19 Books That Took me on Adventures in 2015

I’ve been an avid reader since I was young. The time I spent reading subsided in high school and college, when I was usually too busy doing homework and working various restaurant jobs to read books for pleasure. After graduating from college in 2012, I moved to England and reintroduced myself to a passion I’d been too far away from for too long. This 2015 year has been filled with time spent reading.

Books Devoured


1. “
Zeitoun” by Dave Eggars

What a fantastically-written, true story about a Syrian man and his experience before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. I was inspired by the kindness this man showed to others, and appalled by the lack of kindness shown to him. This is a sad, but eye-opening tale of a horrific natural disaster in New Orleans, through the eyes of one man.

Note: I feel compelled to share an article I just read, about Abdulrahman Zeitoun. The book is still amazing, but this article is leading me to believe the story might have some holes in it. I’ll let you be the judge.

2. “Harry Potter and the Scorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

Clearly, you’ve heard of this book which is the first in the “Harry Potter” series. I first read “The Scorcerer’s Stone” when I was a kid. My grandmother gave it to me for Christmas, based on a great tip from my mom.

I immediately started reading it, only to return to Lutheran grade school where my teachers wouldn’t allow me to read it, due to the obscene amount of brainwashing dark magic (Sense my sarcasm?) contained in the book. The graphic and violent Stephen King books I frequently toted around were okay, of course.

Anyway, I did what many kids would do when they are told not to do something. I read “Harry Potter” anyway. Mostly at home, though.

3. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling

Returning to this book series was one of the best things I did in the year 2015. I alleviated any post-travel boredom by losing myself in tales of flying on broomsticks, making friends with house elves, and eating fabulous meals in the Great Hall.

4. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” by J.K. Rowling

One of the most impressive elements of the “Harry Potter” series, is the way you can grow up with the books. Not only do the characters mature in both age and magic, but the language becomes more adult, and the subject matter becomes more serious. Never did I recognize these things more than when I binge read the series as an adult in 2015.

5. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” by J.K. Rowling 

Many years after first reading “Goblet”, I opened the book and found little bits of grated Parmesan
Cheese in between the pages. My mind returned to a moment in my childhood house, where I was sprawled out on the living room floor, devouring popcorn topped with Parmesan cheese while reading the exact same copy of “Harry Potter and The Goblet of fire”.

6. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling

This is the book where things start to get really dark and serious, and when the reader might realize that some of these magical world issues are not all that different from “muggle” world issues.


7. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling


8. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling

9. “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” by Stephen King

Stephen King has been captivating my imagination with his stories since I was young. His writing  makes me feel like I’m in each book next to each character. To this day, I have a great amount of respect for King. Unfortunately, I don’t read many of his books with the same enthusiasm I once had as a young adult.

“The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”, however, never fails to capture my whole attention (of course, any book about the Appalachian Trail has an excuse to draw me in). Although, the little girl in the story seemed unrealistically intelligent for her age, at times, I absolutely love the psychological adventure she goes on in the woods, somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. Her will to survive, and her critical thinking skills, are almost adult-like, yet her school-girl Tom Gordon crush and her need for her family remind the reader that she is still a 9-year-old child.

10. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

The only reason this book is number ten on the list, is that I’ve put the books in the order in which I read them throughout the year. But, quality would put this book near the top. Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s get to my review.

As soon as I saw the preview for “Wild”, the movie, I had to see it. As soon as I saw the movie, I had to read the book. I waited weeks for a copy of this book to be delivered to my library, and when I finally picked it up off of the shelf, I tore into it with a hunger I hadn’t had for a book since… Well, since I read the Harry Potter books, a few months earlier. So it wasn’t that long, but it was still quite a fierce hunger.

That hunger was fed and eased in such a satisfying way, by the quality of Strayed’s storytelling. I was absolutely enthralled by her portrayal of her childhood, her deep loss and the poor decision-making that followed, and her detail-by-detail experiences along the Parcific Crest Trail.

If you are looking for a great adventure book, I highly, highly recommend this one.

 

Books Read (as opposed to devoured)

I’m not meaning any harm by the title of this section, but there are certain books I connect with more than others.

1. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth

I started reading this book after seeing the movie in theaters. I didn’t really know too much about it, other than the fact that I was entertained by the first movie. My wife read the whole trilogy first, as I was reading the “Harry Potter” books. Her response to the “Divergent” books wasn’t great, but I decided to read them anyway.

Fortunately, the story has some great ideas in it. Unfortunately, the implementation of those ideas was not enjoyable to me. I finished the trilogy only to get to the end, which isn’t really how I plan to read books in the year 2016.

2. “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth

3. “Allegient” by Veronica Roth

4. “A Thousand Splendid Sons” by Khaled Hosseini

This was a very great, but very hard, book to read. It was heartbreaking. The story is about two womens, and how their lives become intertwined in a very unexpected way, during the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


5. “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

I read this book based on the excitement I had after seeing a preview for the movie, and also based on a friend’s recommendation. I love Bryson’s humor and his obvious passion for the Earth, the plants and animals that occupy it, and the way people treat it.

However, I struggled through his lengthy rants about specific species of plants and animals along the Appalachian Trail, the historical lessons on the creators of the Trail, the towns and parks along the way, and the Appalachian Trail itself. I liked learning about those things, but I would have preferred those sections to be shorter, and to have been able to read more of his stories about actually hiking along the Trail.

6. “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” by Beverly Cleary 

It was a pleasure to read this book for the second or third time in my life. It was as lighthearted, imaginative, and adventurous as I needed it to be at the time, when I had just finished a few books with very heavy topics.

I am not ashamed to admit that I still periodically read Children’s books. There’s no denying the wildness of the adventures you find in many of them, and that’s why I love them.

I’m pretty sure we read “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” as a class when I was in grade school or middle school. I can remember my plump, white-haired teacher in a conservative flower-patterned dress, standing behind a podium at the front of the classroom. She would call on students to read, paragraph-by-paragraph. When it came to reading, my hand was always flying high in the air, in hopes of being chosen next.

As the school’s literature teacher, she also read the “Narnia” series to my class when I was younger. Many of these books I was required to read, fed and enhanced my imagination and my desire for adventures.


7. “When Love Hurts” by Shaquanda Dalton

I am happy to share the title of the first book of Shaquanda Dalton’s “Jaylen and Jessica” series with you. Dalton is not only my coworker and friend, she is a great writer who inspired me to get serious about my own writing.

I was immediately reeled in by this love story. It’s well-balanced with love, friendship, drama, romance, passion, and jealousy. Jessica is smart and determined, and struggles to find a path that satisfies both her heart and her mind.

8. “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk

I was very disappointed by this book, especially because of how much I loved Palahniuk’s “Fight Club”. Although I know it’s part of Palahniuk’s style, I thought “Choke” was unnecessarily vulgar. Also, by the end of the book I still had unanswered questions, which really bugged me.

 

Books Attempted

My wife read an article earlier this year about how to be happy and content in your life. She of course shared it with me, knowing that I enjoy happiness and contentedness too… Who doesn’t? One of the tips in the article was to stop reading a book when you aren’t enjoying it.

This is my list of the books I had to let go, despite emotional connections to both of them:

1. “The Shining” by Stephen King

I have no issues with this story, the writer, or the movie, but I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read this book. My heart wasn’t in it, so I had to let it go.

2. “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg

The story in this book is my go to story, whenever I am feeling bummed out. “Fried Green Tomatoes”, based on the book, has been my favorite movie for as long as I can remember. Throughout my life, I’ve had it on both VHS and DVD. I felt that I owed it to the creator of the story to finally read the book.

Well, as much as I love the story, after seeing the movie so many times, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the differences between the movie and the book. I couldn’t see my beloved characters in different lights. I couldn’t learn about new characters, or read the weekly gossip column. Worst of all, I couldn’t have the relationships I love so much, mean something different in the book.

With much hesitation and disappointment, I let the book go. The story, however, will always remain with me.

Ending on a great note

1. “Blame” by Michelle Huneven

I’m closing out 2015, after reading this incredible book about a woman who is imprisoned by both the state of California, and the guilt of having killed a mother and a daughter in a drunk driving accident. This book had me after the first or second chapter. It’s not just a book about a crime, it’s a book about a woman’s life and what she does with it.



What books took you on adventures in 2015?
Share your favorites in the comment section. I’d love some recommendations!

Thanks to all my readers, for taking the time to read my 2015 book list! I’m looking forward to another fabulous year of reading (and of course, writing) in 2016.

Happy New Year to all!!

You always know where to find me! I’m Two Tents Down!

Email me at twotentsdown@yahoo.com or follow me on social media by clicking on one of my social media buttons in the top left corner of this page.

 

 

 

Traveling on my Mind

IMG_0406

I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling, lately. Creating a blog and 47 (I exaggerate) social media accounts about camping and traveling will have that effect.

Sometimes I can’t believe I’m back home. After all the time I spent away from home, after all the belongings I hate to part with, and after all that I’ve experienced, I can’t believe that I’m back home, in the same place I was before. I’m residing in the same house, working the same type of job, doing the same things in my free time, and living in the same city I lived in for the seven years before I left to travel.

These things didn’t change. My house didn’t change. Milwaukee didn’t change. But, I changed. After coming back home, I realized that I’m different. I don’t quite fit the life I was living before I left.

I don’t think I’m the only person to realize this. I have fewer people in my life now. Upon my return, I realized that many of my friends moved on while I was away. That’s one of the downfalls of travel. Friends’ lives keep moving and building in one place, while your life grows in a different way.

My point is here, somewhere.

I’ve been back home for 16 months now. In that time, I:

Newbie #2

Newbie #2

  • Reconnected with family and friends
  • Made my travel partner my permanent partner in life (Yay! We got married!).
  • Traveled to Virginia Beach for my cousin’s wedding (Congrats, Cuz!).
  • Attended two other beautiful Wisconsin weddings.
  • Played three seasons of softball.
  • Joined a soccer team, for the first time!
  • Convinced an old job to hire me back, then convinced a new job to hire me on.
  • Got a promotion!
  • Lived at my mom’s in the suburbs, then moved back to Milwaukee.
  • Said goodbye to two very special family members, and then said hello to three very special, new family members (Newbies, you know your names!).
 Hiking Kettle Moraine
  • Went on many hikes and bike rides.
  • Went camping a few times, and bought an obscene amount of camping gear (Thanks REI, for relentlessly tempting me!).
  • Explored two incredible national parks.
  • Visited two states I had never been to before.
Me, as Professor Trelawney for Halloween

Me, as Professor Trelawney for Halloween

  • Became Professor Trelawney for one glorious night!
  • Devoured 17 books (and counting).
  • Started this blog.
  • Made a solid plan to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017.
Even after reminiscing on all the adventures of the last 16 months, I can’t help but feel like the monotony of daily life is stifling my wanderlust needs. I got a taste of traveling. I got a taste of a wildness that I had never felt before. Now I’m home, and writing about those experiences.
Though my travels were far from perfect (and even farther from easy), I know that I need to get back out there again, soon. And once my home life is in order, I’ll be planning and saving for future exploration.

To put it simply, more adventures are calling!

Dear Readers,
Do you feel the pangs of unfulfilled travel? Have you grown tired of the day-to-day grind? What do you do to ease the wanderlust, while you’re doing the home life thing, and waiting for the next big trip?
Feel free to leave a comment, send me an email (twotentsdown@yahoo.com), or contact me through social media (twotentsdown on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).

If you need me,

I’m just Two Tents Down!

 

10 Terrific Tips for Teaching English Abroad

 

The opportunities are endless for people who want to live abroad and teach English. There are a number of continents, each with at least a handful of countries that will gladly accept you as an English teacher, if you are only willing to get out there and do it.
Foreigners of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of education are accepted, depending on the requirements within each country, city, and school. There are even opportunities for non-native English speakers, again depending on each school’s requirements.
If you decide to travel to a different country to teach English, there are some things you should do to prepare yourself for this awesome adventure.

 

1. Get your passport/passport pictures.

This is a top priority! You can’t go anywhere without your passport, and leaving it until the last minute is a dangerous thing to do, when you don’t know exactly how long it will take to get one.

First, you’ll need to fill out the form DS-11 online (make sure you use a .gov website) or in person at your local passport office. Important: Do not sign your [DS-11] form until you are at the passport office, standing in front of the person who is collecting the paperwork from you.

  • Passport pictures: You’ll need at least one. This is no simple task. They must be recent pictures (within 6 months), great quality, and the perfect size. Unless you’re a professional, it’s probably best you leave it to the professionals. Walgreens, Walmart, FedEx, UPS, or the 1-Hour Photo Lab at Costco are all places where you could get your passport photos taken. For more information, read “Where to Get a Passport Photo Taken“.
  • Necessary forms of ID: Proof of citizenship (like a previous U.S. passport or a birth certificate) and proof of identity (like a social security card, military i.d., or a naturalization certificate). Without those, you’ll need two forms of secondary identification, which include things like a credit card or a library card. My advice is to have as many forms of identification as possible, in case one form is denied.
  • The cost to get a passport: The fee is around $130 (not including the price of photos).
  • Time it takes to get to your mailbox: normal processing time is 4-5 weeks (or 2-3 weeks, if you pay for a speedy delivery)
  • How long is it valid?: 10 years

If you’re still confused about how to get your passport, read “U.S. Passport Applications and Renewals”.

2. Pick a country, then pick a city.

This is a big decision. You have to settle on a place you’re willing to live in for 6 months to a year, or more.

Consider these things:

  • The culture: What are you interested in? What are you comfortable with? Make sure to do your research.
  • The proximity to your interests: Do you like to surf? You’ll probably want to live near the ocean. Do you like to rock climb? Then living in the mountains would be helpful.
Beach view in Xiamen, China
  • Technological capabilities: For example, China has internet, but limitations on surfing the web. Read “Top 10 Internet-Censored Countries” for more information. Many of the countries on the list don’t have access to many of the social media sites (or blogging sites) you might consider a high priority to have access to. Countries with slow internet speeds might also be something you want to be aware of.
  • Personal qualifications: Your most important qualification is that you speak English as your first language (though it’s not always a deal-breaker if English is not your first language). Many countries require a college degree, a TEFL or a TESOL certificate, or in some cases even a degree in English or Teaching.
  • Job Opportunities: Some countries have more job opportunities than others. Some pay more, and some pay less. Some countries require you to interview in person (which means you’ll need to already be there before they will hire you). All of these things will be important when you are making your final decision.
JimmyESL has an article called “The Best Places to Teach English Abroad in 2015“, complete with information on current average wages and job availability in 10 different countries.

3. Save your money.

You can make some good money teaching English abroad, but you’ll have to have some money saved up before you leave.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to save money for:
  • Your plane ticket: Flight prices are constantly fluctuating, but you should expect to pay at least $1000, if you’re traveling to Asia from the United States, and about the same to fly to South America or Europe.
  • “Settling in” money: It costs more than you think to move into a new apartment in a whole new place. Consider what you have in your own place back home, then think of what you can do without. Most things you’ll need to buy when you move into your new apartment (Examples: Pots, pans, garbage can, laundry basket, broom, cleaning supplies).
My first apartment in Taiyuan, China
  • “Before the first paycheck” money: Waiting for the first paycheck at any job can be hard, but waiting for your first paycheck from your new job, in a new country, in a new city, in a new apartment, can seem like it’s taking forever. Plan to have money for a month to a month and a half of food and entertainment.
Here is a good breakdown of the start up costs for teaching English abroad.

4. Get your visas.

You do not want to get turned away when you’ve arrived. Having the incorrect visa, or no visa at all will be the easiest way to make that happen.Talk to your future employer about which visas you will need, and which visas they will provide or reimburse you for. Then, do your own research to make sure you have the proper documents that will grant you access to the country you’re headed to.

Here is an article with the visa basics, called “How to Get a Work Visa for Teaching English Abroad“, provided by GoOverseas.

5. Buy a plane ticket.

It may seem like a simple task, but routing your travel can be overwhelming and time consuming. Luckily, it is easy enough to keep track of good deals on airfare, through email notifications from sites like Kayak, Expedia, CheapOair, Priceline, or Orbitz. That way, you don’t have to sit there pouring over flight times and prices. You can just type in your tentative dates and times, sign up for notifications, and wait for the deals to come to you.Mashable has compiled a list of 10 great ticket-buying websites. Each site has a different feature to cater to a veriety of travelers.

Other than signing up for email flight price notifications, Clark Howard has a few simple tips for ticket buyers:

  • Buy your tickets about 8 weeks in advance
  • Fly on a Sunday
  • Use social media sites to find deals

6. Do your research!

Have I mentioned this before? It is so important to know where you are going and what you are getting yourself into. I made the mistake of not doing my research on the city I’d be moving to
and the school I’d be teaching at, before moving to China, based on a friend’s recommendation. There were a lot of things that weren’t as I expected them to be, when I arrived.

Make sure you know about:

  • The city/town you’ll be moving to: Is English spoken commonly, by the local people? What is the environment like? Are there local things you might like to do while you are there?
  • The school where you’ll be teaching English: Is it a reputable school? How do they treat their foreign teachers? It might be worth while to try to contact another foreigner who has worked at the school.

 

Morale-building field trip for staff at the school I worked for in Taiyuan, China
  • The living conditions in the city: Some cities are very Westernized, and some aren’t. The city I lived in had a lot of squat toilets (including the one in my second apartment) I had to get used to very quickly. I also had to boil my water before drinking it, but I could live with that. Every city or town has different living conditions. It might be something to think about before moving.
  • The cultural differences: There are things you may or may not be comfortable with in other parts of the world. Make sure you can get comfortable with the culture you’ll be immersed in, before making your final decision.

7. Study your contract.

Read your contract inside and out before you sign it, discuss it with your employer to make sure you both understand it, then have the school email you a copy right away. This is the piece of paper that both you and your employer agree to abide by for one whole year.

If you or your employer fail to honor your deal, during this time, you both have negotiating rights, based on the contract. I was able to negotiate a paid vacation (something I have never done before) in China, because my employer broke my contract.

 

Vacation time in Hong Kong

Contract items you might want to be aware of:

  • Number of work days/hours per week
  • Sick leave
  • Health insurance
  • Local language lesson availability
  • Western holiday recognition
  • End of contract bonus
  • Paid return flight
  • Paid Vacation

8. Consider getting your TEFL or TESOL certification.

The Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate, or a similar certificate, is a must-have for many schools in many different countries. The English school I worked for (in China) did not require me to have a TEFL certificate, but many other foreigners I talked to were required to have their TEFL certificates.

Certifications for teaching English abroad are available both online and onsite. Monkey Abroad has a great article with comparisons for online and onsite classes. Some things to keep in mind are price, flexibility, and satisfaction. For example, online classes are cheaper (from $250 to $500) but there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job through the website. Onsite [4-week] classes are far more expensive (between $1000 and $2000, not including travel and food expenses), but there is usually a guarantee that you will have a job when you complete the class.Finding the best TEFL Certificate provider for you is a lot to think about, but the International TEFL Academy has broken the process down into 5 tips.

9. Sort out your home life.

There are some things you can put on hold, but there are other things you’ll have to deal with before you leave.

Here is a checklist of things I had to take care of before I left to travel:

  • Graduate college
  • Defer student loans
  • Pay outstanding bills
  • Buy out cell phone contract
  • Leave pets in care of family/friend
  • Toss/sell/store belongings
  • Finish/terminate apartment lease
  • Transfer apartment bills to roommate or future tenant
  • Throw fantastic “going away” party

10. Take the risk!!

Dive in, head first! Anything can happen, and many things will happen, but regretting the experience as a whole is so very unlikely.

Before you know it, you’ll be…

 

seeing things like this,
eating things like this,
and teaching kids like this.

Thank you so much for reading!

Until next time, I’m just Two Tents Down!!

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