What I Learned: 23 New Things

Happy Boxing Day! I hope that everyone had a great weekend and a great holiday with their loved ones. This week is a short one workwise, plus we have another three day weekend to look forward to next weekend! I thought that I would start wrapping up the year early by getting started on some of the year end lists. Last year, I went over 22 new things I had learned, seen, done and new places I had gone over the year. I really like injecting new things into my life, as it keeps things fresh, even if it is sometimes a little uncomfortable! I liked the list so much that I decided to do it again, so here we have, in no particular order, 23 new things from 2023. 

1. Alaska. This was one of the 50 U.S. states that I had not yet been to. I had a great time hiking, running, looking at mountains and glaciers and experiencing light basically all night. I did not see the Northern Lights though, so this is still on my wish list for now. 

Hiking the Bomber Traverse

2. Overnight bikepacking for the first time. At the beginning of the year I finally took Bob out for his first off road experience. I biked from my house to the Samuel L. Taylor state park, which is a cool camping and hiking area in the redwoods. I spent the night there and then biked back home the next day. It was very fun, a little harder than I thought it would be, and it made me want to do it again (see #22)! 

3. Selling stuff on the internet. Before this year, I had never really sold anything on the internet. As I have mentioned before, I broke the seal with shoes as they are rectangular and easy to ship, and then moved onto other things. Are there scammers and bots and people from Nigeria messaging you? Yes. Can you ignore/mute them? Yes. Was it as bad as I feared it would be? Nope, in fact it was not bad at all. As an added bonus (?) I also am now quite proficient at Venmo, which I was not really a user of before. However, if you want to sell on FB marketplace, you gotta get used to using Venmo. 

4. Hiking the Arizona Trail (AZT). For Easter weekend, I took an extra day off and spent five days hiking on the Arizona Trail. It was much different than what I am used to in my neck of the woods, which was fun. Also, I got lucky that it was a high snow year and so I had enough water and it was not scorching hot. For those who don't know, this trail is normally hiked in the spring or fall, as the summers can get into the 110+ range at times. 

Picketpost Mountain - AZT

5. Life on Mars. I have a friend who is doing a Mars simulation, meaning that she is stuck in a habitat for a year as if she were actually living on Mars. This deserves a post of its own, but for now you can read about it here if you are interested. Being on Mars means that there are no phone calls, no video calls, basically no real time communication. Even emails are delayed due to the "distance" from Mars to Earth. Luckily we can send emails up to a certain size, so I have been sending her voice recordings so that she can hear my voice from time to time. I never really liked the sound of my voice, but I have gotten used to it, as I often listen to my last recording before sending a new one so that I can remember what I already talked about. 

6. Not quite a century aka 97 miles in one go. Bertha and I completed a century minus three this fall. I know, I know, I should have just ridden another THREE miles to get to 100 but I didn't feel like it. I know that if I can do 97, I can do 100, and I will do it eventually. This was from Davis to Oakland and it was quite a journey. What I learned from this is that I prefer non-city riding over city riding. 

7. Ninth (and penultimate?) Quad Dipsea. After you run the Quad Dipsea ten times you get a fancy finishers jacket. I keep telling myself that I just have to run it one more time and then I am done!! We shall see though, as I know many a friend who has said that and is now on their 13th or 14th time. 

Headed downhill to Stinson Beach during the Quad Dipsea

8. Watch a Japanese movie. I do not know what the style is called, but I watched The Boy and the Heron. My brother loves this style, and so do K's kids, but I was just ho hum on it. I am not opposed to cartoons; I love Finding Nemo! However, I am not sure the two dimensional drawing style or the pace of the movie was my favorite. When I said this to my brother he said that this style is "very beloved" and he was sad to hear that... 😞 I guess one thing I did like was the background scenery drawings, as they resembled watercolors. 

9. Hike to Lake Aloha in the snow. Last winter was a very high snow year and this meant that even in July, hiking was very snowy! However, although it was difficult to get to, we had Lake Aloha basically to ourselves and it was beautiful. To top it off we had to jump in for a swim, even while avoiding the icebergs! 

Camping above Lake Aloha

10. Switch from Comcast (Xfinity) to Sonic. My Comcast was getting very expensive, at about $75 for just internet. So I decided to finally take the plunge and try a new carrier, Sonic, which has fiber and was only $39 per month. My first three months were free, the speed was great, and then it got bumped up to $39 BUT...as it always is, the price was more than I thought. They charge $10 for a voice line, which I do not use but cannot cancel, and with the taxes and the router rental (which I could not use my old one for), it ended up being $70!! Haha. I guess I am saving $5 and it IS fast, so there's that. 

11. Mendocino. I had driven past Mendocino before but never stayed there, and it was a treat. It is a small coastal town and you can walk along the bluffs. It was a rainy weekend when we were there, but we had fun walking on the beach, eating and riding on the skunk train! 

Pacific coast near Mendocino

12. Ride to Santa Rosa for the weekend. On New Years Day I rode to my brother's house in Santa Rosa from Richmond, which was my longest ride ever at the time, and was about 55 miles each way. Later in the year, I beat my own PR by riding from my house to his, which was about 75 miles each way. 

13. Ride the Amtrak with a bike. The weekend that I rode 97 miles was part of a journey I took where I took the Amtrak from Oakland to Auburn and then over the next two days rode from Grass Valley back to Oakland. The experience was good and I would like to do some more train rides, and knowing I can put my bike on them fairly easily was a relief. Maybe one day I will just ride off into the sunset and if I get tired, I will take the train back home. 

The bike car on Amtrak

14. Throw away all old Christmas cards. I was saving these because now a lot of them have photos and those are memories! However, now there is Facebook and other places on the internet where I can find photos of people so I decided that I did not need to keep them in a box that I never look through. I have to say, it feels like a weight has been lifted. I am sure I will have moments where I wish I had that cute photo of three year old soandso, but right now, it feels good. 

15. Three Michelin star dinner. For a client dinner, we went to SingleThread, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Healdsburg, which is part of the Sonoma county wine region. I am not going to lie, I don't think the bang was worth the buck. I am glad I got to try it, but I will probably not go there again. 

16. Complete a snowshoe race. In February, I went to see Lisa for her birthday and we did a snowshoe race. It was fun but we used old school snowshoes and there are actually running style ones that would be easier to run in. However, we had a great time chatting and staying warm by moving as fast as possible and drinking the (warm) water at the aid stations! 

Lisa getting it done! 

17. Gluten free biscuits and gravy. B&G is my favorite breakfast item. However, in 2022 I realized that wheat gives me some tummy issues so I have been avoiding it ever since. I was very sad to give up both biscuits, which are obviously made of flour, and good sausage gravy, which is thickened with flour. But Lisa and I found a good GF bakery near the snowshoe race and they had B&G and they were really good! I meant to try duplicating it on my own, but I have not gotten around to it (however, I have done a bit of GF baking and I find that the results are actually pretty good!) 

18. Bike accidents. I am very careful on the bike, but I would be amiss if all I did was talk about the good. In Spokane, I hit a goat head thorn, blew a tire, and tumbled (and skidded face first) right on the pavement. Luckily I was wearing gloves and the car next to me was stopped. In Oakland, I got hit by a car turning right. Luckily, he was not moving fast and I just bounced of his passenger door and onto the ground. I took a trail ride and went over a bump and accidentally squeezed the front brake too hard and went ass over teakettle over the handlebars. Luckily all of these have been minor, but accidents do happen! 

19. Driverless cars. I knew they were around, but it still made me do a double take when I saw my first driverless car in San Francisco. I signed up to try it, as they offer ride shares, but still have not had a chance yet. There have been some controversies over these, but aside from a couple of kinks, I think a robot is probably better suited to driving than many of the humans I see operating motor vehicles. 

A Cruise car with nobody at the wheel. 

20. Hike in Castle Crags State Park. I have driven by and even hiked near Castle Crags, but had never been inside the park before. In June, for my Dad's birthday, my family went and hiked up to the Crag Dome, where we had a great view of Mt. Shasta and the surrounding area. For those who don't know, Mt. Shasta is about 14,180 feet high, which I think makes it the 5th highest mountain in California. It is volcanic and is part of the Cascade Range, which extends all the way to BC and includes well known mountains like Hood and Rainier. 

21. Drive through the eastern part of Oregon. Once you leave Bend and head east, it just gets more and more sparse and the trees go away and it gets hot and there are no amenities. Really, there are none! We almost ran out of gas. We also camped off the side of the highway and there were these huge crickets, which could be Jerusalem or Mormon crickets, but whatever they were, they were gross and they hitchhiked in my car and I kept finding them in random places for days afterward. 

High desert of Oregon

22. Bike across Washington state. K's daughter A told everyone that I rode across the US, but I had to tell her that I may someday, but this trip was only across WA! It was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed the Olympic Peninsula and the varying scenery of the state as a whole. This trip had a lot of firsts: longest multi-day ride, first time taking the bike on the ferry, lots of new rail trails, riding through Seattle and riding through a two mile long tunnel! 

23. Soccer mom duties. Once a week I go and spend time with my friend K and her daughters A and L and often on weekends I will chauffer and spectate whatever sport is happening for the season. This has now been a regular thing for a couple of years, and it has been fun to be chauffer, confidant, game buddy, soccer/lacrosse "mom," bike instructor, cook and friend to all three ladies. Even though sometimes it is hectic and we don't have time to chat, more often than not, it is a chance to catch up a little with what is happening in each of their lives, which is priceless.

So there you have it, 23 new things in 2023. There were many more than this of course, but these were some of my favorites. 

What new things did you do/learn/try or places did you go in 2023? How do you feel about driverless cars? How do you feel about the Japanese drawing style? 


Where Did You Find That Book?

My work husband G once asked me how I find so many different and good book recommendations. He is an avid reader, but prefers non-fiction and does not belong to any book clubs or the like. He joined Goodreads because I told him about it and now I am his only friend, which means that he sees ALL of my ratings and comments about them at work. He is not really a social media person, but loves being able to keep track of his books, which I find very dear. I have recommended a few fiction books to him which he has really loved (The Nightingale, The House in The Cerulean Sea, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn) even though his genre is usually non-fiction. 

To answer his question, I told him that I have a multitiered process. 

First of all, my number one method for getting good book recommendations is from other bloggers, and I keep them in a list and make a few notes. I also do rate them in Goodreads once I am done; the notes I keep in this list are very basic. Here are a few examples.

Birchie: The Social Climber by Amanda Pellegrino (put on hold 11/13)

NGS/Lisa: Kill Show (put on hold 12/01, hard copy only, no audio) 

Stephany: Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb  (put on hold 10/24)

----------------    READ ------------------------

Emily: An Evil Heart (on hold 10/06) READ, thought it was good. 

Elisabeth/Nicole: I Feel Bad About My Neck (borrowed 6/28) READ, really liked it. Great read about getting older as a woman. Humorous.

Jenny: Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory (Deena Kastor) (put on hold 9/28) READ, thought it was good. Definitely different from the other two running lady books I read this year. [Side note, in case you are wondering, they were Good For A Girl and The Longest Race]

The other thing I do is I poach my friends' feeds on Goodreads for five star reviews. This is actually not one I do very often, as I am not really a social media scroller; I generally get on, add my updates and get off without really looking through the feed. However, sometimes I will see a five star and I will go to Libby and put that on hold. For these ones, I don't really make a list or notes. 

I also peruse the Goodreads annual choice awards. Each year a winning book is chosen from each genre. However, there are also about 10 nominees for each category and I often will add books from the top ten to my holds list. For example, here were some of the top nominees (and the winner, Weyward) for this year's historical fiction category (one of my favorite genres). 

However, I will also peruse the prior years nominee lists if I am looking to fill my holds bin. Sometimes there are books on the old lists that I have still never read. The good thing about this method for me is that I can tell by a glance on Goodreads if I have read it or not, because more likely than not, I will not always remember! 

I also use Libby in two ways: (a) if I need a book now, like I am desperate, I will check the "available now" filter and just see what is out there and in this case I am not too picky. If I see a thriller from an author I know (or think) is not total crap, I will borrow it. I also have some in the pocket, like I still have not read all of the Louise Penny books, so I am saving some of those for a rainy day! (b) I may also filter by "popular now" although more and more I have read a lot of the first ones that come up, but I will still scroll down and then either put them on hold or borrow them if they look interesting. In this case, I will admit, I sometimes DO judge a book by its cover. Sorry! 

Lastly, and not least, I get recommendations from IRL friends! These are more few and far between but they are still there. My friend K's Mom was reading Lessons In Chemistry the last time we were together and I was so excited to hear what she thought about it after she was done (and she loved it! and apparently there is now a TV show too, which is supposed to be pretty good). 

Also, you may wonder how I keep track of what I want to read. I used to mark them as "want to read" on Goodreads but I found that once I had the "wish list" function on OverDrive, which then transferred over to Libby, it is just easier to either put them on hold right away, borrow them right away, or put them on my wish list on OverDrive/Libby right away rather than trying to manage two lists. 

So there we have it. If you are looking for a book recommendation, you can find a list of some of my favorite books here. And if you want to poach my five star shelf, you can find me on Goodreads here

How do you find new books? Where do you get book recommendations? How do you keep track of  your TBR (to be read) list? 

P.S. Only one more week until Christmas!! 🎄


Gift Ideas For Active People

I hope that everyone had a great weekend and is getting in the holiday spirit! I made a wreath for my door; it looks like a five year old made it, but it smells so good! The weekend was a little chilly here; it was in the 30s in the Bay Area and it snowed about a foot or so in the Sierra last week. I guess winter is here. Personally, I like a white Christmas, but since this year Christmas is on a Monday and I have to drive home to work on Tuesday, I don't want it to snow too much because that means I may have to drive it it. Ideally it would snow on Sunday, be white until Monday morning and then melt off just in time for me to leave. 

Even though most of you have probably already done your shopping (right?), I thought I would give you some ideas in case you have an active friend in your life for whom you have no idea what to get. Never fear, here are ten ideas for you, in no particular order, based on some of my favorite things I use very often, and have tried and tested*! 

Solomon Hydration Pack ($140) - It took me a long time to get one of these, as it is a little expensive, but it really is the best one that I have had. I like it so much that I have actually rebought it three times now. The only thing I would say I don't like is that I had to rebuy it three times, mostly due to stretching of the netting/pockets. However, I would say each one lasts me about 2-3 years and I get a lot of mileage out of them! 

Altra Lone Peak Trail Runner ($90) - This shoe is good for hiking or trail running and has a nice wide toe for people with Flintstone feet like mine. It has a zero drop, which may take a little getting used to, but is very comfortable once you do. It is also very lightweight, which is good for use and also for traveling! 

Stance Socks ($15) - I also use these for both running and hiking; for running I like the ankle sock, but for hiking the crew is better. They have a compression function so are a little hard to get off and on sometimes, but they are really comfortable and I get no blisters! They are pretty expensive for a sock, but for that reason are a good gift! 


Patagonia Houdini Windbreaker ($100) - This is a very lightweight windbreaker and it zips into its own pocket so that when folded up it is perhaps about as big of a deck of cards. I usually just keep it in my hiking pack just in case and it has come in handy on unexpectedly cold days. 

Yaktrax ($25) - These are little snow chains you put over your sneakers in the winter for added traction. Full disclosure --> they do not work as well on ice; they are better for softer snow, but there are some that have more spiky bottoms which are a bit more grippy. If you are going to really be in ice and/or climbing, microspikes or crampons may be a better bet. 

Snacks! ($5- $10) - When running, I usually eat squeezy applesauce, protein bars and dried fruit. When hiking, I will eat the two latter items, and some other great hiking snack ideas for your favorite person include beef sticks and jerky (these no sugar ones by Tillamook are my favorite), TJs dried mangos and coconut, TJs salted almonds and Think bars. Many hikers also swear by Snickers and peanut M&Ms! 

Fanny pack ($35) - I used to make fun of my Dad for wearing a fanny pack in the 80s and now he makes fun of me! Actually he doesn't but isn't it funny how things come back around? I got a fanny pack as swag for a race and I put it in a drawer with a sneer, until a few years later I needed it for something and I put it on and I was hooked. I gushed so much that broski and Dr. G had to get one for themselves too. When hiking or biking, it is so handy to have all of your things within reach: phone, sunscreen, bug goop, TP...it makes things so much better. Sorry Dad; you were right! 

Goodr sunglasses ($20) - My friend K's sister loved these and recommended them to me, as they are grippy plastic/rubber and they don't bounce when you are running. K decided to buy us both a pair and although I laughed when I saw the ones that she got me (they are pretty obnoxious colors), I really do love them. They come in various (obnoxious) themes and colors so you can really show your style, like maybe Nessie's Midnight Orgy or Donkey Goggles. 

Bright, eh? These are called "Everglades."

Hand Warmers ($1) - these are a great stocking stuffer and we actually used to use them for skiing, on both our hands and our feet. They are inexpensive and are a nice treat to have in your pocket when hiking on a chilly day. I gave one to my coworker and he used it at work one day when they had the AC up too high! I guess they are good for a lot of places! 

*I am not sponsored by any of these companies, but if any of them want to sponsor me, I would be happy to oblige! 

Have you tried any of these items and if so what do you think? What is on your Christmas wish list? What must have item would you recommend to me? 


Travel Wish List + Paint By Numbers

I work with several financial advisors and they each have a different take on estate planning. One of them once said that he told his kids he would rather them take the money out of his warm living hands than his cold dead ones, meaning that he would rather do things with them now than give them money later for them to do things without him. It may seem crass to talk about, but that is literally what I do every day, talk about things that to many people are taboo. He does have a point too; I really do think that sharing experiences now is priceless and would rather spend my parent's money on vacations with them now than get it from them after they are gone. 😁 

That was a joke (hi Dad!)!! But seriously, regarding my parents, I would rather they spend their money on something they have always wanted to do; they worked hard to get to where they are now. I hope they use up every penny of their money by the time they go. For my own money, I would rather go for a dinner or weekend away with friends or travel or have an experience rather than a thing. Obviously there are bills and stuff, but I have really been trying to avoid spending on things that will just break, go bad, or be used just once before sitting gathering dust. I am not saying that everyone needs to do it my way; you do you! I bought a stationary bike during the pandemic that I barely use; I am not immune to idiocy. I am saying that lately I have been trying to ask myself if I really NEED something and if not, that money I have "saved" is going into the travel and experiences fund. 

So, let's get to the fun part! This summer, I had planned to go to one of the following: Bulgaria, Romania, Norway, Iceland or Taiwan. I know, this seems like an odd list, but these are just a few of the many places I would like to go. At the beginning of the year, I set flight alerts for all of them and waited for the prices to come down. You may already know where this is going, but the prices did not come down, they went up and it was ridiculous how much a two week vacation was going to cost. So I decided to double down next year and try to do a longer trip so I can justify the crazy cost of the flight. So that is the plan; next year I will make plans to go to one of those places. 

But wait, there's more! Last week, Ally Bean posted this chart and of course I had to fill out one for myself. (you can fill one out here). I won't lie, I was a little confused between stayed here and visited here, but decided that "visited" means stopped and ate but did not stay the night. You decide how you want to play it. 

So of course I have all of the white states above on my wish list too. I actually have tentative plans to go to Montana next summer. I have heard AR has some really pretty scenery and mountain biking, so I can't wait to check it out. MI, WI and OH are in a strange (geographically, not mentally) but beautiful part of the country, so Kae, Birchie and Engie, don't be surprised if I show up on your doorstep someday. SC is probably best to visit in winter and I won't lie, ND and SD just seem cold and flat. Can anyone tell me what I need to do and where I should go in any of the white/blue states above? Help! 

Of course, I also had to do the same thing for Europe. 

Doing this made me realize that I have a lot of gaps to fill. So many gaps and so little time! So I really hope to get a chance to see many of the white ones in the map above over the next few years. Have you been to any of the above white countries? Which one(s) and what did you think and what should I do and see if I go there? **FYI I am NOT a "check it off the list" traveler. I would rather stay one month in one place than try to go to 10 different countries in a month. Also, I have returned to many of the orange countries above rather than go to a white one, as a two week vacation really is not enough time to see an entire country! (off soapbox now)**

So there you have it, a very small slice of my travel wish list. Your turn! If you feel like painting by numbers, fill in the map and let me know (1) what your score was (2) what white gaps in your map would you like to visit first. If you do not feel like painting, tell me what is on your travel wish list. 

What kind of experiences or things do you find priceless? What is the best state or country you have ever visited? What places are on your travel wish list?