Best of 2018: Books

Well, hello! I am ashamed to say that its been nearly a year since my last confession blog post! I was lurking reading some friends' recaps of 2018 and I decided to round up a few of my own. I do always like looking back at my own recaps sometimes a few years later. So, even if its just for my own eyes, here goes nothing!

Each year I list a few of my favorite books from the last year of reading. In 2018, although I spent hundreds of hours studying for the CFA, I still rewarded myself with a good book at the end of the day. My goal for the year was 52 books, but I actually surprised myself and ended up with a total of 67!

You can find prior best of book lists here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.

We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter: Of course, book numero uno is a book about WWII. Set in 1939, this details an entire Jewish Polish family, split into a million tiny pieces after the commencement of the war. For years they try to survive however they can, they dodge Germans and Russians, they get sent to France and Africa and South America. I am amazed by how resilient some people were during these times, how much death and suffering they had to witness and how some of them overcame it all and survived.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman: This is a book regarding the small town politics surrounding accusations of sexual harassment against players on the award winning junior hockey team. This book reminded me a little of the book Missoula, which also touches on the same conflicts. Although translated from Swedish, this book flows like water and I finished it in no time at all.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: A single mom and her daughter rent an apartment from a wealthy family in town and before you know it, they are all tangled together in life. As the story progresses, secrets are uncovered that were supposed to remain buried, and a twist comes unexpectedly at the end. I also enjoyed her book Everything I Never Told You.

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel: A touching book about gender stereotypes and the prejudices surrounding them. Five year old Claude is a little boy who likes to wear dresses and to play princess and who identifies as a girl. We grow up with Claude (Poppy) and the family and we learn about the hardships that come along with bucking the "norm."

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain: Yes, its another book about my foe, Ernest Hemingway. But its not really a book about him. It's about one of his (many) wives. I am annoyed with these women, who cheat with him and then get cheated on, but it doesn't make the situations any less fascinating. Although I don't love the characters, I like learning about the time and the author tells her story well. This is the third book I have read by her and she does not disappoint.

Here are a few others that made the cut: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. You can also find several others that I gave 4 stars to here.

What were your favorite reads of 2018?


Looking Back: December & January & February

And before you know it, poof, a month has already gone by! And then, poof, another! I have been really slacking on posting, but I have been reading your updates when I get a chance; I am just not really commenting as much anymore. Here, in short form, is a summary of my past few months.

December quickie: In December I ran 164 miles to bring my 2017 total to 2,505 for the year, which got me to my 2,400 mile goal. I climbed 29,800 ft, which also bagged me my 450k climbing goal for the year.  I read 6 books, for a total of 94 books. My favorite for December was The Alice Network, which I talked about in my Best of 2017 book post. I traveled home for the holidays.

Running: In January I ran 204 miles and climbed 28,900 ft. In February I ran 210 miles and climbed 23,300 ft. This year I have lowered some of my goals a bit, as I have some more important things on the agenda, but I would still like to break the 2,000 mile / 400,000 ft climbing goal. I seem to be on track so far.

Sunset Speed Work at Lake Merritt

Point Reyes Sunrise Run

Lately a typical running week is three or four runs: a short trail run during the week, one session of road/speed work during the week, a "long" trail on the weekend and sometimes a once a week catch up road run with a friend who is training for her first full running half marathon (she has done a half before but walked a lot of it). This seems to be a good variation while still putting in enough miles but spending less time than if I did all trail runs. I still struggle to find a balance at times (and sleep is often the loser), but it'll get there!

Reading: In January, I started 6 books and put three of them down right away, for a net total of three books. I have started to be better about ditching books that don't catch my interest before I get to the halfway point. This time, I even ditched a couple in the first couple of chapters! In February, I had a better month, and read four books (no rejects!) which were all pretty good. My goal this year is one book per week, or 52 books. So far, I am a little bit behind, but I will likely catch up in August and September, when I generally have most of my vacation time.

Some of my favorites from the past two months were:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (****)
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (****)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (****)
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (*****)

Travel: You know that buzzer sound when you get an answer wrong on Family Feud? That pretty much sums up my travel for the past two months. A big fat BEEEEEEP. Nothing. Okay, so not totally nothing, I guess, but mostly local. I went to Auburn for a nice hike with the family and I spent a fun game night at a friend's house, but I have slept in my own bed every single night so far this year. After spending virtually no Saturdays in my own bed from August - November of last year, it feels a little strange. Plus I have to wash the sheets more often now.

Auburn Hike with the Fam

Well, that's the last three months in a nutshell! Before I go, I want to give a quick shout out to my friend Lisa, who besides my Mom (hi Mom!) is one of the few people who reads this. After what I would say was a difficult pregnancy, she recently had a baby boy! Congrats Lisa!

What have you been up to for the past few months? What book should I add to my list? In what month do you travel the most?


Looking Back: 2017 Money Pie

To welcome in the new year, I always take a moment to look back on where I spent my money. I find it very helpful in organizing my spending for the year ahead. In addition, it sometimes gives me a wake up call, as often it is easy to spend a lot in one category without even realizing it (cough, Costco, cough). You can find prior years here: 2014, 2015, 2016.

This pie is for spending only, and does not include savings. Here they are, in order of greatest to least!

Home: This category includes mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance, as well as other misc items, such as appliances, stuff from the hardware store, home improvement and furnishings. This year I actually spent nearly the exact same amount dollar wise as I did last year on my home category. However, I bought a lot of backyard materials this year!
Travel: Once again, travel ended up high on my list. This category includes flights, lodging, food and transportation when away from home, including long distance run trips and road trips. I did a 2,000 mile road trip to Wyoming as well as road trips to both Oregon and Mammoth this summer. I also went to Minneapolis for Lisa's wedding and to Bryce for the 100 miler!
Transportation: Last year I bought a car, so this year my transportation category was significantly lower. However, this still includes the daily commute to work (including pre-tax dollars) as well as registration, insurance, gasoline and maintenance for the car. Luckily I have my trusty bike, so much of the daily transportation is done sans vehicle. However, this also includes weekend trips for running etc.

Groceries/Dining Out: In 2017, I actually spent 17% less on food than I did in 2016. I had to double and triple check that number though, as I did not feel that it could be correct. However, after checking, I did confirm that I spent about the same amount dining out, but a lot less on groceries. The culprit? Costco! In 2016, I took 5 big Costco trips, whereas in 2017 I only took 3 and man, what a difference a Costco trip makes!!

Misc: This includes personal care, toiletries, gifts and donations, credit card fees and things like that. This year my dollar amount increased significantly! The bulk of it is gifts, but I had some registration/education fees to pay this year which really upped the dollar amount of this category a lot.

Health: This includes pre-tax deductions and any copay or charge for the gym, prescriptions, contact lenses etc. The bulk of this percentage is health insurance.

Shopping:  This category pretty much includes anything I buy on Amazon, regardless of the use. I am too lazy to sort through the purchases to see what is food related or what is not. In fact, that could be a big reason why my food spending was so much "less" in 2017, as I do buy a lot of dry goods on Amazon. In addition, much of it could probably also go towards the Entertainment or the Travel categories as well, as I did buy some camping/hiking related items as well.

Entertainment: This includes movies, baseball games, and running related (or other hobbies) expenses. This year, most of it went to race fees. I did travel for running, but I kept that in the travel category.   

The Verdict: In 2017, as planned, I did spend less dollars than last year. However, it's a bit of a cheat, as I bought a car last year. Without the car purchase, I would have spent about 9% more in 2017 than I did in 2016. I did see big increases in Health (I blame premiums), Misc (education) and Shopping (laziness of not sorting the category, aka human error). I spent a lot less on Groceries (sorting/human error/Costco) and Transportation (car purchase) and pretty much the exact same amount on Dining Out and Home.

What should I do differently? I would say that aside from spending less on shopping, I should probably get a better categorization system for Amazon purchases. Otherwise, I could travel less. NOT! Actually, most of my travel involved camping, so the bulk of the cost was flights and transportation costs.

Do you tally up your spending at the end of the year? Do you budget for next year? What was your highest spending category in 2017?


2017 Goals: Year End Review

Happy New Year!! Last January, I posted nine goals and it's time to look back to find out how I did!

1. Run a 100 mile race -- Done. Bryce 100M is in the books!

2. Run 2,400 miles / Climb 450,000 feet -- Done. 2017 Totals = 2,505 miles / 457,400 ft.

3. Conquer the hills -- Not Complete.  The goal was to PR on the following:
(1) Marincello: Goal = beat 15:41 total or 10:53/mi -- best this year = 16:36 total or 11:31/mi
(2) Bobcat: Goal = beat 21:33 total or 10:39/mi -- best this year = 23:19 total or 11:31/mi
(3) Regular 12: Goal = beat 1:45:00 total or 9:03/mi -- best this year = 1:57:51 total or 10:09/mi

4. Read 52 books (with at least 4  of them off my home shelf) --  Done. As of Dec 31st I read 95 books with a total of 33,412 pages which is an average of about 350 pages per book. Also, 6 of them were off of my own shelf and I gave away 4 of them after I finished them.

5. Bike or Run Commute once a week to work -- Done. I ended up with 303 biking miles this year, which is an average of about 5 miles per week. This jives with my goal, as one round trip commute to BART is about 3.5 miles. I have not run commute even once this year.

6. Try 12 new things -- Done. This year, I (#1) drove cross country to WY in one day, (#2) and hiked off trail  for over 100 miles in the Wind River Range. I did a solo trip to (#3) Sweden, where I (#4) hiked the 400km+ Kungsleden trail, (#5) ate reindeer sausage, (#6) rowed myself across a lake in a rowboat three times, tested out a new rain jacket, and (#7) tried Swedish beer. I also (#8) went to Bryce National Park, where I (#9) ran 100 miles and then made a quick stop in (#10) Zion on the way home. I visited friends in Brighton Beach where we went to a (#11) BYOV (bring your own vodka) Russian restaurant. I went (#12) to the drag races in Sonoma and then the finals in Pomona. There were many others as well, and I am still mostly "learning something new every day" as my parents used to tell me I should do!

A Day at the Drag Races

7. Spend less money than last year -- Done. As of the end of Q2, I spent 26% less than last year. However, after Q3, after buying a lot of new backpacking gear and doing the bulk of my yearly traveling, I sunk to only 11% less than last year. At the end of the year, I ended up spending 10% less than last year.

8. Complete my yard project -- Mostly done. My goal was to switch out the grass in the front yard for rocks and drought resistant plants. This was done. I also wanted to update the front yard sprinkler system. This was partially done In the back, my goal was to reorganize the raised beds, reorganize the drip system, set up a leveled patio area in the back corner, and put down flagstone on the patio. This was all done. However, I am not really satisfied with the setting of the flagstones, and so this will be 2018 redo. So, I will say that this was done.

9. Complete my wall art / photo project -- Done. I finally got my act together and printed out some photos for the over-the-couch wall. The problem is that I can never choose which photo to put up. However, I finally decided to just put something up and if I didn't like it, I could change it later. I also ordered some more canvas prints from a Groupon and so now I have a few more prints around the rest of the house as well.

Out of 9 goals, I really only missed one of them, so I call that a good year!

How did you do with your 2017 goals? What new things did you try this year?


Best of 2017: Books

In 2017, I read over 90 books. According to Goodreads stats, I only gave two of them five stars, 35 were given four stars and 44 were given three stars. I tend to not hand out five star review casually, although it ends up being hard to sort through the four star reviews when there were so many. Probably some of the fours should have been fives, but such is life.

An interesting stat: this year, 26 of the books I "read" were audio books. However, they tend to not get as high of ratings. I am not sure if this is because I probably do not focus as much when I am listening, or that many tend to be non-fiction, or that I just don't pick the "fun" books as audio books. Only one of the books on my list was an audio book. However, 6 of the 13 books I picked were non-fiction! Anyway, without further ado, here are my top thirteen reads from 2017 in no particular order.

You can see my lists here from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir: I gave this book five stars and I liked it so much I even wrote an entire post about it! So I won't go on about it too much. In summary, it is a fresh new look at some of the places that I know and love, and it brings a new appreciation to the outdoors as well as to life itself.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This was the second (and last) book I gave five stars to this year. It is a true story about a neurosurgical resident who in an interesting twist of fate ends up becoming a patient himself. I liked it so much that I read it in one sitting. It is well written and you can't help but love and relate to the writer and main character, and I was rooting for him throughout the entire book.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: Kingsolver and her family, who live in northern Virginia, decide to grow or raise their own food for one year, only supplementing when absolutely necessary and then only from local sources. I was inspired by her description of growing asparagus and raising (and slaughtering) her own turkeys. This book made we want to run out and get some baby chicks! Its a fun story and an interesting look at what it takes to be self supported, food wise.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: This was a late addition; I actually just finished it. It is set during both WWI where you meet the first character, who is an English spy working in France. Then it takes you to modern day, which is just after WWII, where you meet second set of characters, whose lives end up tangling with the spy from WWI. All the characters are likeable and brave and interesting and the story line is fun and informative.

To the Bright Edge of The World by Eowyn Ivey: This book is written as a series of letters and journals between an Alaskan explorer and his wife in the 1800s. I love books written in this form as you really feel like you are in the person's head and you feel like you get to know them really well.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: A story of a boy growing up in South Africa during apartheid who has a black mother and a white father, which was a no-no in those days. He details some of the difficulties as well as how his family got through them. He does it in a humorous way, although the story is anything but funny. I didn't realize this but he is also the host of the Daily Show, and after reading this book, I watched some of his standup, which was really funny. I like that he is a multifaceted individual, not just a funny guy.

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes: This was the only audio book that made the cut this year. Shonda Rimes is the writer of Grey's Anatomy as well as several other shows and I was sure this book would be another richy rich talking about their problems and how they overcame them. However, Shonda is a painfully shy introvert who hates public speaking and would rather be behind a desk writing. When she decided to say "yes" to everything, she had to step out of her comfort zone. This book is a funny rendition of the uncomfortable things she ended up having to do (for instance, give a speech where she talks about "pooping her pants.")

Here are some others that made the cut: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick, All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

What was your favorite book that you read in 2017? I am always looking for suggestions for my to-read list!


Looking Back: November

November to me means the beginning of many things: the rainy season, the holidays, the  end of the year. It is always strange when it hits you that this year is almost over! Then you start to reflect on what has happened over the last year and it all seems to be a bit surreal at times! Here are the stats.

Running: In November I ran 172.7 miles and climbed 34,108 feet. Most of my mileage was due to a couple of longer runs on the weekends as well as one race, the Quad Dipsea (QD), which has become sort of an annual tradition. The QD is a two time out and back which has about 2,500 feet of climbing for each out and each back, for a total of almost 10,000 feet. This is always held the weekend after Thanksgiving and is an excellent way to burn off those turkey calories. I also biked 41.8 miles, which brings the yearly total to 268.8 which is an average of about 5.6 miles or one round trip commute per week.

Reading: I did not read as many books in November, most likely for a few reasons. One, my audio-book reading time goes down when I am not in the car or running alone and I did not really do much of either. For real books, I have been getting regular old hard backs from the library, which by the way never have as long of a hold period as the eBooks. However, other things in life are taking up precious reading time, so I have not been doing as much reading of the real books either. Here is the list in order of preference (audio-books in italics). I ended up reading 5 books.

The Last Days of Night****
Behold the Dreamers***
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls***
The Impossible Fortress***

Travel: This month I did not stray too far from home, mostly because it was the holidays and I hosted so I stayed around for that, and then I had the Quad Dipsea one weekend so I stayed around for that. Otherwise, I did a quick weekend trip to Pomona to go to the NHRA drag race finals, which were a lot of fun even though my guy did not end up winning. Also, I did go to Marin county for runs with friends and to do the annual volunteering gig with my brother, where we sweep the course of the North Face 50 mile race. After doing it for four years in a row, we finally earned a new radio handle this year. We will heretofore be known as: Menudo!

Me and the broski, North Face 50 mile sweeps

Sunset over the Farallon Islands, Marin Headlands -- NF50 sweep

Sun setting on the Pomona Raceway. NHRA Finals.

Etc.: The garden is dead. I was thinking of planting some winter things, but am not sure I will get to it in time (or maybe I am already to late). So now it's just raking time, although I did buy a fun toy, a leaf blower, so I will probably have some fun with that in the coming days! Although I have never really used one before... Wish me luck!

San Francisco at dusk from the Vallejo steps.

What happened to you in November? How was your Thanksgiving?


Looking Back: October

October was the month of tying up some loose ends. I got my hair cut, got my oil changed and went to the doctor. I met friends I had not seen in months for a drink. I only slept in my own bed one Saturday in October, and I did not get to bed that Saturday until midnight. It was a productive month, but sometimes when you are in the midst of it, it just feels hectic. 

Running: I ran 196 miles in October and climbed 36,400 feet. Hopefully this will help prepare me for the race I have on Thanksgiving weekend! I also biked about 50 miles, which brings my grand total to 227 out of my goal of 180. Even though I have surpassed my goal, I plan to continue to bike until it starts to rain a lot, which will probably be in December. I also did one yoga session, which is a lot lower than my goal of one per week. 

Maybe due to the heat, the sunsets have been fabulous. See San Francisco in the distance.

A short trip to my parents neck of the woods.

Reading: In October, I spent most of the month getting through two books, which took me a long time. They were both good, but they were just not quick reads for me. Otherwise, I did listen to a lot of audio books (in italics). The total number of books I read in October was seven, three of which were audio books. Here they are, starting with my favorite.

Strangers in Their Own Land****
Salt to the Sea****
Norse Mythology****
Little House on the Prairie**** (re-read)
Truth and Beauty***
The Magician's Assistant**

Travel: The first day of the month found me in South Lake Tahoe, getting in just a little more high altitude fun before the snow sets in again. This year I only went to the Sierras once in July and there was still so much snow it was hard to go on the trails. I had to return once more while the snow was sparse! However, I have a feeling this winter is also going to be a snowy one!

Midtown Manhattan

San Francisco, filled with smoke.

I also went up to my parents house, unfortunately for a memorial for my friend's father. In addition, another friend of mine from high school just passed away, so it was also a chance to pay our respects to her while I was there. It wasn't the most pleasant reason, but it was good to see some of my high school friends. Lastly, I had a work trip to New York, which I tacked an extra weekend onto so that I could visit with some friends there. It was great to be in the city in the fall; however, it was so warm that the colors had not really shown up yet, which I was really looking forward to!

Tahoe area, view from Mt. Tallac, - approximately 9,800 ft.

Etc: Other than the above, I finally ripped out most of my garden and am contemplating planting some winter items. Holiday planning has started, and the weather has been, in typical Bay Area fashion, in the high 80s most days. Go figure. I went wine tasting at the end of the month and am happy to say that the Napa area seems generally better than I had expected.

October is the month for canning!

What fun things did you do in October? Has Autumn struck yet in your neck of the woods? What is your favorite thing about Autumn?