Birding Without Borders Book Review

Birding without border book under a lap with metal bird statue and box with bird cameo beside it

This year, for Christmas, I received two books: Tasting Whiskey by Lew Bryson and Birding Without Borders by Noah Strycker. I decided to start off my 2019 reading challenge with Birding Without Borders (I’m aiming for 16 books this year). Miles and I love birds and bird watching. We’re more interested in birds of prey and waterfowl than anything else, but we enjoy watching all birds. I forget how I stumbled on Birding Without Borders, but it wound upon my Amazon wish list one way or another.

I’m not normally a non-fiction reader and when I do read non-fiction, I tend to read it very slowly. I did stop reading this for a few days after I started, but once I got going, I finished it in three days. The book was hilarious, informative, and well-paced. The author, Noah Strycker, has written articles and books about birds before and is an associate editor at Birding Magazine. (You can check out more of his previous pieces and current events at his website.)

Birding Without Borders (plus some thoughts)

Birding Without Borders is about Strycker’s 365 day trip around the world to see 5,000 species of birds–about half the species in the world. (The exact number varies depending on what checklist you use. Cornell University updates the Clements Checklist with 10,365 birds. In Europe and other areas of the world, they use the International Ornithological Congress, which recognizes 10,612 species.)

He started in Antarctica, hoping to see a Gentoo or Chinstrap penguin to start his year off with. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t, but he still managed to start off with a Cape Petrel, which he took as a good sign.) From Antarctica, he went to South America, Central America, across the United States, to Iceland, across Europe, up and down Africa over to India and did a mad hop across Asia and Malaysia before going down to Australia and New Zealand. To end off the year, he hopped back up to India. By the time his trip was done, he saw 6,042 species. Inspiring, isn’t it?

(I may or may not be trying to convince Miles we need to go to Ecuador and Costa Rica because of this book.)

Strycker’s thoughts on the state of the world and its ecosystems are comments, really. I don’t call his thoughts statements or anything for a reason. He actively tries to impress upon readers that his thoughts on global warming and habitat loss are merely his observations. He doesn’t try to start a fight or debate, which I appreciated.

Final Words

Ultimately, I think this book is worth a read for anyone who loves birds or loves nature or even loves to travel. It’s humorous, honest, and humbling, really. If you read it, let me know! I’d love to know what other people think about this book.

Persevere in 2019

And just like that, I managed to go a whole month without adding a post. Sorry. The holidays are always crazy for me. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a calm holiday season. Since it’s now 2019, it’s that time of the year where everyone starts talking about how they’re going to improve and turn their life around this year. I’m no exception, sorry. Instead of saying I have goals or resolutions to specifically stick to, though, maybe I’ll try this “word of the year” trend that’s going around. I’ll aim to persevere in 2019.

I already persevere through a lot at work. It hasn’t been fun and not always successful, but I’ve persevered. Now, I think I need to take that and apply it to my hobbies and goals and dreams. Here are the things I’d really like to work on this year.

Goals for 2019

  • Continue working and complete Utangard
  • Edit first part of Betelgeuse Chronicles
  • Finish Order of the Elements
  • Read at least 12 books, if not more (especially my nonfiction books I’ve received)
  • Work more on the blog (getting my name out there, content creation, blog layout–all that jazz)
  • Save money and pay things off (a juxtaposition many in my generation have to deal with)
  • Work on certifications at work
  • Learn more about coding and use that knowledge to further the blog
  • Make it to yoga three times a week
  • Hit 10,000 steps every workday

See? There’s a lot of things I want to do and when I have that many things, I tend to freeze up and not do any of it. It’s hard for me when I focus on one thing too intensely (because it burns me out) and it’s hard when I try to focus on too many things at once (because I don’t feel like I’m using my focus wisely). The struggle is something I’m always fighting with, especially when I take into account that I stare at a screen all day at work, so staring at a screen some more when I come home is often the last thing I want to do. I know. First world problems.

So, instead of trying to give myself a deadline, I think what I’ll do is say I’m going to persevere with working on all of these goals for at least one month this year. Even if I don’t touch it for the rest of this year, I’ll have at least made some progress on it. I’ll persevere and do my best to not let life distract me as it always does.

Moving Forward

All that said, as part of the “work on the blog” goal, I’ll be making some updates around here. I think I’ll do away with Lit Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday, first of all. I’ll still write and moan about writing and how hard it is and what books I’ve been reading and I’ll still do reviews on breweries and beers and bourbon–but I won’t break those down into Lit Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday categories. I need to allow myself to write whatever day it is, despite being able to schedule posts. For some reason, it feels more genuine when I write a post and send it off into the great unknown that day. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see or if you have any suggestions.

In the meantime, persevere, my friends. May we all persevere.

The Handmaid’s Tale Book Review

Cover of The Handmaid's Tale with two women walking by a brick wall

I finally finished The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. One of my good friends at work loaned her copy to me because she wanted me to read it before getting into the show on Amazon Prime.

I’m not entirely sure how to describe how I feel about this book. It was excellent and well-written. But the way it ended–I feel like I had the rug pulled out from under me. It was also unsettling reading about a fundamentalist sect taking over the United States. As a woman, reading the book was uncomfortable because of how easy it was to imagine being in Offred’s frame of mind, not to mention the things that she’s forced to go through.

The narrative can be a little confusing, but I think that lends to the overall tone of the book. Offred is a Handmaid in the beginning of the Gilead takeover. She remembers her life before and her family, especially her daughter. The narrative bounces around as Offred’s thoughts wander to how things were before. then snaps back to her current surroundings. I felt this helped me gain a better sense of the confusion and almost split personality such a change would force on a person.

Offred arrives at a new house to be a Handmaid to a high-ranking officer in the Gilead government. The book follows her experiences there and how she attempts to cope and work through her role as, essentially, a slave who’s there to have babies for the sterile wife. Overall, I found The Handmaid’s Tale… chilling. Chilling is the best way I can describe it.

I think this is a book everyone should read once. It’s one of those sorts of books, much like Fahrenheit 451, 1984 (still need to finish that one), and Paradise Lost. (Yes. Paradise Lost is something everyone should read at least once.) These are some of the great literary pieces that get you thinking. While we read to enjoy, we need to read to expand our horizons as well.

Be sure to check out my other Book Reviews and let me know what you’d like to see more of!

I Love to Write Day 2018

Today is I Love to Write Day! I’m celebrating it right now by writing up this blog post. It’s not the type of writing I had in mind when I first heard of this holiday, but it works. Writing isn’t just writing books, after all. It might be blogging, articles, screenplays, poetry, or even writing letters or working on a journal.

Speaking of journals, I’ve been working on one for the breweries I visit. I’m trying to collect as many stickers as I can so I can put them in a journal. On the page with the sticker, I’m putting my first Untappd check-in, my first brewery visit, the location/address of the brewery and then writing up thoughts on the beer and the brewery itself. When I’ve completed my first one, I’m going to put it on the bar for people to flip through when they visit.

I know a lot of people will take the stickers and put them on a canvas or a bartop. I love that idea. I’d like to actually learn how to remove labels from bottles so I can put the labels on a canvas. That would be pretty awesome instead of moving five million bottles (exaggeration, don’t worry) every time we move. Anyways, I love the idea of the canvas or bartop for stickers, but doing a journal just seemed more true to who I am. And it saves me more room when we’re moving.

Right now, I have 57 stickers in my first journal. I’m not going to visit all of the breweries in there, more than likely. (I’ve gotten some stickers from tastings and whatnot at festivals in town and decided to stick them in the journal as a “I’m going to visit this brewery, daggummit!” motivation.) I still have some space open for my SC breweries (despite having been to basically all the breweries in town, I need to get stickers for half of them), but all of my space for NC and other states has been filled up. Whoops.

What do you think? Are beer journals gonna pick up? I think they should. (Obviously, I’m biased.)

Missed Posts

There are a lot of things I’m working to improve on–my writing, my career, my knowledge of useless trivia, my awareness of this world. Sometimes, though, I get so caught up in trying to plan for how to improve that I don’t actually follow through. I had a friend tell me one time that, as an INFP according to the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, that’s because I derive a sense of pleasure from envisioning how I’m going to accomplish things. That doesn’t give me any reason to follow through by actually doing what I envisioned. This statement has stuck with me because, since then, I have noticed that is what I tend to do. I plan and envision and then put off the actual doing forever. (This is part of why I keep trying to work to get in the habit of doing things versus using sheer motivation.)

All this to say that one of the things I’ve been trying to do better at is this thing called bullet journaling. I’m one of those people that remembers things best if I write it down/type it up (huh, that could be a fun rabbit hole to explore) and when I was looking for a planner that covered everything I wanted, I just couldn’t find it. Instead, I found this bullet journaling thing and decided to try it. It has… more or less worked out for me. I don’t do any super fancy drawings (though maybe I will eventually as I used to draw a lot), but having the space to write down what my month ahead is going to look like along with carrying things over between my day-to-day helps a lot.

One thing thing I’ve done with my monthly layout has been to write down all the days I plan to write a post and then try to plan what the topic is. I’m also including fun holidays that I intend to post about on Instagram. I’m not doing such a great job with this on the weekends, sadly. I’ve missed a few posts since I was supposed to post last Thursday (and didn’t due to not good work-life balance).

  • Wednesday, Nov. 7 was World Gin Day (even though the official website said it was in June…. Maybe they have it twice a year?)
  • Thursday, Nov. 8 was Harvey Wallbanger Day. This is a classic cocktail I’ve never had.
  • Saturday, Nov. 10 was Neil Gaiman’s birthday. Happy belated birthday to him! Once I’ve finished The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ll read the copy of Norse Mythology I picked up while in South Dakota.
  • Sunday, Nov. 11 was, of course, Veterans Day in the U.S. Thank you to all of our Veterans who served.
  • Monday, Nov. 12 was National Happy Hour Day. I definitely missed out on that, but considering how social Miles and I were this weekend, yesterday was a day to stay at the house and talk to no one. It was great.

I didn’t have a topic written down for today (or most of the actual Lit Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday posts), but admitting I’ve missed a lot of posts works. Here’s to all of us out there struggling to improve and build those habits that we need.

NaNo-Not Happening

It’s November! That means that I should have already gotten nearly 19,000 words down for a novel for National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). But I haven’t written anything to any of my stories. And you know what? That’s okay.

I always try to use a list of prompts to get myself motivated or to get something down on paper. The prompts are awesome but my motivation just still… lacks sometimes. It’s something I’ve got to keep on working at. My passion is evident, but for some reason, my motivation wanes. Like I said, something to work on.

One thing they always say is that it takes up to three weeks to develop a habit. So maybe, for my own version of NaNoWriMo this year, I’ll continue typing up my Betelgeuse Chronicles story onto the computer. The first part is already written on paper. So, I think I’ll take the rest of this month to get my 5:00 wake-up back on track and type up as much as I can every day. Maybe just the habit of getting up and getting something down (even if it’s editing) will help me develop that habit that I need to rely on (because you can only rely on motivation so much).

Yes, NaNoWriMo is supposed to be about writing a novel. But sometimes you have to use that idea towards other energies. (And I think I’ve tried to do NaNoWriMo every year for the last four or five, so maybe it’s time to take a break from the traditional sense of it.)

Minneapolis and Brookings Breweries

I know. I’ve been absent. I’m sorry! We went to Minnesota and South Dakota for a friend’s wedding and it’s taking me forever to get back into the swing of things. Whoops. (I thought a one week vacation would be long enough. Apparently not. We totally could have spent more time going around Minnesota.)

We had a splendid time, especially since we got to catch up with people we hadn’t seen since we got married three years ago (and even longer for others). Naturally, though, I had to check out some breweries and bars. What else are you going to do on vacation?

  • Wooden Legs Brewing Company – Brookings, SD. This is the original brewery in Brookings, where Miles went to school. It opened up while he was out there (I’m pretty sure), but they’ve got some pretty good beers. I had their 100 Jalapenos lager and the Pub Shandy. Both were enjoyable, but I wouldn’t drink more than one of each at a time.
  • Eponymous Brewing Company – Brookings, SD. This is a new brewery in Brookings that opened up earlier this year. I think they’re off to a pretty solid start. I got a flight and tried their Funkzilla pale ale, Breakfast stout, Late for Church Belgian dubbel, and Third Stall stout. My friend that came with me had some different ones and let me try a sip of her Chocolate Chili S’morgle porter (which was delightful) and the Weizen Blue wheat/fruit beer. The ambiance and the aesthetic of the brewery were what I would expect to find in Park Circle (like Commonhouse).
  • Surly Brewing – Minneapolis, MN. Let me tell y’all. The biggest operation I’ve been to so far has been Highland Brewing Company. Surly is bigger and has a kitchen. Miles and I loved this place. When we go back, we’re definitely spending more time here. I had the Surly Pentagram and thoroughly enjoyed it since I gave it a four star rating on Untappd. (Side note: the meatball sub and chips and the burger and fries were amazing.)
  • Wild Mild Artisan Ales – Minneapolis, MN. This was my biggest must-visit brewery on my list. Wild Mind came down for the Funk Collective that I went to back in June. So when we decided to fly into Minneapolis and stay a couple of days, I really wanted to go. No regrets. They had an awesome little astroturf area for dogs, a little courtyard, and the taps are like a rainbow piano or something on the wall. The beers were great, too, of course. I had the Siam Sipper and gave it four stars.
  • Clockwerks Brewing – Minneapolis, MN. We stumbled on this brewery walking around in downtown Minneapolis. The decor of the brewery was unusual, but cool–it was almost steampumk-themed. Their beers weren’t my favorite, but they were still good. I had the Clockwerk Orange witbier, Tiktoktoberfest marzen, and the Kolsch.

This post is longer than I anticipated! I’ll have to do a separate post for the bars that we checked out. We can’t wait to get back up there and explore some more (especially in fair weather).

 

Big Magic Book Review

Big Magic book in foreground with two corgi planters, a metal bird sculpture of silverware, a hunk of amethyst, and a wire feather in the background

Despite the title, this isn’t yet another book review of yet another fantasy book ( don’t worry–I’ll have plenty of those in the future).  My older sister over at The Beautiful Elements recommended this book to me and said that it really helped her re-frame her thoughts on creativity and inspiration. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first (I’ve never read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert, not even Eat, Pray, Love) and I wasn’t even certain how to define my thoughts on creativity.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is exactly what the title says. The entire book is how she views creativity (as a mystical, divine force outside of ourselves) and  how she does her best to work with it, work without it, and work despite it. She tackles how she believes creativity comes to each of us and how, if we don’t accept to work this idea it brings to us, creativity will then take the idea to another person (similar to the concept of how people on different continents had the same idea at the same point in time–but there’s no way they ever talked or crossed paths).

She discusses the trope of the tortured artist and how we’re all really doing ourselves a disservice by only creating through negativity (the idea that we have to suffer in order for our art to be considered legitimate or real). This stretch of the book was one that really spoke to me. Because I can’t say I’ve ever really felt like a tortured artist (other than when I am writing as a release from a negative emotion or moaning about how no inspiration is coming to me), I’ve always wondered subconsciously if there’s some reason I’m holding myself back or stopping myself from doing something I enjoy. Maybe this was part of it–wondering how legitimate I was.

I’ll stop there. But overall, I really enjoyed this book and it has helped me think a little more on my creative process and how to best continue trying to incorporate it into my life and make time for it. There are so many things that I want to do and I always feel like I don’t have enough time. But I do. I just have to make sure I make time (just like writing this at 5:27 a.m. on a Tuesday morning). Even the copious amounts of research I’ve done for stories, I’ve wondered if I can consider it part of my creative process and she discusses curiosity as inspiration and Big Magic waiting in the wings for you to put it together.

(If you’re wondering what I didn’t especially like, it was that had a few sections about higher education that she indicated she was against paying money for and that she did incorporate a lot of quotes from other famous friends. Which was cool and I really liked a lot of those quotes, but after the fifth time, it started taking me out of her narrative.)

If you’re looking for a book that’s no-nonsense yet understanding (because she’s been there, too)) about creativity (not just writing, though this book focuses on that) and living a creative life to feel more fulfilled, I recommend this book. This is one of those times I was happy to be proven wrong of my skepticism and read a book that was surprisingly close to my thoughts while improving my stance on creativity, inspiration, the muses, all that jazz.

To wrap up this post, I’ll finish with a quote. I wrote down ten quotes from Big Magic that spoke to me. Maybe I’ll write them all up on a canvas as a reminder to myself and stick it in my room somewhere. This is a quote from the middle of the book, where she discusses ideas that are shared between people by creativity (dubbed Big Magic by her).

“Most things have already been done — but they have not yet been done by you.” (Elizabeth Gilbert: Big Magic, pg. 97)

Fictober 2018

trees with red and orange leaves. a road goes between the trees. Lit Tuesday: Fictober 2018 (Days 1 and 2) overlaid in white text.

Last  year, you might remember I tried to participate in an event called National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). While I haven’t done any planning for it this year, I thought I might try to warm myself up with a list of prompts I found on Tumblr.

Introducing Fictober! (How do people come up with these cutesy names? It’s a talent I lack, sadly.)

I don’t think I’ll make a post every day I write to one of the prompts like I did last year. But I’ll try to summarize in my posts if I have managed to hit the prompts or if I skipped a day or what. I do have to admit I’m already not off to the greatest start–I didn’t write yesterday. However! This morning, I combined yesterday’s prompt with today and wrote a scene between my main character and one of the villains from what I’m calling my Betelgeuse Chronicles series. (I last touched on it in this post.) Maybe doing these prompts for my stories across the board will give me some inspiration to work on them some more.

Here are the two lines with the prompts:

  • Laurel glared at him, buried memories of scrambling from him, falling in the snow, and discovering her power under his hands. “What do you want? To try and finish what you started?”He narrowed his eyes. “Honestly. People like you have no imagination.”
  • “Let’s start with a preliminary cut.” He took a knife and sliced a three inch cut on her left bicep. “Can you feel that?”She did everything she could not to scream.

I know. Creepy. But this particular male character is pretty creepy in general. We’ll see what happens with tomorrow’s prompt!

(Banner image lifted from pixabay.com.)

Banned Books Week 2018

Banned Books Week logo of a red book with yellow tape crossed over it reading Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is upon us once again! I think it’s important to talk about banned books as a society. People have had a long tradition of trying to censor stories and ideas that they don’t agree with or as a way of controlling the populace. But without a lot of those stories or reports, society wouldn’t be shaped in the way it is today. I think it’s incredibly important to read books that challenge your opinions or present new ideas to you. How else do you grow as a person?

If you always have the same opinions and never allow new thoughts and ideas into your life, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Yes, it’s scary to allow those new thoughts and ideas into your life, but who knows? Maybe because you open your mind, you create the next great American novel or discover a hidden artist within you or develop the passion that makes life worth living.

I’ll step off my soapbox now. This is something I still have to remind myself of. When I hit a rut and feel like I’m just going through the motions of life (like I have been), that’s where I know I need to shake things up and challenge myself again. It’s one reason I enjoy writing these blog posts, despite receiving little feedback or interaction with readers. These posts force me to do some research, to put my thoughts to–well, screen– and learn more about topics I’m passively enjoying, but not actively partaking in. I still have a lot of room as a person to grow, which is why I still need to read banned or challenged books as well. I took a look at the Ten Most Challenged Books Lists from 2001 to 2018 to see what caught my fancy:

  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (I believe I’ve watched the animated version of this, but I’d really like to read it.)
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (A friend is letting me borrow her copy, so I’ll probably read it when I finish Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.)
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier (This appears to be a graphic novel instead of a book. Interesting.)

I’m glad that, in looking through most of these lists, it appears I’ve already read a decent number of banned books without realizing it: His Dark Materials (one of my all-time favorite series); The Color Purple; Harry Potter; and others.

What are you going to challenge yourself with?

(Logo artwork courtesy of the American Library Association, www.ala.org)