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It's not always easy to tell when you're ready to bust out of your comfort zone and do something hard. We all have a little voice in our heads holding us back, telling us that we don't have the time, money or guts to do something adventurous.
That voice is perfectly acceptable, and here's why: it's there to protect you when things get crazy (like that time you thought buying white leggings would be "edgy," or the last time you tried to hold a yard sale). Now that your little voice done her job, tell her thank you — then shut her down. It's time to recognize that NOW is the perfect time to sign up for an adventure tour. In Michigan.
Still think you're not ready?
Here are 12 signs that point to the fact that you are, indeed, ready to move out of your comfort zone and into to something amazing.
1. Smaller obstacles no longer scare you.
It used to be that if something got in your way, you gave up right away. You shrugged helplessly and thought, "Guess it's not meant to be!" These days, obstacles don't faze you like the used to. You know that if you want something, you have to be willing to work hard for it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the hard stuff is the good stuff. Get through the hard stuff, and a whole new world of awesomeness opens up to you.
2. You've forgotten what it feels like to be brave.
But beyond the smaller obstacles, you can't remember the last time you really pushed yourself (and was rewarded for doing so). Backpacking with wolves kind of pushing yourself. Starting your dream business kind of pushing yourself. Even embracing your age and loving who you are kind of pushing yourself.
4. You find yourself staring out the window more often.
If it's summer (or spring, or fall), you stare at the road construction crew with envy, wishing you didn't have to sit in an office or house all day. Even if it's the dead of winter, you still long to get out and get some fresh air. "The mountains are calling, and I must go," said the great naturalist John Muir. Except in your case, it's Michigan's great outdoors that's whispering in your ear "C'mon baby, let's spend some quality time together."
5. Your journal is filled with longings to do something more with your life.
If you're not journaling, you should be. I've found that Julia Cameron's "morning pages" in The Artist's Way to be the most useful form of journaling, but any time you're writing out your dreams, random thoughts and even petty grievances, it's a good thing. You can't keep wishing and complaining forever; eventually you're going to have to do something about it.
6. You're wishing you had a new set of friends to inspire you.
It's not that your current friends are all that bad, it's just that they are all in pretty much the same place as you: bored, unfulfilled and not quite sure what to do about it. When was the last time you met someone awesome and thought, "You and I are going to get along juuuust fine." Adventure tours with women only give you that opportunity.
7. You know the difference between dangerous and courageous
You aren't interested in hang gliding, free-form rock climbing or traveling to Iran. But you do want to push your boundaries a bit. So why not do it in a safe, supportive environment, full of hugs, high fives and amazing food?
8. You refuse to let fear get in the way of a good time.
Fun. REAL fun. That's what's missing. It's been forever since you laughed so hard your face hurt from smiling and your belly ached. So instead of that thought making you depressed and you pour yourself another glass of wine, you're going to actually do something about it.
9. It's time you had better stories to tell at book club.
When was the last time you told a really good story? When you inspired someone else with your courage and ability to do something amazing? Inspiring other people is one of the most amazing feelings in the world — and there's no better way to inspire others than to lead by example (and maybe they'll even join you next time you break out of your mold).
10. You've (almost) convinced yourself that you don't really need to take care of yourself; taking care of other people's needs first is fine.
Sweetie, if you don't do it now, you may never do it. Taking care of other people is all well and fine, but by neglecting yourself day in and day out, you're dying a little bit at a time. Listen to that other little voice in your head that says, "Why not me? Why not now?"
11. Your life is calm, certain and predictable. And BORING.
Or maybe none of the previous ten reasons really applies to you; you're generally happy with the way everything is going. But that's a good enough reason for you to take a workshop or go to wine camp. Because you're that kind of gal.
So what's holding you back? Leave your reason in the comments. And remember, the adventure can only start when you sign up.
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So here's my first foray into the world of video blogging and the world of BookTube. However, I decided to add a little twist to my videos: combine book reviews with an outdoor settings. Today I got out in the snow and reviewed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus at Blandford Nature Center. Enjoy!
Two young illusionists are tapped at a young age to compete in a life-long challenge until one of them wins — meaning the other one dies. There are no rules, and it’s not clear how the game is played, only that each illusionist must use his or her magical powers on a “chessboard” which, it turns out, is the circus itself (called Le Cirque des Rêves). The story jumps around in time and perspective (I believe there are 16 different points of views in the book), but everything comes together in the end.
The book has a very ethereal feel to it through all 400 pages, making for some intricate and other-worldly scenes. It all felt very “steampunk” to me, if you’re familiar with that term. The book is not a quick read — it spans 30 years of the characters’ lives (more if you consider back stories), and it jumps around not only in perspective but in time as well. If you’re one of those people that can read books twice, this might be a good book to read over again with new perspective. There’s a lot going on in the plot that doesn’t make much sense until later, and I have a feeling I missed a lot of things reading it the first time.
(Personally, I have too many books on my to-read list to read the same book twice, although I understand why other people do it.)
So here’s what I thought about the book — no spoilers:
Generally speaking, I thought the book was well-written; Morgenstern does an excellent job setting the mood and atmosphere with her language and structure choices. There were several references to Shakespeare, and I liked that this book forced me out of my comfort zone a bit. I’m not usually a fan of the supernatural or romance, and this book had a lot of both of those genres.
My favorite character was Poppet. She felt the least flat and cardboard-like, and Morgenstern allowed her to be a real person. But honestly, the main reason I liked reading this book because it was recommended by so many people I know, so now I can join the conversation — and let’s face it, there are a lot of conversations going on about this book.
This book felt really scattered and unfocused to me. I got the impression from all the positive reviews of this book that most folks actually enjoyed that element of the book. It feels like many of the people who loved this book spend a lot of time reading the the Young Adult genre; this isn’t a young adult book, though it has a lot of elements from the genre that appeal to its readers (fantasy, romance, mysterious goings-on that are never fully explained). The difference between this book and most YA books is that it moves fairly slowly. There’s lots of description and scene-setting, which if you’re not used to that kind of style (i.e. read lots of YA books), this book might seem sort of unique and, well, magical.
When it comes to the characters, I’m not sure I was ever fully engaged in the actual competition between the two protagonists. The stakes never seemed very high, because 1) it was never fully explained what the stakes were and 2) there was no ending of the competition. Supposedly the game doesn’t end until one of them dies, but how can you die when all you are doing is creating cool tents? (And believe me, these are some pretty cool tents — probably my favorite part about the book was reading about the various magical tents.)
The love story really could’ve used some more development (though I’ll admit a couple of stirrings deep in my chest at certain parts). I wished that each of the main characters, Celia especially, had more flaws to overcome (maybe that’s why YA folks love this book so much — I feel like, generally speaking, the YA genre doesn’t like its main characters to be too complex).
I also had a hard time following the timelines of this book, so if you haven’t read it yet, it might be worth it to take some notes about what happens when, at least mentally.
All in all, the book was worth reading. I’m giving it 3 snowballs out of 5, because of the risks the author took in writing it, and because it forced me out of my literary fiction genre a bit. Pick it up on sale if you get the chance, and definitely go see the movie when it comes out (because although there’s only just the beginning of a glimmer of a movie, we all know this book was written to eventually be a screenplay. Good for Morgenstern: I think all authors should make gobs and gobs of [ethical] money.)
Blandford Nature CenterI’m biased about Blandford Nature Center for several reasons: first, it’s really close to my house, and I love that there’s this bit of nature nestled in the middle of the western suburbs of Grand Rapids. I walk Howie here, I run here, I’ve even ridden my mountain bike on the trails (though I learned later that you are NOT supposed to do that — so please don’t be a jerk and ignore their rules).
I also love Blandford because it’s connected to my stepson Henry’s school, CA Frost Environmental Academy, which puts an emphasis on outdoor learning for kids, which I’m all about. Our family has a membership here, which is very affordable and goes to support a very good cause. I highly recommend you invest in a membership if you can swing it, because of the amazing resource this organization offers the community.
Blandford’s educational programs are also pretty fantastic, especially the SugarBush festival the Center puts on every year.
You can visit Blandford at 1715 Hillburn Ave NW in Grand Rapids, MI 49504, and cost of admission is $3 (which, come on people, is amazingly affordable, but if you’re a Grand Rapidian, you should definitely buy a membership).
Have you read The Night Circus? Let me know what you thought in the comments.
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Stout? IPA? Something hoppy?
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Sometimes simply getting out of bed, putting on your clothes and getting through the day is all you can manage. If today is one of those days for you, here are twelve quotes to help you do it.
Stay strong, sister.
Sometimes you don’t realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness.
I am protective of the gentle slope of stomach bulging like an early pregnancy, at my waist. I've earned its existence with everything I've been forced to swallow.
People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.
Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.
We must do that which we think we cannot.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.
Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.
Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.
Don't wish me happiness — I don't expect to be happy it's gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor — I will need them all.
With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue.
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Women love adventure. We may not have our adventures in the same way as men, but so many of us long to break free from the bonds and demands of work, housework, commutes and what people think about us, that to head out into the wild often means the wild of our souls. But of course it's never that easy.
[Quick story: to perfectly illustrate how women's adventures differ from men's, while researching this post, I found an Amazon book list titled, "Best Sellers in Women's Adventure Fiction." YES! But the first book on the list? Lesbian Assassins. Which goes to show you, our ideas about adventures can look very different, depending on your gender.]
If you're looking to add some adventure to your life (and yes, you should, because what are you doing with this one wild and precious life?), of course you need to sign up for one of Outdoor Book Club's trips and/or workshops. But, if while waiting for the trip to start you need a mini adventure in written form, be sure to check out of one the women's adventure books on our list.
So take a look through the titles below (two of them were written more than 80 years ago!) and see if you can't find a book that appeals to you. Though I should mention one caveat about the list: I didn't include Wild by Cheryl Strayed and West With the Night by Beryl Markham simply because they are such obvious picks, the epitome of what represents the best books about women adventuring, that I didn't include them here (besides, I've already talked about them in my post Top books about women and the outdoors).
Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail
by Jennifer Pharr Davis
“I found things in the woods that I didn’t know I was looking for… and now I’ll never be the same.”
(Memoir) After graduating from college, Davis, who doesn't have much experience backpacking, is drawn to the Appalachian Trail, a 2175-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine. She decides to hike it alone, despite her friends and family's protests, hoping it will give her some clarity about her life's direction. She quickly discovers through hiking is much more physically and emotionally difficult than she had expected: blisters, aching shoulders from the 30-pound pack, sleeping on the hard wooden floors of trail shelters; endless torrents of rain and even a blizzard. But with every step, Davis experiences a transition: from over-confident college grad to a student of the trail. The trail is full of unexpected kindness, generosity and humor. And when tragedy strikes, she learns that she can depend on other people to help her in times of need.
Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail
by Ben Montgomery
“Her chest full of crisp air and inspiration, her feet atop a forgettable mountain where the stars make you feel insignificant and important all at once. And she sang.”
(Nonfiction) Grandma Gatewood, as the reporters called her, became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone, as well as the first person—man or woman—to walk it twice and three times. Gatewood became a hiking celebrity and appeared on TV and in the pages of Sports Illustrated. The public attention she brought to the little-known footpath was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction.
Author Ben Montgomery was given unprecedented access to Gatewood’s own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence, and interviewed surviving family members and those she met along her hike, all to answer the question so many asked: Why did she do it? The story of Grandma Gatewood will inspire readers of all ages by illustrating the full power of human spirit and determination. Even those who know of Gatewood don’t know the full story—a story of triumph from pain, rebellion from brutality, hope from suffering.
Eye Of The Needle
By Ken Follett
"The trouble with being inspired to perform the impossible was that the inspiration gave you no clues to the practical means.”
(Novel) It is 1944 and weeks before D-Day. The Allies are disguising their invasion plans with a phoney armada of ships and planes. Their plan would be scuppered if an enemy agent found out… and then, Hitler’s prize agent, “The Needle,” does just that. Hunted by MI5, he leads a murderous trail across Britain to a waiting U-Boat. But he hasn’t planned for a storm-battered island, and the remarkable young woman who lives there.
One for the Money (Stephanie Plum #1)
by Janet Evanovich
"I'm telling you, it's fu**ing hard to be classy.”
(Novel) Now the gold-standard in the chick-lit, beach-reading series category, the adventures of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is an easy, fun read (and now a major movie with Katherine Heigl). Evanovich single-handedly created a runaway train of a phenomenon with the series, and you can bet that her protagonist inspired more than a handful of women to get out of their comfort zones and find more adventure in their lives.
The Valleys of the Assassins: And Other Persian Travels
by Freya Stark
(Memoir) Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, this book firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation's most intrepid explorers. It chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.
Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region's valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society. Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view.
What other books can you recommend that feature fearless (or at least courageous), adventurous women? Leave your picks in the comments below.
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It can be incredibly frustrating when you've got your book club coming up (maybe in the next few hours) and you can't find any discussion questions for the book you read!
Or maybe the discussion questions you do find just aren't that good — how many times has someone read off a question they found on the internet and everyone just stared blankly or shrugged? Those questions might work for some groups, but they don't really fit your group's culture or dynamic very well.
Which is where some of these general questions can be extremely helpful. They're generic enough that you can bring your own group's feelings, background and even biases to the book you're reading, which can then make for a more lively, meaningful discussion.
Of course, your first discussion should always be, "Did you like the book? Why or why not?" So here's a list of book club questions that will work for any book your book club chooses — see the end of the article for a printable version.
Outside the book
What other questions does your book club ask? Leave them in the comments below.
I know what you think I'm going to say here — something maybe to do with bears, and the thing that they are most known for doing in the woods? — but no. (Of course we have to poop in the woods — especially if we're there for more than a day)! But there are plenty of other things you DEFINITELY shouldn't do in the woods. So here's a little friendly advice about trail etiquette, and how to get more enjoyment of your time in the woods when you are out there.
Don't be loud.
I'm just going to get this one out of the way, because it's the most common faux pas of people who just don't get how to be a good citizen when it comes to hiking, camping, kayaking or otherwise being outdoors. The only exception to this is if you're in bear country, or it's hunting season. But then, only be loud enough so that you don't get mistaken for food.
I've been lost before; earlier this year I had to spend an unplanned night in the woods by myself (with only my dog Howie). My cell phone was dead (the last text I sent to my husband included the words "I'm getting a little worried"). It was pouring rain, night was coming on fast, and to add to the chaos, I had brought the wrong tent poles, so my tent was basically a pathetic, rumpled mess in the woods that barely kept me dry.
Did images of park rangers pulling my body from the river go through my head? Maybe. Did I panic and continue crashing around in the woods, even though it was getting dark and my feet were nearly hamburger after hiking nearly 20 miles in wet boots? NO. I did not. I stopped, took a deep breath, set up my misreable little tent, and trusted that the worst case scenario was probably the least likely thing to happen. Then I spent nearly 12 hours in a tent, dozing, reading and snuggling with Howie deep in my sleeping bag. Panic would have only made things worse.
Don't leave the trail
Going off the trail creates erosion, destroys local foilage, plus exposes you to poison ivy and possibly getting lost. So stay on the trail, making sure to follow the trail blazes along the way. The caveat to this is using the bathroom (bet you didn't think that reference would come up again!) — if you have to go, move 200 feet away from the trail and any water sources. Oh, and for pete's sake, dig a hole!
Don't NOT yield the right-of-way
If you're going downhill, move aside for hikers going uphill (same goes with mountain biking when the trail is bi-directional). Uphillers are working hard and you don't want them to have to stop their momentum when it's much easier for you to step off the trail. Of course, some uphill hikers want to stop and rest, and letting you pass gives them the perfect opportunity to get a short break. But know the rules so that you also know when to break them.
Don't leave your trash
If you packed it in, you pack it out. Nothing breaks my heart in the woods more than seeing people's garbage. Bring an extra trash bag, and plan to have any wrappers go straight into the trash bag after you finish that granola bar or foil packet. Not in the fire pit. Not shoved under some leaves. IN THE TRASH BAG.
Don't forget your book.
I love reading outside. Whether it's a guidebook or the latest trashy novel, don't forget to throw in something to read while you're on the trail, especially when backpacking. Sometime the best company are the characters who live inside the pages of a book, so make sure you bring them along for the ride.
What outdoors etiquette violations bug you the most? Rant in the comments below.
Jill Hinton Wolfe