Looking Back: March

March is the month of madness! I finally did my taxes (mostly), got a lot of stuff done in the yard/around the house and spent a lot of time with friends who I had not seen in a while. I am feeling like I need to schedule a couple of down days in April before the summer comes along and things get too crazy.

Running: This month I got back on the horse and logged about 215 miles of running with about 43,000 feet of climbing. In addition, I hiked 11 miles with an additional 2,700 ft of climbing. My strength training has been pitiful, and this month I logged none. However, I did do one day of plumbing work (digging and crawling and lifting) and two very physical days of gardening (moving rocks, digging, carrying dirt) and one less physical day of gardening (raking, pulling weeds, mowing with a push mower). I am calling this strength training, and in that case, I did it roughly once a week! On top of that, I cycled a little over 15 miles, which is about 4 round trip commutes.

Reading: This suffered a lot in March due to the fact that I was outside gardening or fixing plumbing or running. By the time that was all done, there was no brain power or time left over for reading! I ended up reading 4 books and setting two down that I could just not get into. The ones I read were as follows (stars on those that satisfy the RHC).

Between the World and Me
A Manual for Cleaning Women*
Prisoner of Tehran*
Orhan's Inheritance (would satisfy, but category already filled!)

Travel: Over Easter weekend, I was supposed to go to Ouray, CO and do some fun winter activities, but the day of my flight there was a huge snowstorm in CO and all flights were cancelled. So I took a camping trip to Yosemite instead! I also traveled up to see my brother and his girlfriend, and I helped them weed their garden, which was another day of strength training!

Mirror Lake

Tenaya Canyon

What was your favorite thing about March? What book are you reading this month? What everyday activities do you use as your strength training? 


One Man's Trash

I am always trying to get rid of things. I probably go through my closets once every month or two months and throw things away. When I moved into the new home and moved my old stuff out of storage last May, I tried to ge through each box as I unpacked it and to get rid of what I could then. I probably gave away a half a dozen bags full of stuff then. I definitely tried on all my clothes and threw away anything with holes, that was too small/big or that was completely not even close to my style anymore (huge Rage Against the Machine t-shirt....okay, actually I kept that to sleep in but I did give away the Nirvana shirt).

However, I somehow still have a ton of stuff and much of it is things that I have not worn for months or years, is expired or that was given to me by someone and just isn't something I would use (or that I need). So I decided to join Lisa in the February Purge Project. Her goal was to get rid of as many things each day as the number of the day that it was. For example, on the 1st, you give away one thing. On the 19th, you give away 19 things. And so on. That ends up adding up to 425 items. While you may think that there is no possible way you could get rid of 425 items, it is surprisingly easier than you would think!

So many old t-shirts!

I did not get it all done in February. I also did not really finish my sorting and purging (I still have the garage to go through! Ack!) However, I did get about halfway through, and in total so far, I have given away or thrown away 333 items. The majority of the things, unfortunately, are smaller things. For example, my biggest category was office supplies. Next biggest category was accessories. Here's the breakdown.

125 Office
73 Accessories
52 Home
43 Clothing
22 Books
18 Toiletries

I have to admit, I still have a lot of boxes from my move that I have not thoroughly gone through. When I began this purge, I started with a couple of them and either threw things away or put them in the Goodwill pile anything if I had not used in years or in many cases, if they no longer worked. For instance, I had so many old pens!

I will not read these again.

Doing this kind of thing takes time, especially when you are talking about some of the things that carry memories, as they are hard to give away. However, over the years I have become better about throwing or giving away things that I am not using or looking at or enjoying and probably never will. As much as I cherish that tchotchke that my grandmother gave me, I really don't need it and it will either sit in a box in my garage or it will just be another thing to dust on the shelves in my house.

I try to think about three things: Does it work/fit? Have I used it in the last 6 months (or year for certain items)? Is it worth passing on to someone at some point? The first two are easy, as they are quantitative. The last is not as easy and is where I often run into snags. The tchotchke is worthless to everyone but me, who associates it with a memory or a person. However, it sitting in a box is worthless as well. So why not enjoy it or give it to someone who may, whether they are a faceless Goodwill customer or a friend. So that is what I am trying to do.

Next up: the garage. I will have an update on that later!

Do you do a yearly or monthly purge? What strategies do you employ? How many dried out or non-functioning pens do you have? 


Friday Fun Day

Happy Friday everyone! I am glad this one has rolled around, as I feel as if this week has been a bit of a whirlwind. Here's to a calm Friday and a great weekend to boot!

The high of my week was installing a ceiling fan in my bedroom without electrocuting myself! I pretty much did it by myself with the help of a friend for the "brawn" portion of the task. I could not have held it up and installed it at the same time.

The low of my week was when tub decided to not drain. This has not been fixed yet and taking a shower has become of the ship variety (as short as possible!) as I try to avoid flooding the bathroom.

The past week's workouts consisted of two rainy 12 mile runs in the Marin headlands, one great long run in Point Reyes and a wet and wild and dark street run last night at the last minute (one that I wanted to flake out on). All my runs last week were with someone else, which is a new thing for me, and is one that is keeping me honest!

This week I am reading A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It satisfies my "collection of essays" category for the Read Harder challenge. I am not a huge fan of short stories and/or essay collections, but it is entertaining. However, I am getting through it a lot slower than I normally do.

This week I am listening to this Freakonomics podcast about what it would be like if restaurants went to the "no tipping" policy. They have actually implemented this in some San Francisco restaurants already.

The best money I spent was on a beer and a meal out on Tuesday night. If you have never tried this beer, you should, and if you are ever in Santa Rosa, you should check out the brewery too! They make excellent IPAs and sours!

Plans for the weekend include fixing my tub draining issue, working in the backyard to get everything ready for planting, spending time with my family (I have dragged them into the yard work duties), running and probably making a nice meal to celebrate the fact that the tub has been fixed (biggggg fingers crossed here).

How do you feel about the No Tipping policy? What are your weekend plans? What was the high of your week? 


Looking Back: February

This month felt shorter than normal! Ha. That was a joke... Really though, February did go by fast, but that is what happens when you are working on the weekdays and are active on the weekends!

Sunrise over lake Tahoe

Running: I felt like I did a lot of running in February, but I ended up with 84 miles of trail running, 50.5 miles of road running (including Jed Smith) and 4 miles on the treadmill for a total of 138.5 miles. I also had 9 miles of cycling, 20 miles of snowshoeing and 20 miles of skiing. This is not keeping in track with my yearly goals for either running or cycling, so I need to pick up the pace!

Reading: This month I only ended up reading three books, but all of them satisfied a category on the Read Harder Challenge.

The Taming of the Queen by Phillipa Gregory (4 stars)
Euphoria by Lily King (3 stars)
The Lake House by Kate Morton (4 stars)

Travel: In February, I went to Tahoe twice; the first time was with the family, where we went skiing and snowshoeing on the TRT and we watched the sun rise over the lake in the morning. The second time was with a group of running friends, where we trekked up a steep mountain the first day (to 10,000 ft) and over a frozen lake the next. Both trips were really cool and it was fun to get some winter cross training in at the same time!

Going down Round Top Mountain

In addition to all of the above, I also spent a lot of time digging in the yard. I am trying to get the backyard ready for spring and my to do list for that is quite long. I built a wall out of cinder block so that I can have a place to plant more stuff and now I need to set up the drip system and possibly build more raised beds. Each thing takes longer than expected, so of course, the going is slow.

The new wall. This corner is a work in progress! 

How was February for you!? Did it seem short to you? Have you started any spring projects yet? 


Jed Smith 50k

In 2014, I ran my first Jed Smith. This is what I had to say about it: I don't know that I would do this race again. I am not a huge fan of the multi loop course. However, I never say never, because you can get into trouble that way! Maybe next time I will just sit at the finish line and watch everyone else run by 6 times while I drink beer in the sun.

In 2015, I ran it again. Here is what I said afterwards: So, another Jed Smith in the books. Will I run it again? I want to say no, but the answer is probably yes.

This year, as I sat on my couch in my PJs in the cold of winter and clicked the "register" button once again, I knew that I was going to regret it, but I didn't care, because I was warm and cozy and February seemed like so far away, and I had already forgotten how much I disliked running this race. 

It's hard NOT to do this race. It's the first race of the year; I know practically everyone running it; it's usually sunny and on the drive back we always stop at Pedricks for apples and wasabi peas. Who doesn't love all of that? However, every year, somewhere on the 3rd of 4th loop, I ask myself why the heck I signed up for this race yet again. 

The course is a small out and back to make up the miles and then six 4.9 mile identical loops, on the hard pavement of the American River bike path. My goal was to attempt an 8 minute mile for as long as possible, with the final goal to be under 9 minutes per mile. I also wanted my "marathon time" (through lap 5) to be under 3:45. 

Out and Back / Loop 1: 55:28 (8:07/mi) I felt pretty good on this lap. It was sunny; the wind was in my face and I ran with a new friend and it was fun getting to know each other through the miles. She stopped at the aid station at the start/finish and I pressed on. 

Loop 2: 39:06 (8:03/mi) I was still feeling good, although my feet were beginning to hurt a bit. I had worn new shoes, but had an extra pair at the start just in case. Otherwise, things were going well. I put my tunes on and kept on trucking. I was having a bit of breathing trouble, but I attributed it to the fact that I was testing out a new hydration pack. 

Loop 3: 40:24 (8:19/mi) At the beginning of the loop, I realized that I should have changed my shoes the last time I passed the start. However, I had already gotten far enough that I decided to press on instead. I lapped my first friend and got lapped by the leaders of the pack. For some reason I could NOT get a deep breath. I had to stop and walk and loosen up my pack, but it was still not really working. 

Loop 4: 44:33 (9:10/mi) I stopped to change my shoes and grab a bite to eat, as I was starting to feel a bit nauseous. I was also fiercely thirsty. I kept having to stop to drink because I couldn't breath and run and drink at the same time. I also lapped another friend and used the excuse to walk with her for a few minutes. 

Loop 5: 45:36 (9:23/mi) This lap was a lot of walking. I was really feeling crummy and I tried to eat but it was not helping. My strategy was to walk and eat and then run once I was done. I was really, really wishing that this was the last lap. About halfway through this lap, two of my friends (who are in my age group!) passed me, one of them saying that she had been trying to catch me forever. I just waved at her and tried not to vomit. I passed the "marathon mark" at 3:45:05. 

Loop 6: 45:20 (9:20/mi) Ah....the feeling that comes when you pass the start line the last time and know that this is your final loop. As I always do, I tried to calculate how long it would take me if I just walked the rest of this lap. And, as always, I decided that to get this thing over with as fast as possible, I better run. However, my legs were getting a bit tired and I was still SO THIRSTY, but I told myself I could walk through the aid stations. I did a bit of walk/run and finally was on my last two miles. By my math, I had 16 minutes to get to the finish line before the 4:30 mark. I really wanted to break 4:30, so I pushed it as hard as I could but it wasn't hard enough, because my finish time was.... 

TOTAL: 4:30:30 (8:41/mi)
Overall: 24/83
GP: 8
AP: 4/12

Overall, although I would have liked to (a) get under that 4:30 mark and (b) place higher in my age group, I am pretty happy about this time. It is a one minute PR from my fastest Jed Smith, as well as a 50k PR, which is a win in my book. In addition, I beat this girl who was my "nemesis" in my age group last year, although I think I may have three new nemesis this year! 

I guess I have some work to do before next year's race, huh? 

Are you a glutton for punishment? Do you do some things over and over even though you don't really like them that much? If so, WHY? 


Looking Back: January

Well here we are, starting another month again. I know February is going to fly by, even though it's a leap year this year! January was also quite quick, even though I had a couple of relaxing days at home. Of course, those also go by fast as well! Let's see what happened this month.

Running: In January I ended up running 173 miles and climbing 24,000 ft. This is my highest mileage month since May of last year, when I had two ultra races and one trip to Yosemite. This means that so far I am on track to make my goal of 2000 miles and 250,000 feet. In addition to that, I had 35 biking miles, which is approximately two and a half times per week of bike commuting (which goes along with my 2016 goal).  I also had 6.5 miles of hiking  and no strength workouts (which is a fail on my once per week goal).

Reading: I guess that instead of doing my strength workouts, I read! This month I read 8 books. The best five were probably the following:

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alere Saenz
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercranz

Travel: I actually had a month of weekends close to home with lots of local activities this month! It was a good month of family and friends and lots of running. I even had one weekend where I tweaked my back and stayed home and relaxed / did nothing all weekend. Other than that, I have been getting some small things done around the house, working on my yearly purge and trying to enjoy this time while I can. I am glad to have this chance to relax, as activities each month start to ramp up soon! My February weekends are already all booked up.

What did you do in January? Which months are the calmest/busiest for you? 


What I Learned: Getting Financing

Last year was very hectic for me. The reason for this is that in addition to working and running a few races, I was in the market for a home. There are a lot of moving pieces involved when buying a home, especially when you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is one of the hottest places to live (and the most expensive) in the country.

I thought I would break down my search into a few posts, starting with the beginning, which was financing. Oh the joys of getting a loan. Now, I have no idea what the right or wrong way to go about this is, but I will talk about the way that I did it, and what seemed to work for me.

First, I pulled my credit report. I have heard, and I am not sure if this is true, that it is better to pull it 6 times in one month than 6 times over the course of a year. So I pulled it, knowing that the lenders would also pull it. Luckily, it was in good shape.

The next thing I wanted was a pre-approval letter. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for, but I did know that a pre-approval letter was better than a pre-qualify. With a pre-approval, the lender gets mostly all of your paperwork and then they use that to figure out how much they will be willing to lend you. This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is hard to figure out how much you can afford. I spent a lot of time on the internet plugging in numbers, but until the lender actually used my actual hard data to get an amount, I was just guessing (with the help of Google).

The second reason that it's important is that it helps to submit the pre-approval letter with your offer. This can help convince the seller that you are serious about the offer, and it will make them more comfortable that your agreement is not going to fall through due to lack of financing. In the Bay Area, your offer will most likely not get accepted without a pre-approval letter.

To get a pre-approval letter, you have to figure out who you want to try to get a letter and/or a loan from. How do you figure this out? Good question! Once again, I turned to Google (and Zillow) to find out who could give me the best rate. In addition, I asked several people who they had used and how their experience had been. I got a lot of different answers. Zillow named two internet banks and Bank of America as having the best rates. Two of my friends used Quicken (internet bank) and Bank of America.

So, I contacted one internet bank, Bank of America (who happens to be where I have had my accounts since I was a teenager) and Citibank. What happened next was this:

The internet bank asked me to fill out a form with my financial info and send it back to them. The lady was very nice and the operation seemed legitimate. I filled out the form and sent it back and got a pre-approval letter the next day.

Bank of America connected me to Texas. I finally got routed to a local agent, who barely spoke English (sorry!) and tried to talk me into getting a 5/1 arm (adjustable rate) instead of the 30 year fixed that I asked her for. She then asked me to send in about 400 different kinds of paperwork, including all of my Bank of America  bank statements. I sent them all to her and did not hear back from her for three weeks (when I called her, her message said she was on vacation).

Citibank sent me an unprofessional email with no signature or logo that looked like a 12 year old had sent it, asking for 400 different kinds of paperwork. I told them I would feel more comfortable seeing a real person and giving my documents to them and the guy blew me off.

Since the Citibank guy seemed unprofessional, I contacted a third option, a local broker, and I sent him all my 400 different kinds of paperwork. He was very helpful and even helped me run a few different scenarios, depending on my down payment and/or desired purchase price. The guy was easy to reach on the phone and answered any (dumb) questions I had throughout the entire process.

The verdict: The amount I could qualify for was less than I wanted, since they could not count bonuses or overtime unless you could show two full years and proof that it would be ongoing. Bummer. So that meant the amount I thought I could spend was not the actual amount... in addition, I found it very strange that they ask you how much you want to spend. Can't they just crunch all the numbers and then tell you what the absolute max is?

My advice: Try a bunch of different lenders. You have no commitment to them. Once you have all of your 400 documents in pdf form, you may as well send them to as many lenders as you can!

In addition, my realtor told me a few tips. (1) the big banks (BofA etc) take forever to get you an answer, sometimes meaning you lose the house because you can't get financing in time. I know this as well because I work for a big bank and I see some of the frustration over how long thing take. (2) The internet banks will give anybody a pre-approval letter and will often give you the number YOU want, rather than what you can really afford. This causes problems later when it comes to getting the actual loan. Due to this, often times sellers will not accept offers if the letter is from an internet bank.

So, there we have it, my new understanding of financing in a nutshell.

Have you gotten a home loan? What advice or tips do you have for others regarding the situation? 

*Disclaimer: I am not a professional. Any opinions I give are my own and you should do your own research before making any rash decisions. :) 


Be It Ever So Humble: The Ten Cent Tour

I have had several requests from people to give everyone a tour of my "new" house.  I have to admit, I have been putting it together little by little and it's still not fully settled in, so that is why I have been stalling on the "house tour". Three months after I moved in, I finally got a couch, and I am still working on sorting things out and deciding where their place in the house (or the Goodwill bag) will be.

The new house is a 2 bedroom, 1 bath and is about 1,000 SF. The reason I chose it was that the location is convenient to the freeway and public transportation. I also really loved the hardwood floors and the large backyard. It's also on a dead end street, and only has 8 houses on the street, which I see as a plus. Without further ado, here are a couple of photos of the new place.

Front of House (right before lots of raking!)

Front Porch (my parents made the wreath)



Living Room

Living Room

Living Room

"Office" (haven't figured this room out yet)

Sun Room / Reading Nook -- window seat

Sun Room / Reading Nook -- corner nook

As I mentioned and as you can see, I still have a long way to go! I need to put up photos, especially in the living room above the couch,  and I still need to organize things and do a major purge. I am not big on decorating, but have been having fun doing a few DIY projects, which I will have to share later. I have also done a bit of work to the front and back yard, but will have to save that for another post as well!

Do you like decorating? When you move, how long does it take you to get everything sorted in the new place? Where is your "go to" place for home decor?


Take the Money and Run

It's that time of year again! Money pie time! This year was fun because a coworker loved that I did this last year and decided to join in the fun. We have been presenting each other with our "pie" each quarter to see where things have gone over time. 

Here's the breakdown! But first, a couple of notes. First, I did not include any savings in this chart. I do put aside money for retirement as well as an emergency fund and a fun money fund. However, as this money is not technically an expense, it is not included. Also, I excluded my down payment, as it would have inflated the "home" category to over 90 percent. 

Home: Like last year, this includes rent and utilities but this year, as well as taxes and insurance, this category was also furnishings heavy. As I said, I did not include my down payment. However, there were still a lot of things, such as blinds, appliances and other misc items, that I will not have to buy every year, but that were a big expense this  year. I was a bit aghast at the high percentage, but if I just had rent/utilities only, it would be closer to 33%, which is about right, according to articles like this

Travel: I hope I never have to make this category smaller. I have mentioned this before, but I will skimp on most everything before I give this one up! As you can see I forwent shopping for travel this year. I have a great trip to Europe, as well as several other trips around the US to visit with friends, and several road trips to do active things around California. 

Transportation: This category is mostly commuting, but I also rent a car approximately one weekend per month in order to visit family or friends or to go to a running event. I did not try to separate the costs for running related things into the entertainment category, as they are often all intertwined. 

Groceries/Eating Out: Funny that these are almost the same! I probably only eat out about once a month, so this shows that when I do eat out, it is a major event! Eating out also includes coffee shops and beer, which is probably the majority of my expense in that category! I also put all Costco trips in the grocery category, even though there were some other odds and ends in the basket usually.

Misc: This includes haircuts, gifts and donations, credit card fees.. things like that. The bulk of it is gifts and donations. I think I got my hair cut twice last year!

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

Entertainment: This includes movies, baseball games, and running related (or other hobbies) expenses. Truly this year I did not spend a lot on running gear, only race fees. Also, like I said before, my transportation to running events was either carpooling or it went into the transportation or travel category. It may be better to try to separate those out this year to get a more accurate idea of where the money is going.

Shopping: If it's not food, I don't buy it! This category included clothing, toiletries and items from Target that were not home or running related. I literally bought maybe 4 (Banana Republic) shirts for myself this year from a thrift store, and that was about it! k

So, what did I learn from this? I am pretty happy about where I spent my money in 2015. If needed, I could definitely spend less on travel. Currently it is not necessary, but it would have to be the first thing to get a haircut if I needed some extra money. As you can see, I don't really spend a lot on unnecessary things, except for travel. I am also happy about how much I am putting aside and am trying to increase my savings amounts if I get a raise this year, instead of just spending more.

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


Look Ahead: Goals 2016

Last year I did not post my goals because I tend to be a private person and a lot of my goals I don't feel that I really want to put out there, even though I do have a list of my own. This year, I will post a few of my goals however, in the hopes that posting them will keep me honest! 

1. Run a 100 mile race. This was on the list last year and I did not quite make it. However, this year I am ready to try again! I have a couple races in mind, but it's hard, as they are all lotteries. We shall see which one chooses me, I guess. After I find out which race I will do, it will be time to get the training schedule sorted out. Which brings me to my next goal.

2. Run 2,000 miles / climb 250,000 ft elevation: Last year I ran about 1,800 miles and climbed about 250,000 feet, so this goal is attainable. However, I also want to be smart about my training, as last year I got injured which put a damper on my running, which was not fun at all. I would like to train smart and to have a plan, which is something that really helps me when it comes to setting goals. I have a "little red book" where I plan to keep track of my miles and my training in general, in hopes that it will help me in the long run (pun intended). 

3. Read 52 books. Last year I read 77 books, but I feel like with an increase in running comes a decrease in reading. So, to be realistic, I will try to read one a week and if I have time for more than that, then great, but I don't want to be stressed or annoyed at myself for setting an unrealistic goal. 

4. Read 12 books from my own shelves. I am copying Lisa on this one! I think that it's a great idea to actually read books that I already have (and then possibly give them away) instead of keeping them for no reason. To be clear, if it's an excellent book, I may keep it, but if it's not, its going in the Goodwill pile! 

5. Ride my bike to work 2 times per week: Last year I ended up riding my bike 102 times, which would average out to about 1 time per week. This year I would like to improve upon that plan, as I really enjoy getting out early and getting a bit of exercise before I head to work! So far, so good, as last week I rode my bike into work twice and would have done it more but it was pouring rain the other three days of the week! 

6. Practice my Spanish: This one is hard to quantify, but I would like to improve my Spanish by talking to a friend for at least 5 minutes once a week, studying and learning at least 100 new words per week and possibly taking my vacation this year to a Spanish speaking country.

7. Try new things: This goal is multi faceted. I would like to visit 12 places that I have never been before. This can be a running trail or a city or a country. I would like to learn one new recipe a week or 52 in a row; either way is fine with me. I often make "new" things but usually they are just tossing a few things in a pot and calling it good. We shall see how it goes, as I am not really a recipe follower except in baking, but I would like to try! The last is to try 6 new things this year. Last year, one of the things was snowshoeing. I also tried Russian food for the first time. You are never too old to learn a new trick!

8. Spend less than I spent last year: You may think this is easy, because hello, I bought a house. However, I am not including my down payment in my "expenses" for 2015. Every year I break down my spending to see where I spent the most (will be posted soon!) and this year I was a little embarrassed by my spending. I am still quite frugal and a lot of it did go into the house (my "home" category was over 50% of my expenditures), but I need to cut back a bit and put more money into savings! 

This is all the goals I am going to post here, but I also have a couple of personal financial and life goals that are going on a separate list as well. I have found that it's best for me to have about 6 - 10 goals, otherwise they get overwhelming and I cannot complete them and then I get frustrated. So, along with the 8 here, I have two others that I would like to accomplish this year. 

What are your goals for 2016? 


Looking Back: December

December was packed full of fun and family and food! I am sad to see it go, while at the same time am looking forward to starting a new year full of fresh new things! I am going to keep this one short, as I mostly already talked about a lot of these same things in my Best Of posts.

Running: I picked things up at the end of the month and managed to run 142 miles in December. In addition, I had 4 strength training sessions, 15 miles of biking and 6 miles of hiking. All in all, I would call it a success, as my total "activities" equaled 40. My goal for the month was 30, but the fact that I ride to AND from work, equaling 2 activities per day, really upped the numbers more than I thought it would.

Reading: In December I read 5 books; my favorites were:

The Beekeeper's Apprentice: A fun play on Sherlock Holmes with a new assistant, teenager Mary Russel. Its fun to see them solve mysteries and to see the inner workings of Holmes' mind through Mary's eyes.

The Architect's Apprentice: Set in late 1500s in Istanbul, this is an interesting glance at life in those times. We get to meet a white elephant, the sultan, his architect and the 4 apprentices and to learn their stories.

 Inside the O'Briens: Another good book by Lisa Genova (Still Alice) which goes into the heartache that comes to families along with Huntington Disease. Like Still Alice, I couldn't put it down.

Travel: December was mostly filled with holiday travel, and I got to see many old friends and family and to meet many new family members as well!

What was December like for you? What are you reading right now? 


Best of 2015: Running

Ten years ago, in 2006 (*whoa! ten years!), I said to myself, "self, you need to get your butt in gear" and I signed up for the Bridge to Bridge Race in San Francisco. It was a 7k and I finished in 43 minutes, which is just under a 10 minute mile. Before signing up for this race, I was a lackadaisical runner. I would run three or four miles once or twice a week if I was having a good week. I think my longest run at the time was about 6 miles. But I got it in my head that I was going to run the Mardi Gras half marathon in New Orleans, which is in February, and this was step number one.

Fast forward to almost ten years later and my "self" of those days would never fathom where my running journey would take me. This year, I ran about 1,800 miles, which is not the most number of miles that I have ever run in one year. I also had some struggles with motivation and I had my first DNF which probably was part of the problem. I had a couple of injuries. I would not say it was my most productive running year. However, I feel that this year was more about quality over quantity. So, without further ado, the best of 2015 running.

1. Going to Yosemite: In May I went with my family to Yosemite Valley and in August, I went with some friends to the Tioga Pass area. Both times I had a great time running around, seeing things from a perspective that not a lot of people get to see Yosemite from, and enjoying the fresh air and the outdoors. I love the Sierra Nevada mountains and hope to plan many more trips into their midst in the coming years!

Cathedral Lakes (photo credit: John)

Half Dome (photo credit: Dad)

2. Winning top female in my age group for the Pacific branch of the USATF: This was unexpected actually, as I don't really keep track of the standings, plus they are a bit confusing to interpret at times. However, right before the last race of the season, my friend told me that I was currently second and that all I had to do was beat the first place girl at this race. I spent the whole race checking to see where she was and to make sure that she did not get in front of me. In the end, it was just enough to secure first place in my age!

John Muir Trail (photo credit: John)

3. New friends and good friends: I say this every year, but there is just something about endless hours of running with someone that really cements a friendship. You see the good, the bad and the ugly and usually you still stick around. I still run a lot by myself, but have been lucky to meet a lot of new friends as well as firm up relationships with a lot of existing friends. I love it when time spent together with friends can be outdoors instead of at a bar or something!

Pacing at San Diego 100M (photo credit: Chris J.)

4. Pacing: This goes hand in hand with number three, but there is something so satisfying with pacing someone! They are doing their best and they have a goal and they are tired and it's the middle of the night and it's cold... I never have anything to do with their success, but it sure is a great feeling to be part of it! This year, I paced a friend who ended up getting 10th overall, another who got 2nd overall, and one unofficial pace with a friend who finished UTMB. I also helped crew for a couple of friends and it is also very inspiring. I am so proud of all of them and so honored that they chose me to be there with them for their big day.

Multnomah Falls, OR

5. Road Trips! This was a favorite last year as well. So much so, that we added flights to our "road" trips! I spent many hours in the car this year, on the way to Auburn, Squaw, South Lake Tahoe, San Jose, Marin county, Sonoma county, Yosemite and more! In addition, I flew with friends to Portland OR for the Gorge Waterfall 100k, and I went to San Diego to pace a friend at the SD100. All were fun times and it's good to get out and see more of my state as well as to explore other states in the name of running (**and beer).

Taylorsville, CA (photo credit: Mom)

6. Dad's first half marathon: This goes hand in hand with number 4, but I thought it deserved a spot of it's own. My dad ran his first half marathon this year and I could not be more proud! He did excellent, scoring first in his age group and 7th overall! I "paced" him, if you could call it that, because I could barely keep up with him! He ran at just over an 8 minute mile pace!

So there you have it. This year of running has been more of an emotional one, in both good ways and bad. I wasn't the fastest; I did not run the most miles, but I had a lot of fun. I also know that the good definitely outweighs any bad, no matter what! Here's to a great 2016 full of running and friends and road trips!

What were your favorite active moments of 2015? What's on your fitness agenda for 2016? 


Look Back: Goals 2015

I just realized that I never did a goals post for 2015. However, that does not mean I did not have them. So, retroactively, I am going to do a quick rundown of how I did on my 2015 goals.

Read 52 books: Completed. Actually I read 77 books. I am not really sure how, except for the fact that I did not run as much as I have in past years. I also traveled a bit, which usually equates to more reading. 

Run a hundred mile race: Did Not Complete. I signed up for one; I trained for one; I was at the starting line that day. However, due to an untimely injury, I did not finish. This was very hard for me; not only was I disappointed in myself, but I had a lot of people who were there for me, who traveled a far distance, who supported me, and I feel like I let them down as well. However, it's something I know that I cannot change, so I am moving on! 

Increase my value add at work: Completed. I have learned so much this year at work and it's been not only a fun journey but an interesting one. Each day I find out something that I didn't know the day before. I love that and it's what keeps me coming to work each day with a smile on my face, looking forward to each day. In addition, this new knowledge has made me a good resource for others on the team, and that is a feeling you can't replicate.  Everyone has their strengths and I am so glad that this job has allowed me to show and to hone some of mine. 

Buy a house: Completed. Early in the year, I began my search for a home. As simple as this seems, this was not an easy goal to achieve! The prices in the Bay Area are ridiculous; people were bidding sometimes 30 - 40% over the asking price. I spent A LOT of time on Redfin, riding my bike to open houses, talking to my realtor and putting in bids that never got accepted. Luckily in May, my offer was accepted and now I am the proud owner of my own little piece of the American Dream. 

Ride my bike to work at least one day a week: Completed (I started this goal after I moved (May), and my total rides were 101, with a total mileage of about 200 miles). This one is a bit hard because unfortunately I cannot ride all the way to work because there is a huge body of water in the way. However, I have been riding approximately 3 - 4 times a week to the train station, where I catch the morning train. It has been great to be out in the neighborhood and get a bit of fresh air and exercise, plus its way faster than taking the bus! Also, as an added bonus, I ran a trail race after practically no running training, but I think due to the biking, I ran faster than I thought I would! 

Yearly Purge: Partially Completed. This one is a hard one to quantify. I purged in January, then I bought a house, then I went and got all my stuff out of storage that had been sitting there for 10 years. My goal was to NOT accumulate a bunch of crap, which I did a pretty good job of (aka, did not BUY a bunch of crap). However, I also wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff, which I did. HOWEVER, I still have a long way to go. I call this one half done. 

Several Running Goals: Run more miles than last year. Did Not Complete.  Get a 100k PR. Completed. Get a 50M PR. Not Completed/Completed (I usually go by race, not by distance and I beat my time on one 50M and did not beat it on another...)

All in all I am very happy with the way my goals went even though I did not complete them all. I think the fear of not completing goals is often what holds people back from trying to push themselves, and I am a firm believer that it's better to try to push and to fail than to not try at all! 

What were you goals for last year? Did you accomplish what you set out to do? 


Best of 2015: Books

Goodreads has the following ratings: 1 star = did not like it, 2 stars = it was okay, 3 stars = liked it, 4 stars = really liked it, 5 stars = it was amazing. This year I read 77 books and only gave four of them 5 stars. Those four were:

Still Alice by Lisa Genova: This was a heartbreaking story about a woman who gets early onset Alzheimer. She is a brilliant Harvard professor and it is really hard to read about her experience as she struggles to deal with day to day life and to come to terms with her disease. I could not put the book down even though I really did not want to get to the end.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park: A true story about two different children in the Sudan. One is a girl who has to walk all day every day to go and get water and bring it back to her home. The other is a boy who gets separated from his family by war and ends up in s a surprising place in the end.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I am a sucker for a book about WWII and this one was no exception! This was a story about a blind French girl and a German radio operator who we follow along each of their own paths in the war until they finally meet in the French village of Saint Malo. The writer does a great job of keeping you entertained while giving us a bit of WWII history at the same time.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah: Yet another WWII book, this one is also set in German occupied France and it gives us a bit of insight into the role that women had in the war and as part of the Resistance.

There were also several which I gave 4 stars to. Of those, these were my favorites:

The Martian by Andy Weir: A story about a man accidentally stranded on Mars and his attempt at survival and his hope for rescue.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett: A bunch of short stories about writing, life, love and friendship. She has a quick wit and a way of writing that I really enjoyed.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: Another WWII book! This one is about an English girl who gets captured by the Germans and the story takes place while she is being interrogated by them. She gives them as little information as possible, but in the end, she does give them information.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: The story of a kid born with a facial abnormality and his struggles to fit into "real life". You can't help but love him and you want to protect him from the outside world.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: The story of a man who goes back in time in order to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. However, no action is without consequence. The only complaint I had about this book is that it was very long! It was almost 900 pages. Otherwise it was a hit.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: The story of an autistic man and his quest for a girlfriend. Being a man of lists, he creates one to guide him on his quest.

What were your favorite books in 2015? 


Ho Ho Holiday!

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful week! Today after I get off work, I will drive up to the (snowy!) mountains where my parents live, where I will don flannel and wool and will spend time eating and reading and kicking butt in Rummikub (hopefully). This year my brother is not going to make it, but it will be nice to see my parents and my aunt and her family and to partake in the annual traditions.

The other thing I always love is getting together for the annual day after Christmas breakfast. It has been a tradition that my high school friends and I have had for probably about 10 years, if not more. Most years, most of us make it and a lot of the time the Moms and sometimes even my Dad, some brothers or even a boyfriend or two straggle in as well. It's always great to catch up with the girls and to see the kids get older and older. Last year I missed it since Christmas was on a Wednesday and I had to work, so this year I am looking forward to it twice as much!

I hope that everyone out there has a great weekend and a joyous holiday!

What are your plans for the next few days? Do you have any annual traditions? 


Best of 2015: Travel

It's my favorite time of year again! It's time for the Best of 2015! First, I am going to start with one of my favorites, in fact you may even call it the best of the "Best of": travel.

It's always hard to decide where the best travel places were each year! This year I was lucky to go to several new places as well as a couple of "tried and trues". However, even in the familiar places, sometimes there was a bit of a twist!

Mt. Baker, WA

Portland, OR

Tetons, WY

Rocky Mountain, CO

Home Sweet Home, CA

Half Dome / Yosemite -- May

Sisters Wilderness, OR

Tahoe Rim Trail, NV

Antelope Lake, CA

John Muir Trail / Yosemite - August

TMB, Chamonix, France 

NYC - View from Tribeca

As you can see, much of my travels this year involved the outdoors! This year while traveling, I tried snowshoeing for the first time, I tasted at least 28 different kinds of new beers (that is just a guess), I made a lot of new friends and cemented a lot of old friendships.

This year, I got to see parts of Yosemite I had never seen before, I revisited a couple of states that I haven't seen much of (CO, WY), I revisited a couple of states that I know and love (OR, WA, NY) and I added one new state (Idaho) to my "states I've visited" list.

I had a fabulous 2 weeks in the Alps of France, Switzerland and Italy where I hiked every day, ate way too many baguettes and cheese, drank too much wine and took a lot of photos of the same mountain from all different angles.

I feel so lucky that I have the means to travel and that my health is good. I am also lucky that I have a family that instilled the love of adventure, travel and the outdoors in me!  I try my hardest not to take things like that for granted. I don't know who I would be without some of the places that I have been. All in all, I would call this a successful year of travel and I can't wait to see what 2016 has in store for me!

What journey did you take in 2015? What was your favorite destination this year? 


A Bit of Color

In my industry, when we are looking for information, we ask for "color", as in, "can I get some color on that sale at Nordstrom?" And the person would say, "it's tomorrow from 8 - 5." 

Here's a "bit of color" about me: 

I am reading two books (one for the bus on my Kindle, one hardback for home) and they are The Architects Apprentice and The Beekeepers Apprentice. It's a coincidence that both of them have the word Apprentice in them!! Both are good so far! The Architect is about Istanbul in the 1500s; the Beekeeper is about Sherlock Holmes. I hope to finish both by the end of the year, which will bring my total books read this year to 77 books. 

I am looking forward to this weekend, when we will have our group holiday dinner for work, next week, which is a short week where I will go and visit family and friends, and a good night's sleep, which I may not get for another week or so, but whenever I get it, it will be great. 

I am eating a lot of "comfort" foods lately. Soups, stews and desserts have been on the menu a lot lately, and I need to get back into the habit of eating more healthy. 

I am planning my running schedule for next year with hopefully a couple of vacation trips sprinkled in. It's hard to plan around 5 other people's schedules (only one of us can have a day off at a time at work), summer plans, family things and races!!! I know, it's a hard problem to have... 

I am putting off buying the last of my gifts. I have to buy a gift for a coworker's wife for our holiday party and I don't really know her well and I have no idea what to get her! 

What are you reading? What should I get my coworker's wife? 


A Need to Buck Up

This year has been a strange one for me. I would say I have been "busy" but I don't know if I have been any busier than I was last year, or the year before that. There is always something on the To Do list; there is always something to fill the time. (See this post from 2013 where I was having similar "issues").

However, for some reason, this year, I have felt more of a change in my mindset, or my motivation. Or maybe I have just shifted my priorities. I am not really sure what the catalyst was or where the mood started to shift, but this year, I feel like I have been slacking in a few of my normal, pleasurable departments.

I used to talk a lot about running on this space. In 2012, I think I ran almost 40 races, including 12 half marathons and 2 marathons and my first ultra. In 2013, I traveled to Boston, Washington DC and BC for races and I ran my first 50 miler. In 2014, I ran 10 races over 50k. This year, I started off great. I wanted to run my first 100 mile race. I was training in January and I felt strong. I was running up hills with gusto. Then I fell one day and sprained my ankle pretty badly and my training went downhill and my fitness started to decline. Of course, I still had races on the calendar, because a lot of the races you have to sign up for really early.

The first race was Jed Smith, which is a loop course. I ran it about 45 minutes slower than I had the year before. My ego took a dive. The next one was the Gorges 100k in Portland in March. I had not trained enough as my ankle was just beginning to feel better, and this one was not as fast as I would have liked either. Next up was Lake Sonoma 50M, where I did not do as well as I wanted but I actually did better than I thought I would. The weekend after that I had a road race, which hurt me more than all of the other races combined (I was sore for days!).

I had a few week gap, where I ran intermittently, and then came the big one, Quicksilver 100k, where I did much better than I thought I would and was actually very happy with my time. The "training" by way of racing actually worked this time. But I had signed up for another race the next weekend and this one was my nemesis. It's called the Silverstate 50M and it's near Reno and it's got a couple of huge climbs and it's at about 7000 - 8000 ft. Last year I ran it while injured and it was horrible. I got the worst time I have ever gotten and the last climb was torture. This year I actually felt pretty good for the first 40 miles, but then for the last 10 I felt nauseated and tired. I crossed the finish line and had to go and sit by myself in the porta-potty just in case I was going to lose my lunch.

In the weeks after that, I had no energy. BUT, what I haven't said is this. There is another component to the story. In February, I started house shopping. Every week I scoured the internet. Every weekend I went to open houses. Every couple of weeks, I put in offers that got turned down. Finally, in April, my offer got accepted and thus started the downhill slide into home ownership. My escrow was 21 days and it closed on May 19th, three days after Silverstate. So I was physically and mentally tired.

The trifecta of this story is that work also ramped up at this point in a major way. My duties and responsibilities were doubling and tripling. I am not complaining, but I am just saying that when I got home after work, the last thing I wanted to do was run. I wanted to sleep. I did not sleep. I pulled weeds and moved furniture. I made many trips to Home Depot and Target. I paid bills and sorted files and went through all my old clothes. But I barely ran.

Fast forward to now. Today my average miles per week are about 30, if I am lucky. I am snacking more than I would like. My pants are starting to get a bit snug. The only thing saving me is my daily commute to work. But who am I kidding; the commute is not saving me, it's only prolonging the inevitable. So I need to buck up and get back on the horse and stop making excuses.

But I don't want to. I would rather bake a cake (and eat half of it in one sitting while watching Top Chef and making excuses).

How do you get out of a slump? 


Looking Back: November

November was one of those months where you feel kind of relaxed and you think you have plenty of time until Christmas and then all of a sudden, you get a slap in the face because it's already Thanksgiving and the advent calendars are about to come out. This November I even scheduled a couple of "free" days in order to get some of my December errands done early, but they quickly became "non-free days" or at the very least "not as productive as I wanted them to be" days.

Running: This month I did have a couple of long weekend runs (20 + 20 + 18 miles respectively). That coupled with a race gave me a grand total for the month of 126 miles. Aside from a run or two on the weekends, I have not been doing a lot of weekly workouts. However, I did rack up 20 miles of hiking, 18 miles of cycling and 3 strength training sessions. My goal for December is to do at least 2 strength training sessions per week.

Reading: I only read 4 books in November, which on one hand is a bit surprising since I did travel for work. However, on the other hand, when traveling on the plane I watched movies instead of reading (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game). Also, one of the books I read was 849 pages long and it took me a while to finish! The four books were:

A Spool of Blue Thread (3 stars)
Into Thin Air (4 stars)
11/22/63 (4 stars)
A Tale For The Time Being (3 stars)

Travel: November was (mostly) a month of  doing things around my local area. I spent a couple of weekends going over to Marin to run on the Dipsea trail, I had my Dad visit and we worked on some things around the house, I had people over for dinner, and I met up with friends for hikes. In addition, I hosted 17 people for Thanksgiving at my house, which went over pretty well in my opinion!

I did travel for work to New York, and I spent a fun time with old friends in Brooklyn and Queens before heading over to Manhattan for two days in the office there. My favorite thing to do in the city is to eat and I did plenty of that! I had great Haitian meat pies in Brooklyn and Russian food in Queens, and then in Manhattan went to two great restaurants: Deux Amis and NoMad.

I am looking forward to January when it will be a bit more relaxed and I can finally do that project in the yard that I have been meaning to do for the last 6 months (wow, has it really been 6 months already?). Until then, there will be a barrage of Christmas parties (I have 3 in the next week alone!) and a bit of shopping and cookie making and eating and visiting and hosting. And eating.

How did November go for you? What is your favorite Christmas cookie (to make or to eat)? How many Holiday parties will you be attending this year? 


Be It Ever So Humble: Closet Makeover

It was very common back in the day for houses to not have closets. Don't quote me on this, but my understanding is that it had something to do with getting taxed for each "room", and closets were counted as rooms. Therefore, many older houses are closet-less. 

My house was built in 1924. I  have friends with similarly aged homes which have teeny tiny closets, which I have heard came from the fact that homes were taxed per square foot (and why waste it on closet space). Luckily, my closets are not too tiny and I even have a bonus hole in my hallway. However, there is not a lot of shelving in any of them.

The other day my Dad calls me up and says that he would like to come down and fix something in my house. Fortunately, I do have a self imposed Honey Do list. However, most of the things on it are pretty easy things I can do myself (not that I always want to, but I CAN). Luckily, I can think quickly on my feet, and when he requested a project AND a drawing, I quickly got to work. Here is what I came up with. 

Bedroom Closet Plan

Hall Closet Plan

Aren't my drawing skills fabulous? NOT. For the bedroom closet, I wanted a few shelves to put shoes or clothes on, as well as a rod to hang things. For the hall closet, I wanted some shelves and also a space for the broom/mop and a space to hang people's coats when they came to visit. 

So Dad came down and got to work. Here are the before and after shots. 

Bedroom Closet: The day I moved in
Bedroom Closet : Before
Bedroom Closet : After

Don't judge me. I have a lot of shoes. 

Hall Closet : Before
Hall Closet : After

I still need to paint the shelves in the bedroom closet and to figure out how I want to organize everything, which will involve a bit of shifting and time to see if things are working the way I want them to. However, overall I am quite pleased with the way everything turned out! 

Do you have enough closet space? If you could have a closet makeover, what would you change/add?