2.07.2017

Looking Back: January

The word of the month for January on our side of the country is "wet." It has seemingly been raining for the last month straight (or longer?) in the Bay Area, in what feels like a non-stop manner. In addition, the Sierras are getting snow (finally), so we will have plenty of runoff this Spring as well. You would think this signals the end of the water shortage in California, but from what I have heard, it's only a drop in the barrel (hehe). However, it is wreaking havoc on places like the area where my parents live, where the rain and runoff causes fast moving water which takes out roads and railways and leaves people without power and phones for days (5 and 14 respectively).

Running: Even with all the rain (and sometimes hail and snow), I ended up running 203 miles. I have to admit, although I know that I have definitely been getting back into it after a bit of a hiatus, I was surprised to see that I topped the 200 mark. No wonder my legs felt like jelly last week. Don't worry Mom, I took a rest week last week! In addition, I climbed about 30,000 feet. Due to the rain, I did not bike commute at all.

Reading: Because of the rain, and a bit of traveling, I read 9 books in January. Well, actually it was 8.5, since there was one that I lost interest in and ended up not finishing. I have to say, none of them were really great. I only gave two of the nine four stars (and none 5 stars) and they were:

Lily and the Octopus
The Marriage of Opposites

Travel: I went to Portland. One day before my trip, they had a snowpocolypse. When I got there, the world was white and my plans to run in Forrest Park were a bit overzealous. However, I still had a great time eating and wandering around a town nearly carless and sometimes nearly devoid of people. A couple of highlights were Ox, Upright Brewery, Powell's (duh!) and Forrest Park (see photo below). Other than that, I actually had quite a few weekends where I stayed local.




Home: I started my photo project; I started my backyard project. I am considering a rain barrel garden watering project. I did a mini yearly purge. Photos to follow!

How was your January? Have you started on any of your yearly or monthly goals? What is your favorite thing to do when it's raining/snowing outside?

1.23.2017

Looking Forward: Goals 2017

Last year I did a pretty shoddy job with my goals. However, I had a great year and part of the greatness was in the act of attempting to achieve those goals, even if I did not complete them. I believe that there is a goal "sweet spot." I would like to set goals that are a bit of a stretch, but are not so far away that I end up with a list of failed goals at the end of the year. I am not sure I have found that sweet spot yet, but I am going to keep trying!

I think that this year I need to revisit my intentions and focus more on fewer more important things rather than several smaller less important things. This being said, there are a few repeats from last year!

1. Run a 100 mile race --This is one that has eluded me, but this year, I am going to try, try again! I know I can do it, but have unfortunately run into a few issues the last couple of times. However, I am going to learn from my mistakes (no moving furniture a week before a race!) and get back out there again.

2. Run 2,400 miles / Climb 450,000 feet -- Last year I ran over 2,200 miles and climbed over 400,000 feet. I would like to increase both by about 10%.

3. Conquer the hills -- There are a set of hills I regularly climb and this year I want to either (a) run all the way up it if I have not before, or (b) run faster up it if I have run the entire thing already. Here they are: (1) Marincello: 1.4 miles / 9% average grade / 682 ft climb / best time 15:41 total or 10:53/mi (03/16) (2) Bobcat: 2 miles / 6% average grade / 696 ft climb / best time 21:33 total or 10:39/mi (03/16). In addition, there is a loop that I do which I would like to get under a 9:00/mi pace on. (3) Regular 12: 11.6 miles / 2,200 ft climb / best time 1:45:00 total or 9:03/mi (03/16)

4. Read 52 books (with at least 4  of them off my home shelf) --  I have consistently beat this goal each year (last year I read 72 books), however, I do not want to get into that rut of finishing something that is no longer fun just to say that I did it. So, as much as I love to read and will likely read more than one book a week, I do not want to force myself to do it. In addition, once again, I will try to cull my home shelves a bit by reading one book a quarter from them and probably giving them away afterward.

5. Bike or Run Commute once a week to work -- Right now it's raining, and so it may be a little while before this happens, but I want to either bike or run to/from BART at least once per week.

6. Try 12 new things -- this can be a new place, a new food, a new activity, or...whatever! This is actually quite a fun goal and one I like setting and accomplishing!

7. Spend less money than last year -- I know where I need to cut back (transportation is a big one), so this is totally possible, as long as I watch my spending. I plan to do this by continuing my quarterly spending check, as I have for the last couple of years.

8. Complete my yard project -- this has been on the radar for a while, but I have not really been in any hurry. The plan is to get rid of the lawn and put in rocks/shrubs. I have already begun by planting a few things, but the main part, the groundwork, has been put off.. I just need to order (or forage) the supplies and get to work!

9. Complete my wall art / photo project -- since I have moved in (almost two years ago!) I have been meaning to put some photos on the walls. I have even gone as far as painting some frames and ordering other ones. However, I need to pick and print out the photos, but I am dragging my feet on this. I have too many photos to choose from! I would like to get this done by the end of the year.

This is it! I have a couple of other small ones, like my yearly purge, but these are the main goals for the year. I think this year's goals are all doable, as long as I get my plan together. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

What goals do you have planned for this year? Are there any goals that you duplicate year after year?

1.02.2017

Looking Back: 2016 Money Pie

Happy New Year!! It's that time of year again...money pie time!! As you know, each year I recap my spending throughout the year as a percentage. I think this is a great way to see where the money is all going so that I can make smarter decisions with my money in the future years. You can find previous year's posts here: 2014, 2015.


 
As always, I did not include any savings in this chart. This is not technically "spending" although I do track it and it is part of my yearly financial plan.  
 
Home: This category includes mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance, as well as other misc items, such as appliances and other crap that comes with owing a home. However, the bulk (about 86%) of it is mortgage, taxes and insurance, with the others trailing way behind. Also, anything I buy on Amazon, I categorize as "home" as I am too lazy to figure out what it was I actually bought. It is probably a mix between shopping, home and entertainment in actuality.   
 
Transportation: This year I bought a car. As you can see from the pie, it affected the transportation category greatly! In addition, I still spent money commuting (BART) and definitely drove more, as a friend and I started a weekly run meet up after work and I took advantage of nice summer days to get the heck out of dodge as much as possible, including a road trip to Oregon and Kings Canyon.
 
Travel: Speaking of Oregon and Kings Canyon, once again, my indulgent category was travel. Funny enough though, I actually spent less this year than last, or my calculation methods could be inconsistent. Either way, I had a great time traveling abroad as well as to several U.S. destinations and many local weekend trips.

Groceries/Dining Out: Once again, these are almost the same! This year some friends and I went out to a nice meal once a month and we took turns paying. This equates to about once every four months me spending way too much on dinner. However, it is a lot of fun, but it's not helping my "dining out" budget.

Misc: This includes personal care, toiletries, gifts and donations, credit card fees and things like that. The bulk of it is gifts. The other things are minor.

Health: This includes pre-tax deductions and any copay or charge for contact lenses etc.

Entertainment: This includes movies, baseball games, and running related (or other hobbies) expenses. This year, most of it went to race fees. I probably should shift some of my "travel" over to this category, but once again, I am too lazy to really sort it out that thoroughly.

Shopping:  This category included clothing, toiletries and items from Target that were not home or running related. This year I bought a couple of pairs of work shoes and some things from REI which could be in the entertainment category...and that is pretty much it.

So, what did I learn from this? This year I definitely spent more that last year, although a lot of that extra cost was due to my purchase of a car. However, excluding the transportation category, the biggest increases over last year belonged to the Entertainment (53%), Health (33%) and Home (26%) categories. This makes sense, as I signed up for more big ticket races, my insurance premium went up, and I was in my house for a whole year vs. 7 months last year. On the flip side, I also saved more this year, so I am pretty happy with that, as my goal from the beginning of this year was to save more if I could.

What do I want to accomplish this year? This year I hope to do a bit of deeper analysis and develop a plan regarding getting the best bang for my buck. For example, does it make more financial sense to put my money into savings or use it to pay off my mortgage quicker. I have most of the information I need; now it is time to execute! In addition, once again I would like to save more this year than I saved last year. I would like to say I could minimize the Home category, but in reality, there is always a backyard project or a broken pipe or a random thing that goes bump in the night. So, that's it!

Do you keep track of your spending habits? What is the biggest piece of your money pie? What are your financial goals this year?

12.28.2016

Look Back: Goals 2016

At the beginning of this year, I set a few goals for myself. Unfortunately, I did not do a very good job of sticking to them this time! Last year, out of about 10, I completed or partially completed 8 of them. This year, well...you shall see! I found that this year I focused more on a few specific things in my life and a lot of the other little things went by the wayside. 

1. Run a 100 mile race. As much as I hate to say this yet again, this was one goal that I Did Not Complete. I signed up for the Silverheels 100 mile race in Colorado, where the course was from 10,000 feet to 12,500 feet. I got about 60 miles into it before I finally threw in the towel. This was after a lot of nausea and a very difficult time keeping food down, hence very little energy overall. However, I learned from my time in Colorado, and I am ready to try this goal again!! 

2. Run 2,000 miles / climb 250,000 ft elevation: Completed. Last year I ran about 1,800 miles and climbed about 250,000 feet, but my goal was to train smarter than last year, because last year I got injured, which put a damper on my running. Happily, I ran approximately 2,230 miles this year and according to Strava, I climbed 413,000 feet. I will take this with a grain of salt, as my weekly running partner did about 300,000 feet. However, I probably got about 100,000 feet more than him just by hiking in the Alps. So I will call it something between 300,000 - 400,000 feet. Total win.
 
3. Read 52 books. Completed. This year I read 72 books. I also did the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, which I will probably not do again next year. I found it fun to try new things but felt pressure to complete the categories and guilt if I read something that did not "count toward something". See this post for my favorites of 2016! 
 
4. Read 12 books from my own shelves. Did Not Complete. I ended up reading 3 books from my own shelves and throwing all three away. It's not great, but if I was a baseball player, I would have a better batting average than most pitchers. 
 
5. Ride my bike to work 2 times per week: Did Not Complete. According to Strava, I biked 134 miles for a total of 57 rides or 2.35 miles per ride. Before you say that it's not so bad because that's still over 1x per week, let me remind you that a "ride" to me is to AND from the BART station, which would be about 4 miles each day. So I probably rode to work 28 times, which is an average of about once every two weeks.
 
6. Practice my Spanish: Did Not Complete. My goal was to talk to a friend for at least 5 minutes once a week,  and to study and learn at least 100 new words per week. This is a goal that I didn't really even try to make happen. My running husband is from Mexico and he would happily talk to me in Spanish, but I didn't even try. Total fail.

7. Try new things: Partially Complete. (1) Visit 12 places that I have never been before. DONE (2) Learn one new recipe a week. Did Not Do. (3) Try 6 new things.  DONE (ate Polish food, went cycling in New York city, walked over a huge frozen lake, went to a jug band party, carried chairs down the streets of Brooklyn, ate at a three Michelin star restaurant [and many more!]).
 
 8. Spend less than I spent last year: Did Not Complete. This year, although I did not buy a house, I did buy a car and so my transportation category is way inflated over last year. In addition, paying all the household bills myself rather than splitting them like I did for part of the year last year probably increased the "bill" portion of my "home" category by at least twice as much. I will be posting my annual 2016 money pie very soon and will give a breakdown of how much each category increased/decreased from last year. 

As you can see, out of the eight goals I posted, I only completed two and partially completed one. Next year I will have to think about where I could improve upon achieving my goals. I think my biggest downfall this year is lack of planning, which is not normal for me! But, in the words of good old Benny F., "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." So true. First goal of 2017: be more structured in my planning! (Side note: If you haven't listened to this episode of Freakonomics about productivity, you should do it now!)

In case you think that I am a totally negative Nellie, fear not! I have a lot of things that I am proud of from this year! I installed a ceiling fan in my room, I did a ton of work in the backyard, I did a huge purge and Goodwill run (and got rid of a ton of books etc. in the process), I had a new 100k PR and beat my old 50 mile time for one difficult race (in the snow no less), I spent a lot of good times with my friends and family and I traveled to some fabulous places! However, those items are not as easy to quantify, but all in all, I would say it was a successful year.
 
Did you make goals in 2016? Which ones were difficult for you to obtain? Do you fail to plan or are you good at seeing things through? Did you have a successful year?

12.27.2016

Best of 2016: Books

Wow, this year has really flown by and it's time again for the best of the best lists! I enjoy looking back at other people's prior year's lists as well as my own and seeing how things went in years past. So I can't pass it up this year and am looking forward to checking out everyone else's posts. As much as I love all lists, the best of lists for books are probably my favorites.

This year I read 71 books and I gave five of them five stars on Goodreads. They were:

Winter of the World by Ken Follett: This is book two in the Century Trilogy. The first is about WWI, the second takes the characters through WWII. He does a great job of introducing characters from different walks of life which gives you a lot of insight into what different sides and countries were going through during the war. I am looking forward to reading the third set of the series, although these books are a bit long, so I have to space them out a little!

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: This was a great story of a girl working at a bakery who befriends an old man, who ends up being a former Nazi SS officer. To make it even worse, the girl's grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. This book was recommended to me years ago by Lisa and I am glad that I finally took her up on her suggestion!

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: The first book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, this is a great step away from reality. The story takes you to several variations of London, some good, some bad, and is full of magic, kingdoms, good, evil and adventure.  The characters are likable and the second book in the series is also a lot of fun as well!

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: Set in WWII, this is a story about three different girls, a doctor from Germany who ends up working at Ravensbruck, a Polish girl who ends up imprisoned in Ravensbruck and an American socialite who ends up entangled in the mix. I learned a lot about the horrors that happen in the camps that I hadn't really known much about before.

In addition to these, some of my other favorites were: Aristotle and Dante Discovery the Secrets of the Universe, Circling the Sun, Between the World and Me, Ready Player One, Homegoing and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. See other 4 star recommendations here.

I also participated in the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, which encourages people to try new types of books. I did not finish the list of 24 categories, but I had a lot of fun exploring new categories! Below is my list. Yellow are the ones I did not complete.

1 A horror book - The Terror
2 A nonfiction book about science
3 A collection of essays - A Manual for Cleaning Women
4 Read a book out loud to someone
5 A middle grade novel - Finding Someplace
6 A biography
7 A dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel - Ready Player One
8 A book originally published in the decade you were born
9 Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award - Euphoria
10 A book over 500 pages long - The Lake House
11 A book under 100 pages long - Holy the Firm
12 A book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
13 A book that is set in the Middle East - Prisoner of Tehrah
14 A book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
15 A book of historical fiction set before 1900 - The Taming of the Queen
16 The first book in a series by a person of color - Blanche on the Lam
17 A non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
18 A book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie
19 A nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes - Spinster
20 A book about religion - 1000 Lashes
21 A book about politics, in your country or another
22 A food memoir - Cleaved
23 A play - Death of a Salesman
24 A book with a main character that has a mental illness - Tender Points

How was your year of reading? What was your favorite book of 2016? Did you participate in any reading challenges this year? 

12.20.2016

Looking Back: October & November

You know how sometimes you go into a motivation rabbit hole and you just can't climb back out into the light?  I have been going to work earlier than normal and it's dark all the time and a glass of wine and a movie has been sounding way more appealing than suiting up and going running. Not to say that nothing is getting done. I have been revamping the backyard, which is my excuse for not running on some days (cross training!) and there is a never-ending supply of leaves to be raked. And I've purged the closets again and again. And now it's December, the month of parties and friends and eating and merriment and although fun, it sometimes gets a little overwhelming! I look forward to January, when things quiet down and I get back into the running groove. Until then, here's what's been happening!

Running: In October, I ran 167  miles. I am actually surprised at this number, as I was sick for a couple of weeks and went home to visit my parents one weekend. In November I ran 125 miles, which doesn't surprise me, as I was sick (again!) and I had my Mom in town one weekend. My longest run was the Quad Dipsea (28 miles) and man was I sore afterward! As for the biking plan, it's pretty much gone out the window, as I got a flat and I have been lazy about fixing it! I need to get back on track with that for sure! However, I have already reached my 2,000 mile running goal for the year and have way overshot my 250,000 ft climbing goal (I have about 400,000 feet of climbing so far this year)!

Reading: In October and November, I read 5 books each month, the best being Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, which talks about aging and having too much stuff and life in general. It was a quick and easy read that, although I am not of the same age, I could relate to a lot of the author's tales. Otherwise, a lot of them were just so-so and I especially was not a fan of The Nest, which got great reviews or A Little Life, which was really depressing and just went on and on.

Travel: Having traveled a lot during the summer and then gone on vacation in September, October and November were more like decompression months, where I stayed home a lot and worked in the yard and/or around the house. I did get up to see my brother a couple of times in Santa Rosa, I went to visit my parents once and I took a couple of smaller trips to Auburn, Sacramento and Tahoe. I found a great video game arcade and bar in Sacramento that has all of the old games, like Donkey Kong and Mrs. Pac Man. Along with pizza and beer and the fact that the games still cost a quarter, it can't get much better than that!!

December is almost over and Christmas is nearly upon us! I hope that you and yours have a great time wherever you are and I will see you all next year!!

What do you like to do when the weather gets cold and its dark outside? What are your plans for the holidays?

10.27.2016

Looking Back: September

For the past two Septembers, I have taken advantage of the fact that I get Labor day off, that the weather is still nice, and that the flights are a bit cheaper, and I have gone on my annual vacation. This year was no different In my line of work, I am actually required by law to take 10 business days off in a row. Fortunately, this has never been too much of a problem!

Since I was on vacation, I am going to switch this up and put the travel category first....

Travel: This year, my travels took me back to Europe, as I could not pass on the cheap Euro and the great deals on flights. I had my eye on heading back to Nepal to finally finish my Himalaya trek, but when I saw a great deal on United to Frankfurt, I knew that Nepal could wait another year. I flew to Germany, then did some hiking in the Stubai region of the Tyrolean Alps (Austria), the Dolomites (Italy) and the Bavarian Alps (Germany). In addition to lots and lots of hiking, I drank way too much wine and ate way too much good (read: carb loaded) foods!





Running: I ran about 180 miles, about 100 of which were mostly hiking in the Alps. Other than that, I did a couple of runs in Frankfurt and around the fields of the Bavarian Alps as well as some short runs while I was home.

Reading: In September, I read 5 books. Surprisingly, it was not more, as I traveled a lot. However, I also watched 5 movies on the plane ride home, so I didn't get a lot of reading done then. In addition, I ended up reading magazines, news and other items, so did not get as much book reading in as I normally would. The best book was Winter of the World, which is the Ken Follet Century trilogy. The first book was about WWI, this one was about WWII and there is a third, which I believe is about Vietnam, the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis. None of these books were mine; nor were they part of the BR Read Harder Challenge.

Lab Girl (3 stars)
The Kings Curse (4 stars)
A God in Ruins (3 stars)
Winter of the World (5 stars)
Everyone Brave is Forgiven (3 stars)

All in all, September was a great month. Now I just need to start planning my next vacation!

What was the highlight of your month of September? Where did you go for vacation this year?