Fare Thee Well

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This story starts a year and a half ago with my best friend, Bear. He was a great dog, and he went on many adventures with my wife and me. We loved him very much. This was, until like all of our furry friends must eventually do, he passed away. It was a devastating blow to us and even though this happened a year ago last February, there still isn’t a day that goes by when I think about his smiling face, his joy of walks and chasing squirrels, and his love of food. Like all animals, there were some things he did that annoyed me, but now these are the things I miss the most.

Even though this story starts with the passing of Bear, it is not about him. This was just the catalyst that caused Christine and me to make a life-changing decision. As I have mentioned before, Christine and I love to travel the world. It is a lot of fun to see other cultures, but when you visit a place you are not really experiencing everything that the place has to offer. You are not really absorbing yourself in the culture and you come home knowing something new about the world, but you still feel like you are missing something. The only way to truly experience a culture is to go and live in that country. This is something Christine and I always talked about doing some day. We are both in education and we knew that there were many great opportunities overseas. There was only one thing stopping us from doing it, Bear.

There was no way we would have left Bear behind. He meant too much to us. We couldn’t take him with us either. Too often in these overseas excursions, the country won’t allow you to have your dog with your right away. In many countries, they will quarantine your pet for up to six months before you can enjoy their company again. I couldn’t do this to Bear. He would have been miserable living in a cage while Christine and I were free to roam the world around us. We were happy to enjoy Bear in Colorado while keeping the idea of working overseas in the back of our minds. This was until he passed away. Then this dream of ours started to grow again. We could now look for jobs overseas, and this is exactly what we did.

The process for looking for teaching jobs overseas is long and complicated and I won’t bore you with the details. But in February, Christine and I were able to land positions at Korea International School in Seoul. This started the process of saying goodbye to our loved ones.

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It is a scary prospect letting go of everything that you have become familiar with, but in life, you really don’t live unless you do this from time to time. This is exactly what Christine and I did. Just as the wise Transcendentalist stated we simplified, simplified, simplified. I had been preaching this message to my students for years, but I never knew how liberating the process of doing this was. Of course, the process of simplifying is complicated. It takes a lot to get rid of the big things in your life, but at the same time it shows you how much junk you truly own. We had two garage sales and sold both of our cars and our house.

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It was the most liberating experience in my life. You never realize how much your possessions own you instead of the other way around until you get rid of them all. A house needs constant care. Things fall apart, and grass continues to grow. Even though you would love to let it go, society won’t let you do that because it does not conform to the expectations of people they have created. A car is the same thing. We put too much stock into these things believing that we can not live without them. Even though, at times, they make life easier and bring us closer together, they are constantly demanding our attention. They want you to clean them, both on the inside and the outside. They scream for gas at least once a week, and if that wasn’t enough, you do have to take time out of your busy schedule to maintain them. Even though it was hard to give these creature comforts up, each time we did, a weight lifted off our shoulders that we never knew was there. We were happier people without all of these possessions possessing us.

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As the process continued, we found that everything we needed fit into a couple of bags and a few boxes. In fact, before we sold off our last car, we were able to load everything in the back of our Subaru Outback to travel across and do the thing that was more important than the accumulation of things, seeing the ones that we loved so we could say, “Fare thee well.”

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I was raised in Colorado, and this is where Christine and I had lived together for the past thirteen years. It was hard to say goodbye because this is what I’ve always known. Even though I have lived a couple of times in California, I don’t have any memories of that place. All of my experiences have taken place in one of the most beautiful states within the U.S.A.

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It is where my family lives.

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It is where my friends are.

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It is where I have worked my whole life.

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It was not going to be easy to say goodbye. I know I will miss many aspects of living on the Front Range. I will no longer be able to find west by searching for the outline of the mountains. I will no longer be able to go on extended hikes through some of the greatest terrain that this world has to offer. I won’t be able to ski through the powdery slopes of the Rocky Mountains. I won’t be able to order a Mountain Pie at Beau Jo’s. I won’t be able to stuff myself with the cholesterol packed burgers at Crave. I won’t be able to find green chili to smother my burrito with. I won’t be able to cheer on my Broncos with my friends on a Sunday afternoon. There are a lot of things I will miss from my hometown.

Then why would I leave it? Because I find danger in complacency. Yes, all of these things made me comfortable and I was happy within this feeling. But if I didn’t get out of my comfort zone, I would never grow as a person. I would have stopped at that moment in my life where I had a two car garage attached to a house that slowly filled itself up a little more every year. I really do believe that we need to purge every once in a while in our lives and go find some place that makes us struggle a little bit. This is how we grow as people. If we find ourselves in a comfortable position we are no longer living.

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Of course, not everybody feels the same way that I do. Some people have a hard time with change because it requires them to visit the unknown. Not every change goes smoothly. Sometimes it is a big mistake that you wish you never took the risk on, but sometimes it takes you to a place that is better than any you have ever experienced before. But you can’t take the unwilling on the voyage that you go on, and you need to respect their decision to stay where they are at. At the same time, I couldn’t just leave without saying goodbye. This is why Christine and I took the trip across the country to say goodbye. Otherwise, we would have the same problem with the ones we loved that Cooper has now.

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Yes, Cooper is another dog. He is the loyal companion of Christine’s parents who live in Portland. His best friend in the world was Bear. They had a mutual respect for each other, and Bear was one of the few dogs that Cooper would go out and play with. This was probably because they had spent a lot of time together. Christine and I would go out and spend a month with her parents every summer. This is one of the perks of being in the education field, and Bear was able to benefit from it. Cooper loved having another dog in the house with him, and Bear got to believe that he was the alpha dog by being around Cooper. It was a match made in Heaven.

The problem came when we visited Cooper the next summer after Bear had passed. Cooper came running out of the house to greet us after we had arrived. He jumped all over us and then started looking behind us. It was the greatest greeting we had ever received from him, and at first we couldn’t understand why. Then it hit us as he looked in our car and all around our baggage. Cooper was looking for Bear. It was the one friend that he always felt comfortable with.

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But Cooper’s problem is humanity’s problem. We are all looking for that moment that makes us comfortable. It is a nice feeling to be comfortable with the ones we are with, but reality is that we can’t always find ourselves in that position. If we expect ourselves to always be comfortable then in fact we will never be able to achieve that high standard of living. The fact that we can’t achieve this in our lives will make us feel uncomfortable all the time. This is what happens with Cooper. There are very few people, and even fewer dogs he can find companionship with. He always comes across as being a little nervous, and any small change to his environment will set off nervous ticks within him. This constant alert feeling never allows him to unwind and enjoy the world he is in. He needs everything to be perfect before he can let himself go and just enjoy the moment.

We can learn something from this behavior. We need to quit finding that perfect place of true comfort and instead try to find comfort in the uncomfortable situations. I am trying to take it even further by no longer searching for the comfortable situation, but instead the one that makes me uncomfortable. This will allow me to explore the world that we live in, and recognize that my culture is not the only one there is. It is a humbling experience to do this, and I will learn not only a lot about myself, but also the people who I meet along the way. I will learn about their beliefs, passions, and cultures. This new perspective on life has been inspiring over the last couple of months and I am excited to see where it takes me.

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It leaves a lot of questions about my daily routine. The way I used to organize my day in the past has been destroyed, and I have been searching for a new routine. I will admit that sometimes I fall back into my old one, but the way my life is structured now, this is not always possible. The world looks different now because of it. The little things that I would have missed in the past become spectacular and I find myself looking at the world as a whole.

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My Fare Thee Well travels took me to San Francisco where I got to spend a few days taking in the sights. I have been here before so many of the touristy areas I had been to earlier. I needed to find new little corners of the city that I had not seen before. Because my mission was to find these nooks, I was able to discover a beach that I never knew existed. Of course, I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge before. It is impossible to go to San Francisco and not find this landmark, but I always stood at the doorstep of this marvel and tried to find the best way to take a picture of its magnificence. It is impossible to do from the tiny park that most cars stop at before they make the trek across the bridge. But in my wanderings I was able to see the view that you find on all of the postcards. If you want to see this view, you have to go to the North Beach. I wandered there by mistake because I was looking for the Presidio. It was a place I heard about on my last trip to the city by the bay, but I had never seen it. I’m glad that I went in search for it because I would not have experienced this view with the fresh salt water air filling up my lungs if I had not taken that chance.

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Of course some of the places remained the same as the last time I saw them. It might have been a different set of tourists taking pictures of Lumbar Street, but the principle remained the same. The cars lined up to take their turns winding down the street, and the people who watched wondered what it would be like to live on such a spectacle.

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Other places put me in the uncomfortable situation that I had been looking for. I took a short trip over the Bay Bridge to watch a baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum. Some people might wonder why that would be an uncomfortable situation, but the folks from Denver know that this is walking into the lion’s den. It would have been a little more dangerous if I had worn my Bronco’s gear, but I wanted to return to my bed at the hostel that night, so I elected to wear a green and gold t-shirt, and blend in by buying an A’s baseball cap as soon as I got there. I almost wish I had taken that chance because it would have made for a more interesting experience.

I had gotten a ticket in the cheapest seats I could find, the bleachers. I didn’t know that this is where the craziest A’s fans gathered to watch a game. One of my goals in life is to see a baseball game in every stadium, and even though I have only been to five stadiums so far, I would have to say that the Oakland A’s fans are the most passionate about their team. I know I have caused some people to stand up and puff up their chests to prove me wrong, but keep in mind I have 25 stadiums to still go. When I saw the game, the A’s were at the bottom of their division, and still they had a lot of people at the stadium. Where I was sitting, they had brought flags to wave, they had cheers that they performed, and the camaraderie among the people had me believe that they were about to win the World Series. I just sat back and enjoyed the whole experience.

This brings me to the man who took that chance that I didn’t take. The Oakland A’s were playing the Kansas City Royals that night. With the Royals being in the World Series last year, fans started to emerge from every corner of the United States. One such fan decided to attend the game that night, and he was determined to show every person in the bleacher section what a fan he was. In a sea of green and gold stood this lone person wearing white and blue. He was even bold enough to jump up among those in attendance as he cheered for his team loudly. It didn’t help that his team was winning the game. There were many A’s fans who wanted to take this guy behind a shed and beat him until his face matched the color of his hat. The amazing thing was he was able to overcome this adversity and endure himself to those around him. By the end of the game, he had become friends with those around him, and it added a little fun to the game. The fans now had a person that could fuel a rivalry for them and spark their competitive nature. He was able to create a moment, not only for himself, but also for all those who attended the game by willing to feel uncomfortable for a while.

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I learned a lot from that Kansas City fan. We need to take those chances in our lives. Though the path through the woods may be daunting, we don’t know what we will find around the corner, but we need to be up for that challenge. We might run into a crazed group of fans that wish to pummel us, or we could find that moment in nature we weren’t expecting to find.

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The further we walk away from our door, the more we experience. The people that are willing to do this are the interesting people that you meet in life. They are the ones who have adventures all the time and these are the ones whose lifestyle you covet. You wonder why these same kind of adventures do not present themselves to you, but the thing is, you too can have these adventures. It is all a matter of choice.

Are you the type of person who has to have their cell phones with them at all times? Is your greatest desire to make it home so you can continue to participate in the video game you haven’t finished playing yet, or to continue watching the television show you are binge watching on Netflix? Do you need to spend your weekends making sure that your home is clean in case some visitor decides to drop by? If you said yes to any or all of these questions, then you are probably one of those people who find themselves jealous of others who happen to have strange things happen to them. You need to quit worrying about these small things so much and go outside of your house to see what adventures you might find.

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There is a whole world out there to explore, but it takes those first steps out of your door before you can go out and find what the world has to offer. But this is not enough. You need to sometimes take a right when you usually take a left. Try new things and it will make your life more rewarding. At first the large things will present themselves to you.

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Then you’ll find places that you never knew existed.

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If you keep on looking and following this philosophy, you will start to see the small things pop up, and every moment will become one of joy because you will be experiencing something new every time you go out your door.

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Even though this is a story about saying goodbye to the ones we love, it is also a story of saying hello to a new adventure. It is time for a change in my life, and if I am going to make a change, I am going to make sure that it is so big that it will be a remarkable milestone I will always look back upon with great fondness. I will miss Colorado and all of the people and terrain that makes it a wonderful place to live. I will also miss all of the people and places that make Oregon such a wonderful place to visit every summer. But I cannot continue to do the same thing all the time. I will come back again next summer to revisit these people and places, but for now I need to go in search of an adventure.

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I also miss Bear every day, and the smallest things remind me of his smiling face.

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But I am also grateful for the opportunity that his passing has given me. It is time that Christine and I go off to Korea to teach students there and learn about the way they see the world. For those we leave behind, collect those stories so when we meet again we can tell them to each other and laugh and enjoy the moment that we are given. Until then, Fare Thee Well, and have an amazing year. I know that I will.

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The Best Short Stories

harrison bergeron

#1 – “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

In a nation where we fight for equality, knowing that we are not all equal is a bitter pill to swallow. It is the differences in us that make us great. In typical Vonnegut style, the king of post-modern literature explores these differences in a world where society tries to push for equality. It is a quick read that will make you laugh at the absurd notion of what would happen if we tried for this goal, but look at the world around you and wonder if perhaps we have not already moved ourselves into this dystopian nightmare. You will never forget the tragic fate of Harrison Bergeron or the lesson his story has to tell to us. It is for this reason that it achieves the number one spot.

Tell Tale Heart

#2 – “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

This has been one of my favorite stories over the years to teach. It holds a lot of suspense with it, and you can see how that suspense grows with each beat of the heart. But the fun thing about this story is that the eye can also be synonymous with “I” which puts a completely different twist on the intention of the story, and what Edgar Allan Poe actually thinks about himself.

A good man is hard to find

#3 – “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner

Flannery O’Conner has a brilliant way of bringing out the darkness in humanity while writing about the southern parts of the United States. Each of her stories have complex characters and intricate plots. This story is probably the best example of what she is able to accomplish with her prose.

This Year's Class Picture

#4 – “This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons

After looking at the other stories on this list, some of you might wonder what this story is, and why it is not as big as the others that made the cut. You would expect to have at least heard of the story that made it this high on the list. I would tend to agree with you, but you should take the time to seek this story out and read it. Dan Simmons’s “This Year’s Class Picture” is destined to become a classic. Yes, many of you might disregard it as a piece of zombie literature that deserves a place on the pile of pulp fiction rubbish, but if you have ever taught a class, you will understand what is at the heart of this story. I have given this story to many teachers, ranging from high school to elementary, from math to English, from traditional to alternative, and they have all come back and said that this is their favorite story. It was written for them; therefore, they can make the connection to its profound message. Even if you are not a teacher, you should still read this story because you will start to see what motivates America’s educators to do what they do.

The Lottery

#5 – “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

With all of the dystopian literature that is plaguing the bookshelves of American bookstores, it is hard to remember a time when these profound stories were only limited to a few great examples. This short story was one of the best in the short story drama. It told the story of a horror that is a little too close to the world that we live in.

The Pit and the Pendulum

#6 – “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe

The master of story telling shows up again on this list with a tale of pure terror. To even imagine yourself in the same position as the protagonist in this story will give you nightmares for the rest of your life. It is a perfect example of how gothic literature can mix with pure terror to give one of the most heart-pounding experiences ever printed on the page.

A rose for emily

#7 – “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

On the surface, this story looks like an innocent portrait of an eccentric woman who has spent her life hiding in the shadows of a small town in Mississippi. But there is a reason that the term applied to William Faulkner’s body of work is Southern Gothic. Look below the surface of this story and discover the truth of what is hidden there. It hides in the shadows just as Emily does, and when you find it, you will see that there is no innocence to this tale.

The masque of the red death

#8 – “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

One of the more political stories by Edgar Allan Poe shows up here. At the heart of this story is a class system that believed that even they could cheat death, but in the end, death will come for all. It is a humbling story that reminds us that in the eyes of some the supernatural beings out there that we are all equal.

to build a fire

#9 – “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

If the heat of summer is starting to bug you, pick up a copy of this story and start to read. Soon after the opening paragraph you will feel a chill in the room, and by the time you finish its tragic ending, you will be curled up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate warming your hands. The chilly mood that Jack London creates in this classic is not the only genius held within its words. There is a battle of man against nature, and the real lesson to be learned is that nature will always win.

The Open Boat

#10 – “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane

Often credited as the best example of Realism ever written, Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” will leave you just as tired as the group of sailors that attempt to find their way to shore in a tiny boat as the battle the wrath that only nature can throw at man.

the yellow wallpaper

#11 – “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

When this story first appeared in The New England Magazine in January of 1892, the treatment for mental illness was still in its infancy. The diagnosis alone could have been part of the problem. Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses this issue to frame her haunting story, but her true intention about a woman confined to a room with maddening wallpaper comes to light at the end of the tale. It leaves the reader will an impression of the world at that time, and shows how the fight for women’s rights has progressed over the ages. This story is still relevant today, and can be analyzed at many different levels, thereby giving it the number five spot.

The Monkey's Paw

#12 – “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs

Beware of what you wish for because it might actually come true. This sentiment is at the heart of W.W. Jacobs’s macabre tale about a family that is given three wishes. The real question behind the story though is whether these wishes were actually delivered by the monkey’s paw or if it was a matter of chance, and the unfortunate family is just recipient of the coincidences.

a very old man with emromous wings

#13 – “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A poor couple barely making ends meet finds a very old man with enormous wings sleeping in their chicken coop one morning. Was the man sent to help them out or is he more of burden? Is he really an angel, or is he some other misshapen mythical figure? Does our salvation come from within or do we need divine intervention? It is these questions that Gabriel Garcia Marquez explores in this bizarre and often humorous story.

The Gift of the Magi

#14 – “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

The classic Christmas story about how love will overcome poverty so a gift from the heart can be given. The ironic twist, written in classic O. Henry style, just adds to the overall theme of the true meaning of giving.

Battle Royal

#15 – “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison

Before Ralph Ellison published his quintessential novel, Invisible Man, he had published the short story, “Battle Royal” in the magazine, Horizon. This turned into the first chapter of his book, but it can still stand on its own as a short story today. It is hard to read this story, and not think about the brutality that is portrayed of a young black man growing up in the South during the 1930 who wishes nothing more to have his voice heard. Ralph Ellison’s use of imagery not only brings to light one of the pressing issues facing America throughout its history, but also points to the conflict that is in each of us.

The Necklace

#16 – “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

Why is it the fate of so many to spend their lives trying to keep up with their neighbors? The appearances that we put up in order to look like we live above our means will sometimes lead us to make poor decisions. Instead, we should try to find happiness in what we have. This is the overall idea presented in Guy de Maupassant’s story. The twist at the end will make you laugh at the protagonist with her inability to accept her lot in life.

Desiree's Baby

#17 – “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin

With racial tensions still running high today, the story of Desiree’s baby still carries a lot of significance to it. Are we so blind in our hatred of other people that we can’t even see the love that is right in front of us? The sad thing is that thing that we really hate the most is actually a part of us.

The Thing on the Doorstep

#18 – “The Thing on the Doorstep” by H.P. Lovecraft

Many people would say that the king of horror would be none other than Stephen King, but Stephen King would say that it is H.P. Lovecraft. If you want to know the true meaning of fear, read the man who wrote about it better than anybody else. His stories delve deep into the mythology of Cthulhu and this one is the best out of all he has written. While this master of terror tells a story that will haunt you for many nights, he explores the ideas of control, and how it plays out in our own lives. It is a little bit of a journey to read this story, but you will never forget it.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

#19 – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

A man stands on the edge of a bridge with a noose around his neck while Union soldiers stand by to watch him hang. What follows is the fantastical story about his escape, and eventually the reality of the situation he must come to terms with. Bierce’s writing style, his attention to key details, and his surprising climax makes this an unforgettable story. Even though it would take a reader only a half an hour to read, it has been adapted into film three times. Most notably, this story was the inspiration for the cult classic, Donnie Darko, and many people puzzled by that movie have come to the words written by Ambrose Bierce to help find meaning with that piece of celluloid.

The Minister's Black Veil

#20 – “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

What secrets is the minister hiding behind that veil that only reveals his mouth and chin? What is the purpose of the veil, and why did the minister decide to start wearing it? Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story reveals so much about us and other people by hiding it behind the one place that everybody wants to look.

The Destructors

#21 – “The Destructors” by Graham Greene

If you were wondering, yes, this story is included because it is the other half of deciphering the movie Donnie Darko, but that doesn’t mean that this story is not worthy of being on this list. A group of boys in post World War II London set out to destroy the house of old man who lives in the neighborhood that they go to play in. They don’t so this out of spite, but rather out of love. It is a beautifully written piece of literature that makes us question our motivations in life, and what beauty can really represent. This masterpiece is excluded for a lot of anthologies, but I hope someday it finds it place there again because it really does belong.

The Last Rung on the Ladder

#22 – “The Last Rung on the Ladder” by Stephen King

Can we always trust that the ones that love us will always be there when we need them? Will there come a time when we must take responsibility for our own selves? Is the death of a sister who decided to commit suicide directly related to her bother because he wasn’t there to save her like he had done when they were children growing up on a farm and the last rung on the ladder broke?

Crushed Gardenias

#23 – “Crushed Gardenias” by Heather Anne Osborne

A great contemporary short from an up and coming voice that follows the investigation of the disappearance of several small girls in a small Colorado town.

The Emerald of Phaunos

The Emerald of Phanous

I would give Scott L. Collins’s Scepter: The Emerald of Phaunos an 8 out of 10.

Daniel and his brother, Aidan, along with their friends Olivia and Lilly set out on their quest to bring the Scepter back together by finding its four missing jewels. They travel to the land of the tree people to find the first jewel, the Emerald of Phaunos. Along the way, they make some new friends, revisit old ones, and say goodbye to others, but the whole way there they experience the adventure of a lifetime. They travel over adverse weather settings while being chased by a pack of blood thirsty hybrids of humans and werewolves called diegylis. These are King Argyle’s most ruthless creations, and he is not holding back anything when he attempts to bring down these rebels who threaten the existence of his dictatorship.

The action in this installment is more exciting than the first book. I could feel the pressure of the group as they tried to overcome all of their obstacles. In fact, there are very few places in this book where the action slows down which made it a fun read. Middle school students who enjoy fantasy stories should find this to be one of their favorites.

Also, the major complaint that I had about the first book was addressed in the second one. The bad guys are no longer faceless drones that the reader can’t build any feelings about. For the first time I was able to see King Argyle, and understand why there are so many citizens of his lands that are afraid of him. I was also able to see his most diabolical creation, the diegylis. This group of creatures can be controlled by their leader, Fracik, but there are many times where they let their bloodlust take over and they lose control of their inhibitions as they destroy anything that comes in their path.

Fracik would have to be the most interesting character of the whole story so far. The reader gets some insight into his past before he became this hideous creature. It is this life that he is forced to leave behind that creates a wonderful conflict that is enjoyable for the reader to follow. He struggles with his loyalty to his master and a life he longs to live again. I am really interested to see where Scott Collins will take this in the future. I have my suspicions, but I won’t ruin the future of this story by telling you what I think right now. But I suspect that Scott Collins has a big surprise in store for the readers in the future books of this series.

Middle school readers should connect nicely with the main group of the kids, but it is a little hard to take as an adult reader. They get along a little too well, and seem like caricatures of real people. At times while reading the book, I felt like I was watching a group of good friends gathered around a table  in a basement while they played an adventure for Dungeons and Dragons. It is probably my only complaint with this book, but it is easy to overlook because the adventure Scott Collins created made reading so much fun.

I look forward to the third book, and this would be a great addition to any middle school’s library. If you happen to fall in this age group I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the whole story so far so you are ready for the next installment.

The Songs of Summer

Under the Bridge

#1 – Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

It was the summer of 1991, and I was getting ready to go away to college. It was going to be the first time I was going to be living by myself. There was excitement surrounding it, and the same time a little bit of trepidation. I spent a lot of time by myself that summer wondering what this new life would be like, and it was accompanied by this song. When I hear this song, it takes me back to that moment in my life where I ventured off to my adult life and the questions about the direction I would take as I ran off towards it.

More than a Feeling

#2 – More than a Feeling – Boston

Often considered one of the greatest rock anthems ever written, this song is the perfect addition to any summer day.

Windows are Rolled Down

#3 – The Windows are Rolled Down – Amos Lee

The perfect song to accompany that cup of coffee in the morning before you set out the enjoy the day. Amos Lee is that singer/songwriter that brings summer to life.

Midnight Radio

#4 – Midnight Radio – Big Head Todd and the Monsters

Many people will claim that I included this song on the list just because I needed to represent my home state, and even though this song comes from one of the most successful bands from Colorado, it is not the reason that I included it here. It makes this list because of the way summer reminds me of road trips. This is the ultimate late night road trip song. You need to hear this song late in the evening while you are the only one up in the car guiding your sleeping guests off towards their destination. This song captures that moment perfectly, and therefore deserves such a prominent spot on this countdown.

All Summer Long

#5 – All Summer Long – Kid Rock

A Lynard Skynard sample to go along with the perfect summertime lyrics, nothing else needs to be said about this anthem to summer.

Ceenterfield

#6 – Centerfield – John Fogerty

When summer rolls around, I think about a box of Cracker Jack’s, a hot dog, and the seventh inning stretch on a hot day. I can’t go a summer without hearing the crack of the bat, and seeing the boys of summer run around the bases. Baseball screams day of summer, and John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” screams baseball. No other song, except for “Take me out to the Ballgame”, captures the mood of baseball than this summertime anthem. That is why it deserves this place on the list.

Volcano

#7 – Volcano – Jimmy Buffett

How could I have a list of the best songs of summer with out the king of the summertime party, Jimmy Buffett. Many people would argue that “Margaretville” would be the song to include on this list, but I find that the song is overplayed and I tune it out every time I hear it. I much prefer the Jamaican vibe that you can find on “Volcano”. Every time I hear it I think of heading off to tropical locations to enjoy the beach. What better way to spend the summer than participating in this activity?

me and julio

#8 – Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard – Paul Simon

If song number six makes me think of California in the summertime, song number five makes me think of New York. It might be the video to this song that does it, but every time I hear it, I think of a steamy blacktop surrounded by a chain-linked fence. There are a group of kids there playing basketball as their friends cheer them on. I believe that this is an image you would see a lot of in New York during the summertime and this song puts me right there in the action.

Skateaway

#9 – Skateaway – Dire Straits

There are certain songs that need to be played at a certain place because of the vibe that they create. Dire Straits’ “Skateaway” is one of these songs. The next time you hear this song playing on the radio, close your eyes (unless you are driving), and imagine yourself on Venice Beach in California. The first image that you get from that would have to be a girl roller staking while the sun is beating down on her. This is the picture I get in my head every time I hear this song, and this image makes it one of the most perfect summer songs ever written.

Tiny Dancer

#10 – Tiny Dancer – Elton John

Even without the memorable use of this song in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, this song would still remind me of summer. I always picture a ballet dancer on the beach when I hear this song. It also gives you that good vibe you want to have during the summer. When you hear this song, you want to take the time to disengage from everyone around you and just enjoy the song in its entirety. It is this same disconnected feeling that you long for in the summer.

The Sweet Escape

#11 – The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani

During the summer of 2007, I was traveling around Europe with a backpack strapped to me. I spent a lot of time in hostels, trains, buses, and restaurants. Everywhere I went, this song was playing. I couldn’t escape it. At the time, it really annoyed me, but now when I hear this song it takes me back to Europe and all the fun I had that summer.

Today

#12 – Today – The Smashing Pumpkins

During the summer of 1993 I was living up in Fort Collins and taking a break from my college career. It was a summer of fun with friends and a time in my life I will never forget. There were a lot of parties that summer, and at every one, someone would play Siamese Dream from beginning to end. This whole album reminds me of summer, but it was the single, “Today” that dominated the radio that summer as well. Every time I hear it, I think back to those days in Fort Collins with fondness.

Summertime Blues

#13 – Summertime Blues – The Who

I didn’t really appreciate this song until later in life even though it was one of the first songs I had heard from the Who. It wasn’t until I turned sixteen and had my first summer job at a fast food restaurant that the lyrics to this song really hit home. Here I was stuck at work while all my friends were out enjoying the sunshine. Now that I am a teacher and get to enjoy my summers again, I have found a new appreciation for this song. I look at those kids working those summer jobs and feel sorry for them, but at the same time, I feel a sense of nostalgia for a time in my life where I was in a similar situation.

 

Blott by Daniel Parsons

Blott

Blott by Daniel Parsons deserves a solid 8 out of 10.

Parsons tells the story of a young boy, Blott, who has lived in an isolated village his whole life. No one is allowed to leave, and for the most part everybody is content to stay where they are until a drought causes severe hunger amongst the villagers. Blott takes it upon himself to travel to the outskirts of the village where the white plains begin with the hope that he will be able to find food. While he is there, he unleashes a power that he has kept hidden from the villagers for years because if he did reveal this power, they would not understand and make him an outcast. The villagers might be right about Blott’s special ability because with it, Blott lets loose a pack of cat-like creatures that begin to terrorize the villagers. It takes Blott on a journey to discover himself in order to find the right thing to do in the end.

Daniel Parsons has blended elements of fantasy in a landscape that reminds the reader of an old west showdown. He has also developed a bunch of rich characters to populate this landscape and by doing so he has been able to delve deep into some interesting ideas: the origins of evil, the journey for self-discovery, and the importance of taking risks. I could see the small secluded town that he had created, and realized quite quickly the extent of the whole world he has made even though he does not supply the reader with a map to the white plains and what might lie beyond them. It adds to the isolation that the villagers feel and lets the reader empathize with them.

The creatures that Daniel Parsons has created to inhabit this world are also original. He doesn’t take from old mythology to create a new one for himself. Instead, he creates a whole new class of creatures that the reader can see as they terrorize the townspeople. They aren’t overboard either, but just the right amount of dangerous to add a realistic element to this fantasy.

Parsons also does a great job of giving the reader some closure in the opening novel. Too often when new writers write a series, they believe that they need to create a huge cliff-hanger that leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions and doesn’t give the first story any sense that it has ended. I do believe that it is important to have some unanswered questions at the end of the first installment of a series to keep the reader interested, but it should also be able to stand on its own. Daniel Parsons definitely leaves the reader with a cliff-hanger in the epilogue of this book, but if you did not read that you would feel satisfied with the story where it had left off. Of course, with the rich characters and the original landscape that he has created, it will be hard for a reader not to feel excited for the release of the next installment, and Parsons left just enough unanswered questions to have this feeling linger. He walked this difficult tightrope very nicely, and he has to be commended for it.

Overall, Blott was a fun story to read with just the right amount of action, and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out so I can continue to follow the adventures of Blott.

Souls of the Never by C. J. Rutherford

Souls of the Never

I would give Souls of the Never by C. J. Rutherford a 6 out of 10.

Souls of the Never is the first book in the Neverwar series, and it combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and young adult romance to create a unique story. It is a little bit of Fringe combined with Twilight and adding just a hint of urban-fantasy mixed together. Katheryne is plagued by strange dreams where she must protect herself and others who are tormented around the universe from a formidable beast who is set to ravage the world. She does this by collecting them all on an island in her mind where they can find sanctuary. Help comes to her from a dashing alien, Derren, who she can never tell if he is real or not because it only takes place in her dreams. All of this comes to a head when she sees the same person from her dreams in a bar in Belfast one evening and she discovers that what she has been participating in is actually part of a greater chess match and she is one of the key players.

C. J. Rutherford explores some great ideas in this story. There is the ever present battle of fate versus freewill and whether we have control over our actions or are just a part of some greater plan. Multiple universes also play a part in this story and how our lives might be different by making a simple choice over another one. Rutherford also explores the concept of time, and how our choices might change the course of history. These are all interesting ideas, but they have been explored by other writers, and Rutherford doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The concepts do play out nicely together in the story that he has written. He combines a lot of action with the obvious romance that is quickly developed between the “star-crossed” lovers. It creates an entertaining story that would play out nicely on a summer movie screen and probably would enjoy moderate success if it ever finds itself there.

The problem comes with the editing of the novel. Within the first couple of chapters there are many glaring grammatical errors that distract the reader. He couples this with a series of stock characters: the helpless heroine who finds strength in herself, her sassy best friend who is her rock in a sea of troubles, the dreamy yet mysterious love of her life, and the faceless enemy who torments them all. This makes me wonder if this wasn’t written by a younger man. There are also problems with time in the text of the story where the reader starts to wonder if only a day has passed or a whole week. The book just screams that an editor could have helped C. J. Rutherford come up with a more quality product.

With this still in mind, the story itself is very good, and there is a lot of potential there. Like I said earlier, it is very entertaining, and the concepts that Rutherford plays around with are very cool. It makes me wonder where this writer will end up in ten years after he has developed his craft a little further.

Moab, Utah

For the last eight years I have worked for Frontier High School, an alternative high school in  Elizabeth, Colorado. It is a school determined to bring back the joy of education to those who have been disillusioned by the traditional methods of teaching in a culture that is more interested in testing students rather than educating them. I have been proud of the fact that this small staff at this school has been able to turn around the lives of kids who other schools have written off as trouble-makers, or unable to reach. I’m not saying that every educator out there is so callous as to dismiss one of their students, but there are enough of them out there to not care about any individual that causes disruption in their classroom. These educators would rather ignore these students in need than give them the time needed so they could obtain a proper education. For the most part these students end up at my school, or schools like mine. They find themselves there for various reasons: drugs, gangs, struggles in learning, disruptive home lives, poverty, or bullying for various reasons of teenage awkwardness. Frontier High School is there to give these kids a chance.

There are many things that this school does to bring these kids into the fold of lifelong learners. The one that I enjoyed the most during my tenure there was the experiential education program. This program allowed students to learn by getting out of the classroom and seeing the world around them. Moments like this bring learning to life. I have been on a lot of these trips during my time there. I went skiing on the slopes of Colorado, explored the caves in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and hiked the less traveled paths of Yellowstone National Park with my students. Each time I went on one of these adventures I learned just as much about the history of our nation and the way the world works as my students did. They were experiences that they will always be able to take with them, and in the process I was able to make great academic relationships with my students and show them a way to a more promising future. It has been a rewarding experience, and sometimes I wonder who got more out of the experience, them or me. My last trip there was to the beauty of Moab, Utah.

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Our voyage on this trip took us to many exciting places. We went to two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, and a canoe trip down the Colorado River. The first day was an eight mile loop through the slick rock that is Canyonlands National Park. We learned about the formation of these canyons while running into the wildlife that found a home in this desolate place. There were many lizards scurrying over the same rocks that we were, and when we looked in the sky, we saw hawks soaring to hunt these same lizards. The students learned about the power of the desert as the sun sweltered in the sky, and we sweated under the exposure of its brutal landscape. Luckily, we were there in early June, so it was only in the nineties. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in August when temperatures reach well over the one-hundred degree mark. It was a little bit of a challenge for my fellow teacher, Jed, and me, but it was more of a challenge for some of our students who have never been on an exposition like this before.

The next day was spent on the Colorado River. Even though we were given lessons on eddies, strainers, and how to navigate through them in a canoe, we were given an unexpected lesson in physics. One of our members of the trip backed out a couple of days before we left, so we were left with a  odd number. We had arranged with the rental company, Moab Rafting, for ten people in five canoes, so they had prepared that many for us. Once again luck was on our side, or so we thought. One of the canoes they pulled out was smaller, so one person could navigate the river with it. Jed,  being the more skilled, opted to take the canoe down the river by himself. We quickly learned our mistake in letting him alone in a boat. His weight lifted the front of the boat out of water, and we quickly experienced a headwind right before heading into the canyon. The four boats with two passengers moved swiftly down the river, whereas he lagged behind. Quickly, Jed and his boat became a tiny dot on the horizon. This is where the kids’ problem solving skills came into play. The other four canoes formed a barge and waited for him to catch up. When he was finally with us, we tied the end of his boat to one of ours and guided him down the stream. It still wasn’t as fast as the other boats, but he no longer lagged so far behind that we were scared of losing him completely.

Even with all of the difficulty we experienced as we made our way down the Colorado River, the fact that recent rains had pushed its limits to the highest banks and gave power to its current, we arrived at the pullout an hour ahead of schedule. We spent a little time enjoying lunch and then joined another group of students that took turns leaping off an outcrop of rock into a deeper part of the river. The water was refreshing and it was the perfect activity for a hot, sunny day.

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The day wasn’t over when we completed our river excursion. Across the road from the pullout was a trail head.  We returned later that evening to take this short hike. It was enjoyable in the cool of the early evening and we were able to see our first natural arch. These majestic sculptures are created after years of being punished by the elements. Rains and winds carve out these arches to last decades and centuries, but they are a part of a constantly changing landscape subjected to the whims of nature. Even though I could probably come back ten years later and still see this same arch, it is not a guarantee. There are always stories of arches who have lost their battles to time, and eventually this one will too. All we can do is enjoy their beauty while they last and search for the new ones as the elements give them their unique characteristics.

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Arches National Park has the largest collection of these arches. They are all over the place, and many small hikes crowded with tourists from around the world took us to the more iconic ones on our last full day on this trip. Delicate Arch is the most well known of the arches. From a slightly different angle than this picture, one can see the image emblazoned on the license plates of many Utah cars. It is one of the more unique arches that we found in the park. Most times, the arches are attached to cliffs that are a part of the whole weathering process, but Delicate Arch is out there by itself, attached to nothing. Even though the mile-and-a-half hike to see this landmark is strenuous, it doesn’t stop tourists gathering around the natural amphitheater surrounding this structure and spending time watching people take their turns standing on the platform under the arch to get their picture taken. It was fun to watch the different poses that people attempted as they tried to balance themselves against the wind.

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Even though there are a lot of educational opportunities that the students experience as we travel to the different sites on each of our trips, one of the greatest experiences that happens is the bonding an individual creates between the fellow students and the teachers. This usually happens at the campsites. Yes, the students learn about camping, conservation, outdoor cooking, and how to start a fire during their stays at these campsites, but they also laugh as they play various games and enjoy the friendly banter that can only be enjoyed around a campfire. I learned a couple of new activities on this trip such as Extreme Spoons, and the roasting of Starbursts (quite a delicacy if you have never tried it), but the game that brought out the most laughter and the biggest challenge among the kids was Chubby Bunny. This is usually played while waiting to make smores. The contestants take a marshmallow and stuff it into their mouths without chewing it. They must say the phrase, “I am a Chubby Bunny” in order to continue. The contestants take turns stuffing these fluffy treats into the maw until only one of them is able to utter the phrase as their mouths are overflowing with marshmallows. The record on this trip was nine marshmallows held by Jed. Even though the kids lost to a teacher, it created a wonderful moment that the students will take with them for the rest of their lives.

This trip to Moab, Utah will be placed among the top trips that I have taken with Frontier High School. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to a place that allowed me to grow as a teacher and be able to see the importance that education holds in our society. Even though I will not be returning to Frontier High School next year, I will always be a soaring eagle, and I will look back at these trips with fond memories. It is a program that I hope will continue in the future because not only is it a great learning opportunity for these kids, but it also gives them a chance at a future because it shows them that there is a whole world out there for them to connect with. It is programs like the experiential education program at Frontier High School that should be implemented in more schools across America. They would show disenfranchised students that there is more to education than books and tests. If you find one of these programs in your local school districts make sure that it survives because it is so essential to so many students out there.