous, and thrilled all at the same time. The OGC is the Older Girl’s Circle and it’s for the campers that are 14-16 years old. I would be in Androscoggin and I loved that little caandrobin, I think the most of any I stayed in.

I would have 3 campers staying with me and 3 that would reside in the one next to it. I had the oldest of the older girls. They were bright, they were smart, they were gracious, they were beautiful, truly, inside and out. They had these big ideas and a tenacious love for life.

The wonderful thing about Older Girls is you don’t need to keep track of 6 different schedules because they know where to go and when to be there. You don’t have to constantly check up on them because they’re little mini-adults and they want to figure out how camp works on their own. I learned that the more you stepped back and let them thrive, the more they wanted to flourish. My co-counselor and I often to referred to this group and our time together as “3 weeks of bliss”.

Every night you would close out the evening with Embers, which was a time for reflection on your day and things you wanted to accomplish in the future. The articulate and graceful talks we would have during Embers took me aback. Here were these 6 teenage girls, 2 of which spoke Spanish and 1 who spoke French, revealing their goals and insights on the world. I often went back to the counselor whom I shared the ride with that first day and we marveled at how much we were changing because of these kids, how much we were growing and learning thanks to these campers.drwaing

This session’s favorite memory was a night spent on the beach. I decided to do a star-gazing Embers and I had each girl pick a song that was near and dear to their heart that we would play and they would get to talk about why the song meant so much to them. When we got down to the beach, all bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets and sweatshirts, we looked up to see the crispest night sky. The stars looked like they were shimmering in the sky and on the lake and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

Since KP is far away from any big cities, there’s no light pollution and the night skies are breathtaking. That night we talked about everything we could think of, showcased our hidden talents, giggled about the going-ons of camp life and every now and then, the entire group would fall silent just to marvel at the sky.

Session 3

Everyone was starting to become aware that camp was ending soon and this being the last session of campers, we all wanted to make the most of the time we had left. I was again placed in the OGC and was so grateful; I had found my niche. I was in the cabin trio of Brandy-Nubble-Crystal and resided in Nubble. I had 3 quirky, fun and awesome girls. We had this tradition of saying one thing that you liked about someone else in the cabin before bed. It honestly made my heart swell each and every night.nubs

Here are 3 teenage girls who know little to nothing about each other but every night they consistently found something about their bunkmate to compliment. With this particular group of girls I never knew what to expect. The compliments towards me ranged from, “You’re the chillest, most swaggiest counselor that works here” to “I honestly want to grow up to be like you.”

My two co-counselors and I this particular session decided we wanted to do everything in our power to knock things off the girls’ bucket lists. Since we had 9 girls, this was no small task. Our first Embers, we came up with a Cabin Contract and a Bucket List. The Bucket List was at least 15 items long with things ranging from; star gazing to climbing a mountain at sunrise.

But, we did it. We did it all. We star-gazed the last night of camp in the middle of the common field, all squeezing on a much too small blanket. rattlesnakeWe climbed Rattlesnake Mountain before dawn to catch the sunrise, or the “Sun Ball” as the girls called it. We built a human pyramid on Quaker Ridge and may or may not have stolen snacks from a certain camp photographer.

The greatest thing about this group of girls,though, was there were no two that were even remotely similar. You could not have picked 9 more different teenagers. But as the two weeks drew to a close, we realized that their differences made them a stronger unit. They were helping each other and joking about how diverse they were. They were making each other friendship bracelets and talking about past camp memories.

The one memory that resides with me the most from this group was an Embers we did on one of the last days of camp.quaker We got a huge assortment of beads and each girl picked out a bead for every other girl. We then went around the circle and told the girl why we had picked that particular bead for them. Although it was a small gesture by each person, when you have a bracelet full of beads with stories behind them, it amounts to so much more. I still wear mine around my ankle and I received a snapchat from one of my campers and she was still wearing hers. It made my day.

Ceramics

Teaching Ceramics was like a dream. Every day I woke up and walked to this shack that was lined with handprints and names written in clay. Where the sound of the pottery wheels drowned out the noise of the radio. It was this place tucked away into the woods where campers could build anything they could think of. They could build pots and bowls and cups and animals and plaques.

Some of the funniest and most honest conversations I had with campers happened in the Ceramics Shack. We taught 3 periods that lasted 50 minutes long and each one seemed to be like a party. We had music and dancing and we were creating these works of art.

I loved literally every second of it.

I can’t put into words what this past summer meant to me. There are too many memories, too many people to thank, too many smiles and laughs, too much fun, too many moments that took my breath away. It all adds up to this beautiful, chaotic, wonderful and sometimes crazy thing we call camp.quaker2

Related: What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition

Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks

This out of the way, middle of nowhere gem is one of the places you literally stumble upon and then you wonder how the hell to get out.

If you’ve ever seen The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, it looks exactly like the shop where they go to die. With fish and shells and sponges in every size, shape and color imaginable. It’s a quaint little street with restaurants and gift shops and it’s bordered by fishing boats that have been there for generations.

It’s obvious it’s inhabitants are proud of where they come from, and they’ll tell you everything there is to know about what they do and how they do it. And it’s oh so fascinating.

There’s an air about these streets. It’s like being in a coastal town in 1950’s Greece. The old men are sitting on the benches puffing away on whatever is in their mouth and making gestures towards anyone whom walks by. The women are huddled, talking, while simultaneously getting chores done.

Tourists walk about but no one seems to be in any kind of hurry. There’s a saltiness to the air. The shop’s bells all ring in chorus and the conversations of those who walk past create this harmonious symphony.

You could easily spend a whole day here even though it’s only 4 blocks long and all the shops seem to be carrying the same things. But there’s something about it. Something wonderful.

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