Backpacking Gear Review: The Big Three

This post is a long time coming! Since it's Black Friday and maybe you are looking for something to buy, this is perfect timing! Since the "big three" are really the most important for both comfort and weight in the life of a backpacker, I will start with those. For those of you that do not know, the big three consists of your shelter, sleep system and backpack. These are generally the three heaviest things you will carry, apart from food and water. There are a couple of different camps (ha!) when it comes to pack weight, but most say that the big three should weigh no more than twelve pounds, and many even think it should be no more than nine pounds. Of course if you are an ultralight backpacker, I think your entire base weight (everything except food, water and fuel) is supposed to be less than ten pounds. However, I digress; my big three items weigh about seven pounds with the heaviest being my shelter, then the sleep system, then my pack.

Before I start, I want to give a shout out to a tent that I have used for quite a while, but is no longer available online. It is the Big Agnes Fishhook UL1 Tent; a picture of it can be found here. It is a one man, three season, no zipper tent which weighs 47 oz. without a footprint. This was my first really light tent; before that, I believe my prior tent weighed about 6 pounds. Nope, I am not kidding. I was so excited to finally have a tent that was lightweight, easy to pack and carry and was actually quite spacious for one person. The only con is that the little hook closure is a little hard to open and close when you are trying to get out for a potty break in the middle of the night. Otherwise, it was great. I even took it to Peru where it got down in the 20s at night and I was pretty comfortable. Additionally, I would bring all of my gear inside with me and there was plenty of space. 

Lastly, but definitely not least, when the pole broke after I had owned it for about five years, I sent it back to Big Agnes and they fixed it for only the cost of shipping. However, this was right before the pandemic and when I had not received it back a few months later, I wrote to them and they said it had been shipped to me, but since I had not received it, they would send me a new pole set anyway, free of charge. The tent is great; the customer service is even better. 

Shelter: I guess that brings me to my next tent, as I bought this due to my happiness with my first one. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 weighs 46 oz. with the footprint. This is a semi freestanding tent, which means that there are two corners which have to be staked down and two corners which are connected to poles. It is a two man tent with two doors and two vestibules and it is spacious for one but you do have to be pretty friendly with your tentmate when you are sharing. Personally, I have had no issues with this, but I do think that if both people are sleeping on any wider than a 20 inch pad, it may be a tight fit. This tent has been with me in as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit, has gone through snow and rain storms and has protected me from many a mosquito. It is easy to set up with only one pole and is skinny when packed up so it fits nicely in the outer pocket of my pack. 

Mine is made from nylon but there are now other versions that are made of other materials, like stronger nylon and also dyneema (DCF) if you really want to break the bank. There is also a three man version of this same tent. 

The Big Three

SleepWestern Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree sleeping bag (29 oz.) and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite regular size (12 oz.). If you know me at all, you will know that I can get stuck in the trap of analysis-paralysis. This was true in the case of buying a good sleeping bag. I own a really nice Caribou bag that I have had since I was in high school; it is synthetic and it is very warm and I used it for a long time on my backpacking trips. However, it is not small. There is a reason our packs used to be 40 pounds! Then I got an REI bag that is equally as warm, but even bulkier. So I tried to find a bag that was (a) warm, (b) light and (c) inexpensive. Like looking for a needle in a haystack, it was nigh impossible. Then I finally decided that I would have to pony up some cash, but then I couldn't decide between a quilt and a bag, down or synthetic, long or short, mummy or not!!! I finally settled on the Western Mountaineering bag. 

To make a long story short, it is an 850 fill down bag with a 20 degree rating. Just like most, it does not actually keep me warm down to the rated temperature; I have found that if it is under 30 degrees, I am happier if I add a silk liner to the mix. Otherwise, it is good; it has a little hood if you need it, although I normally just use that as a pillow cover. I wish it had a cell phone pocket, as I have had a few cold nights where I would have preferred to have my phone secured, rather than floating around in my bag, which is where I keep it. 

The Therm-a-Rest is a regular size, 47 inches long with an R value of 4.2, which means that it does keep me warmer on those cold nights. It is comfortable, but it took a little while to get used to the 2.5 inch height which sometimes feels like you are going to slide right off of it in the middle of the night. I find these pretty easy to pop though, and have popped two short versions. I repaired one of them with the kit that comes with it, but will carry tenacious tape from now on, as I constantly was having to blow it up in the middle of the night. The regular size one that I have now also slowly leaks but I am not sure where or why. However, it only requires one or two slight blow ups, so I have not really been overly worried about it. 

Backpack:  Hyperlite 2400 Southwest Backpack (28.6 oz.). I would say this is the best purchase that I have made. The other items are good, but I could  probably find better ones (like a warmer sleeping bag for instance). The backpack is made out of cuben fiber, or DCF, which is a waterproof, lightweight and very strong composite material. Think about the Tyvek they use to make buildings, but lighter. It has two hip pockets and you can order additional chest strap pockets if desired. It is built for your body, as in you measure your torso and waist and they customize it for you. It is frameless, has a roll top, three exterior pockets and it carries 40 liters. As I said, I love this pack; I was a little worried the frameless nature would be uncomfortable, but it isn't. It fits me like a glove. The only thing I would do differently if I ordered it again is that I would get the larger size, as you can always fill it less and roll the top more. However, I can fit a bear can, all my food and clothes and sleep system on the inside and my tent in the outer pocket and I sometimes still have room to spare. 

So there you have it! Next time, I will talk a little about the kitchen! 

What is your favorite "big three" item? Even if you are not a backpacker, tell me: what travel item is your heaviest? 


Emigrant Wilderness: Logistics, Gear & Planning

At the end of last month, my friend Dr. G (trail name Bugsy) and I decided to try to get one more trip to the Sierra before the snow flurries started to fly. And boy did we get lucky, as it started snowing the Tuesday after we got back and there have been several storms since.

The Emigrant Wilderness is a pretty small wilderness and is only about 25 miles long and 15 miles wide. However, don't let the size fool you! It is full of granite outcroppings and glacier scoured landscapes. It is also a great place to cut your teeth on cross country travel, as it is not too brushy in most places, so your "bushwhacking" is more like rock climbing than anything else.

The Plan/Logistics: When it had not snowed yet and Bugsy and I realized that we both had the weekend free, we kind of made a last minute decision to take a couple of days and get out one last time. Therefore, this was not the most well thought out or the most complicated plan; Emigrant Wilderness is about 2.5 hours away from the Bay Area if there is no traffic, so we decide that instead of sitting in the horror that is Friday traffic, we would start bright and early on Saturday. We left around 5 am and after two coffee/bathroom stops and a stop to get the (self issued) permit, we were on the trail by 7:50 am. Please note that if the ranger station is open (8:30 am - 4 pm on Saturday, 9 am - 4 pm all other days), you will have to get a permit from the ranger. They do not issue permits online. Permit info here.

The Route: we had a few options, but one of the things I wanted to try was a cross country route between Buck Creek and Huckleberry Lake, so we decided to give it a shot. I mapped it out on Gaia, but of course if there is no trail, you have to just estimate where you will go and it ended up being about 4 more miles than we had expected. That made what was planned to be about a 35 mile loop into about a 39 mile loop. Oops! We started from the Crabtree Trailhead, which is about 8 miles outside of Pinecrest Lake, and did a counter clockwise "loop" towards Huckleberry Lake. We ended up camping at Cherry Creek instead.

The Big Three: I have been using the same big three for a while and am loving them (Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (46 oz. with footprint), Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree sleeping bag (29 oz.), Hyperlite 2400 Southwest Backpack (28.6 oz.), and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite regular size (12 oz.). However, on this trip, Bugsy brought his tent because it has a bigger floor plan than mine (Big Agnes Copper Spur 2), so my big three was only two! I also carried a silk liner, since we had gotten reports that it could get down into the mid twenties at night and my sleeping bag is not warm under about 30 degrees, despite the 20 degree rating. My big "two" weighed about 4.5 pounds.

Base Pack Weight: I did not weigh my base pack for the trip, but based on my LighterPack list and experience from other trips, I would say it was about 17 lbs.

Clothing: I brought everything from my normal list and did not bring any of the heavier winter gear or traction. My normal kit includes a beanie, gloves, extra socks & underwear, rain jacket and pants and a puffy, and the forecast was clear skies, so I did not feel that I would need the extra heavy gear for this trip. However, I did bring an older REI rain jacket rather than my ultralight Montbell, so I probably added a pound of extra weight by carrying that.

Food: This was a huge difference from our normal trips. Firstly, we usually share dinner duties; if we are going for 6 days, we will each make and carry three meals for two people. However, this time we each did our own thing since we didn't have to skimp to save weight. We brought lots of heavy stuff! For dinner, I brought noodles, salmon packets, fresh mushrooms, hard boiled eggs and miso paste. For snacks I brought a whole salami, cheese, cucumbers, nuts and blueberries! For breakfast I had hard boiled eggs and coffee. Not only could we afford to carry heavier food, but I didn't mind if I didn't use it, and we had built in refrigeration so we could carry whatever we wanted. It was divine.

Water: I used my new BeFree 1 liter filter bottle and carried an extra Platypus 1 liter bottle with a 2 liter Platypus for extreme emergencies/backup. I am glad I had the backup bottles as we went through some really dry stretches and crossed dry creeks that I had never seen dry before. However, we did camp near a lake so we really did not need to carry more than 1 - 2 liters at a time in the end.

Total Pack Weight: Including two liters of water, the bear can, one day of food and one fuel cannister (and the heavy rain jacket!), my pack weighed 25 lbs.

The Verdict: I really liked just going for one overnight as it really provides a lot of flexibility with food, which tends to be one of my most heavy items. It also is a great chance to test out items that you would not normally want to lug around for a week.  I could have lived without my rain pants and I am very glad that I added the silk liner, as I slept warm but not so warm that I would have been happy without it.

More Information: You can find information about the wilderness at the Stanislaus National Forest website. Stay tuned for the Trip Report!

For fun...here is what the same area looks like now! 

Highway 108 (source)

Have you been to the Emigrant Wilderness? What is your one backpacking item you cannot live without?


Looking Back: Books

Well yes, hi. I do only write about books and nothing else these days. I have all of these grand plans to write about hiking trips and gear lists and life, but somehow this fell along the wayside a bit. It could partially be due to the fact that I have been experimenting with other forms of media a bit more, but I will talk more about that later. 

It could also be that I got a new job and have been a different kind of busy, but I will also talk about that at a different time; for now, lets talk books! 

In all of the books I read in the third quarter, here were my five favorites! 

Happy-Go-Lucky by David SedarisYou either love him or you hate him, and I love him. Which is funny because he is a bit snarky for my normal taste. But he picks up trash on the side of the road, and he sees funny in normal things. This is another book full of interesting stories about him and his family and it was a great one for a long hike, which is when I listened to it. I am actually going to see him in a few weeks and I am really looking forward to it. 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: This was such a fun story of a woman chemist in the 1960s who leaves her job and goes to work as a cooking show TV host. Of course she wants to teach people the science behind the recipes, but her male boss does not concur. It is a bit silly, but was a fun and quick and entertaining read. 

Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River by Peter Heller: I really enjoyed Heller's book The River which was about a fictional rafting trip in Northern Canada gone awry, so I thought this would be more of the same. However it is actually a true story about an elite kayaking team's attempt to conquer a never-before-conquered section of the Tsangpo River in Tibet. They have many an challenge, including fights with porters, death defying rapids and impenetrable passes and it makes for an intriguing story. 

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach: A book about a teenage girl who loses her sister in a horrible car accident, and then struggles with the grief of it. To make things worse, the only person she feels a connection to is the sister's boyfriend who was driving the car when it crashed. It is a story of emotional struggle but still manages to not get too maudlin while still sparking interest. 

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett: I really love Patchett's writing style and especially her personal essays. She makes you feel like you are sitting right next to her in her living room listening to her stories. My favorite story was one during COVID where she befriends the assistant of Tom Hanks and invites her to stay at her house during the pandemic, striking up an interesting friendship. 

And that was five. 

What was your favorite read over the last few months? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? 


Looking Back: Books

Another day, another dollar; another quarter, another book list. Hopefully as you are reading this, you are about to go and sip a margarita, or lounge in the pool, or are getting ready for a summer trip. 

This quarter I read a lot more than last quarter, because I spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks. I listen to them while doing my grocery shopping, working in the yard, driving, hiking, working around the house and running. Of all of the books that I have read so far this year, approximately 80% of them have been audiobooks. I have also asked one of my good friend's daughters, who is 12, to recommend books to me. So far, she has recommended Ground Zero (I loved it; it is also by the author of The Refuge) and the Tales of Despereaux (very fun). If you have a 12 year old, they may like these books too!  

I do have a couple of book related goals this year and so far, I am not doing very well! I wanted to read and get rid of 12 books (one per month) from my bookshelf. I have been doing a lot of purging lately, but for some reason, those books seem like grey hairs; even though I am not buying more, they keep seemingly multiplying! I have read one book so far from my own shelf. I also wanted to read a book in Spanish. I did this in 2020 (Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal -- #1) and I really enjoyed it, and I learned some weird words like wand and owl to boot. In 2020 I set 10 minutes aside each day to do that and some days I couldn't put it down. I am about one chapter into my Spanish book so far for this year (Auggie y Yo). Total fail. 

I am going to keep this quarter's list to my top six books. 

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe: this book details the rise of the Sackler family, who are the makers of oxycontin, and are one of the richest families in the world. It's a tale of big pharma and the opioid crisis and I couldn't put it down. 

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn: I haven't met a Kate Quinn book I haven't liked. This time she tells a story of WWII from a Russian woman's point of view. The main character is a librarian and a mother who ends up having to go out and fight and she becomes one of the most feared snipers of her time, with a nickname of Lady Death. I like how Quinn takes a true story and makes it into something entertaining and enlightening. 

Blindness by Jose Saramago: I wanted to not like this book but it brought up a lot of emotions and that is the sign of a good writer! I gave it 4.5 rounded up to 5 for the fact that it made me contemplate my existence over and over. It was disgusting, disturbing and scary. It paralleled some of the feelings I had during the pandemic lockdown. It made me feel hateful about humanity but also made me feel fond of people and grateful for human connection. It was a cross between The Lord of the Flies and the Walking Dead and the Great Influenza. Although it grossed me out, I couldn't stop reading. 

Think Again by Adam Grant: this book explores the idea of changing, or rethinking things that you have been doing one way for a long time. Of course, like many, I sometimes get set in my ways or struggle with change and he brings up a lot of good points regarding why a new point of view or way of going about something can be an asset rather than a burden. 

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley: this is a fun and light book about a heavy situation. When Patrick's sister dies, he takes the kids for the summer. He is a single man, not used to caring for young children, but he learns a lot about life and love over the course of a few months. 

State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton: who doesn't love a book about international terror and possible world domination? When a terror group threatens the world, the US secretary of state has to try to save the day. There are a lot of parallels with a certain administration and it brings some amusement to an otherwise serious situation. 

Some others I liked were: One, Two, Three (corruption, greed and love), Notes on an Execution (murder), This is How They Tell Me The World Ends (cybersecurity), Dopesick (opioid epidemic) & The Paris Apartment (murder). 

What are you reading right now? What has your favorite book been so far the year? 


Every Quarter Counts

Some people are not comfortable talking about money. I am actually a very private person and often don't like talking about anything about myself, money included. However, I am learning that this is not always beneficial in the long run. How do we figure out how to do things or what to do if we do not seek the information and advice from others? How do we avoid the mistakes that others have made if not to talk about them? I am not saying that I am going to put my taxes online for everyone to see them, but maybe if I did someone would give me some tips to do them better! Actually, if you can give me some tips to do them better (I do them myself; your first tip is probably to hire someone else!), please let me know! 

Due to worries about finances surrounding COVID and the economy in general lately, I think this is a good time to share tips about money, be it saving, spending or investing it. I was always taught to save it, but as I have gotten older, I have learned a little about spending what I have saved! But today I will not talk about the spending portion, only the saving portion. I have heard many mind boggling stats about Americans, such as that less than 30% have more than $1,000 in savings! 

Today I want to discuss three pieces of advice I have been given and the things I have learned over the years because of them. If you know something that I don't know, please let me know. 

Never throw away free money.  I had just landed my first college job and was filling out all of the HR paperwork, including 401k documents. I had no idea what half of the terms meant and I asked a friend of my parents to tell me what boxes he though I should check. He told me that it did not really matter what fund I put my money into; what mattered what that I should put at much as I could from each paycheck into the 401k and most importantly, should at least contribute the amount the company was willing to match, otherwise I would be "throwing away free money." For example, I believe my company at the time would match dollar for dollar up to 3%. He told me that I should try to put in 10%, but if I didn't feel that was possible, that I should at least put in 3%. I did what he said and by the time I left that company after eight years, I did not miss the amount I had been putting in each month, I was fully vested and I walked away with that extra money "in my pocket" (technically it is in my retirement account, but it's still mine). 

A side note or addition to the above is that if your company has a 401k, you should put money into it. Some companies have an automatic contribution (i.e. they will put 2% of your paycheck in unless you opt out) but many require you to sign up on your own. Currently in the U.S. you are allowed to put up to $20,500.00 per year into your 401k before taxes and your employer match does not count towards this number, so it could be even more than that once the match is added. I will talk more about this specific topic in a future post but the takeaway for this post is that you should contribute something. 

What does this mean? Even if your contribution is pennies or dollars, if the company is willing to match it, you should put as much as you can! It can also be beneficial to implement some sort of similar plan with your kids to teach them to save some of their hard earned money instead of spending frivolously. For example, you can suggest that they put half of their babysitting money in an account and you will match whatever they put in there dollar for dollar. 

Compound interest is your friend. This is not a new concept, but I think it is one that is not fully explained to people in the early days, when it is the most pertinent. Did you know that if you started putting $50.00 per month into a account yielding 2% when you were 18, and then stopped putting money in at age 40, by the time you were 67, you would have about $30,000.00. Your total investment would be about $14,000.00 in this case. 

If you only starting saving your $50.00 when you were 30 and you kept putting $50.00 per month in your account until you invested $14,000.00, or were 52, then let it sit until you were 67, you would end up with about $23,000.00, over 20% less. Think about that. I used $50.00 and a low rate of 2%, but imagine your interest rate was 5%. In this case, the gap gets even wider ($100,000.00 vs $54,000.00) and if you double your total investment to $28,000.00 and assume a 5% rate you would end up with $198,000.00 vs $109,000.00. 

I think many people feel that they only have a few dollars and it is not worth it, or that they don't have any extra cash, but even if you are only putting in $5.00 or $10.00 at the beginning, it will add up eventually and I do think every penny counts. I think in most cases, you won't miss it if it's taken out beforehand, and to go back to my point number one, if you are putting in $10.00 and your employer is matching $10.00, it will add up faster than you think. 

What does this mean? Start saving as early as you can! Even if your contribution is pennies or dollars, when put in an interest bearing account early, you can reap the benefits of getting interest on your interest. But wait, what if I am already 40? In this case, it still makes sense to put as much as you possibly can in as early as possible, as you will still be able to take advantage of compounding!

The Latte Factor. This is an old concept and one I have written about several times. Basically the gist of it is that if you skipped your daily latte purchase, you could save a lot of money. The end. But seriously, if you bought a coffee from Starbucks every weekday, that would be approximately $20.00 - $25.00 dollars per week you would save. Using the example above about compounding, instead of $50.00 per month, you could be putting away $150.00 per month just by making your own coffee. The item does not have to be coffee; it could be a salad or a sandwich or a fill-in-the-blank. The bottom line is that the little things add up and probably many of them are unnecessary or frivolous and the savings now will pay off in the long run. 

What does this mean? If you think that you don't have enough extra money to put in a savings, here is where you can reassess. I am not saying that you need to give up all things good in your life. Even if you skip one latte a week (or one McDonalds hamburger, or one Uber ride or....etc.) you will now have that $5.00 a week or $20.00 a month to put into your interest bearing savings account! As you can see, each little bit counts. 

So now we have talked about three ways to save money. Do you already use some of these methods? Do you have other tips or tricks that you use to save money? Are you a spender or a saver? 

Disclaimer: The information above is solely an opinion based my own personal experience. You do you. I am not a tax and/or financial advisor; nothing in this post should be taken as investment advice. I have no fiduciary responsibility to anyone reading this post. Please consult a financial advisor for investment advice.  For my other posts regarding money, go here


Looking Back: Books

After spending a lot of time reading in my backyard in 2020, the last year and change has felt like I have not really read very much. Of course, on a relative value scale that is not really fair; it's almost like comparing the price of the stock market now to March 23, 2020 and saying that the price has gone up a lot. I am still reading a lot just not as much as 2020! 

For the first quarter of 2022, I abandoned four books already (Cloud Cuckoo Land, Furiously Happy, The Man Who Ate Too Much and The House on Vesper Strands). All of them were audiobooks, so maybe it was a concentration or situation issue, but I gave all of them up before I even got half way. However, for every high there is a low etc. and there have been quite a few good ones as well! Here are some of my favorites from the last three months. 

Pony by R.J. Palacio: This is a YA novel by the author of Wonder. She creates characters that you can't help but love and sprinkles in a little adventure and some of the trials of growing up (in Wonder she tackles being disfigured and in Pony we meet the main character's invisible friend). I want to read more of her books! 

Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting by Lisa Genova: If you have not read any of her books, you need to do it now. Genova has a PhD in neurology and writes about neurological diseases. I really enjoyed her book Still Alice, which is about early onset Alzheimer's. Her subjects are heartbreaking but fascinating at the same time. In Remember, she talks about how the brain stores memories and she reassures us the when we forget where we put our keys it may not be a slide into old age; we likely are just not paying attention! I have not read a book of hers yet that I do not like. 

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: This was a very touching book about a woman in her twenties who loses her mother to cancer. She speaks of her mother's strength and how seeing this wane affected her. Upon finding about her mother's diagnosis, she begins to get in touch with her heritage and figure out more about her own identity overall. 

The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club, #2) by Richard Osman: The four octogenarians from the Thursday Murder Club are at it again, they are off to solve a murder while simultaneously being helpful and thwarting the authorities. You never know what they might do. However, in the end, they get the job done but not without a lot of adventures along the way. 

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller: This book begins with a married woman with three kids cheating on her husband with a long time friend. The remainder of the book speaks to her struggle of what to do with her mixed feelings. It flashes back and forth and gives us some insight into her long time relationship with her friend, some of the trials they went through together and how this led to the subsequent relationship with her husband. 

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan: I listened to this as an audio book and I enjoyed hearing the jokes in the author's own voice. It was a good mix of him making fun of himself for loving food, and some interesting observations about food. For example, he questions why a shiny orange piece of plasticy food became "American cheese." This book made me laugh out loud while running, like when he talks about being so full he couldn't button his pants, so he decided to have some cheese as a snack and when he realized he didn't really like it, he decided to finish it. I have been there! 

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins: By the author of A Girl on The Train, this is yet another murder mystery by Hawkins. However, she does well developing her characters and this book was no exception. We meet the murdered man's strange ex-lover who has a criminal background, his uptight aunt with a bone to pick and the kooky boat neighbor, and we are kept guessing as to whether it was one of them who offed him or not. 

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell: A young woman disappears in a small neighborhood and fingers start pointing at who done it. Was it the creepy 30 year old "kid" who lives with his aunt and visits strange internet forums? Was it the young woman's therapist, who is not quite as perfect as we once believed? You tell me! I mean, who doesn't love a thriller? 

The Last Widow (Will Trent, #9) by Karin Slaughter: Speaking of thrillers, here is another one! I have enjoyed the entertainment that this author has brought me over the years. The particular one is about a CDC employee who goes missing and a month later a bomb goes off near a hospital. Are the two things linked? And why? We will soon find out! This is a detective series where Will Trent and his partner Sara, a medical examiner, team up to save the day. Or will they? 

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land: College plans go out the window fast when the author finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. She tries to make it work with the father but eventually moves out and attempts to make a life for herself and her young daughter by cleaning houses. She tells her story from the point of the maid, whom for some people is invisible, while others are friendly toward her and even go out of their way to be kind. 

The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik: This book talks about the famous photographer Dorothea Lange and her move to the city of San Francisco back in the early 1900s. She starts off as a naïve girl and gets hardened through the people she meets, and the things she experiences, most notably the depression. 

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams: The main character, Ruth, has not seen her twin sister in years, since her twin disappeared behind the iron curtain to Russia with her husband and children. Then out of the blue, she gets a postcard from her sister asking her to come and visit. She teams up with a counterintelligence agent and goes to Russia to get her sister out of trouble and finds adventures she never expected. 

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard: When Eve was 12 her parents and sister were murdered. Now she is older and she decides to write a book about it. The killer reads the book and thinks maybe he should finish what he started. It's a little strange as it's a story in a story, but in the end I was very satisfied with the way it wrapped up. 

Out of the thirteen books above, four are non-fiction, and yes, I am counting the Gaffigan book! Eleven were audio books, as I am not feeling as motivated to read when I am home in the evenings as I have been in the past. 

What has been your favorite book so far this year?


The Money Pie Deconstructed: Transportation

You know how sometimes you are running along, or driving, or walking and you are kind of letting your mind wander and all of a sudden something pops in there? I don't know about you, but this happens to me a lot when I am running and I sometimes have to stop and jot down a quick note on my phone or I will forget what my "brilliant" idea was. So the other day, I was running and it came to me that it would be fun to talk about each category of my money pie, not necessarily about the financial aspect of the category, although that may be part of it, but just random thoughts, or as Mike Meyers would say on Coffee Talk, "I will give you a topic. Talk amongst yourselves." 

I am going to do this in no particular order, because the topic that came to mind the other day was car related. Therefore transportation is the first category! 

What is your car situation? I did not have a car for about 16 years, as I was either traveling around the world, traveling for work, or living in San Francisco/Oakland, where you can get around without one pretty easily. When needed, I would rent one, but for a long time, that was not very often. I bought my car in 2016; it is a 2016 Hyundai Accent. It was used with about 10,000 miles on it and I bought it because I wanted a cheap car with good gas mileage. It is named The Red Rocket. 

What is the parking like in your area? Sometimes it is hard to park in San Francisco. If you live in a neighborhood, you can apply for a sticker, which allows you to park longer than the usual one or two hour limit. Otherwise, there is also street cleaning on most streets either once per week or once every other week, so you also often have to move your car every week. A friend of mine used to schedule his grocery shopping for 6 am every Wednesday so he could be back in time to follow the 7 am street cleaner down the street and get his parking spot back. It is also sometimes hard to find a spot and I remember driving around for 45 minutes once and almost getting into a fight over the one spot I finally snagged. 

This is what parking sometimes looks like. 

If you are in the financial district, which is where my office is, most streets are metered, and some even go from 7 am to 6 pm or even 10 pm in certain cases. These cost about $2.00/hour but can go as high as $6.00/hour. Parking garages cost around $25.00/day.  In Oakland, it depends, but usually it is not hard to find parking. My street has street sweeping every other week. I have forgotten to move my car, and the ticket was about $80.00. That is an expensive mistake! You're welcome Oakland. 

Do you have to pay tolls? We have tolls on our bridges; I have to go over the Bay Bridge to get to San Francisco, which is a $7.00 toll. The others are the Richmond Bridge, which is also $7.00 and the Golden Gate Bridge, which recently went to $8.00 if you have a FasTrak and $9.00 if you just go right through. The Golden Gate and Bay Bridge do not accept cash anymore (this was on the way out but was sped up due to COVID). 

What is your commute like? I live in Oakland and work in San Francisco. It is about 13 miles between my house and the office. There is a bridge between the two and there are not pedestrian walkways on this bridge. When I used to go to work later, I utilized the casual carpool. I wrote a post about that here. Then I started working earlier and I rode my bike to the BART train station each day. This took about ten minutes to ride the bike and 20 minutes to ride the train. Once I arrived in the city, the train station was about a five minute walk from my office. In 2018 they started doing maintenance on the train (it goes under the bay in a tunnel, which needed repairs) each morning, so they subbed out the early trains with a bus. At this point, I sometimes drove to the BART station, which took about seven minutes, where I would take the bus into the city, which took about 20 minutes. Once I arrived in the city, the bus station was also about a five minute walk to my office. 

Then....COVID hit, people stopped going to work, train schedules got cut drastically and people were afraid to take public transportation. I have continued going into the office the whole time and have been driving in each morning ever since. Let me tell you, at first, it was like buttah! The 13 mile drive took me about 15 minutes, and there were no cars on the road. As people started coming back, it took a little longer, but I go in around 5:00 am, so even on a heavy day, it is more like 20-25 minutes. As mentioned above, this does entail a toll charge and parking, but my work was paying for the parking due to the pandemic. Starting April 1st, they will no longer pay for parking. 

So...what will I do then? That is a great question. I will go back to taking public transportation. Unfortunately, they have not fully reinstated all of the buses and trains due to light ridership in the past two years, so the times are more limited. I will have to go in earlier than I need to or later that I want to, so earlier it is! At first, I will once again drive to the BART station and take the bus in. I may eventually transition back to the bike/BART commute after I get the hang of the scheduling. 

What is in your trunk? My coworker once had to put something in my trunk and when I opened it he gasped. I assumed he was disgusted by how much stuff I had in there, but actually he thought it was really tidy. I thought it would be fun to talk about what is in my trunk. My favorite thing, and one I have used more than once is a 3-in-1 car jumper, battery, and air compressor. Once charged up, it can be used to charge appliances (it has USB ports and a 110 volt outlet), jump your car or pump up tires. It also have a utility/flashlight function. I could write a whole post about this tool alone. It is very cool.

I also have a trunk organizer, which is probably why my friend thinks I am organized. In it is a first aid kit, 2 gallons of water, a towel, a blanket, an umbrella, more jumper cables (belt and suspenders!), dominoes & a deck of cards (you never know...), and an extra pair of running shoes. I also have a "running box" which includes an extra set of running clothes, socks, a hat, a sweatshirt, flip flops, a headlamp, a flashlight, a few snacks, a change of clothes for afterward and baby wipes. I guess if I were stranded, I could survive for at least eight days by utilizing the things in my trunk (if I drank one liter of water a day).

Your turn! Answer one or all of the following: What is your car situation? What is the parking like in your area? Do you have to pay tolls? What is your commute like? What is in your trunk?