Aug 272016
 

book cover

We love going to the library and finding new books.  I usually do a quick browse down the “New” shelf to see what is there, grabbing a few to take home.  However, it is not too often that a children’s book stops me in my tracks and makes me think twice.

I may have been raised in a teetotal family, and am not too far from it now (I do not completely abstain, but neither do I seek out to regularly consume).  My husband grew up in a family/culture where alcohol was commonly and regularly consumed.  He has also reached a point similar to mine, he may partake every so often, but not regularly.  My point being, we are not against responsibly and moderately consumed alcohol, but also do not see the benefit of focusing our lives on it.

HOWEVER, I do draw the line at children’s books centered around a cute animal and alcohol.  There is no need to make it look fun and tempting for children.  They should be out running and playing, not thinking about how to make barrels of it fly through the air ….

… but you should never judge a book by its cover.
book cover 2

Honestly, it took me seeing this book several times before I walked over to exam it more closely.  Before then, we were short on time and this was not an important item for me to investigate further.  One day, though, I had time and curiosity was getting the better of me.  That is when I realized how much a misplaced ribbon could change the meaning of a book’s title and had a good laugh at myself.

I picked up that ‘children’s book promoting alcohol’, adding it to our check-out pile.  As it turns out, Breaking News: Bear Alert by David Biedrzycki is a fun book.  We read it several time before taking it back, the kids enjoyed the silliness of what the bears were up to after waking up from hibernation.

I would like to say I will not judge a book by its cover again, that I have learned my lesson, but I doubt that is the case.  It is so easy to do and we all do it so often without even realizing it.

 

This post contains affiliate links.

Aug 172016
 

A young man, camping in a National Park, is attacked and killed by a bear.  Who is at fault?  Is anyone at fault?

This is the question asked in Engineering Eden by Jordan Fisher Smith.  Instead of looking at the immediate setting or what has happened in the past few decades, which is considered fairly recent in the natural resources world, Engineering Eden takes a look beginning back at the time before National Parks were even created.  Following the path of decisions made and prominent thinking of the times, we are shown how we ended up in the world Harry Eugene Walker and the bear found themselves one late June night.

The natural world we find ourselves in today looks quite different than it did after the Dust Bowl.  It looks different than it did back at the start of our nation.  It looks different than before the Native Americans populated this continent.  So which is the true ‘nature’ we are striving towards and what is the best way to achieve that goal?  Is the purpose of nature to be our playground, being utilized to entertain us and removing the things less desirable?  Or should we take a hands off approach, even when it is very much not convenient?

In the history of National Parks, these questions and more have been debated, researched, and theorized.  At various times they have been applied in some fashion or manner, often without a full understanding of the complex interactions. For many decades, the National Parks were not even run by those interested in the interactions of nature; their goal was to make the public happy and help the process run smoothly.  As time has passed, the original picture, whatever it was, has been blurred.  We now are left with the results of actions by our forefathers.  This makes the process even more complicated.  As time has passed the study of natural resources, the interactions between different animals and plants, has grown, yet still leaves much to be desired.

I knew part of the history Smith wrote about in Engineering Eden, though a lot of the finer details and some of the players were new to me.  Along the way, side stories were explained, giving a broader explanation to the whole picture.  Rarely is any decision black and white, but often a result of many smaller decisions, interactions, and influences.  Smith  took that knowledge, weaving together the National Parks’ history and the story of Harry Walker.  The result was a smooth and natural look at broader story, not a forced and dry recall of events.  At no point in the book did I find myself bored or reading repeated sections.

If you are looking for a light, easy read this book is not for you.  There is quite a bit of research mentioned, though not in language you will need an advanced degree to read.  It will make you think and consider the view you hold. Even the look of the book, a non-slick dust jacket and pages that have a rough cut appearance, lend to a natural, real feel for the story.

While Engineering Eden ultimately is focused around the events leading up to the unfortunate encounter one June night, I believe it holds even more important truths for us all, both in regard to our interactions with nature and for ourselves. One of those truths Smith shared at the end of the book’s Afterward:

And if order prevails in nature, then it prevails in my life, and yours.  And if this is true, then the beautiful world – the care of which incited such bitter argument between the people in this book – has a purpose, and so did the life of Harry Walker, and so do ours.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  This post contains affiliate links.

Jul 182016
 

Over the course of my gardening life, I have read several different gardening books.  I have learned new methods for forming garden beds, which plants work well together, how to garden in small locations, and other useful tips.  After reading the most recent book, one which I would encourage every gardener to read, I can tell you that I now look at my garden with a new set of eyes.

What do I see?  My garden is a failure.  It is neglecting to attract one of the most important visitors a gardener can ask for, the bee.

When I first opened The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn I was not exactly sure what to expect.  Perhaps a list of plants which bees like to visit in order to make honey? After all, their subtitle is “Design an abundant, flower-filled yard that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.” Is not the main purpose of bees to make honey? (hint: the answer is NO!)

Looking around my yard I thought I was doing well in the flower department.  In the spring I have tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, bleeding hearts and other flowers, as well as strawberries and early garden plants.  The maple and hack berry trees in the yard also produce flowers in great abundance. When summer begins to appear the tiger lilies start to make an appearance, hostas and rose bushes bloom, and my garden begins to with fill with tomato and blackberry blossoms.  In the fall, the clematis presents a 6 foot wall of blooms behind the rose bushes.  All of this is in addition to any potted annuals and hanging baskets I am able to add to the garden.

I felt confident I was doing my part to attract bees and other pollinators to the garden.  As I read, I realized there were several obvious aspects I was neglecting to address.  These were actually keeping my garden from attracting the much needed insects. Specifically I did not have enough blooms at one time, nor consistent blooms throughout the year, to make my garden inviting enough for the pollinators I have been wanting to appear.  Thankfully, I found out these issues could be easily addressed.

Before finding out how to address the issues in my own garden, I had to learn more about what it meant to have a garden the various species of bees find attractive and what aspects may hinder their appearances.

Frey and LeBuhn began The Bee-friendly Garden talking about, well, bees.  My knowledge of entomology is pretty basic, though it is broader than the average person.  I know the terms and various genus and families, but am not intimately familiar with the various aspects of each.  Having this knowledge helped understand the beginning chapters, though I still found myself learning new things.  If you had no knowledge to begin with, I believe you could still easily understand this chapter.  They made it clear and simple for almost anyone to use as a foundation for the rest of the book.

The next few chapters talked about various plants which would be good additions to your garden to attract bees.  They covered both edible and non-edible gardens.  I appreciated the authors taking into account visual appeal for humans, as well as attractiveness for the insects.  A plant may hold a great appeal to the insect you want to attract, but if it Is a nuisance or difficult to take care of the gardener is unlikely to actually plant it.

Chapter 5 talks about garden designs. The authors again presented the information with a very practical approach – we do not all have perfect gardens, nor the means to make them so.  What the reader is presented with are ways to work with what they may have, encouragement to think outside the box or to step back and take a new look.

The final chapter is fairly short, encouraging the reader to go beyond their backyards and find ways to encourage bees in their communities.  The authors have provided several resources already organized in working toward this end.  I have participated in a few over the years and found myself encouraged to take part again in the upcoming year.

Following the final chapter is a list of resources and regional plant lists.

I greatly enjoyed The Bee-friendly Garden and think every gardener should take time to look beyond the visual appeal, to humans, their gardens provide.  You may have the best soil and the newest hybrid of your favorite flower, but it will not do really well if you are not also attracting the much needed pollinators.

Aspects of the book I liked:

  • You are not only told how to do something, but also why.
  • Suggestions are given for less than perfect gardens, as well as various gardening styles.
  • Photos of actual yards and gardens, across various climates, are shown and described.

Aspects of the book I did not like:

  • Some repetitive nature.
  • While it may be good for the beginning reader to go over certain aspects, there were things explained that I already knew.

After reading through The Bee-friendly Garden I learned:

  • There are 46 species of bumble bees in North America. Some other families contain hundreds of different species.
  • Honey bees are not the best pollinators.
  • Most bees do not live in large colonies.
  • Many make their homes in the ground, which makes using a weed barrier a determinant.
  • Some plants require the specific resonance of the bee’s vibrations to pollinate.
  • Flowers do not mean only the perennial and annual broad leaf plants, but also grasses and trees.
  • The presence of flowers is not the only factor, you also need volume. (1 flower does not seem very attractive, but 50 does.)
  • Bees tend to visit patch of flowers rather than hop from this flower to that flower.

The last two points were the ones most practical to figuring out how to solve my problem of not enough pollinators.

As I walk out into my garden, I notice the abundance of green and the lack of color signaling pollinators to come to my garden beds.  Like other aspects I have adjusted over the years, I will begin to change this by taking small steps at first, working in one part of the garden and spreading to other areas.  Thanks to The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity I have a great guide to improve my garden and help it thrive.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  All opinions are honest and my own.

This post contains affiliate links.

Mar 312016
 

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Safe House: how emotional safety is the key to raising kids who live, love, and lead well by Joshua Straub has probably been the hardest book I have read in order to review here on the blog.

The reason for the delay was not due to boredom, or forgetfulness, or any other such reason.  It all had to do with me not being able to sit down and read through the book.  I emotionally could not do it; it was hitting too close to home.  The topics it was touching on are the exact things we as a family have been working hard at creating.  We are not fully there and probably will not be for many years. Progress is being made, there are many signs of it, but there are also signs of where our walls are weak or too high.

Joshua Straub points out both research and biblical references to support his claim that emotional safety is important.  I can attest via personal experience.  When there is not a solid connection with your child, there is no personal growth in them.  When kids feel like they can not trust you, they are in a constant state of stress, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, or other such negative states.  Even writing those last few sentences have increased my heart rate due to remembering how things used to be in our household for several years.

Safe House is not written specifically for families who have adopted kids, or who are helping raise kids with a hard early childhood.  It is a good book for those families, but it is also a great book for every family to have.  Safe House is not a how-to book nor a new philosophy of ways to parent. Instead it encourages you to approach parenting from a new view point.  Once you stand back and look, think about what you are trying to do and analyze if what you are doing will actually get you there, then you can take a breath and jump back in.

Joshua Straub begins the book showing various studies concerning childhood development, long term results from various parenting styles, and how certain traits in kids lead to certain traits in adults.  He shows the good and not so great. (click here to get a preview of Chapter 1)

Next Straub goes into how using this information can lead us to becoming better parents.  If we understand the needs at certain stages, we can address them, fulfill them, and avoid some problems later on.  Using the analogy of a house, he explains how a balance in four various area helps fulfill these needs, thereby creating adults who can go into the world knowing how to live, love, and lead well.

The four walls of a Safe House are Exploration, Protection, Grace, and Truth.  If any of these walls are too high (stressed too much) or short (not often present), then your house will not be stable (your kids will not feel safe).  The look of these walls change over time, but they are always present.

While scoring the parenting quiz at the end of Chapter 5, I became worried.  See, I know my tendencies and the results were showing them clear as day.   I am definitely not a BFF Parent, a do as you want, parent, my score was pretty much zero.  I tend on the Religious and Bossy side of things.  As for being a Helicopter Parent or a Boss Parents or a Religious Parent, the scores were pretty evenly divided.

I began to worry as there was no clear winner in any one particular category.  How was I going to improve if I had no idea what I kind of parent I really was?  Was I sending similarly mixed signals to my kids?  Was I the reason why they did not seem to know how to handle themselves in various situation?  In other words, I started to freak out.

Then I got to the scores as a Safe Parent.  The results were twice what they were for being Religious or a Boss type parent.  It seems I have not been as wishy-washy as I had feared.

I took both of those results to mean that while I usually hold a balance, at times behaviors or situation call for me to act more in one realm than others.  Part of this also has to do with the different way my kids function, which I took into account while interpreting the result.

After years of trying various behavior management and failing, I no longer promote parenting in that way.  I usually have to clarify, though, as there is nothing inherently wrong with sticker charts or time outs or earning privileges.  It is the way you approach them.  If you give a time out because a kid is acting poorly,but do not connect with them emotionally to figure out what is really happening and why, then you are managing the behavior.  The kid will not learn how to regulate himself.  He will only learn that he should not do that action if he does not want to get into trouble.  But he does not learn what he should be doing.

Yes, we still give our kids consequences, both good and bad.  We still use the wrong wording at times and say they have ‘earned’ a privilege by behaving well and not draining our energy.  Yes, we/I still have room for improvement on the language side of things.

At school, George has a sticker chart for homework that he loves to have filled in and gets very protective on it if someone even dares move it.  It works very well for him in that setting.  The difference is, they are not parenting him.  They are teaching him and really do need to regulate behaviors of multiple kids from multiple backgrounds.  In that setting this method works very well for them.  We, however, are in it for the long haul and are worried about more than our kids sitting still in their seats while practicing this week’s spelling words.

 

The final chapters of the book take a look at one aspect of parenting many of the books I have read tend to ignore, your marriage and you personally.  If our marriage and our personal lives are in chaos, how can we give provide a stable, safe house for our kids?  If we are not seeking after God in a healthy way and demonstrating it in our lives, how can we expect our kids to understand how to do it?

I appreciated these final chapters, showing how our parenting come out of our lives as individuals.  Who we are as individuals will spill over into who we are as parents.

Safe House: how emotional safety is the key to raising kids who live, love, and lead well by Joshua Straub is a great resource to understanding our roles as parents in creating a life for our children to become great adults.  We are not in control of the choices they will make, but we can do our best to set them up for success by creating a safe environment from which they can grow.

 

There are no affiliate links in this post. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Oct 242015
 

I received this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

I Had To Survive: How A Plane Crash In The Andes Inspired My Calling To Save Lives by Dr. Roberto Canessa and Pablo Vierci – the title alone caught my attention.

I love reading survival stories, whether it is a fictional or nonfiction, an “end of the world as we know it” type story or one that involves a struggle against nature. There is something about the struggle, both physically and emotionally, that appeals to me.

When I was younger I would imagine myself in the main character’s shoes. Would I make the same choices? What would I have done differently? Would I have the endurance to face the same challenges?

As I started reading I Had To Survive I quickly went from looking forward to a story of struggle and overcoming obstacles to trying to follow the story without being completely lost. Events jumped around in time making it hard to get a grasp of what was going on.  Then it jumped to the present when Dr. Canessa was talking about being a doctor and how his experience with the crash affected how he related to his patients.  The connection seemed forced as if he was reaching for a string between the two that was not there. Then the story would take you back to the time of the crash, but not at the point you left off.

After the first few chapters I was still struggling with the flow of the book, but began to piece things together enough to follow.  Half way through, though, I was ready to put the book down and call it quits.  Not only was I not understanding the point of the book nor in which direction I was heading, but the flow of the words was rough and hard to read through at a quick pace.  I stuck with it and found that the second half of the book was told mainly from the patients point of view.  While these stories were emotional and about the efforts of Dr. Canessa and how he instilled hope in them, I was still not quite sure how this fit together with the story of the plan crash.

At the end of I Had To Survive (or at least the ebook version I was reading) I came across a Note From The Author.  I do not always read these sections, but was really glad I did.  Actually, I would have preferred this to be a Preface at the beginning of the book instead of a note at the end, as what I read explained the reason for the book.  If I had read these few pages hours ago, as the beginning of the book my experience would have been completely different. I would have known to read the book in the context of what the author was trying to achieve – to tell the story of one of the survivors of the crash and how this event affected his life.

In all this was not one of my favorite books, as it took a lot of effort to read and follow.  In retrospect I came away with a bit more hope for humanity.  In the face of extreme circumstances we can still show respect for others and even give hope to others after our last breath has left our body.  We can stand more than we ever thought and make it through the other side.  There will still be scars, but we can do it and live a successful life.

 

I Had To Survive: How A Plane Crash In The Andes Inspired My Calling To Save Lives by Dr. Roberto Canessa and Pablo Vierci  will be released March 1, 2016.

 

Oct 142015
 

Sleep.  That wonderful time of rest that you are supposed to look forward to at the end of the day.  Sometimes it is not as easy to achieve as one might think.  Sometimes it just does not seem so wonderful and there are other things you wish you were doing.

Little Cub did not see the value of a good night’s rest.  It took him having a first hand experience to see that a lack of sleep can lead to a very long, not so fun day.  Afterwards, Little Cub and Mama Bear talked about the importance of good sleep and why it is God gave us this wonderful blessing.

Sleep has been a years long issue in our home.  There was one point a year and a half ago where things began to go smoothly.  Then they were no longer working out.  It has taken us a while, but I feel like we have somewhat of a good routine down.

While the all the kids now stay in bed at bedtime, and usually go to sleep fairly quickly, there are still struggles with accepting that it is time to sleep.  That is one of the reasons I wanted to read God Gave Us Sleep by Lisa Gergren.  Once I did I could not wait to share it with my kids and hear their opinions.

Once the kids positioned themselves to see all the pictures, and they both begged to see each one of them, we set out to read this book before bed one night.  Afterwards I asked the kids what they thought of the book:

George – “I like that it has a bear in it.”

Jack – “I liked the caribou.”

So, while they may have missed the main point, both of them agreed they liked God Gave Us Sleep.  The next few weeks will find us reading the book again, hopefully instilling some of the lessons taught.

Lisa Bergren did a wonderful job putting into story form the issues kids may have with sleep, while gently showing them the importance of this gift from God.  I really appreciated how she showed kids how they may be able to overcome some of the issues they are having.  She did a fabulous job taking a somewhat difficult concept and putting it into a context the kids could understand and enjoy.

 

I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This post contains affiliate links.

Oct 102015
 

Owls: Our Most Charming Bird

Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell is unlike any other book of birds I have read.  Reading the descriptions I could almost see and hear the birds, as well as their personalities.

Most of us understand that different dogs have different temperaments and personalities, but have you even thought about that in relation to owls?  Matt Sewell captures these personality difference and uses them in a way which makes learning about the bird seem like meeting someones family.

“Oh, there is old ______ over there.  He might sound harsh, but really is not that scary.  He keeps to himself most of the time and just likes to frighten others away.  Now, the one you do have to watch out for is ________.  He will steal your dessert faster than you can can say “apple pie”, and he is super quiet doing so.”

As I was reading through the books, I realized that this was a book George would love.  He remembers things a lot better if you put them in story form rather than facts, especially dry facts.  I would guess that most of us are like that, really.

The drawings were the things that surprised me the most.  Not only did Matt capture the personalities and characteristics in words, but also in visual form.  The water color pictures of each owl adds another dimension to getting to know these charming birds.

This book is not so much a story as it is a collection of the various owls from around the world.  Each turn of the page reveals a different owl in and its description.  For a bird lover this would be a fun read.  If you are looking for a list of character traits and maps of regions then you are in the wrong place.

I enjoyed reading through Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell and getting to know some of our owl friends better.

 

This post contains affiliate links.  I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Sep 282015
 

This past summer we were able to take a last minute trip to our nation’s capitol.  Between visits with several different friends, we made stops at various sites around the area.  Many I had been to before, but a few were new.  For our kids, they were all new and most were about times in history they had yet to learn about in class.  A few of the sites, however, really peaked their interests.

The White House was a favorite as they had heard of it before (my husband often watches reruns of The West Wing on Netflix).  The kids found it even more interesting when we finally convinced them that the President is a real person, not just an actor, AND that he actually lives in the big white house behind the gates.

A lot of the history I know about the White House itself, which is not much, has to do with random facts throughout history that I have picked up while reading.  I love history, hearing the how’s and why’s as to events, details that make it come alive in my imagination.

When I began reading All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America I expected to pick up a few tidbits here and there on the gardening practices used on the White House grounds and long lists of plants used.  In general I thought it would be a boring read that would require cups of coffee to help me stay awake.  What I found surprised me and showed me a new way of looking at this home that has become a symbol over the years. 

Gardening history is not something I have been exposed to previously.  In my past there were mentions of how the Native Americans planted and how the early settlers gardened to provide for the table during winter months.  I have also visited sites such as Mt. Vernon (Jefferson’s home) and the Biltmore Estate, learning about how they landscaped, invented, studied and produced tools, methods and plants that we now think are common.  However, I never had found a book that actually walked a reader through the history of gardening in a particular place and how the look of the gardens were also affected by events of the day.  As it turns out, I had exposed myself to a book that kept me up at nights, long after I really wanted to be asleep, exploring our nation’s history and the people and gardens it contained.

Marta McDowell did a thorough job of researching the various gardeners, plants, sources, designs, struggles, Presidents’ preferences that have resulted in the gardens and the house we now see today.  She showed how the political events of the day – protests about wars, the Great Depression, the war of 1812, etc.- also had a result in shaping the look and use of the gardens and grounds.  The reader was taken along a path showing the various gardening styles and philosophies, and how they flowed from one style to the next – English, Italian, french, formal, practical, native and exotic.

All the Presidents’ Gardens quickly became one of my favorite history and gardening books.  I loved the flow, the story behind the story feel, and how it all felt tied together in a smooth fashion.  It was so seamless that I often forgot when a chapter had ended and another began.  There were a few points that I wondered why they were mentioned, only to find a  few paragraphs or pages later how it was all tied together.

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend for you to read.  You will have to wait a bit though, as it will not scheduled to be released till April 27, 2016.  You are able to pre-order it now so you will be able to receive one of the first copies.

I also learned that the White House holds a free garden tour twice a year.  (Last year’s fall tour was in mid-October, so you may be able to get in on this year’s if you keep watching.)

I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration.

Sep 252015
 

The search for stories to read to the kids is always an ongoing adventure.  Stories with a great story line, with quality writing, without questionable actions or words, without too much magic and which can portray values we want to encourage can be hard to find.   Brambleheart: A Story About Finding Treasure and the Unexpected Magic of Friendship by Henry Cole fits many of these categories.

Twig, a young chipmunk, was having trouble finding his place in his community.  He was unsure what his future held job wise, which would determine how his life would unfold.  It did not help that he was an unintentional clutz, often making a mess of things that others found easy to perform.  He would much rather have been off looking at his picture books than sitting in metal class, or any class for that matter.

It also did not help that a certain other student seemed to have it out for him.  Basil did not let an opportunity pass to make fun of Twig or cause him to have another ‘accident’.

Lily, on the other hand, was a true friend who believed in him even when he seemed to do everything wrong.  She stood up for him and helped out where she was able.

One day, after a rough patch at school, Twig decided to run away.

Up until this point in Brambleheart, things had been going fairly well.  The author had set the stage for the story to take off, giving the reader a good base and background information.  The adventure Twig faced on his journey to leave the group had great potential for excitement and discovery.  And it did just that for the first half of his ‘running away’ experience.  I think it took a very unexpected and wrong turn when what Twig found was a dragon.

A dragon did not make sense for the story and did nothing to add to what Henry Cole had worked the first half of the book to set up.  It felt like a grab to make something fit a need, rather than molding the story to reach the same end.

Another issue I have with the story is toward the last chapter.  After spending 20-some chapters making Twig’s life harder, Basil suddenly did an about face and wanted to help out, becoming his friend.  There was no explanation given and it again felt forced.

While I was not a fan of the addition of the dragon, I could live with it.  It had taken what could have been a great book to one that was okay.  However, the sudden shift in friendship left me saying “no” to this book as one to read to the kids.  I had really wanted to like this story, but was left feeling like it made no sense.

Brambleheart was a quick read for me, and had not objectionable qualities word or action wise, and so would be okay to read to the kids or for an older child to read on their own.  While there was a dragon involved, there was not a lot of magic or sorcery, which was also nice for a kids’ book.

This book will be available at your local bookstore or online in February 2016.

This post contains affiliate links.  I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.

Sep 142015
 

How hard can it be?  Sure people who have done it say it is hard, but… well, maybe they are just talking it up.  Come on.  I have been camping all my life.  I have hiked before.  How different can it be?

In my dreams, my imagination during times of boredom, I have more than once imagined myself hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Please, tell me I am not the only one.  The thought of camping for months at a time, the solitude of not a lot of people around yet not too far away, getting to live in nature without being thought of as homeless or destitute … there is appeal in the idea.

A little voice in the head of Bill Bryson presented similar appeals – getting fit, improve his wilderness skills, get to know the country he had been away from for 20 years, and giving him some ‘street cred’ at the Four Aces Diner when all the guys started to talk.  While the allure of the trail for him was a bit different than the little voice presented for me, it was still there.  Another difference?  He actually set about to do it.  Sort of.

What Byrson actually did was mention to a few different people that he was planning to do it.  Then he did research into it and realized what he had actually gotten himself into.  Of course, he could not back down now.  He had already told everyone, including his publisher, that he was going to do this.  So that is what he set out to actually do.  A Walk In The Woods follows his journey from the first concept through to the end reflections.

If you are looking for a guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail, a step by step guide to preparing and hiking through, then this is not the book for you.  If, however, you are looking for a true account of an average guy, someone who does not spend his weekends hiking a 100 miles in all sorts of weather while foraging for wild plants to eat, then you have stopped at the right place.

Every step of the way Bill gives a realistic, and humorous, account of his experiences and conclusions.

For example, more than once his hiking partner grew frustrated and chucked portions of their food and supplies off into the woods, leaving them to eat noodles for days.  Given that noodles was about the only thing either of them knew how to cook, at least they were already resigned to a non-varied trail diet.  The loss of cookies, jerky and canned meat during these fits, though, was felt all the more.  Bill seemed to sort of shrug it off, resigning himself to the new reality.  I am not so sure I would have reacted as calmly to these particular episodes as Bill did.  Maybe that is what makes him a better fit for writing this book than I would.  His ability to kind of roll with things, seeing the humor in them, meant he was able to keep going.

As Bill and his hiking partner worked their way along the trail, having to actually leave it a few times due to previously scheduled engagements, I was impressed with how they kept getting up and going.  With no real previous preparations, here were two guys hiking a trail that other decades younger were doing and found challenging.

Toward the end of A Walk In The Woods I was sure they were almost to the end of the trail and I was waiting for the big “We Did It!!” conclusion.  It never came.

At first, I felt like it had all been a failure.  After all the struggles of their hike and my time spent reading this book … it was supposed to have a happy, wrapped up with a bow on top, ending.  Then I thought about it for a few hours and slept on it.  The next morning I viewed it a bit differently.

Here were two guys, stepping outside their comfort zones, actually doing what I have dreamt of doing more than once but never even started.  They faced personal challenges both physically and mentally, making it out the other side viewing the world around them differently.  They learned things about themselves they had not known before.  How is that not success?

It really was about the journey, not the destination.

Where I would have had a set plan and freaked out when it did not happen the way I thought it should, Bill stepped back and took another look at them.  His ability to think through things and see them from a detached view mean he did not over react and make the trip a horrible one.  Yes, it was not a luxury cruise, but it could have been a lot worse.

Whether this attitude was due to writing the book after the fact, or if it is his personality, I am not sure.  What I do know is that it made me stop and think more than once about my seriousness to events in life.  To reflect on what the purpose really is.  Is it the journey or the destination?  Maybe I have some things backwards.

The ending of the book could have been more conclusive, rather than an abrupt stop that left me hanging.  Perhaps it was done that way on purpose, to make me think. However, it could have been done in a better fashion.

When I began reading this book, I did not realized that it was also being adapted for film.  This review is of the book, not the film, in case that was not clear.

I find it better to read a book before watching the movie so that I am not constantly seeing the actors’ faces and the director’s opinion of how things looked.  Of course, sometime this leads me to being mad at the director for not making the movie look like the one that was playing out in my head as I read the book.  Yes, it is a double standard.

The movie was release here in the US a few weeks ago.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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