January 30, 2009

Women Go on Grand Dog Sled Adventure in Alaska

Dog sledding through the Alaskan wilderness might sound like something other people do but for two California women, Terry Craig and Linda Finkel, it's going to be reality. Craig, a retired teacher, and Finkel, a retired secretary, are gearing up for a snowy adventure that includes watching the Iditarod finish, drinking martinis from glasses made of ice, and six days of mushing and camping their way across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). They plan to leave cozy California in March but you can read all about their trip right now. Click here.

January 28, 2009

Try Taiji (Tai Chi)

Monday I wrote about wushu as an umbrella word for Chinese martial arts and focused a bit on the "external" art of kung fu. While it's dramatic, fun to do and very fun to watch, the fast-paced art might not be your style. Another option in the wushu family tree is taijiquan, also known as tai chi.

Tai chi is known as an "internal" martial art meaning players use mind and body together to produce soft, highly-coordinated moves that are as effective against an opponent as those of the more explosive external styles. It is said about tai chi players that one ounce of effort can move 1,000 pounds of force. It is also said that a tai chi master is steel wrapped in cotton. (It is also said that it takes a very long time to become a tai chi master.) At this point, you may be thinking, "Wait, I thought tai chi was that slow-motion exercise that the elderly do in parks." Well, it's that too.

Depending on your instructor, tai chi may be taught strictly as a slow exercise or it may be taught as a traditional martial art where the martial application of each posture is practiced against an opponent. In both cases, tai chi players practice "the form," transitioning through a series of postures, slowly, softly and without stopping. Doing the form will strengthen the legs, improve balance, increase circulation and focus the mind. Click here for the Mayo Clinic's article about tai chi's health benefits.

There are a number of different tai chi styles including the oldest, Chen, and the most popular, Yang. Chen is characterized by low stances and explosive movements while Yang style is the known for continuous soft movements. Finding the style and instructor that are right for you may take a little work. Visit schools, take sample classes, talk with instructors. As a long-time tai chi player, I can tell you it's worth the effort.

Click here to watch Kelly MacLean doing a beautiful Chen routine.

January 26, 2009

Do You Wushu?

Today is Chinese New Year, one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Asian families around the world. So, it seems only fitting that AWB celebrates with a traditional Chinese activity: Wushu!

If the word "wushu" is new to you, the odds are that wushu itself is not. Wushu is the umbrella name given to all Chinese fighting systems ranging from what Americans call Kung Fu to tai chi to sparring. The various arts may use weapons (sword, saber, staff, etc.) or barehands. All train body, mind and spirit.

For the most obvious examples of "Kung Fu" think Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the Shaolin Monks. (OK, the monks have recently starred in "Superstars of Dance," but they're still demonstrating moves that are centuries old.) All those examples are clearly men and since I want to inspire you to give wushu a shot, I want to introduce you to Vanessa Loza, a fabulous real-life young woman who recently won a gold medal for the US Wushu team -- our first since 1985! Click here to see Vanessa and her staff in action.

Vanessa trains at the US Wushu Academy in Virginia but you can find a school in your area by clicking here or by searching Google. The key is to shop around to find the school that's right for you. Visit schools, talk with the instructor, take a test class and then get ready for a whole new wushu you!

January 23, 2009

It's National Pie Day: An Interview with Pastry Chef Gale Gand

It’s National Pie Day and to help us celebrate that most American of desserts I am very excited to say that I was privileged to do a Q & A with a most distinguished guest: Gale Gand! Host of the Food Network’s Sweet Dreams, partner and award winning executive pastry chef at Chicago’s highly acclaimed Tru restaurant, and author of numerous cookbooks, Gale is a leader in her field and has kindly offered to discuss her adventures with us. I have to say that I was so thrilled about doing this that I needed assistance from two members of the studio audience.

AWB: Hi Gale! Thanks for taking the time to field questions from the Adventurous Women Blog. I know your schedule must be tight between working and kids I’m thankful you could add one more thing to your to-do list.

Since this blog is devoted to encouraging women to expand their horizons, could you explain how a woman would pursue a career in the culinary arts? What kind of training is required? Do you have a formal apprenticeship?

GG: There’s so many roads to the same destination. Culinary school is one of them, but just honing your skills at home and then offering up your time in exchange for learning in a pastry shop or restaurant is another way to do it. Even working for free for a caterer is a great way to get experience and education on the cheap, with more flexible hours than culinary school. I don’t have a formal apprenticeship but have people in my pastry kitchens all the time, working for experience, for a day or 6 months.

AWB: What motivated you to follow this line of work and what kinds of obstacles have you faced in reaching your goals?

GG: I fell into it while going to art school for my BFA. I was flat out hungry and waitressing has few perks, but a free meal each shift is usually one of them. From there I went to cooking, dishwashing, coat checking, hot line…pretty much everywhere I needed to work to become the restaurateur I am today. The obstacles were mostly “Woman in a Man’s Field” stuff, which made me tougher, genderless at work and gave me the ability to swear like a trucker (Do they really swear a lot, though? I’ve never really hung out with a trucker.) Also, I had to learn independence to gain respect in the male dominated kitchen so I found tricks for lifting and dumping 100 pound sacks of flour into it’s bin, stuff like that.

AWB: Your talent for creating incredible desserts has been recognized around the world. What has been your most adventurous creation to date?

GG: I still talk about my biggest challenge as being the time our art dealer was having his son’s Bar Mitzvah at my restaurant, Tru, and they wanted HOT chocolate soufflés…not a problem usually…but this was for 125 people! The precise timing we had to use was intense, putting just so many in the oven at a time because we only had 9 food runners with 2 hands each so only 18 souffles could go out to the dining room at a time. We had to time how long it took a runner to drop off the soufflé to the guest, present it, then circle back in to the kitchen to pick up the next batch. It was 6 ½ minutes, so I had 6 ovens, a time keeper with 6 timers and every 6 ½ minutes we would put 18 souffles in the oven. Then getting them out had to be done with latex gloved hands, 2 at a time. An oven mitt was too thick and clumsy to grasp with and a spatula would tip them over into the water bath where they baked. That was my job as I didn’t want any of my staff to risk getting burned. It was high stress, elating and satisfying all at the same time. After it was over it turned out the latex gloves weren’t protection enough and I had huge blisters on both my hands for at least a week, so I couldn’t go near any heat for a while.

AWB: This question was submitted by Rachel, a 17-year-old aspiring baker who started “Muffin Mondays” at her high school.

Rachel: “Do you ever get tired of making mass quantities of something and if so, how do you not get burned out? Oh, and what’s your favorite thing to eat?

GG: I love making things over and over, trying each time to get it more “right” than the last time. I also just love watching anyone work with their hands that is really good at it, a glass blower, a hair dresser, a bread baker, and myself. I love watching my hands listening to my brain and moving so comfortably through creation. I think that’s part of my insanity that I’ve molded into a tool for success. If I do feel burnt out, I take a nap, watch some black and white movies or have a root beer float and I’m all better. I’m simple that way.

My favorite thing to eat is Grapenuts with vanilla yogurt, with an extra shot of raisins and almonds. So lots of texture…or baked ricotta custard with ripe raspberries.

AWB: Because it’s National Pie Day, I asked my mother, Gloria – who collects pie crust recipes the way some people collect stamps – to submit a question.

Gloria: “There are a lot of pie crust recipes out there; some call for shortening and ice water, some use lard and boiling water, others include baking powder or vinegar. What do you think of the various options and what is your favorite?

GG: My mother belonged to the vinegar and ice water school of thought so I fall into that camp. I think “what ever works for you” is an important concept whether it’s pie dough, how you do your home work, or getting your kids to eat green things. I try to be open and understanding, as long as it gets people cooking in the kitchen, I’m good.

AWB: Finally, you’ve had so many accomplishments already, what’s your next big adventure?

GG: I usually don’t know what it is till it’s in my lap. I have a new book coming out in April of ’09 called Gale Gand’s Brunch, which is a new direction for me…it having savory food as well as sweets and pastry. I have a few really cool projects (one food development and one a new TV series) that look like they are about to happen but I can’t talk about them yet…I signed a confidentiality agreement…so check back with me in 4 months.

AWB: Thanks Gale and best of luck on all of your upcoming projects!

Image courtesy of Gale Gand.

January 22, 2009

Starting a Book Club? Here are 100 Ways to Make it Great

In keeping with today's theme of books and reader contributions, I'd like to mention 100 Tips, Tools and Resources to Take Your Book Club to the Next Level; a reader thought it would complement my recent post about starting your own book club . Among 100 tips' lists of articles, blogs, discussion guides and online clubs is this advice, "Choose a focus." Great tip! If you're thinking about launching a new book club in the new year, consider focusing on books by or about women or... even better...focus on adventurous women!

January 20, 2009

National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation

President Obama is calling on YOU to come to the aid of your country. In one of the first posts on the White House's new blog, you can read the text of the president's first proclamation: A National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation. Here's the part about you:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2009, a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, and call upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century.

OK, all you adventurous women, what can you do for your country? The White House's Office of Public Liaison will be providing lots of ideas but at the moment they want to hear your thoughts. Click here and start contributing.

January 19, 2009

YouTube Singing Contest: "The Star Spangled Banner"

The National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, is holding a singing a contest via YouTube. The song: "The Star-Spangled Banner;" the prize: a trip to DC to perform on Flag Day (Sunday, June 14, 2009). This contest starts next month but no official date has been announced. However, you can click here and sign up for an e-mail notice and instructions for uploading your entry video. You'll also be able to see a few sample videos to give you courage.

It's like American Idol in the comfort of your own home. Don't be shy!

Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History. The Star-Spangled Banner:
The first sheet-music issue of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was printed by Thomas Carr’s Music store in Baltimore in 1814. Courtesy Maryland Historical Society

January 16, 2009

An Online Adventure for Writers and Artists

If you dream of publishing your poetry, prose, photographs or artwork it's time to take action and turn those dreams into reality. In The Mist magazine, an outdoor literary magazine is looking for women like you.

In the Mist wants your submissions for the April 2009 Earth Day celebration issue. Send travel stories, prose, poetry, photography, and artwork about what you do outside. They are interested in anything from mountain biking to walking through Central Park to relaxing by a lake watching the clouds. The deadline for the April issue is March 31, 2009. Send submissions to inthemistmag@aol.com. Please include your name and type of submission in the subject line.

For submission guidelines, click here.

By the way, yours truly has a very short piece featured in the current issue. You can find me over in "prose" encouraging readers to "Start Running!"

January 15, 2009

National Geographic Adventure Photo Contest

National Geographic is known for wonderful photographs and their adventure site is no exception. However, the images from their 2008 reader photo contest were taken by regular adventurers like YOU! Click here to see the winners from 2008 (my favorite is the picture of Upper Antelope Canyon) then submit your own entry. Send submissions to adventure@ngs.org.

January 14, 2009

Adventurous Woman: Tierney Thys, Jellyfish Hunter

The world's jellyfish population is exploding. No, not into billions of tiny globby bits but into huge swarms of undulating bells that are interfering with human and other animal life. Marine biologist Tierney Thys has been tracking jellyfish and her research has taken her on adventures around the globe. Her efforts were captured recently on National Geographic Adventure Blog and you can read more here.

January 13, 2009

What to Do for Inaugural Weekend

Are you an Obama fan? How about Lincoln or Poe? Abbie over at AbsTracked has some great ideas for this very exciting weekend.

January 12, 2009

It's Time for Scuba Lessons!

If you live in a cold climate, you’re saying to yourself, “There is no way I’m going to start diving in January! That’s an adventure I’ll save for a 90 degree day.” Well, here’s another way to look at it. Learning to dive in the winter months means 1) you escape the after-the-holidays blahs, 2) you’ll be able to dive when you head to Florida or the islands for Spring Break 3) you’ll be in an indoor pool having a great time!

To get us all started, I asked Trevor Foulk, Travel & Training Director of Atlantic Edge Dive Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland (USA) to answer a few questions about scuba lessons. If this Q&A leaves you wanting more information, Trevor says you should e-mail him and he’ll do his best to help (see the bottom of this post). Now that’s service!

Trevor: It is a very, very rare person that learns to dive and thinks, “That was a waste of my time and money.” One of the most common messages I hear from students that have gone off and done their first dive trip is, “That was a life changing experience.” A lot of would-be divers have built up a barrier in their minds that getting certified is going to be hard, but it’s a lot easier than most people think.

AWB: What can a novice expect to learn at a beginning scuba class?

Trevor: In an entry level course, students will learn the basics of diving broken out into two main categories: In-water “diving skills” and classroom-based “dive theory.” The two most important in-water skills new divers learn are how to clear their masks and how to control their buoyancy underwater. As most snorkelers can attest, getting water in the mask can really be a pain. Add to that the fact that, when diving, you’re underwater with no way to simply dump the water out and you can see why clearing the mask is so important. The other key skill is buoyancy – that is, the ability to control whether you are floating or sinking. Divers want to achieve neutral buoyancy, where you are neither floating nor sinking, but rather gliding effortlessly through the water. This skill is kind of like riding a bike – it’s difficult to get at first but once you get it it’s easy to perfect. It is an important skill to learn to get the most out of your dives and also be safe.

In addition to these in-water skills, there are some technical aspects to most courses that cover nitrogen absorption in the body. These are taught in the classroom-theory section. Breathing compressed air causes the body to absorb nitrogen. There is an acceptable amount of absorption that can happen with no ill effects and we have to keep our dives within those limits. We have what we call the Recreational Dive Planner, which allows us to plan our dive times and depths to stay within safe limits of nitrogen absorption. Learning how to use it is another important aspect of the course.

AWB: What are the problems faced by most beginners?

Trevor: The problem faced by most beginners is simply acclimating to the “newness” of diving. Like the first time on skis, the first time with a golf club in your hand or the first time doing just about anything, it just takes some time getting used to having a tank on your back, fins on your feet and a mask on your face. The entry level certification course is specifically designed to acclimate new divers and put them in a position to be safe, happy divers when they get out on their first dives.

AWB: How many diving hours are required to earn a certificate?

Trevor: The amount of hours varies by dive shop. We run a fairly condensed course, which is about 4-5 hours of home study, a two-day weekend module that covers the class work and the pool work, and then another two days for the checkout dives (done in a lake or the ocean). Other courses are done over several weeks or months. This is one aspect of diving that has a very large degree of variability depending on the dive shop and the instructor that students choose. I encourage new divers to look around and find the course that most meets their needs.

AWB: If one doesn’t live near an ocean, what other options are available for diving practice?

Trevor: There are diving opportunities everywhere! When most people think of diving, they think of warm blue water with a myriad of colorful fish swimming around them, but there is much more to diving than just that. While only a lucky few get to live close to warm-water reef diving, everybody lives near some kind of diving. Throughout the country there are lakes and quarries that have been turned into diving parks with sunken attractions like boats, school buses, even planes and helicopters to explore. Most navigable lakes (like the Great Lakes) offer some outstanding wreck diving. Even lots of rivers offer cool opportunities to dive (though these are often not for beginners). There are even opportunities to dive that you would never think about, like in aquariums and other “man made” bodies of water. Our shop runs Guest Dives at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which is a truly unique diving experience!

AWB: My readers are scattered across the country and around the world. Is there a web site that will help them find scuba schools in their areas?

Trevor: There isn’t a consolidated web site that organizes the best places to learn to dive. It’s truly a thing where new divers need to do their homework; there are so many course options, scheduling options, etc. A quick web search will yield the dive shops in the area and the next step is to visit their websites and see how they do their courses.

AWB: Is there anything that one should look for in a good diving school?

Trevor: There are a couple of things to look for when choosing a dive shop. There are many certifying agencies – PADI, NAUI, SSI, and SDI, among others – but PADI is by far the largest. All certifications are generally accepted, but last I heard PADI had more registered shops than the other agencies combined, so all else being equal a PADI shop is a good place to start (although it’s not to say instructors from the other agencies won’t offer an excellent course). Most shops require students to buy some gear (generally mask, fins and snorkel) before the course starts, while others don’t (my shop, Atlantic Edge, for example doesn’t require students to purchase any gear) so if that is important to you it’s another thing to check out. Beyond that it’s just finding the course with the schedule that meets your needs. Many people prefer the condensed schedule, but there are those that prefer the longer more detailed course, so find a shop or instructor that offers you what you need.

AWB: If you have any questions, Trevor has offered to help you find answers. You can e-mail him at trevor@atlanticedge.com

Image courtesy of Atlantic Edge Dive Center

January 9, 2009

Travel Dos and Don'ts

Travel is always an adventure...unless it's a nightmare. This past holiday season, the nightly news had limitless reports of travel nightmares: parents with infants stranded in airports for days, families stranded without medication, families routed from Washington to Kansas City to Denver to Orange County to Las Vegas only to miss Christmas and rent a car to finally get home. Actually, I met that last family when we spent the night in the Kansas City airport after our flight was cancelled. Abbie over at AbsTracked reports that she and her 8-year-old daughter spent large portions of both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day trying to fly across the country. Happily, Santa kept pace with their travels but the airline did everything possible to maximize the mess.

As a result, Abbie and I and assorted other stranded passengers have created a Do and Don't list to help keep the nightmare out of your next travel adventure:

Do put solution in your contact case and keep it in your carry on. Don't pack your glasses in your checked luggage . Don't put your contacts in a bottle of Dasani.

Do put the following in your carry-on bag: cards, a NEW book, a sandwich, three days of medication, a toothbrush, clean underwear, lots of Advil. Don't forget your cell phone charger.

Do add the airline's reservation number to your cell phone so you can get yourself on another flight when they cancel your flight at 2AM and you’re sitting ON THE PLANE! Don't believe the airline when they tell you to get your baggage before joining the long line at to the counter to get a new flight (use the cell phone).

Do sleep near the airport's administrative offices if you find you're in for the long haul. It's quieter and warmer on their carpeted flooring. Do sleep with the sleeve of your coat over your eyes to block the light. Do put guided meditation on your iPod. Don't try to go without sleep--right honey?

Do travel in comfy undies. If you're 17, just wear your pajama pants on the plane. Don't wear that new underwire you just bought.

Dos and Don'ts from Abbie:

Do check-in 24 hours in advance even if you're freaked out about having to pay for luggage for the first time and you're not sure how many pieces you will have. They might have cancelled your original flight, put you on one 3 hours earlier, and failed to notify you.

Don't spend more than 5 minutes trying to explain to your child why her Build-A-Bear animal's imbedded sound might appear to be an incendiary device when X-rayed.

Do have Santa review all of the TSA restrictions and new airline costs so that he understands why you want him to develop a "Plan B" if you're traveling on Christmas Eve.

Don't wear stinky *golf socks.

Do warn your child not to ask, "Where did you pack the glow sticks?" in front of the TSA inspector when she's questioning you about liquids.

Don't pack glow sticks.

Do teach your child how to put her arms back down when nervous about being wanded.

When the security man asks if that's a shirt under your over-shirt, don't say, "Yes." Say, "It's my bra."

On long flights, do buy the crappy, over-priced plane snack, if offered. In all likelihood, it's slightly less crappy and slightly less expensive than the crappy airport food. Besides, the flight attendants won't give you the mad face when you present them with your super-sized trash.

If you think you probably shouldn't, don't.

Do ask for a whole can of whatever you like to drink on the plane (Don't spread this around...we "can" people LOVE this.). We deserve it, damn it!

Don't be appalled to find a card stating that TSA has raided your luggage (that's not the appalling part) ... and the card is date stamped "December 32, 2008" (yeah, that's the appalling part).

* a hole in one.

Image from Dreamstime.

100 Best Adventure Web Sites

The Adventue Blog alerted me to this nice little article on Outside Online. Click here to find a list of the 100 Best Adventure Web Sites. Organized into categories like Travel Planning, Skiing & Snowboarding, Biking, Running, Environment, Health, Gear, Employment, Weather, Maps, and Friends, you're sure to find a few more reasons to stay at your computer today.

January 8, 2009

Adventurous Woman: Susie of Arabia (Part II)

Yesterday, I posted part I of my Q&A with Susie of Arabia -- an American woman blogging about her new life in Saudi Arabia on Susie's Big Adventure. Here is part II of Susie's thoughts on life in the Middle East.

AWB: What are the greatest challenges that you have faced?

One of my biggest challenges has been not having the freedom to just pick up my car keys and go out shopping or to run errands or to a movie whenever I felt like it. There are no movie theaters here since there is strict segregation of the sexes, so any situation where men and women might mix is just simply not allowed. My son and I especially miss going to the movies. I must rely on my husband for so much more now than when I was an independent American woman. Having to depend on my husband to take me everywhere at his discretion is very difficult to swallow. Most women here have drivers, but not me. And since my husband absolutely hates driving here (the traffic is the worst I have ever seen in my life!), going places is just not that easy. Just simply going grocery shopping is a big ordeal since stores here open and close all day long since they are required to by law in observance of the five daily prayer times. So shopping is not really a pleasant experience for me. We are always in a huge rush to get there, grab what we need and get out of there before the store has to close for prayers. I just don’t like shopping like that. I like to take my time and look when I can.

Another major challenge is fighting the boredom of life here. Unless you have hobbies (fortunately I do), I don’t know how any woman would be able to survive here without going crazy. There is nothing for women to do here. Most Saudi women do not work. In fact many of them get their university degrees only to marry, have kids, raise the family, cook and clean (although most women here have maids and nannies, but not me!). The only real “activity” for them to do is shop. That’s why there are so many amazing malls everywhere. But for women who don’t really like shopping, there is literally nothing else to do.

Another challenge is fitting into my role here without losing my own identity. For example, Saudi women do not speak to other men outside the family, and men are not supposed to speak to Saudi women. In fact, women are taught to lower their gaze and totally ignore men. This is just something I can’t bring myself to do. I am a friendly outgoing American and I always will be. I respect this culture and its traditions and find it fascinating, but it is not my own. To me, not saying "Hello" or "Thank you" to another person is rude, while in this culture it's improper. So far I haven't gotten into any real trouble about it, so I will continue to speak.

I think that in order to adjust to the huge change in lifestyle, especially for women, one must be flexible, accepting, adaptable, have a positive attitude, and throw all expectations of life as we knew it out the window. I know that many of my friends back in America would never be able to cope with life here.

AWB: What has surprised you about your new life?

I guess one of the things that has surprised me the most is that not speaking Arabic has not been much of a problem. Everyone here wants to speak English, and it is the required foreign language taught in schools, so this has actually hindered my progress in learning Arabic. Most of the signs are in both English and Arabic.

I have also been pleasantly surprised at how readily and warmly I have been accepted in various social situations, like weddings, or other women’s gatherings, by the Saudi women. They are much more open than I expected and they like to have fun. My husband’s family has embraced my son and me with open arms, and this alone makes a huge impact on our experience here. I am also amazed at how adaptable the Saudis are to modern technology and ideas, however at the same time they maintain their integrity in being so resistant to other Western ideas especially having to do with acceptable behavior and morality.

AWB: What do you like most about Saudi Arabia?

Most of all, I love the people here. They are so warm and hospitable. I like that I feel safe and comfortable here, even though my husband seems a bit paranoid about my safety. As an artist, I love all the sculptures and works of art that Jeddah has. I also like the mix of the ultra-modern and the extremely ancient reflected in the architecture and in the traditions. I love that Saudi Arabia is so family-oriented. And I absolutely love the food!

AWB: Why did you start blogging?

I began writing my blog “Susie’s Big Adventure” solely for the benefit of my family and friends back home, so they would be reassured that I was okay here and so they could share in my adventure. I also realized that many people in the US have these preconceived notions about Saudi Arabia, and I was hoping to give them an insight as to what it is really like here. Many folks back home have no clue how modernized Saudi Arabia really is in many ways. Several people have asked me if we have air conditioning! I could absolutely not survive here without air conditioning. I think that it is important for me to show that even though the culture is very different from America, there are also many similarities. I want to show how very alike the people here are to the people in America in what they want out of life and what is important to them.

Another reason for writing my blog was to keep me busy, as well as giving me a sense of purpose. Writing has always been one of my hobbies. A nice side effect of writing my blog is that it has opened up a whole new world to me that I had never paid any attention to before. I have become “cyber friends” with other bloggers from various countries, even though we have never met face to face.

My passion for photography led me to begin my other blog “Jeddah Daily Photo Journal” a few months later when I started viewing other photo blogs from all over the world. To my knowledge, there was not a daily photo blog from Saudi Arabia, so I took it upon myself to start one. Both blogs keep me very busy – so busy in fact that my husband says I love the computer more than him (which is NOT true!).

I try to write about things that I find interesting about life here. I am not here to bash or criticize or ridicule. I try to be objective and try to avoid topics that will cause too much controversy. I am trying to learn about and understand this mysterious place, and I feel that it deserves my full respect no matter how different things may be from what I have known all my life.

To read Susie's blog, Susie's Big Adventure, and to see what Susie looks like without the hijab, click here.

January 7, 2009

Adventurous Woman: Susie of Arabia (Part I)

Susie's Big Adventure is a must-read blog written by an American woman who moved with her Saudi-born husband and American-born son to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2007. Shifting gears from wearing shorts and living in Florida to wearing head-to-toe black robes and living under Islamic law gives Susie a perspective on life in the Middle East that few of us will ever know. Her writing is candid, entertaining, informative and...well...mesmerizing. Susie's life contrasts so sharply with my own that I often stop reading to reflect.

I asked Susie if she'd be willing to share some of her experiences with AWB readers and I'm thrilled to say she accepted. Here's part I of her thoughts on life in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

AWB: Why did you move to Saudi Arabia?

A little background first … I met my husband more than 30 years ago when we were college students at the University of Arizona. I fell head over heels in love with him and always felt like I would follow him to the ends of the earth. Little did I know … Anyway, after more than a 12 year courtship, we finally married and moved from Arizona to Florida, where he was offered a tenured teaching position. Over the years I got the impression from my husband that moving to Saudi Arabia was not a possibility. In order for a Saudi to marry a foreigner, he must first have permission from the Saudi government, which is not a very easy thing to obtain. I had met nearly all of his immediate family at various points in time when they would come to the states to visit. After we got married, he began the process to become a US citizen and when our son was two, he got his citizenship.

Then, after 9/11 we had a really bad experience and my husband’s comfort zone in his adopted homeland began to dwindle. In early 2007 he told me of his desire to move back to Saudi Arabia. I was surprised, to say the least. We began to discuss moving here, and of course I had my concerns. This country is definitely a man’s world where women are viewed as oppressed. I believe it’s the only place on earth where women are not allowed to drive. Women also must be covered from head to toe when they are outside the home. And what about the language barrier? Would I be pressured to accept Islam? And one of my major concerns was our 14 year old son and how he would fit in and adjust to life in this strange land, and what about his education?

There were many factors involved in our decision to move here. Aside from the negative perceptions of Muslims in the US, my husband was burned out on teaching. Financially we never seemed to have any extra money after all the bills were paid, plus we had been badly screwed over by a former business partner who had turned out to be a crook. My husband had told many people if Bush were re-elected in 2004 that he would leave the country. I had heard other people say the same thing, but to my knowledge, my husband is the only one who made good on his promise! My husband was greatly disillusioned by the American dream and by the illusion of freedom in America. Add to all of this the fact that his mother so desperately wanted her oldest son back after a thirty year absence that she dangled temptations like a brand new car of his choice, a free new furnished flat for our family to live in, plus cash. I decided that I would give living in Saudi Arabia a fair chance. I have always had an adventurous spirit and I have always had an interest in other cultures and traveling. I felt that I knew what to expect and I was up for the challenge!

AWB: How do you feel about wearing the traditional Saudi coverings?

In truth, if it were up to me, I would not choose to cover. Since Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy, religious laws are strictly observed and enforced. The requirement for women is to dress modestly, which means that only the face and the hands can be exposed. A woman's hair, beauty, and figure are supposed to be viewed only by her husband, or other male family members that would not be marriageable to her, like father, brother, or son. Nowhere does it say that women here MUST wear a black abaya (long loose fitting cloak), but they all do. So if a woman was to wear another color, she would stick out like a sore thumb, and that is one thing I do not want to do here. I grew up in Arizona, and have lived in Texas and Florida – all HOT places – where I always wore shorts. And now here I am in an even hotter place, Saudi Arabia, where I have to dress like a nun when I am out in public. I hate having to wear the hijab (head and neck covering) because it makes me so much hotter. When I am in the presence of any man other than my husband or my son here, I must keep my hair covered. So even at our in-laws homes, I wear the hijab if my brothers-in-law or nephews are present. I do this out of respect for my husband, his family, and his culture, but if it weren’t that important to him, I would choose not to cover my hair and neck. After all, I went for over 50 years of my life with other men seeing my hair and never had any problems, so now it just seems a little silly to me at this point in my life that I should cover my hair/beauty from other men.

One advantage of wearing the abaya and hijab is that you don't have to worry about having a bad hair day or fret over what to wear underneath. I have even gone out with my pajamas on under the abaya and no one knew. I have heard that some women even wear just the abaya with nothing on underneath!

AWB: What misconceptions do Americans have about life in the Middle East?

I think that many Americans have the impression that the Saudis hate America and Americans. That is just not true. They do not like America’s foreign policies, like supporting and enabling Israel against the Palestinians, and how our government always seems to bully the rest of the world. But the Saudis love the American people and many of them love the American lifestyle. Another misconception that I think Americans have is that Saudi women are oppressed. While some women here definitely are, all the Saudi women I have met love their lives and would not trade places with American women. They have it made. They live better than most American women do, have huge fancy homes, maids, drivers, shop all they want, and they have very few worries since the men in this society carry all the burdens. What we see as oppression, they see as protection.

Click here to read Part II of my Q&A with Susie of Arabia. To read Susie's blog and to see what she looks like without the hijab, click here.

January 5, 2009

Adventure Boot Camp

It's January, so naturally we all turn to thoughts of self improvement. Yeah, yeah, that just means getting rid of that layer of protective fat we all acquired over the holidays (or earlier : ). Well, this is an adventure blog so we've got to find an adventurous way to get fit.

Here's a fun article from the St. Petersburg Times about women who joined an Adventure Boot Camp where the motto is, "Be the star of your own reality show." According to John Kent, the leader of an Adventure Boot Camp in Florida, "Participants can expect to lose 5 to 12 pounds, 3 to 5 percentage points of body fat, and 1 to 3 inches in the waistline during each four-week camp."

The article focuses on the women of Kent's camp so to find an Adventure Boot Camp near you, click here and you'll be taken to ABC's official list of camps around the world. This might be a great opportunity for your whole adventure club!

January 3, 2009

Beginner's Guide to Winter Camping

I'm trying to get caught up on all the great blog posts I missed over the holidays and I found one to pass along to you. The Adventure Blog has a post about winter camping for beginners. Click here to read their synopsis of the winter camping article from Backpacker Magazine. Check out the comments for a few more tips.

Catch the Meteor Show Last Night?

I hope some of you were able to see the meteor shower over night. I went outside around 5:45am and logged about 25 minutes in the backyard. My winter coat, blanket, lawn chair and I counted 14 strong shooting stars and a few tiny streaks -- and that was two hours before the prime viewing time. The peak must have been quite a show!

January 2, 2009

Meteor Shower Tonight

Tonight, technically the hour or two before dawn on January 3, you may be lucky enough to witness a stellar show. The Quadrantid meteor shower can produce 1-2 meteors per minute during its brief but exciting peak. Those of you in the western US and Canada should grab your warmest gear and get ready for a grand backyard adventure. According to an article on MSN, "maximum activity this year is expected on 4:50 a.m. Pacific Standard Time." For East Coasters like me, the peak will be after sunrise.

To learn more about the Quadrantids and read the complete MSN article, click here.