Thursday

Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors (or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style)

I have been thinking a lot about New Years resolutions lately and I have some awesome outdoor inspiration for you today. Please welcome Bienvenido Adventures to the blog. She blogs about her outdoor adventures and life in Texas. In addition to her blog, you can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram @BienAdventureTX. Check her out, she has a lot of good ideas and fun she shares on her blog.

In June 2012 I began volunteering with Texas Outdoor Family. Texas Outdoor Family is a program of Texas Parks and Wildlife and serves to teach families outdoor skills and activities during a camping workshop that typically lasts two days and one night at state parks throughout Texas. Each family that attends receives a tent, camp stove, lantern, pots and pans, and air mattresses to use for the workshop. All of the equipment for outdoor activities, such as kayaking, fishing, geocaching, or rock climbing is also included. For $65, a family of up to 6 people can go camping, test out gear, and spend quality time together in some of the most beautiful places in Texas. All of that for less than what it would cost for a family dinner and trip to the movies!
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
Texas Outdoor Family Spring Schedule is Now Available!
There are many things I didn’t know about camping and outdoor activities until I started to volunteer. During the past year and a half, I have learned so much more about community, being outside, camping, and myself. 

Here are 5 things I have learned while volunteering outdoors!

How to string a fishing pole and tie a hook – As a kid, my Dad took me fishing, but he always got the poles ready and I guess I just took that for granted! I wasn’t interested in fishing, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. I recently learned from Ranger Cassie how to tie my own hook and fix a broken line. This summer, I dug my old rod out of storage and fixed it up! My husband and I visited his hometown this summer and he and his Dad took me to some of their old fishing spots. Fishing is one of the easiest activities to do with a family and nothing beats the look on a child’s, or 27 year old woman’s face, when she catches her first fish!
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
My first salt water fishing trip in Corpus Christi.
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
Junior Rangers catching fish at a Cedar Hill State Park
Food tastes better when it’s cooked outside – I will be the first to admit that I’m no Paula Deen or Betty Crocker in the kitchen. I have a few “safe” dishes, but through volunteering I have been able to eat the most amazing dishes and desserts prepared outside, in a Dutch oven, on a camp stove, or right over a camp fire. While at Big Bend Ranch State Park I had the most amazing cornbread chili and pizza casserole. 

While at Dinosaur Valley I had a 3-ingredient cake and roasted chicken with a Russian cabbage salad. At Cedar Hill State Park we enjoyed breakfast taquitos with scrambled eggs and bacon cooked over the camp fire. Eating these great dishes has inspired me to hone my cooking skills and I’ve found that I’ve had more success and more fun learning to cook outside. I can make some pretty good green chile chicken enchiladas in my Dutch oven! 

In general, food is such a big part of our lives. We eat to survive, but we also eat to enjoy flavors, and to bond with others during our meals. I encourage you to try cooking and eating your next meal outside. It’s a great experience!
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
Breakfast Taquitos at Cedar Hill State Park!
How to start a fire – I feel a little silly saying that, but I’ve learned that while I can use matches to light a stick on fire, I can’t always keep it going. That can be a problem when you’re camping in weather that’s almost below freezing and you need to stay warm or you need to cook your next gourmet meal!  

If it wasn’t for one of our volunteer’s great fire skills at Dinosaur Valley last month, our group would have started fighting for sleeping space in the heated bathhouse! Volunteering with the rangers and assisting families with their fires has taught me about the proper techniques to start a fire, keep it going, and to keep it from getting out of control. 

I’ve also learned that dryer lint is a great resource! Instead of tossing it in the trash, my husband and I keep it in a jar and it becomes the tinder for our fires because it is highly flammable, which is why you want to clean your lint trap and save your house from going up in flames! Check out this infographic that I found on Pinterest
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
What better reason to build a fire than to roast s’mores?!
We are all scientists in one way or another – I am a teacher by training and am working towards my PhD Environmental Science with a focus in Science Education. During my time teaching and volunteering with families, I have noticed that kids of all ages have this innate sense of curiosity. They want to see things, touch things, taste them (a little dirt won’t hurt!), and ask “WHY??” about fifty million times. They are doing the work of a scientist! 

Scientists observe the world around them, ask questions, and make hypotheses. They plan experiments, analyze the data, and share their results. Sometimes kids put a stick in their mouth because it looks tasty and sometimes they “accidentally” fall into the water. All of these actions and questions and observations are teaching them the nature of science and it’s teaching them to learn from their experiments. 

As adults we do this all of the time, too, but because we often get trapped into thinking we are what it says on our resume or degree or Facebook page, we stop observing and asking, “Why?” when we see something new. When I am outside I become a kid again. I take in everything with a keen eye and open mind and allow myself to be in the moment. I don’t have kids yet, but I am excited for the time when I get to watch them explore for the first time and eat a mud pie, because honestly, sometimes they look pretty darn close to chocolate mousse. 
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
Exploring Theropod tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park.
I have become part of a community – When I first began volunteering I was very nervous. I didn’t know Ranger Cassie when I asked her if I can learn more about volunteering with Texas Outdoor Family. Shoot, I didn’t even know much about camping in general! She was so welcoming and invited me along as if we’d known each other for years. 

I got to meet more volunteers who enjoy helping others and getting outside, and a year later I am proud to say that I am part of a community. The volunteers and rangers enjoy meeting new families and helping them enjoy a weekend of camping. 

For many of the families that attend a Texas Outdoor Family workshop, it is their first camping experience! Each volunteer brings a different personality, skill set, and background, but everyone works together for the betterment of the entire group. 

Some of my favorite moments have been getting families into kayaks for the first time, teaching kids how to rock climb at Lake Mineral Wells State Park, and laughing around the campfire with our group and a big mug of hot chocolate. 

My adventures with this crew are why I began my blog, Bienvenido Adventure. I look forward to volunteering and I look forward to learning from my community, because every time I come back from a trip I have a new skill, a new connection to the outdoors, and a new friend. 
Five Things I Learned Wile Volunteering Outdoors or New Years Resolutions: Outdoor Style
Make memories and friends outside!
If you are interested in more organizations that focus on building community and getting others outside, please visit Outdoor Nation, the Children and Nature Network, and the Natural Leaders Network. A community of inspiring individuals awaits you! 


What have you learned from your experiences in the outdoors or while volunteering? 

Here is some more inspirations for your outdoor adventures and New Years resolutions in 2014:
  1. 100 Adventures in 2014 from Go Adventure Mom
  2. The Difference a Year Makes from Tales of a Mountain Family
  3. Teach Your Kids How to Explore the Outdoors from Bring The Kids
  4. Wild Discovery Weekends: A Different Perspective from Green Acorns
  5. Volunteering from Mommy Hiker

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