“Make Me” by Lee Child

Lee Child's "Make Me" Dedication

Lee Child’s “Make Me” Dedication

Anybody who knows me well knows that my favorite author is Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series. I picked up his first novel, “Killing Floor” several years ago and have been a fan and avid reader of his books ever since.

In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to go hear Lee speak at Politics and Prose. My semester has been incredibly busy (as always), so being able to go listen to and meet with Lee was a real highlight. While I was there, I picked up his latest novel, “Make Me”. As the dedication in the picture shows, I was under strict orders from Lee himself to not read the book until after October 6th, when I had turned in my first term paper and had two of my presentations out of the way.

I was a few days late and picked up the book on October 11th and finished it on the 12th. Needless to say, Lee did not disappoint. Read on for a short review below the cut.

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Day 4 – Give Every Dollar a Job

Days 2 & 3 did not have any action steps that required me to write things down, so we’re jumping ahead to Day 4, which focuses on Rule #1: Give Every Dollar a Job. Essentially, this means that every dollar needs to be accounted for and budgeted in some way. YNAB does this by asking you to allocate your dollars to various categories: $X to rent, $X to groceries, etc. The action steps for today’s lesson are to write down some of the categories that you need for your budget, so here are some of mine:

Budget Categories

  • Rent
  • Internet
  • Cell phone
  • Groceries
  • Renter’s Insurance
  • Transportation costs (Metro, Uber, etc.)
  • Household Goods (I separated this from groceries, which is specifically food items)
  • Emergency Fund
  • Christmas (setting aside money for that now, so I’m not scrambling in December to find money for gifts)
  • Birthdays
  • School (read: textbooks)
  • Vacation
  • Student Loan Payment

YNAB Day 1: Financial Goals

Recently, I decided to give You Need a Budget, affectionately abbreviated YNAB, a try. It is a process of budgeting that helps you really see and understand where your money is going. Using the YNAB process, you gain control of your finances by following four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2. Save for a rainy day
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Live on last month’s income

YNAB is not just a budgeting software, but a process that includes several different classes that are designed to help you achieve your financial goals. I’m currently taking one of the courses and the action steps for today include writing down your long-term and short-term financial goals. So, here it goes!

Short Term Goals:

  • Save up a buffer income for when I graduate next May
  • Save for a vacation spring or summer vacation with Jared

Long Term Goals:

  • Pay off my student loan debt

Tips for Moving

Ever since I moved away from Goshen to Muncie for college, moving has been a key activity every summer. This summer is no different, although the difference in physical location from my old home to my new one is the shortest it has ever been. Jared and I made the decision earlier this year to move in together, so with my lease winding down, I’ve been slowly working on moving my life across Connecticut Avenue. This has been a move several weeks in the process, but we have finally gotten settled in and just about everything is unpacked and in its new place.

I’ve also been helping friends move, and so I wanted to share just a view tips that I’ve learned that can help make the moving process just a little bit easier.

  • Start collecting boxes early and begin packing those things that you don’t need on a daily basis as soon as is feasibly possible. Save boxes from larger packages you have received, or check out your local grocery store, convenience store, etc. for boxes you can use.
  • Use a sharpie to write either what room the box needs to go into (Living Room) or what the contents of the box are (Dishes) to make unloading and unpacking easier.
  • Update your mailing address with the post office before you go out and purchase new furnishings or other home improvement items. USPS will mail you a collection of coupons you might find useful.
  • Remember to update your mailing address with your friends, family, bank, and other businesses/organizations that regularly send you mail. USPS will forward your mail, but it is always good to have your address updated so people can reach you directly.
  • Know your measurements. Before moving your furniture, be sure you know how much space you have to work with.
  • It is totally fine to recruit friends and family to help you move, but return the favor by providing food and drinks to the movers. Additionally, they are there to help you move, not help you pack. You should have as much as you possibly can packed up and ready to be loaded into the car or truck when your movers arrive.
  • If you have a lot of clothes, blankets, towels, or other linens, invest in space vacuum bags. You’ll be able to fit a lot more clothes into your suitcase, boxes, car, etc. if you’ve removed all the air from them.
  • Since you’ll be going through all of your things anyway, take the time to consider what you really need. That shirt you haven’t worn in the last year? That trinket you picked up ages ago and stuck in a closet? Plan on making at least one trip to a donation center as a part of the moving process. Be sure to get a donation receipt.
  • One of the first things you should move is a trash can/trash bags. You’re going to want them when you’re unpacking.
  • Clean your new place before you seriously start unpacking everything. It’s easier to wipe down the insides of cabinets when you don’t have dishes in them already.

Those are just some of the tips that I recommend for people going through the moving process. Share some of your tips in the comments!


Tradition of Marriage

Marriage and the traditions surrounding it have been on my mind a lot lately. After celebrating our three year anniversary in May and deciding that we are going to be moving in together, the topic of mine and Jared’s future as a married couple has been a hot topic of discussion among family and friends. Tomorrow, Jared and I are attending a friend’s wedding. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage and declared them unconstitutional. With all this talk of marriage going on around me, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the role that marriage is going to play in my future and how I am going to remain true to myself while navigating the tricky terrain of “traditional marriage”. Read more →

Fresh Start #3214

In March this year, my dad renewed TSR for me, like he has every year for over a decade. After renewing it, he asked me what I was planning to do with it, since this website has been mostly left alone to collect dust. In the past, TSR has served as a blog, a portfolio, a storage space, and a host for other websites and forums.

After taking some time to consider and clean up the site, I’ve decided that I want to try and return to blogging. Not regularly or with any particular goal in mind, but because I have always found blogging or journaling helpful as a way of organizing my thoughts. I’m older and much busier now than I was when this site first started back when I was 11 years old, but I still find writing a helpful way to work through how I am feeling. So the content will be different, but I hope that the benefits of reflection will be just as rewarding.

Final Days

Well, I did it. Reflecting back on my first couple of blog entries, it’s hard to believe, but yesterday I finished my 12 week volunteer term with IVHQ. I even got the email to confirm it! I’ve got 3 days left before I fly home and 4 until I get to see my family, friends, boyfriend, and dog. I legitimately cannot believe how fast the time has gone, so I want to do a bit of reflection before I begin my return trip.

I am my father’s daughter in many ways, but despite his constant reminders and questions, I did relatively little preparation for my trip here. I skimmed through the Lonely Planet book he gave me for Christmas and did a little bit of research on the Internet about Cambodia as a whole. I spent most of my time researching IVHQ and CVF, but given I didn’t find out about my placement until the morning I left, that wasn’t all that helpful. My point being is that when I arrived, I was entirely mentally unprepared for what I was about to do.

It’s amazing what changes can happen in 3 months. I am no longer overwhelmed by Cambodia, its people, and its culture. I still see things on a daily basis that make me stop and stare, but I’ve learned how to take it in stride and roll with the punches. It has been a struggle to get to this point, if only because I am very much a planner – somebody who wants to be in control of the situation. But there’s so much I would have missed out on if I had stuck to my original plan, so I am sincerely grateful for everyone who helped me expand my comfort zone to including spontaneous plans.

I have mixed feelings about the actual volunteering itself, for a variety of reasons. For a long time, I thought my unhappiness at my first placement was going to overshadow the entire trip. As a volunteer, my biggest contribution to any organization is my time and my hard work. At KIND, those two things were being undervalued and overlooked. While I have certainly had problems and struggles at Our Home, I can leave Cambodia with some confidence in knowing that I am helping to make a small difference in these kids’ lives. This last week, we purchased 12 new mattresses for the girls who live at the orphanage, along with sheets and pillows. I hope I never forget the looks of joy on their faces at these gifts, something most Westerners would take for granted.

If I had to pick a biggest lesson learned from this adventure, it is that you cannot truly understand or appreciate the “other” without putting yourself in a position to experience it. For me, the “other” took on many different forms: the children at Our Home, Cambodian business people, the Lims, other volunteers, Cambodian culture, etc. This entire experience has been one big situation of “putting myself in another’s shoes”. It’s cliche, but I am coming back to the U.S. a changed (and hopefully better) person because of it. There are still many things I don’t understand from my experience, but I sure as hell understand a lot more than I did in January.

So thank you, to every one who has made this trip possible for me. To my dad, who has never been anything but supportive and has infected his kids with the travel bug. To my grandparents, who have been kind enough to cover my student loan payments while I was volunteering. To Jared, who has woken up early and stayed up late to talk to me as much as he could. To the 8th St. Church, which helped to financially support this trip. To all of my friends and family back home who have shown an interest in reading my stories, looking at my pictures, and talking with me about my experiences. I am very excited and looking forward to being able to share some of these experiences with you in person. I have a lot to share, and certainly far more I could ever properly articulate.

Tonight, Saturday, is my last night at the Lims. My dad was kind enough to put me in a hotel for two nights, since my host family is leaving to go to their farm in the country for the Khmer New Year on Monday. It’s strange to be on my own, but my experiences have been many, and they will keep me company over the next few days.

Chiang Mai (Happy New Year!) to all!

P.S. Happy 15th Birthday to my brother, Matthew!

Weekend in Koh Rong Samloem

The last weekend in March, I went with my friend Jaimie to the island of Koh Rong Samloem for a weekend getaway at the beach. With only two weeks left to go in my volunteer term, visiting the island was my last big trip out of Phnom Penh before I return to the U.S and my last trip with Jaimie, who was my first roommate and my first friend here in Cambodia.

Visiting the beach was the last item on my “to-do” list before leaving Cambodia, so I jumped at the chance to travel with Jaimie the last weekend in March. She was going for a week, but I decided I would take a long weekend and go with her to soak up some sun. We left on Friday afternoon around 6pm, taking a large charter bus to Sihanoukville, where we would take a ferry boat the next morning to the islands.

Saturday morning, we checked out of our guesthouse and took a tuk tuk to one of the many piers in Sihanoukville. Unfortunately for us, neither we, the tuk tuk driver, or the expat desk attendant knew exactly which pier we were supposed to be going to. We ended up at a rather sketchy looking pier next to the International Port of Sihanoukville, and since the tickets we bought were the same price as was quoted in the email ($20, round trip), we didn’t think anything of it. But the boat we ended up on was just as sketchy as the pier, but since there were other travelers and it went to both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, we decided to roll with it.

The boat ride lasted two hours, and I’m incredibly thankful that I managed to avoid getting seasick, even though it’s rare I can get on a boat and not start to feel dizzy. When I finally did get off the boat, though, my head was swimming and it felt like the land was rocking. That wasn’t particularly fun to deal with, but better on land than on the boat!

We were dropped off at a pier on the north part of the island, which left us having to figure out how to get to the south part of the island where our bungalow was. We were able to talk to an owner of a guest house on this part of the island and for $4 each, he was willing to give us a ride on his long boat to where we were staying. Had we traveled over land, it would have been a 5-6 mile trek through jungle paths, which neither one of us really wanted to do. We also met another traveler, Emily, on this longboat ride, who was going to the same place we were. She became our third traveling companion for the weekend, so that was another added bonus. After having lunch and a two hour nap in some hammocks (where I began my process of turning from pale to tomato), we walked through a small village to the beach, into the water, and hopped on board our boat.

Our second boat ride for the day was about 30 minutes, and was actually a really awesome experience. Being out on this really basic motorboat and watching the water and the shoreline showed you a part of the island that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. It was nice to get checked into our lodging though, a private bungalow at The Beach Resort. After we got settled and took a nap, we set off down the beach to have dinner at one of the few restaurants available. The best chicken sandwich I have ever had in my life was at that restaurant, and I will greatly miss the experience of being able to eat such delicious food while watching the sunset over the bay.

Sunday was, basically, a beach day. Jaimie, Emily, and myself spent the morning and early afternoon laying on the beach, swimming, and reading. Despite what I thought was more than enough sunscreen (50 SPF too!), I got incredibly burned all over my body. But honestly, it was worth it just to be able to relax and enjoy the scenery. After lunch, we set off on a 1 mile trek across the island so we could watch the sunset on the west side of the island. It was across mostly flat land, so it wasn’t so bad, but we did have to watch out for snakes and spiders in the jungle.

Afternoon was more of the same, hanging out at the only resort/restaurant on Lazy Beach, reading, swimming, etc. Sunset was around 6 or so, and it was absolutely breathtaking. Coming from Indiana, I don’t get to see the sun setting into the ocean all that often, so this was definitely a moment that I will remember for a while. Just watching the colors in the sky and on the water was enough to make the trek worth it, even though we had to do the return trek in the dark, using nothing but flashlights. That too, was well worth it. I have never seen so many stars as I did that night – with virtually no light pollution, it was incredible to see just how many stars there were and how bright they were! Despite some run-ins with cobwebs, we made it back to our beach safe and sound.

I will mention that when we returned, we stayed up a bit more so we could walk around in the water. There are some bioluminescent phytoplankton that live in that water, and while they were not as brilliant as they were the last time I saw them in Puerto Rico, it was cool to see.

After having another relaxing morning on Monday, I parted ways with Jaimie and Emily. They were staying on the island for another night and I was headed back to Phnom Penh. Because of our mix up with the boat tickets, I ended up buying a separate ticket with the Party Boat (the boat we were originally supposed to be on) so I wouldn’t have to pay to go back to the other pier to get picked up. By 5:30, I was back in Sihanoukville, where I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to get a night bus home. Instead, I checked into the guesthouse where Jaimie and I had stayed previously and after a minor issue with them giving me a mattress that was all springs (not okay, considering the state of the sunburn on my back), I was able to get some sleep and headed back to Phnom Penh in the morning.

My weekend end up lasting a day longer than originally intended, but it was well worth it, sunburn and all. I’m not sure that I ever seen water so blue or sand so white and soft. I have done a fair bit of traveling around while I’ve been in Cambodia, but I’m really glad that I saved this trip to the beach for last. With only 9 days left before I leave for home, I’m hoping that the memories of rest and relaxation will help get me through the rest of the week.

Our Home Campaign

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, then you have probably already seen this. But, I wanted to share with the readers of my blog what I have been working on at my placement, Our Home. I spent a few days redesigning their website for them, but most of my time has been spent working on a fundraising campaign called, “Our Home School Renovation”.

Our Home currently cares for about 100 children and orphans. Many of the children are also students at Our Home’s school. That they provide the kids with free education is one of my favorite parts about Our Home, but unfortunately, their school is in desperate need of some TLC. The building needs a deep cleaning and some fresh paint, and many of the classrooms are missing basic essentials like blackboards, desks, and even doors. Even more critical is the school’s lack of means to hire more Khmer teachers. Many of the teachers are long-term volunteers, but Khmer teachers are desperately needed to teach in the younger classes.

Myself and fellow volunteer, Marta, have put together this campaign to raise money for this renovation project. We have a final goal of $3,500, but have set a tipping point of $2,500. If we can’t raise $2,500 within the next 30 days, then we will not receive any of the funds donated and will be unable to do any renovation on the school.

I am personally committing to match all donations up to $100 by my friends and family members, to ensure that we reach our goal. You can help in two ways: donating directly to the campaign or sharing the link and the information about it with your friends and families.

View the Campaign Here (Yes, the video is narrated by me!)

Thank you for your support! It is greatly appreciated. 😀

Weekend in Battambang

A week late is better than never, right? Last weekend, Jaimie and I traveled together to Battambong. We left Friday afternoon and arrived that evening after a nearly 7 hour bus ride. This post is about our adventures in the provincial capital.

Originally, we were planning on staying at Here Be Dragons, but they had to close their dorms for a few days and had to cancel our reservation. So instead, we ended up at Ganesha Guesthouse. The worst two nights of sleep I’ve had yet were at Ganesha, though its very true that you get what you paid for. The dorm we stayed in was hot and stuffy, with no circulation to speak of. The male owner of the guesthouse was pretty abrupt, so we decided to head over to HBD for dinner. They decided to compensate our cancelled reservation with free drinks, so we had to go claim them.

We had a pretty great dinner and had a great time chatting with the staff and a few other patrons. The atmosphere at HBD was really chill, and if we had one regret from the weekend, it’s that we weren’t able to stay there. Despite a rough night in near unbearable heat and a run in with “bed bugs” (they were flies, but still gross), we were ready for Saturday.

On Saturday, we hired a tuk tuk driver for the day to take us to some of the sites to see outside of the city. On the way to Wat Banan, we made a few smaller stops at the “Golden Gate Bridge” of Battambang, a fishing village, and a winery. It was a nice look at the Cambodian countryside; definitely something that my dad would have loved had he been there.

Wat Banan predates the temples of Angkor, but man’s desire to put their temples on the highest point possible is timeless. To see the ruins, you had to climb 358 steps up the side of a mountain. I had hoped that my daily trips up and down 4 flights of stairs at Mr. Lim’s house would have built up my stamina enough, but that wasn’t the case. I was huffing and puffing the whole way up, but it was well worth it for the view. Being able to look out over the countryside and the valleys was simply breathtaking. The ruins themselves were interesting, though there wasn’t as much to look at as I had hoped. We went down the same stairs that we went up and were able to have a small, shared lunch before heading to our next destination.

One very bumpy tuk tuk ride later, we were at the base of another mountain, Phnom Sampeu. Rather than climb the almost 800 steps to the top, we opted to hire a moto to drive us up instead. There is a wat at the top of this mountain, but it is more commonly known for The Killing Caves. According to the guide who showed us the cave, more than 10,000 people were killed here by the Khmer Rouge, many by being pushed into the deep caves that are scattered throughout the mountain. We were shown one cave where a memorial stupa had been set up. Similar to the stupa at The Killing Fields south of Phnom Penh, this one also had some of the bones of the victims on display. Just like the Killing Fields, it was impossible to not feel overwhelmed by the horrors that had occurred there, and what the people of Cambodia have had to recover from.

We were taken further up the mountain afterwards, to the pagoda that sits atop the summit. The views from Wat Banan were breathtaking, but they weren’t anything compared to this. You could see for miles in all directions. We were able to explore the pagoda and then just spent quite a bit of time simply enjoying the view, including watching the sun set into the clouds over a group of mountains that we learned were called “Crocodile Mountain” and “Chicken & Duck Mountains” based on an old legend.

Just after sunset, we rode down the mountain back to our tuk tuk to wait for the last event of our day in the countryside. An incredibly large colony of bats live in one of the caves in the side of the mountain, and after sunset, they leave for the night to go eat insects in the surrounding fields and woods. The sheer number of bats was astounding – I wouldn’t doubt the estimates that there are more than one million bats living in that cave. We were able to watch them leave from their cave for more than 10 minutes and take a short tuk tuk ride to the main highway where we could see the bats flying in a line above the horizon and watch them for another 10 minutes. I’ve seen bat colonies fly together before, but never like this.

Once we were back in Battambang, we cleaned up and then headed back to Here Be Dragons for dinner. On Saturday nights, they have a barbecue and on that particular night, they had a 14 piece brass band playing. They were pretty good and it was great watching everybody singing and dancing along. It was a wonderful way to end a fantastic day.

Sunday morning, we left for the bus station and headed back home to Phnom Penh. Buses in Cambodia are notorious for breaking down, and unfortunately my luck ran out on this trip. At the height of the afternoon heat, our air condition broke and after driving with the door open for about 15 minutes, the driver pulled over to fix it. We hung out on the side of the road for almost an hour, but eventually it did get fixed and we were able to get on our way and still make it back to the Lim’s in time for dinner.

I’ve only got 3 full weeks left in Cambodia before I head home, so Battambang was my second to last trip out into the country. I’ll be spending this weekend in Phnom Penh, and then next weekend, Jaimie and I are disconnecting from the rest of the world for a weekend and headed to Koh Rong Soleom. Have to get some tan lines before I head back! Hard to believe that my time here is almost over, though. I’m excited to go back, but I will definitely be leaving a piece of my heart in Cambodia.