3.05.2021

Looking Back: February

 I am not sure if it is because February was a short month or what but all I can say is what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks happened to February!? I do not feel that it was especially productive, but still things sailed pretty quickly from January to March. Maybe this is a good thing, as it means one day (week, month) closer to, dare I say, "normalcy?" Here's hoping. Until then, one day (week, month) at a time, we keep paddling. Yup, I am in a sailboat with a paddle. 

Running: In February, after two months of solitude, we came out of lockdown. I started back doing a once a week run with my running buddy. However, I still had quite a few solo runs, several of them in the pouring rain and the majority of them still on the road rather than trails. I ended up with 215 miles. I have been having fun finding weird things in my neighborhood, like this series of wooden creatures on a local trail. 

Plumbers crack

Forrest creature

Reading: Two things dragged down my reading numbers this month. One: I am reading a book called Dark Money for a work book club and it is dragging along! It is about the Koch brothers and I have learned a lot but man it is boring at times. Two: I have been studying a lot. However, I did read 12 books and my two favorites were Code Name Helene (WWII alert!) and A Good Neighborhood. For more details you can go here

My study buddy

Travel
: Hahahahahaha. What? Snore emoji! I went back and forth to work, I went grocery shopping and I went to the gas station. My big traveling lately has been done on YouTube (places like this), which is helping me to plan about 10 summer camping trips of which I will hopefully get to do a few of. 

Misc.: I have done a fair bit of puttering in the garden and we have actually had some rainy days but not enough of them, so the backyard days have been more plentiful than I thought they would. I did some digging and moved some dirt around and did a ton of weeding. In a couple of weeks, I will make sure the drip system is set up and I will throw some veggies in the dirt! It is very satisfying and a nice break from studying. I am also tentatively planning a few summer things, although I am keeping my expectations low while also being cautiously optimistic. 

What was your favorite book in February? Did you go anywhere or do anything? 

2.01.2021

Looking Back: January

The first month of the new year pretty much went the same way as the last month of last year went; we were still under lockdown, which meant more solo runs, audiobooks, and puttering around the house. I also started studying again, and am doing that about 15-18 hours per week. In addition, it's been raining, so the weeds are getting out of control, but that is a task for another month! 

Running: I have been trying to run three times per week, once during the week and once each weekend day. I can get out early on the weekends so can be "mask-less" for a couple of hours before I start having to put it up from time to time, and on the weekday run, I have found a neighborhood route where I see fewer people, even though it's the middle of the day. This has resulted in a lot of neighborhood exploration runs and I have found some interesting kitschy gardens and funky gates around town. In January I did 14 runs for a total of 230 miles. 

These guys just people watch all day, I guess.

Survivors will be shot again.

I love the pretty blue tiles.

Reading: Due to being home, I once again read a lot! I already put a couple of five star ratings on books and my goal is to try to write an actual review blurb for (not just star) a few books a month. My favorites were The Book of Lost Names (WWII French Resistance), The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (Immortality), Tell the Wolves I am Home (AIDS, love, being a teenager) and A Promised Land (Obama). They were all good, although I felt that Obama's book was a bit too long and wish he would have edited it a bit more. It was a 30 hour audiobook; thank goodness for 1.6x speed! 

Travel: Crickets again! I traveled to and from work. I did not even go to the grocery store, as I stocked up at Costco in December and am working my way through my stash of fridge meals. 

Happy New Year! Brought to you by happy eggs! 

Misc.: I am back on the study bus, so as much as I would like to say that I was super productive around the house, I mostly studied, worked in the yard (the balls/seeds falling from the maple tree are the bane of my existence), read and puttered. 

What did you do in January? What was your favorite book so far this year? 

1.19.2021

Looking Back: 2020 Money Pie

Unfortunately, in 2019 the system that I use for compiling my data had a glitch and I decided not to recreate everything, so I never got 2019 data all put together. This year, I was interested to see how my spending stacked up to prior years, as I did not spend as much money on travel, which is generally my second biggest category. I also wanted to break out some of my shopping a little more fully, and so I spent some time looking through my Amazon, Costco and Walmart receipts since a lot of those are multiple categories, whereas in years past I just called Costco "groceries" and Amazon "shopping." 

So without further ado, here is the pie!



Overall, in 2020 I spent 94% of my average over the years of 2016-2018, or 6% less than normal. The categories that decreased the most in dollar terms were Travel and Dining Out and the categories that increased the most were Groceries and Health. 

Home: (Increase 2% YoY) This category includes mortgage, utilities, garbage, taxes, insurance and garden. As you can see, this is my largest category by far. However, I spent a little more than I normally do in this category, and I chalk that up to the fact that I decided to start paying a little extra toward my principal midway through the year. Otherwise this category dollar-wise has been very consistent through the years and is always my largest.

Groceries: (Increase 62% YoY) Woof! I spent a lot more on groceries than I normally do, which is probably due to the following: (1) I bought a lot of non-perishables online and I probably went a little overboard. (2) I stocked up at Costco a few times. (3) I decided to experiment with making my own dehydrated meals and also tried some new foods for camping trips (that could be its own post!) (4) I  cut out sugar and am eating more natural items and I tried a lot of new products for this as well (this could also be its own post). However, an interesting note is that if you add groceries + dining out, I spent less in total this year than I do on average (almost 20% less). 

Transportation: (Increase 14% YoY) This category is often my third biggest as it consists of daily public transportation commute costs plus any car related costs like gas, tolls or maintenance. This year, due to COVID, I actually did go into work every day, but I drove instead of taking public transportation, which upped my car related costs significantly. In addition, I had to buy two new tires and a new side window for the Red Rocket in 2020. 

Travel: (Decrease 64% YoY) This includes any flights, meals, lodging or activities while traveling. This year I took one flight and paid for one that I did not use. Otherwise, I took a couple of road trips. I tried to be more diligent with breaking down my costs, so this does account for all camping, food, gas etc. that I used while doing the road trips, but there were a lot of cooler and backpack meals and wild camping, so the number was very low. 

Misc.: (Decrease 36% YoY) This category is mainly gifts. There are a few credit card fees in there as well, but they are minimal. Normally this includes education, hair cuts and massages, but well...I paid for my education in 2019 and it's still postponed, and there have been no hair cuts this year and I decided to put my one massage in Health instead. 

Entertainment: (Increase 10% YoY) This consists of any running, camping, music or national park related items or any other fun activities (excluding travel). This category was larger than normal because of my different allocations this year. In prior years, running shoes were under "shopping" but this year I decided to put them under entertainment. In addition, if I bought food that was only going to be used for camping (a bit of a grey area at times), I categorized it here. The big ticket items were a new tent, two concerts and three pairs of running shoes (I always buy them if they are on sale). 

Health: (Increase 69% YoY) This consists of gym membership, health insurance, doctors visits and things like vitamins and protein powder. This year my insurance increased a little, and I also spent some money trying to figure out a pain I had in my foot at the beginning of the year. However, I did finally cancel the gym membership that I was paying for every money but not using! 

Shopping: (Decrease 29% YoY) This category was mostly toiletries, home supplies and kitchen gadgets, with the bulk of the total going towards a new Ninja. Actually my second largest subcategory here was pet supplies. Gato had fleas a few years ago and I have happily spent money on flea treatment and prevention since then. Fleas give me nightmares.  

Dining Out: (Decrease 90% YoY) Most of my dining out is covered in travel. In fact, I only dined out a few times in January and February when I had some friends visit and we went for beers etc. Otherwise, I bought burritos for my two office mates mid-COVID but that is it! 

The Verdict?: I am now an expert at online shopping. I know where to find a good sugar-free jerky and that MRIs and pet supplies are expensive. Reading and weeding are both free. Owning a house is not. I wonder if next year's grocery number will be lower because I will still be working my way through all of the beef sticks and protein powders that I bought this year. 

Did you spend more or less in 2020 than you normally do? Which categories do you think differed the most year over  year? 

1.06.2021

Looking Back: December

Well, that was an interesting month. On December 7th, California imposed another Stay at Home requirement, so I got a lot of stuff done around the house last month!

Running: Definitely not my highest running month ever, but December went out with a bang when I realized on the 29th that I was less than 5,000 feet away from having a total feet climbed of 400,000. So on the 30th, I went and ran up and down a hill near my house a few times and on the 31st instead of drinking champagne, I went and did a trail run to get those last few thousand feet of climbing in. I ended the year with 400,433 feet of climbing. 

Reading: In December I read my most books ever for one month. None of them were total duds, although I did give one book two stars only because I did not like the tone of the narrator (I listened to it as an audiobook and the author was the narrator). My favorite was Christadora, which made it into my top books of 2020. A few others I enjoyed were Gimme Everything You Got (an easy, fast YA read), The Black Swan of Paris (who doesn't love a WWII French resistance novel) and On Tyranny (an interesting comparison between Nazi Germany and the current US).

Travel: Crickets! The furthest I traveled was my commute to work. Oh, I also went to Costco once for a grocery haul so I would not have to go to the store a lot during the shut down. Other than that, I guess going back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom were my big forays for the month! 

Misc.: I actually got a lot of those little annoying things that you do not like doing done in December. I cleaned out several closets, sorted and threw away paperwork, finally deep scrubbed the bathroom grout, installed a security system myself (it even works!), went through that darn junk drawer and other assorted things like that. I also worked in the yard a couple of times each week, as the Maple tree just keeps giving! I am also doing a lot of video calls!

How was your December? What did you do for the holidays? Did you read any good books? 

1.04.2021

Best of 2020: Books

Well it's that time of year again, time to do the wrap ups! This year, due to spending a lot more time at home than I normally do, I read a lot more books than I normally do. In fact, this is the most books read per year since I started tracking and even more than some of the years where I was not working and was traveling a lot. In addition, I read over 20 books in one month alone, which is definitely the most I have ever read in a month! I guess it was that kind of year! 

I always like looking back and remembering what my favorite books were for the year and really enjoy reading other people's lists as well (and adding books to my to-read list!). Here are my recaps from prior years: 2019, 2018201720162015201420132012, and 2011.

And now, in no particular order, here are my favorite ten twelve books that I read in 2020. 

Five Stars:

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was a very entertaining book about a rock band in the 60s; it's all about the sex, drugs and rock and roll and it doesn't disappoint. It is written in an interview style and goes back and forth between stories, but that does not detract from the story at all, in fact, it actually made it very entertaining, in my opinion. 

The River by Peter Heller: Two friends go out on a fishing trip in Northern Canada thinking that they are going to have a nice time catching up, fishing and enjoying nature but they end up getting more of an adventure than they bargained for. I won't say more in fear of spoiling it for readers, but let's just say that I finished this book in one day! 

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: In the 1930s many Native American children in Minnesota were separated from their families and sent to be "educated." This is the story of two brothers who attempt to escape this life. You really begin to like these brothers and their friends and are rooting for their journey to succeed. Of course they come upon hard times and danger and adventure along the way. 

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow: I actually did not know what this book was about when I started it; I only put it on my to-read because it had good reviews. However, once I started it, I was both disgusted and enthralled by the story. It is an investigative journalism story about the Weinstein ordeal, not only what he did, but how hard it was to find women willing to testify and how corrupt and controlling the big men in big chairs really are. It was very interesting hearing some of the "behind the scenes" information. 

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: This was another investigative journalism piece about an ordeal that had been in the news a lot but that I did not know a lot of details about. This talks about the Theranos scandal, which if you are unfamiliar was a company that sold a machine that did blood testing, but they were delivering fraudulent results. Once again, there were some big power people at play here and the fight between might and right is in the forefront of the situation. 

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman: This book was written by a woman in the strict Satmar sect of the Hasidic Jewish faith. She talks about what it is like to be in a faith where woman have little rights. She is married off at an early age to a man she barely knew and after getting pregnant, decided to try to escape. It is not easy however, as the sect keeps to themselves and if you leave you are often ostracized. I learned a lot about the faith through this book and wanted her to be able to just leave but also understood the difficulties of trying to do so. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune: This book is about a man who lives a pretty by-the-books boring life. One day, his employer sends him to an island for an assignment and it turns out to be one where there are magical (and dangerous) children. He is there to evaluate them and their caretaker and in the end, he gets more than he bargained for. This was a touching book with a couple of twists thrown in and was one that was hard to put down. 

Christadora by Tim Murphy: I had this on hold for a while and finally got it right at the end of the year so it was a last minute five star add. About a family through time, it talks about the struggles of the AIDs movement, issues with addiction, mental disorders and emotional pain. It does jump back and forth a little between time periods, which was a little difficult, but all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Four Stars: I had a lot of four star reviews this year! Normally three stars is more common for me, basically when I found a book good but not totally wow, but this year I either got more generous or more of them caught my fancy! 

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes & The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson: I am combining this one, because both of these books are about the packhorse librarians of Kentucky and they were both very enjoyable. The packhorse librarians were a group of women in the early 1900s who would ride horses through the remote mountains of Appalachia to deliver books to people who lived too far out of town to come in and get them. In 1930, about 30% of the people living in eastern Kentucky could not read and did not have a school to go to, so this was their only way of learning. These books were both fiction, but they gave me a very interesting peek into the way that things worked in that area, and they make me think of how lucky I am that right now I have about 20 books checked out from the library! 

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld: This book is a fictional book about what would have happened to Hillary if she had not married Bill Clinton. It has a bit of raunchy areas that I felt it could have done without, and they made me cringe a little, but otherwise it is entertaining and sometimes when reading (or listening in my case) you forget that it is not a biography. I had to go and look up a couple of things to see if they really happened! 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I am not the only one who liked this book; it is on a lot of the top 2020 book lists and that made me put it off for a while actually. However, once I read it, I saw what all of the hype was about. It is about a set of light skinned twins who run away from home and one of them goes off and passes herself as white while the other moves back to their hometown with their mother. They live very separate lives for a while but eventually their paths cross again. 

It was hard to pick only ten this year as I read a lot of good books (hence the extra two)! Some of the others that I enjoyed this year included: A Burning, We Are Not From Here, The Girl with the Louding Voice, We Were Eight Years in Power, The Last Train to London, Sigh, Gone, Saving Ruby King, Know My Name, One of Us is Lying, Dear Edward, Shoe Dog, The Story Keeper, City of Girls, Cilka's Journey, Talking to Strangers, I'll Be Gone in The Dark & I Am Malala. 

What were your favorite books in 2020? Did you read more this year than you normally do? 

12.31.2020

Looking Back: 2020

At the beginning of December, the Bay Area was placed back into Stay at Home lockdown. Although plans for this December were not as hearty as other years, I did hope to have a couple of socially distanced gift exchanges or hikes with friends. Instead, I put packages in the mail or dropped them off on people's porches. I scheduled a new round of video calls. I downloaded extra audiobooks onto my phone in preparation for solitary runs. 

There has been a lot of that this year; there have been many broken plans, many frustrations, plenty of audiobooks and a lot of time to reflect and think. There has been a lot of solitude for some and a feeling of being stuck with the same people in the same house forever for others. We have had to have patience and understanding; we have had to have flexibility. We have worried about our loved ones and been angry at them for their beliefs, just as they have been angry at ours. We have seen people in our lives sicken; we have been affected either directly or indirectly by an instance where someone has not recovered. 

January 1, 2020 - View from Mt. Tam

We adapt; we grow; we learn about ourselves and our resiliency when faced by adverse situations. I know that I am introverted; I love to read and putter around the house; I am happy on the couch with a blanket; I can measure success in small ways: reorganizing my closet for the hundredth time (success equals getting rid of even just one running shirt) or making lists and crossing things off (Yay! I went grocery shopping!). We can edit our goals; this year I read more books than I ever had in one year (success!); this year I went to a national park in California that I had not been to before (success!); this year I grew an onion in my garden (okay, it was two onions actually, but...success!); this year I did not gain weight. 

We will probably look back at this year in twenty years just like we do with 9/11 or whatever trauma we know in our lives and say, "where were you when..." or "can you believe we did...?" I lived in Istanbul for a few months, and I missed my first Thanksgiving with my family. At the time, I thought it was hard, but afterward, when looking back, even mere days after, it was not that bad. I have stories to tell about it. Did you know that I could not for the life of me find a turkey in Turkey? I had to make due with a chicken. And some of the side dishes were....creative. But it was an adventure. 

This year I missed all the holidays with all of my friends and family, but in the grand scheme of things...it is not that bad. We are all happy and healthy; we all have jobs; we all care about each other and have been there for each other even when we are not feeling motivated.  This year has been an adventure. Adventures are not always fun. The dictionary defines them as: an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. I would say that this year qualifies. 

Look, there's hope! I can see it! (PC: MW)

So long 2020; here's hoping that our adventures in 2021 are a little less pandemic, a little more rock and roll. To all my friends and family, here's hoping that in 2021 our adventures will be done together! 

How would you sum up 2020 in one word? What adventures do you hope for in 2021? 

12.01.2020

Looking Back: November

As I ran around the neighborhood last month, past Christmas decorations, I wondered how it could already be November going on December. Now that we are in the last month of the year, it feels as if this year has gone by in a blur, while also crawling along at times. I know this month will also go by fast, although not as fast as years past, when every weekend in December is filled with parties and lights and celebration. This year will be a quieter December but maybe it's just what is needed: a bit of reflection and a glimmer of hope for the year ahead. 

Running: I took another road trip at the beginning of November and spent some time on the California coast running in places with blue skies and views of the ocean. I also tackled a couple of the higher peaks in southern California: Mt. Baldy (San Antonio) and San Jacinto. Unfortunately due to fires, I could not conquer the third of the three saints (San Gorgonio). That's going to have to be one to go back to later! Total miles: 220. 

Reading: Not having to study coupled with no travel (aside from the first week) meant lots of time for reading last month and there were quite a few good ones! I ended up reading twenty books, which may be a record for me! Eleven were audiobooks and I gave five stars to one book and four stars to ten books. Some of my favorites were: The House in the Cerulean Sea (*****), The Vanishing Half (****), Sigh, Gone (****), Saving Ruby King (****), We are Not From Here (****) and The Girl With the Louding Voice (****). The rest can be found here

Travel: As stated above, the only travel I did was a California road trip. In one week I went from camping in 98 degree weather in the desert to hunkering down on a snow covered mountain with temperatures in the high teens or low 20s. It was quite an adventure! 

From the beach....(Big Sur)

...to the snow covered mountains (Trinity Alps)

Misc. & Etc.: Other than the above, my big excitement for the month has been mostly yard related. I have spent a lot of time raking and picking up leaves every week. The Maple tree is beautiful but it also causes about 6 months of work; I am either raking or picking up leaves or am picking up the balls (seeds) that fall on the ground after that as they can cause a bad accident or will grow new trees if not picked up (and once that is done, usually it is spring and then the weeding begins). I finally ripped out the garden and got rid of the hornets/yellow jackets using diaphanous earth. I pruned all of the fruit trees for the winter. Isn't that exciting? 

I have also been eating no sugar and have been experimenting with recipes. One of my favorite snacks is chocolate pudding. I make it with chia or gelatin depending on my mood, but usually it consists of the following: Blend one banana, one can of coconut milk and three heaping tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa and then heat to boil in a small pot, stirring a few times as you go. Turn it down to a simmer. For gelatin, in a separate bowl, put a half a cup of cold unsweetened almond milk and a package of gelatin (or one tbsp). Let the gelatin bloom (get fizzy) for a minute or two, then add to the warm chocolate, stirring while adding. For chia, add half a cup of almond milk to original mixture. Once that has all been brought to a boil, add 3-4 tbsp chia to the warm chocolate, stirring while adding. Pour into containers and refrigerate for a few hours. If you wanted you could also add monkfruit sweetener or some alternative sweetener (honey, maple syrup etc.) 

Tell me something exciting that you did in November! What was your favorite book that you read? Did you do any traveling?