Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas

Alaska wilderness, cross-country voyaging and hitch-hiking, living in a van… and a mountain of college debt. Ken Ilgunas writes Walden on Wheels as a memoir of how he lived a minimalist life and worked tirelessly in difficult conditions in order to climb out of debt and into financial freedom, all while adventuring and attaining higher education.

Let’s take a quick step back and talk about student loan debt, because honestly that is the core motivator for Ken’s decisions in this book. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the national student loan debt is 1.41 TRILLION US dollars, spread among 44.2 million people. That’s more than the national credit card debt ($620 million among 196.8 million people). The average 20-30 year old pays somewhere between $200 – $350 every month to pay off their education, and most plans have the borrower paying off the debt in ten years, though the average bachelor’s degree takes twice as long to repay. I don’t know about you, but I find these stats both staggering and yet, unsurprising. It’s easy to spot the catch 22 of paying for an educational degree so that you can get a high enough paying job, just to pay off the degree. As a holder of an associate’s, I had a well-meaning professor ask, after explaining I couldn’t afford a bachelor’s, “Ah, but can you afford not to get your bachelor’s?” Image result for Student debt

College is expensive, and the job market is tough (don’t get me started on the ignorant adage of “lazy millennials”), making it difficult to find employment that can allow rapid repayment of student debt, while also maintaining a comfortable state of living. What I mean by that is, most college grads want to get a job, move out of their childhood home, and be able to afford things like utilities, a car, clothes, and social entertainment. This is where Ken (and a few of his friends/acquaintances) have decided to make extreme decisions in order to repay their debt- by cutting out the comfortable state of living.

Ken decided that instead of being like many average people, he wanted to repay his student loans as quickly as possible, instead of living with a looming $32,000 of debt. He just finished up his liberal arts bachelor’s degree, and was working at Home Depot. His paycheck would only chip away at his debt, and he wasn’t content with the stale life he was living- he wanted adventure, and didn’t know how he could possibly afford to travel. So he decided to abandon the middle-class comfRelated imageorts he was used to, quit his job, and got hired in Coldfoot, AK (population: 35).

From there, he learned how to live minimally, and because his food and lodging were paid for, and he had no other bills except his debt, he put every paycheck earned towards his loans. From there, Ken’s motivation stayed strong despite many difficult days in extreme temperatures, and he stayed in Alaska. His debt rapidly declined paycheck to paycheck, and he came to a point where he decided he wanted to be mentally challenged again. This lead him on many journeys- each one filled with just as much adventure as the first-  and back to college as a graduate student. Image result for ken ilgunas

Ken had paid off his debt, but taking on grad school would easily put him back in the red with the costs, so he decided that he would become a vandweller- living in a Ford Econoline in the Duke parking lot on less than four grand in his savings account. It wasn’t easy, but Ken knew that by graduation, he would have his masters and be debt-free if he succeeded. He also knew that above all, the most important thing he had learned was:

“We need so little to be happy. Happiness does not come from things. Happiness comes from living a full and exciting life.” – Ken Ilgunas

Ilgunas shares his story, which is both gripping, entertaining, conversationally written, and openly honest, to his readers, whom odds show have probably been in or are currently enduring the struggle to pay off their student loans. For me, he has rekindled my motivation to repay my own debts, which I’ve been slowly knocking out for the past six years. I’m on target to have them paid off in four more, but after reading Ilgunas’ story, I feel that if he can live so extremely, I can surely cut back more spending and put more towards my own debt mountain. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Walden on Wheels, and urge you all to give it glance. If you’re like me, you’ll be pulled in from the first chapter!

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Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Ooooh you guys, if you haven’t read this poetry by Kaur, you are missing out! I had seen this all over bookstagram, and wasn’t sure if I should believe in all the hype, but Milk and Honey is certainly worth reading. I snagged it on Kindle, and I will definitely be finding myself a hard copy.

Kaur’s compliation of poetry is broken down into four parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. Each section is equally sensual, honest, and powerful, yet has it’s own tone that reflects the title part it resides in. The imagery is aided with simplistic illustrations that either represent the poem, or are actually part of the poem. I love that as I’m a visual person, and I found the artistry two-fold. Not only can Kaur stun you with her words, but she can also stun with her drawings- impressive in my book (no pun intended).

Themes within the poems include relationships, loss, abuse, love, encouragement, and healing. I found the format interesting- each poem is written in small caps with no punctuation or capitalization, but italics are used for specific emphasis. Also, each poem is written out, then, signature style, signed with a title at the end as either as a dedication or sort of summary of the poem. There are also some really steamy poems, so be ready to blush! It’s hard to choose a favorite poem because they’re all lovely in their own way. If I had to pick a top three, I really loved women of color, to the reader, and the one about apologizing for calling women pretty.

It’s an entirely beautiful collection that I’ll be adding to my personal library, and I’ll certainly be looking to pick up more books from her. I highly recommend you read it as well. Again, I hope I’ve done justice reviewing this collection!

The Barefoot Summer by Carolyn Brown

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One man, three wives, and a murder. Kate has been married to Conrad Steele for fourteen years, twelve of them unhappily. Jamie has been married to him for seven years, and had her daughter Gracie. Amanda married him seven months ago, and is expecting his baby. All of them share the same anniversary, December 30th, just seven years apart, and yet they didn’t know about each other until Conrad’s funeral. Determined to get to the bottom of the murder is Waylon, a good looking investigator who was trying to give up his career to work on his family farm. Unfortunately, his plans get interrupted as he tries to figure out who killed Conrad.

Kate, Jamie, and Amanda all flock to the cabin that Conrad honeymooned them in, each one trying to stake a claim on the place. Kate believes as the first wife, it’s hers. Jamie wants it to pass down to Gracie, Conrad’s eldest child. Amanda claims it as hers, as the last wife, believing that there must be divorce paperwork somewhere with Kate and Jamie’s names on them. As they each get used to each other existing, not just in the same living space but as actual wives conned by the same husband, they start to look into the mystery of Conrad’s death. Image result for cabin texas

Kate does a lot of investigating, and finds some interesting information buried in the back of a drawer in the cabin. Documents stashed by the previous wife showed that the wife learned what kind of man Conrad was after they were married, and witness from the neighbors certainly pegged his character. Yet, there is something about Waylon that makes Kate hesitate to confide her investigative work to him.

Kate, Jamie, and Amanda eventually find themselves enjoying each other’s company and the surrounding little town of Bootleg, and each can easily find reason to stay. As they spend the summer together, they each find out what they really want out of their lives, despite awaiting their names to be cleared, and they learn that though their marriages were a sham, they were still family in a way.

This is the first I’ve read from Carolyn Brown, and I enjoyed reading about the conned women and their mysterious murdered ex. I thought the author pulled things together well, and though the pace was slow and redundant at times, there was great dialogue and character personality to shine through and keep moving the story along. It was easy to be the reader observing these women as each chapter clearly showed who’s point of view was in focus, and there was some great foreshadowing and symbolism when it came to footwear, which I found very clever. If you need a light summer read, I’d definitely check it out!

 

 

 

F’ HIM: Nice Girls Always Finish Single by Brian Nox (aka Brian Keephimattracted)

I’m sure you read the title of this one and thought “What?!” Well, let me explain. This was a freebie off Kindle, and I thought it was going to be more satirical than the book actually was. As a chronic singleton, I thought this may be entertaining, and maybe there would be something slightly cerebral in there that I might be able to use, but alas…

So I start reading, and first and foremost, this book is urging mental mind f*ckery, not physical f*ckery. That’s um, nice. Personally, I don’t think mind games are very constructive, but hey, let’s here this guy out.

Nox insists that men like having their mind messed around with, and that mental manipulation is something they unknowingly are drawn to. He also goes through many points about how when you are passive and not controlling, it’s the reason why you are single. Literally the whole damn book is about how to play mental games, how to control a man with suggestives and not demands, and how to manipulate them so their ego doesn’t get bruised and the women still gets what she wants.

Is anyone else rolling their eyes yet?

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It was a short read (130 pages), so I did read the whole thing, but not even a quarter of the way through, I was sick of hearing how a woman can go from low-value to a high-value in a mans eyes by acting and speaking a certain way. And to be fair, the author even stated in the beginning, “You can expect me to step on your toes here and there throughout this book.” I kept thinking, this HAS to be satire. This guy HAS to be joking. He thinks telling women how to act so that they can be in a relationship, or keep their man satisfied by mindf*cking them, is worthy of 130 pages?

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Needless to say, I don’t recommend the singletons give this a read. 100% disclosure, I did not take to the streets with this dating advice to test it out, so maybe it works for some, but for me, I have seen plenty of strong relationships built on respect and honesty, and I’d rather emulate that than what I’ve read per Nox. I understand that probably puts me in his “nice girl, low value” category, but guess what? To that I say, f<3ck him.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Today’s review lends courtesy to the Not Your Momma’s Book Club, as it was the group’s book pick for the month. I thought it sounded like an interesting historical fiction novel, which you all know I love, so I was pretty excited to read it. The only problem was, it’s such a recent release that I ended up being like, 62nd on the hold list at my library, and I don’t like paying for new books when I don’t know if I’ll like the author or the book for sure. So I thought, well maybe an e-book or Audible had a cheaper copy. Negative on the e-book, but lo and behold, I hadn’t signed up for the free 30-day trial of Audible (this is not a promo)! So, I did that and downloaded Before We Were Yours, my first Audible download. It took me a little to get used to the narrator’s voices, but once I got into the story, I couldn’t stop listening.

The book alternates between Memphis, TN in the 1930’s and present time in Aiken, SC between characters Rill and Avery.

In the 1930’s, Rill Foss is twelve-year old girl, who lives in a shanty boat, the Arcadia, on the Mississippi river with her parents, Queenie and Brownie, and her four younger siblings- Camilla, Fern, Lark, and Gabian. They live a simple life on the river, and evoke the magic of nature, love, and music within the family. One stormy night, her mother goes into labor, and Rill stays nearby with Brownie and the midwife, witnessing her mother struggle to deliver twins. It’s a difficult birth, and even the midwife insists on getting her to a hospital before mother and babies lose their lives. Torn about leaving the children and going out into the storm with Queenie in such a state, but finding no alternative, Brownie leaves Rill in charge of her young siblings. Shortly there after, the local police raid the river town of the local children and bring the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, deeming them orphans and falsifying paperwork and information. Desperately, Rill tries to keep her siblings together but it’s a futile challenge. The woman who runs the home is a child trafficker- kidnapping, scamming, scheming, blackmailing, and brokering these children to wealthy upper-class and high profile couples. Though the children know the truth, they are beaten, punished, and threatened into submission, or if they continue to deny their “new identities”, they suspiciously die or disappear, never to be heard from again. Rill knows that she has to get back to the Arcadia with her siblings, no matter what the sacrifice.

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In present day Aiken, Avery Stafford is a poised, educated, ambitious and savvy lawyer, raised in a political family and groomed to follow in her senator father’s footsteps. Her parents and her have a complicated relationship, as they are more traditional, having expected her to go to college and get a “MRS. degree” and settle down, like her sisters. Avery is engaged, but she’s comfortable with her fiancé, and they aren’t in a rush to the altar. However, when her father’s health starts to decline from cancer, she’s under a lot of pressure to start making decisions- about her wedding and her career path. She decided to spend some time away from her life in Washington, DC to help with her father’s platform appearances in Aiken, and the discussion about nursing home care comes up. While visiting a local home, she meets a woman named May Weathers, who happens to know Avery’s grandmother, Judy. Finding this odd, since her grandmother’s altzhiemer’s has catastrophically impacted her social outings and Avery had never heard of May before, she visits Judy, only to find more questions than answers. She knows there is a secret in her grandmother’s past, and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth. Time is of the essence, and she needs to find answers before her grandmother’s secret is lost in the past.

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I finished the audiobook a few days prior to writing the review, because I needed some time to digest this one. The things that Rill and her siblings went through are absolutely horrendous to me, and it made me ill to know that though this story is a work of fiction, it’s based off the true accounts of survivors that were adopted out by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. It’s a heavy subject to handle, and the novel is haunting. Wingate’s story, right down to the last page of her author’s note, had me in an emotional choke hold. There were moments when I know I made audible gasps, clenched my fists, and released sighs of relief. The suspense of the story lines are wagered just so, revealing everything piece by piece until things come full circle in the end.

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The Dogs I Have Kissed by Trista Mateer

Bookstagram has been opened my eyes to a lot of great authors and books, and most surprisingly, poetry. I used to dabble in poetry when I was in elementary school, but it was mostly forced by my ‘gifted and talented’ teachers, and the subject always steered towards horses, haha. I loved writing, but poetry didn’t stick. I also wasn’t a huge fan of reading poetry- probably the serious lack of equine-themed work, LOL- and so I’ve seriously lagged in my education. Scrolling through booksta one day, I saw Trista Mateer’s images, quotes and captions from The Dogs I Have Kissed. I had to follow her, and every quote just seemed so emotional and relatable. I figured, since I was already hooked, I needed the book.

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Finally getting around to it, The Dogs I Have Kissed is a provocative, hard hitting, heart wrenching series of poems that I think, if not all, at least one of which people could relate to. Topics include parental abandonment, sexuality, exes and past relationships, and religion, each with twists, innuendo, and potency.

Bite is the first section, and it delivers exactly that. I found it interesting that many of the poems have a mention of mouths in there, conveying seduction and blunt language, though this does continue on into other sections- just less often. The next section, titled Growl, has a collection of gritty poems that seem to reveal a little more about Mateer- not that she seems to be hiding much, as she doesn’t seem to hold back the details. The third section, Roll Over, shares a few more reflective pieces and ends with a long poem that really sums up the the relationships discussed throughout the poems in the book- with no tidy ends, but at least a sense of understanding of where the poet stood by the end. Also, I love how the dog theme flows throughout- the titles of each section, the main title, the references within the poems.

Most of the poems are relatively short, with only a handful spanning over two pages. Obviously, reading poems is relatively fast paced just because of their length, but Mateer still makes the short ones pack a punch. They create a strong impact, full of emotion and clearly getting across certain imagery. For example, titled 4/23:

“I don’t know how to exist properly

in the same space as someone

I don’t love anymore.” – Trista Mateer

It’s only three lines, but it’s one powerful statement. Yet all the poems have this conversational, confession-like quality to them as well. I think that’s what has drawn me to them- that they are content similar to what I’ve either discussed with friends, or thought myself, or in some cases, haven’t even thought to contemplate. They’re blunt and honest. I don’t do favorites, but I really loved Improper Emergency Procedure, and the series of Texts I Shouldn’t Have Sent to My Ex.

Overall, I highly recommend buying yourself a copy. You’ll want to read her work over and over again, so it’s definitely worth adding to your personal collection. I hope my review has done justice for a beautiful collection!

 

The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

This was a recommendation from my KY bestie, who told me about this book over a meal one day. We both love reading things that expand our mind, and help us learn more about ourselves, so when we find something good we love to share it! I downloaded this as an audiobook from Hoopla, in connection with my local library, so I’m going to review it from that stance.

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The Untethered Soul is about quieting the inner voice inside your mind, and learning how to create peace within. As I listened to the narrator (Singer), who’s voice is really soothing but still animated enough to keep you awake, he discusses how we all have a running dialogue with ourselves, our own personal thoughts, and the variations of those thoughts. I know it’s a little confusing, but the way Singer describes it, “You are not the voice of the mind- you are the one who hears it.” There is always an inner dialogue running in your mind, and it’s perfectly normal to hear that voice and argue with it internally. But Singer discusses how, with practice, you can quiet the inner monologue and really live in the moment, without narration.

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Singer shares some history behind the path to finding inner peace, and that included background on yoga practice and Sanskrit teachings, as well as the people who have adopted these practices and techniques. He reminds everyone that they don’t need to go off on an ashram retreat (a la Eat, Pray, Love) in order to practice these techniques either- you can do these practices at home, and just putting forth a little effort on a regular basis will help build your mental strength to let go of the inner voice. In chapter seven, he discussed feelings and how thoughts create these feelings. Those feelings make it hard to let go, but if you change the way you internalize them within your thinking process, you can change the way you feel about those thoughts. He states,

“When you feel pain, simply view it as energy. Just start seeing these inner experiences as energy passing through your heart and before the eye of your consciousness. Then relax…Relax your shoulders and relax your heart. Let go and give room for the pain to pass through you. It’s just energy. Just see it as energy and let it go.”

 

I also really liked the last chapter, which talks about how the biggest thing that makes us appreciate life, is death. We learn a lot from death, and Singer describes the various ways in which being more in tune with the current moment, and not being so lost within our own thoughts, can cause us to have a more fulfilling life. He talked about how wise old men are more accepting of death because they don’t fear it, knowing they have no regrets of not doing enough, or seeing enough, or not experiencing enough. They have learned how to live in the moment, not within their minds.

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It’s a very spiritual book, and it may not be for everybody, but I enjoyed listening to Singer, and contemplating my own contemplation! I’ve always been curious about how the mind works, how we express ourselves, and how the inner voice inside my own head interprets the things I experience. I also related The Untethered Soul with a podcast I’ve been listening to a lot, called Unf*ck Your Brain with Kara Loewentheil. Both Singer and Loewentheil made similar points about how your thoughts influence your emotions, and how to change your thoughts to achieve happiness. The biggest difference is the language they each use- Singer is more spiritual, and Loewentheil is more modern and scientific. Both are fascinating, and each have given me some homework to help my mental wellness. If you are interested in mental coaching, then I advise giving them both a listen.