Tag Archives: travel

2019 Reading Challenge: My Favorite Books

With 76 5-star reads this year, you better believe it was hard to choose favorites. I narrowed it down to 46 by dropping all my re-reads. Then I removed any Mary Stewart novels and Greek/Roman classics because–per my scheduling post–those will get separate posts later. But still. This was hard!

However, without much ado, I give you my favoritest favorite books of 2019 (in no particular order.) 

Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Last Novel by Jane Austen & Anne Telscombe (aka Marie Dobbs)

Jane Austen wrote the first 11 chapters of Sanditon before dying at age 41. And they are brilliant. Chapter 3 begins, “Every neighborhood should have a great lady.” Genius. But alas, never completed. Instead, in 1975, Anne Telscombe finished the story. And her conclusion feels way more like Georgette Heyer than Jane Austen. It is a completely different tone and suffers horrendously from hindsight, with characters enthusing about gaslights and other inventions just about to make it big. But you know what? It does not matter. This was still one of my favorite reads from 2019 because it was genuinely entertaining. Unfortunately, or perhaps fittingly, the mini-series based on the story and released this past year did not take well and will not be completed with a second season. 

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer 

Beauty and the Beast…with an epic twist. You know the story. An enchantress curses a prince to live as a beast until he finds true love. But did you know the first girl failed to break the curse? And the second. And the third. And so on. Each time he fails, Beast goes crazy and destroys all he loves. But it resets. New girl. New chance. All the memories. Except now he has only one reset left. Meet Harper. She lives in the bad part of town and has cerebral palsy. Then she saves an unconscious girl from a sword-swinging weirdo and gets dragged to a fantasy kingdom to break a curse. But she’s not sticking around.
I’ve read loads of Beauty and the Beast retellings and this is hands-down my favorite. It is dark, gritty, and hopeful with very memorable characters. That said, I have no interest in reading the rest of the series. YA authors really need to quit it with the cliff-hangers.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

It took me several tries to get into The Trial but once I did, I devoured it. It tells the story Josef K., a respectable bank officer suddenly and inexplicably arrested and tried but never told what for. It illustrates the falseness of a “justice” system without the rule of law and the character’s own false optimism that it will all get cleared up. I loved it. But then again, I also loved The Metamorphosis which some people do not so consider yourself warned. 

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

Speaking of courtrooms…Twelve Angry Men is a classic American play (and movie, actually) about the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty” and how one man’s conviction can change the hearts of a whole group. Some plays you need to see performed to really feel the pathos. This is not  one. The words jump off the pages even with just a casual read. It is a rallying cry for the American justice system. I found it moving and inspiring. Definitely an instant favorite and as relevant for 2020 as 1954 when first written. 

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

Do you ever hear so much about a book that you feel like you’ve read it already? That’d be me with The Weight of Glory. I’ve heard so much about the sermons and essays inside this volume that a part of me was surprised to discover it still unread. It was marvelous. I read through the titular piece three times before moving on. I highly recommend this collection of sermons and essays as thought-provoking reading you can take all at once or slowly and one at a time. (And if you understand the essay on Transposition, do tell me, because I did not.)

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Speaking of books to take slowly…it took me 2 years to complete The Cost of Discipleship. I could not rush it. Everything I read needed to be chewed over and sifted. I found it thought-provoking. Challenging. Encouraging. Motivating. Most of all, I relished reading doctrine. The book was a breath of fresh air. The downside of taking such a long time to read it, however, is that I’m not sure I can pin-point what all impacted me or which quotes I liked best. It impacted me gradually and I fell in love with all the quotes. Guess I need to add it to my to re-read list for 2020. 

Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy L Sayers

I love C.S. Lewis and appreciate the emphasis on his writings displayed by many Christian writers and academics today. But if I may be so bold, Christians really need to start paying more attention to Dorothy L. Sayers. Letters to a Diminished Church is a collection of essays on what it means to be made in the image of God the Creator. And it is so good. Sayers writes with biting wit and clear truths and reveals profound ideas. She touches on ancient history, Medieval allegory, and modern psychology. She unhesitatingly jumps from author to author in fleshing out her ideas, including references to Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While I love her book The Mind of the Maker, I strongly recommend starting with Letters to a Diminished Church. Like with The Weight of Glory, the essay format means you can take it as slow or fast as you want without losing the ‘thread’ of the thought. 

Edge of His Ways by Amy Carmichael 

“Thank God courage is as ‘infectious’ as discouragement.” Edge of His Ways is a daily devotional with a different writing of Amy Carmichael–usually a letter or journal entry–highlighted each day. Amy is one of my personal heroines and if you are not familiar with her story, I recommend checking her out. This devotional is encouraging, inspiring, and challenging. The copy I read had a very feminine, floral cover which is a pity because I think it is an equally excellent devotional for men and women. If looking for a short, encouraging daily read, I highly recommend. 

Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide by Alexa West

Last, but never least, Alexa West’s amazing Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide. If you are traveling to Thailand, you should get this book. If you are traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, you should see if she has a book about that country. (She probably does.) This goes double if you are a solo traveler and triple if you are a solo girl traveler. Reading Alexa’s book feels like getting advice from a trusted friend and it never once steered me wrong. Some of my favorite experiences last year while living in Thailand came from her suggestions. 


Craving Spice

People frequently ask me what the best food I ate in Thailand was. I cop out by answering–truthfully–that all food in Thailand is incredibly spicy and that my Anglo-German ancestors gifted me with a very low spice tolerance. 

It takes less explaining than ‘Milk Seafood Ramen.’

But despite my low spice tolerance, I have discovered recently that I miss spicy food. And further, I have no idea where to get it here in Madison. Wal Mart discontinued the closest thing I ate to spicy food pre-Thailand: canned Amy’s Own Spicy Chili. 

I’ve grown eclectic in my attempts to find spicy food. I order sandwiches with jalapenos at the local sandwich cart. Go with sharp cheddar instead of mild when grocery shopping. And sometimes, impulsively buy food clearly targeting the teenage male population, such as “Extra Hot Chili & Lime Pringles.” (You know they are aimed at teenage boys because the packaging comes in neon purple.) 

Alas, none of these things do the trick but they do give me the delightful feeling that I can “handle” spice. 


I’ll Appreciate It When I’m Older…

On Sunday my friends and I toured the U.S.S. Wisconsin, an Iowa class battleship. As we stood in line to buy a ticket, an employee walked up to us to ask what tickets we needed. And she specifically asked me:

“Two adult tickets and…are you under 13?” 

Me: “No.”

(I won’t lie, I thought about just saying yes but then I figured I might have to back up my claim and that’d be embarrassing. At least, almost as embarrassing as being asked if I’m half my age.) 

We then go to buy the tickets. The lady behind the desk quotes a number. My friend looks confused and points out that he is paying for all three of us. She nods. We get the receipt. 

I got the kid’s ticket. (For 12 and under.)

My friends teased me about it until it dawned on them that at 26 and 32 they were taken for my parents. Then it was hilarious.


“Normal” travel

International travel and a class this semester on immigration law have really skewered my perceptions.

Take this conversation:

Friend: “We could just drive up to Delaware!”

Me: “No can do, we don’t have a visa.”

We don’t have a visa. To travel from Virginia. Help, apparently I forgot how to road trip.


The Bunkhouse

This past week, my sister and I drove to Idaho to pick up our other sister and cousin from the camp where they worked this summer. We intentionally made the entire trip flexible. However, we still needed a place to stay at night so once we decided on Mount Rushmore as a good stopping area, I got on my phone and found us a place to crash. We’re a bunch of students. Cheap = good. So I found us a bunkhouse where they provide little cabins with bunk beds and a shared shower house. Bring your own bedding. 

For the record, I did ask the others for their input. The bunkhouse looked fine online. I booked it and received an e-mail reminding me to bring my own bedding. 

Check-in supposedly ended at 9 pm. We planned to arrive by 8:30. I got a call at 7:30 from the manager informing me she was going home and that she’d text me the code to get into our cabin. Also, did I get the message that they did not provide bedding? (I did.)

We arrived in the dark. And by arrived I mean exited the freeway, drove for fifteen minutes on abandoned back country roads, and turned too early on the dimly lit road to the cabins. If you can call it a road. No obvious parking lot existed so even after finding the correct turn we drove on the grass to reach our cabin. 

The place was abandoned. Not another car to be seen. 

Then we entered the cabin. To quote my sister, “I did not need to check for bed bugs because I could already see the dead bugs all over the mattress.” 

Instead of a four bed bunkhouse like we expected, we got a bunk with two queen size mattresses. We did not mind sharing, but the website definitely promised four. And it wasn’t just sharing with one another. We apparently were supposed to share with an entire graveyard of moths, beetles, and spiders. 

So many spiders. I’m not afraid to kill an arachnid but even I found the spider guarding our cabin intimidating. He was easily the size of a quarter. 

Some (I won’t name names) vowed to sleep in the van. I protested that we paid for the cabin so by golly we should use it! Anyway, we were leaving early the next morning. A few hours wouldn’t hurt us. 

We then went to the shower house. At first glance, it at least appeared clean. Second glance revealed even more bugs than the cabin. Live crickets and dead beetles hung out in the sink. Spiders clung to the rafters. But what finally broke me were the moths. 

The moths lived in the toilets. 

Imagine doing your business and all of a sudden a moth comes up from between your legs. Or reaching for toilet paper and a moth flutters out with the paper. I screamed. My sisters screamed. My cousin probably screamed. 

Lest you think us heartless to our fellow campers, remember, there were no other guests. And the staff all left way early. 

I am not going to lie. We ran back to our cabin, grabbed our stuff, dodged the giant watch-spider, and drove like a bat out of hell. No destination needed. Just out.

The next place we stayed at had a hot tub and continental breakfast.


Talking About Thailand (With My Prof)

For those of you who followed this blog over the last 7 months, you know Thailand was not everything I expected. It was hard. The school did not run a great program. I never got WiFi or library access. Classes ended in May but my last final was due July 25th.

I tried explaining all this to my professor who runs the program. In fact, I wrote a list before meeting with him so I would make sure he knew exactly what I experienced. 

It went something like this:

Me: “It was very challenging. They would change the classroom without warning, cancel class randomly, change the schedule often….”

Prof: “Sounds like a very challenging experience. But what a great opportunity to experience Thailand!”

Me: “Yes, traffic was terrible. Taxi drivers constantly cheated me. My friend also studying abroad would compare notes with me, but since she was originally from Thailand, she did not experience half of what I experienced.”

Prof: “But it sounds like you made friends!”

Me: “I made, like, three friends.”

Prof: “What an opportunity for growth! So glad you had a good time.”

Me: “I did not have a good time. It was very challenging.”

Prof: “But you got to see lots of Thailand, right?”

Me: “It was very hard to schedule times to travel because the school kept changing when classes were.”

Prof: “Isn’t that just like Thai culture? What an experience. So, what kind of student should we send next?”

Me: “One that can somehow deal with the constantly changing schedule and still be organized enough to keep track of when things come due because no one will them. I don’t think you’ll find that person in law school.”

Prof: “Great! I will be sure to put them in touch.”

…I tried.


25: A Year In Review

I am spending my last day as a 25-year-old working on a Law & Information Technology final for a class that ended in May. It feels oddly symbolic–and utterly depressing. 

I also work today. This too feels symbolic. I spent most of the first half of my year in this office crafting my law review note and trying to squeeze work hours in while juggling twenty other commitments. 

Neither memory leaves me feeling particularly joyful. 25 is not a year I would willingly repeat. 

Colorado, Madison, Thailand, Madison some more. The real takeaway I see from 25 is that the second year of law school is somehow more terrible than first year. And I didn’t even think that was possible. 

I suppose I grew as a writer and traveler this past year. I overcame a lot. I think I also failed a lot. Or at least I fell flat on my face more times than I care to count. 

I am not sure what hopes to have for 26. It will cover one more year of law school. It feels a bit like one more year to ‘get through,’ which I don’t want to be the case. I love birthdays because they mean a new start. But with 2L year still nipping at my heels and 3L year looming ahead, I feel more braced than expectant. 

But you know what? Here is to 26. As my favorite poet, Tanner Olson, says: hope doesn’t let the story end.

And another year of law school is not the end of the story. So, that is how I want to approach 26. Hopeful. Even if I am not really sure what to hope for. Because it represents a new year and a new chance to kick law school’s butt. Or at least try not to let it totally kick mine.