Exploring the Bronx: Little Italy on Arthur Avenue

Arthur Avenue Sign in the Bronx

After hearing so much about the “real” Little Italy in The Bronx, I finally got myself up to the neighborhood of Belmont. It’s two stops from the end of the D train. But that really isn’t as far as it seems. It took me about 1.5 hours from Ditmas Park. Bring a book, listen to a podcast, relax. And arrive hungry.

Originally, I intended to visit the NY Botanical Gardens and then have dinner on Arthur Avenue. Unfortunately, the gardens aren’t open on Mondays. So that was a bummer. I decided to have lunch up there instead – no regrets! Many of the restaurants were full restaurants, big portions, heavy meals, steep prices. But there were hero shops, deli’s, and markets too. And pretty much everything looked authentic.

On a Monday right at lunch time, it was definitely busy. There were plenty of people on the streets. Though not nearly as crowded as Manhattan. It was noticeable how many people were driving. There was not a yellow cab in sight. I don’t get up to the Bronx much and it did feel different from the other boroughs. It was a nice change. I know I looked like a local tourist as I unabashedly took pictures of street signs and storefronts. I don’t think too many tourist-tourists get up that way.


Arthur Avenue Deli #nyc #newyork #deli...

Sandwiches at Tino's, Arthur Avenue, Bronx

For lunch, after some wandering around, I found myself at Tino’s Hero Shop. I ordered a tasty sandwich. I can’t remember the name of it, it was one they had listed. But it was very tasty and filling. I took half of it home with me. And not a bad deal at $8. That’s a normal lunch price for what I’m used to at least. Even at lunch time, there was plenty of seating and tables.

Arthur Avenue Market

arthur avenue market

Little Italy, Bronx, NYC

Before I found Tino’s, I walked through the Arthur Avenue Market, which came recommended. It is definitely worth checking out. Upon entering, you’ll see people hand-rolling cigars. There is an actual grocery market in the middle. And a few sandwich places around the perimeter. I did not eat here but will if I come back. For it being lunch time on a Monday, the place wasn’t very busy. Maybe it’s more of a weekend center?

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that the market does have bathrooms in the back, up the creepy stairs.

Arthur Avenue

Arthur Avenue Market

2012-08-09 10.02.13

Coming up to the Bronx for this Little Italy is worth it. And honestly, the trek isn’t that bad at all, especially from Manhattan. Remember, the D goes from 59th st straight up to 125th st. So that helps! It’s a little under an hour from the West 4th St stop. With that said, though, I’m not sure I would go up there just for lunch. Other than the gardens, there isn’t much else to see other than just walking around the neighborhood. Going up for a nice big dinner would be fun though.

Near-By Attractions: Gardens & Bronx Zoo

Both the New York Botanical Gardens and The Bronx Zoo are within walking distance from the Arthur Avenue food places. I definitely recommend going to one of them first, then Little Italy for dinner. You’ll want the break from walking!

Books Recap: Graphic Memoirs + Sci-Fi + Comics + Sports

Graphic Memoirs: Stitches, Marbles

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Stitches told the story of Small growing up with his family. There was not much love or communication in their household growing up. The title comes from a surgery he undergoes as a child. The art was done well and fitting to the story. It is not a story I would have wanted to read without the illustrations. As a reader, the story itself didn’t quite keep my attention. There seemed to be a lot of emotions left out. Small tells the story of what happens to him. But doesn’t show us how he felt about everything that happened. It seemed flat.

On the other hand, Marbles was fantastic! The full title is Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. Forney goes into a lot of detail about her experience dealing with Bipolar Disorder. The book actually begins with her going to a therapist and being diagnosed. She then tells and shows the reader exactly how severe her mood swings were. The story follows her three-year journey of finding the correct combination of medications to control her moods.

Although I have never experienced mania, I am familiar with depression. Forney’s illustrations and words were some of the most accurate descriptions I’ve encountered of what depression feels like. Outside of that, she also ventures to explain the association with artists and psychological disorders. This reference section is extremely intriguing. She’s also not afraid to admit her fear of losing creativity in the process of managing her moods. The story is well-written, emotional, and informative. I definitely recommend.

Title: Stitches
Author: David Small
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: 2/5
Summary: David tells you the incomprehensible experiences of his childhood but show any feeling.

Title: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me
Author: Ellen Forney
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: 5/5
Summary: Ellen details her battle with Bipolar Disorder and the related fears she has as an artist.

Sci-Fi / Fantasy: Jumper, Bad Monkeys, Jennifer Morgue

Charles Stross' Laundry Files

Charles Stross’ Laundry Files

Jumper by Steven Gould is a fantastic take on classic sci-fi teleportation. What keeps it interesting is that the main character is an 18-year old kid. Although his actions grew annoying to me after a while. That was only because they were realistic actions of an 18-year old. What would you do if you could teleport anywhere in the world, where you’ve already been? You can’t jump through time. But you still have a lot of freedom. Would you rob a bank? Would 18-year old you consider robbing a bank? I thought so. The story turns into a meddling revenge plot at the end. But, of course, these are still the realistic actions of an 18-year old. So I can’t fault Gould too much. The writing style holds solid through the entire book. And you do find yourself sympathizing with the main character throughout all of it. I recommend this as a really fun read that is more adventure than sci-fi.

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff is one of those “where is this going” type of sci-fi stories. The plot involves a secret organization actively practicing vigilante justice. There may or may not be a conspiracy against the main character. The story is told in a way that you’re not supposed to know who is on what side. But the open-ended ending is still fulfilling. And the entire story is enjoyable.

Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross is part of the series The Laundry Files. I have not read any other books in the series. But I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Think of this story as James Bond in a fantasy world. Actual, fantasy. Demons and the like. But there is a strong mix of both. You can read one without liking the other. Especially since it’s a bit of a satire of the spy genre. It was a little more fantasy than my liking but I still really enjoyed the story and it’s characters.

Title: Jumper
Author: Steven Gould
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
Rating: 4/5
Summary: An 18-year old guy discovers he can teleport around the world and behaves as an 18-year old guy would.

Title: Bad Monkeys
Author: Matt Ruff
Genre: Adventure/Conspiracy
Rating: 3/5
Summary: A conspiracy story that we never learn who is in on it but it’s a fun ride anyway.

Title: Jennifer Morgue
Author: Charles Stross
Genre: Fantasy/Spy
Rating: 4/5
Summary: James Bond pairs up with a demon to save the world.

Comics: Saga, Locke & Key

Saga Vols 1-3

Saga comics Volumes 1-3 (current)

Saga written by Brian K Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples didn’t hook me right away. But mid-way through the second volume, it did. The story line, plot, and interesting cast of characters all make this a must-read. And that’s without even mentioning the incredible art! The story line revolves around saving a child who was born from parents of warring races. And it’s told from the child’s point of view. That changes things up. I definitely recommend reading this if you’re into space opera type stuff. Or beautiful/gruesome illustrations.

Locke & Key written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez is very heavy. Honestly, at the end of the first one I wasn’t sure if I should continue. But then lots of people encouraged that I finish the series. Stating that it was clearly worth it. So I will. I currently have the rest of the volumes reserved at the library. The first volume seemed like it was setting up the story. The narration change was interesting. I wasn’t expecting to hear the same story from different sides. But it was helpful as a reader to get a full understanding of each character. The story is very dark. The art is very dark. But also beautiful. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

Title: Saga
Author: Brian K Vaugh; Fiona Staples
Genre: Space Opera Comic
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Everyone is trying to kill the child born from two warring races

Title: Locke & Key
Author: Joe Hill; Gabriel Rodriguez
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A family torn apart by a death… After the first volume, I’m actually not sure where the story is going.

Quick Reads: A Season of Saturdays, Famous Baby

A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games by Michael Weinreb is a fantastic, brief, account of College Football. I like that the book is organized to take you through the sport via 14 big games. Other events are talked about in each chapter, but within the context of that particular game. It surprisingly works well. Of course, the book begins with the first American football game, ever, Rutgers V. Princeton. The author is originally a Penn State fan, so there are biases toward the team and the B1G. No complaints from me. It is easy reading even if you don’t know everything about the sport. The history of the universities and corruption within is also very interesting. It’s light reading and not too long, I’d recommend for any level of college football fan.

Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo has a really fun premise but convoluted plot lines drag everything down. The main plot involves a mommy blogger, whose “baby” is now 18-years old and is leaving the house. Looking for more blog fodder, the mother then talks her dying mother into moving into the web-cam-fitted house. But the daughter takes things into her hands and kidnaps Grandma. I wish I could say hilarity ensues, but it doesn’t. This book is very easy reading; I finished it in three hours. But it’s confusing because it reads as a sequel. The author tells how the daughter’s childhood was affected by her mother’s blog. But the reader is never shown those tales. It comes off clumsy and there wasn’t much of a pay-off in the end.

Title: A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games
Author: Michael Weinreb
Genre: Non-Fiction/Sports
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Discusses the history of college football (universities, coaches, teams) within the context of 14 key games.

Title: Famous Baby
Author: Karen Rizzo
Genre: “Summer Reads”
Rating: 1/5
Summary: A mommy blogger tries to exploit her mother after exploiting her daughter. Lots of tell, no show.

Goal Tracking & Habit Creating – September 2014

Goal Tracking Spreadsheet

Last month I wrote about creating goals based on values and tracking goals weekly to form habits. I am putting that into practice. I have already created several habits after starting this process in July. Get your own Goal Tracking Spreadsheet for Google Docs.

forming a habit based on values and goal tracking

When tracking goals, this is a good sign you’ve formed a habit.

Successfully Created Habits

After a mere two months of weekly goal tracking, I already have successfully formed some habits.

Don’t Leave Dishes in the Sink Overnight
This was a great way for me to re-frame “clean the kitchen” or “wash the dishes every day”. My intention always was to wash the dishes every day. But then I would get tired and say “I’ll do them in the morning.” In the morning I wouldn’t have time and would say “I’ll do them after work.” Then, “I’ll do them after dinner.” Until it got to a point that just the thought of “doing the dishes” became a huge looming chore that I would actually dread. Making it even harder to motivate myself to wash them. And of course the longer they sit in the sink, the more difficult (and gross) the chore becomes. Simply giving myself a daily dead-line to do dishes has worked wonders. After two months of this, the thought of leaving dishes in the sink makes me anxious, in a good way. I am no longer tracking this. Hopefully, without tracking it, I can keep up the habit.

Floss Nightly
Okay, flossing was something I consistently did every day for a very long time. Then one time I went to the dentist and told him that I got my then-boyfriend into the habit of flossing. I thought that a dentist would be happy about that. But he replied, “Oh, do you floss each other?” And it was such an awkward response. And a gross thing to think about. And then I wondered if there were some flossing fetishists out there. And then I just stopped flossing altogether. Thanks a lot Mr. Dentist! But, I’m powering through that weird imagery and am now back to flossing every night before bed. I’ve stopped tracking and am still doing well. Now it actually feels weird if I go to bed without flossing.

Eat 1 Fruit or Vegetable A Day
This was a way for me to stay aware of what I’m eating throughout the day. To make sure I’m eating “healthy”. I generally do eat a fruit or vegetable a day, anyway. But making sure I did is pretty helpful. I took this off at the beginning of the month and it’s going well.

Hoping to form new habits based on weekly goal tracking.

Hoping to form new habits based on weekly goal tracking.

Works in Progress

Running 4 Times a Week
Ideally, I want to consistently run 4 times a week. I’ve made my reachable goal, for now, at 3 times. But I haven’t been able to nail this every week. I hadn’t realized just how inconsistent I am. I really don’t know what else to do. I even created a schedule so I would know what I’m doing for each work out. But sometimes I just don’t have the motivation. Or I come up with an excuse. I don’t want to give myself the goal of 4 times a week until I can consistently do 3. I’m keeping this for another month. But on the plus-side, even when I’m not running, I have been using the 10lb dumbbells I bought. It’s not much but at least it’s something.

Buy Groceries More
I have several related goals under the value of both saving money and eating better. I want to cook more homemade meals. And I want to try new recipes. But at the core of all of that, is grocery shopping. When I think about why I eat out, it’s because I don’t have groceries in the house. And I don’t want to buy groceries. Or I’m too tired. Or the store is too far. Whatever excuse I can make. The limiting factor is not having groceries. Or the right groceries. So I’ve taken to meal planning again. I’ve also decided that in order to successfully cook at home, I need to buy groceries twice a week. I end up running out of produce by Thursday then I just eat out until I go shopping again on Sunday. That doesn’t make sense. It’s wasteful of money. Isn’t good food. And means I’m not cooking when I should be. It’s also not healthy as some days I would eat popcorn for dinner (then wake up starving and feeling ill). I have been successful at this so far but will continue tracking throughout September.

Call Family
I used to track the goal of “email one close friend” a month. But now I do that regularly. I don’t even think about it. But calling family is harder. Most don’t email. And texts don’t quite always work. I really want to stay in contact with some of my family members better. And calling seems necessary. If I can just do this once a week, I’ll feel like I’m following my value of maintaining solid relationships.

Don’t forget to get your own version of the Goal Tracking Spreadsheet on Google Docs so you can start forming habits and live a life based on values.

Life Updates: Rocky Horror Picture Show + China Mieville

Performance: Rocky Horror Picture Show

Rocky Horror Picture Show at Chelsea Cinema NYC

In another act of nostalgia, some friends and I went to see an interactive performance + screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Chelsea Cinemas. They perform/screen the film every Friday and Saturday at midnight for $9. Apparently, it’s kind of a teen tourist thing. Most of the people there were from out of state. And our group (all in our 30’s) were the oldest people there by at least a decade. Oh nostalgia.

The performance was a blast! Three of us already loved the movie, so seeing it performed live in front of the screen was fantastic. One of us had never seen the movie before. And this is definitely the best way to see it for the first time. Hearing all the call-backs, with perfect timing, was hysterical. We brought props, which was welcomed and fun. There was plenty of opportunities for audience participation.

For a fairly cheap late-night activity, I definitely recommend checking it out!

Music: Say Anything and Saves the Day

Say Anything Live

The tour of emo greats Say Anything and Saves the Day was announced this week. They will be stopping at Irving Plaza Dec 3 & 4th. Oh I will be there. I missed Say Anything over the summer and have had slight regrets about that. So I will not miss them this time. Honestly, Saves the Day doesn’t have as many emotional associations for me as Say Anything.

I got into both bands late. See, in 2000 I discovered the Pixies, which changed my musical interests forever. All through college I went back in time, catching up to bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Fugazi. Then got into emo on the side of The Promise Ring and Jets To Brazil. All of the pop-punk-emo bands were completely lost on me until about 2006. I only found Say Anything because of Pandora. But I quickly realized they were the best thing ever. And I listened to nothing but their entire discography for about a year straight.

So seeing them live will be pretty awesome for me. When bands come in town for multiple dates I try to see all the sets. The tickets are cheap enough (about $30) that it’s worth it to not miss a favorite song or two.

Books: A Season of Saturdays + Famous Baby + China Mieville

Non-fiction, A Season of Saturdays: The History of College Football in 14 Games by Michael Weinreb. This is a fantastic, in-depth, but easy reading history of college football. Clearly you should have an interest in the sport to get the most out of it. But you don’t need to know plays or intense details to read it. Learning about the history of the sport and colleges in general was very interesting.

The book is broken down by individual games. In this way, you learned a lot about individual teams and players. This also makes everything a bit easier to read than pure chronological order. For any level of NCAAF fan, I definitely recommend this one.

Fiction, Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo. This is short, quick, easy reading that took me three hours to read from cover to cover. The plot involves 18-year old Abbie, who has spent her life being the star of her mother’s blog. Ruth is a successful mommy blogger and has even had several books published based on her website. With Abbie leaving for college, Ruth decides to bring her dying mother into the home (that is now wired with webcams) as blogging fodder. Abbie is extremely resentful of her life being made public and kidnaps her grandmother to protect her. The book revolves around Abbie & her relationship with her grandmother. And Ruth trying to find Abbie.

Kind of. Really the book doesn’t have a plot at all. The characters have no depth. And everyone is a terrible person with secrets that are so secret, not even the reader can know about them. Because the book starts with Abbie being grown-up, the reader never gets to feel the embarrassment Abbie experiences. We are just told by the author that Abbie was embarrassment. We are told but never shown about character’s feelings and experiences. Essentially, Famous Baby reads like a bad sequel.

Fiction, The Scar by China Mieville. I have just begun reading this and am enjoying it already. Honestly, Mieville makes me nervous. The first of his I read was Kraken and could not stand it. But then I was persuaded to read Perdido Street Station and loved it. I highly recommend it. The Scar also came recommended so I’m hoping I’m not disappointed by this one. His writing and the worlds he creates are so beautiful and imaginative.

Internet Best Of: Links

Personal Finance
Got $11,000? You have more money than half of people under 35 – Save. Spend. Splurge.

Switching to Republic Wireless – Making Sense of Cents

Gaming Culture
Readers who feel threatened by equality no longer welcome – Games On Net

Dealing with Setbacks – Budget and the Beach

August Monthly Spending in NYC 2014

Fixed & Variable living expenses in NYC 2014

Fixed & Variable living expenses in NYC Budget 2014

Family Emergency

In August, I had to last-minute fly out to Wyoming for a family emergency. I stayed there for seven days with my sister. We shared a motel room and rental car. The entire trip cost me $2,765. Most of that was for the airfare.

My sister is ten years older than me, married, and financially stable. Fortunately, she was able to cover most of the motel and rental car. She also paid for all of the funeral/cremation expenses, which totaled just over $3,000. I paid for a day of the motel and rental car. Any miscellaneous items we bought while out there. And all of our meals. I am extremely grateful that my sister was able to take on the financial responsibilities she did. I was able to use my emergency fund for my expenses. But I could not have paid for everything myself.

I’m including any groceries, eating out, misc items that I bought while on the trip as part of those expenses. For this month’s budget, all related expenses are combined. This makes my “eating out” category look very small. But that is because I spent a week away.

August Monthly Spending in NYC

As far as the rest of the month’s spending goes, it went very well. I may just be able to cover the unplanned expenses but it will be very close. So I am trying to really curb my spending until I’m certain. I really don’t want to have to carry a balance on the CC. I’m being a lot more conscious about not eating out. You can see I spent more on groceries than usual. Hopefully, I can get back in the habit of cooking and this will save me some money for now.

I will not be making a student loan payment for the next two months. I’m fortunate that I have some leeway with that. But the only way I can pay off my CC is by skipping the loan payment for a little bit. The set-back is really unfortunate. But necessary. Because I will want to put money back into my Emergency Fund as soon as I can. I now know that every little bit helps.

After getting out of a relationship last month, it’s apparent that I spend considerably less money when single. Especially in the categories of eating out and booze. I know some people are the opposite. For now, I want to take advantage of this lifestyle and do my best to save what I can. Cooking meals the past few weeks has really curbed my need to buy lunch. At $8/lunch, that adds up.

Summer Updates: Loss + Babies + Hedwig + Veruca Salt

beautiful wyoming

Life: The Circle of Life

This has been quite an emotional summer for me. In the course of the past three months, I went through a break-up, a loss of a parent, and a birth of a new niece. That is a lot of life cycles starting and ending. I am grateful for life throwing me some happy in with the sad. And I am extremely grateful for all the supportive people that surround me. It has been difficult and risky at times to form strong friendships. But it is absolutely worth it. Even the times that failed, I am still glad that I took the risk.

The break-up is painful because everything reminds of me of the person. Places around the city, my apartment, etc. I’ve had to put a lot of effort into adjusting my routine. Which wasn’t easy but I’m pretty happy with the new structure I have. Hopefully I can keep up this momentum.

The loss of my dad is painful in a different way. I didn’t see him every day so the pain feels less intense. But, when I am reminded of him, it comes hard and fast. I ran a 5K last week and was doing pretty well for the first mile. Then I had the thought, “I can tell dad that I ran near the Verrazano Bridge, he’d get a kick out of that.” And then I remembered I couldn’t. I could never call my dad after a race again. That was hard. And that will continually be hard. I just have to let myself have those moments.

Then to everyone’s surprise, my grand-niece was born four weeks early. Thankfully everyone was healthy. And while I’m not much of a baby person, holding her definitely put a smile on my face. I’m looking forward to being a real part of her life as she grows up.

NYCRuns races in Brooklyn

Running: Summer Races

Oh man has this been the summer of running. And I don’t even enjoy running in the summer, or after work. But with the pushing of a friend, I signed up for a Summer Series in Prospect Park starting at the end of May through all of August. All eight races cost only $25 total. What a deal. The last race of the series was just this past week. Of the 8 races total, I ran 6 of them. Plus, I ran two other 5K’s and a 10K as part of a different summer series in Bay Ridge.

I originally wanted to PR this summer but since my August was emotionally crazy, I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. Most of these I just ran as I would normally.

  • 5/21: 0:42:25 – Ran with a friend
  • 6/4: 0:33:39 – Prospect Park
  • 6/18: 0:36:55 – Started downpouring after mile 2
  • 6/29: 0:32:44 – 4m running, 1m walking on the Coney Island Boardwalk
  • 7/2: 0:34:26 – Prospect Park
  • 7/13: 1:14:45 – 10K in Bay Ridge, I changed my socks at one point
  • 7/30: 0:31:12 – My best of the summer, not sure how it happened
  • 8/25: 0:32:48 – Flat course in Bay Ridge but spent half of it crying, then wheezing
  • 8/27: 0:35:20 – Calf pain, limped/shuffled most of it

veruca salt at music hall of williamsburg

Music: Veruca Salt and Braid

Last month, in the same weekend, I saw Veruca Salt and Braid both perform (separately) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. It was a shame that I had to see them back-to-back like that because both shows were so different.

I bought the ticket to the sold-out Veruca Salt show last-minute. I found it for sale on the app YPlan and wasn’t sure I actually wanted to go. I am so glad I went because it was one of the best shows I’ve seen. Normally reunion shows are hit or miss, but the band was on top of their game. To hear these songs live was pretty amazing. Songs that I looooved at one point in my life. Definitely worth it. Plus, the energy of the crowd was also pretty riveting. I don’t usually like that kind of thing but it really was exciting.

The Braid show was also great, but in a different way. It was the fifth time I’ve seen them live so not as exciting for me in that way. But I did get to hear them perform new songs, so that was neat. The show was not sold out and the energy was very different. It’s not to say that the new album is bad, but people don’t know it as well. There wasn’t that kind of high-energy sing-a-long that some of their past shows have had. With all that said, it was still fantastic and I’ll continue to see them when they’re in town.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway in NYC

Theater: Hedwig And the Angry Inch

Also last month, I finally went to see the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Only seeing the movie before, the Broadway show totally blew me away. As soon as I walked out of the theater, I wanted to turn around and buy another ticket for the next show. It was absolutely incredible! Definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen on Broadway. Witty, talented, musically fun, great production. All of that. The song Origin of Love is one of my favorites and to hear that live was an incredible experience.

If I am able to treat myself again while it is still running, I will definitely go see it again. I had front row balcony, but it was still kind of difficult to see some of the stage happenings. I would splurge for orchestra next time.

Internet Best Of: Links

Personal Finance
Why I am teaching my kids about money by not giving them any to begin with – Save Spend Splurge

http://brokegirlrich.com/?p=1137 – Broke Girl Rich

June Review & July Goals – Budget and the Beach

Half Year Budget – An Exacting Life

Tales from a College Dropout – Freedom Thirty Five

Books of the Century – NYPL

25 Books to Read Before You Die – Powell’s

Personalized Book Recommendation List – Brooklyn Public Library

Netflix Instant Picks: Jesus Camp + Baron Munchausen

Jesus Camp (2006) / Documentary

Netflix Instant Picks Jesus Camp Documentary

This documentary follows pastor Becky Fisher, the founder of Kids on Fire Bible camp in North Dakota. The film does not have an in-your-face agenda. But doesn’t portray the experience very positively either. It stands out that these children are being indoctrinated to follow the religion. They are being told how to think about the world; instead of learning for themselves.

The film looked a lot at the political leanings of this Christian group. It was filmmed during a time when George Bush was in office. And most of the film is surrounded by the news of picking a new Supreme Court judge. The children are told that Bush is saving this country. And that they, too, can save this country if they convert enough people. Not that they should attend college and go into politics. But simply by praying.

However, with the film not having a blatant agenda, it also felt pretty dry & boring. I learned that, according to the film, 75% of home schooled children are Evangelical Christians. And also, according to the film, there are Christian tourists that visit mega-churches in places like Colorado City. Interesting but not life-changing.

Runtime: 84 min
Leslie Rating: 2/5
Summary: Dry documentary that films the happenings of an Evangelical summer camp.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) / Family

Netflix Instant Picks Honey I Shrunk the Kids

This Disney classic features the wacky inventor dad who accidentally shrinks his kids. The plot is right there in the title. But as a kid, the idea of being shrunk seemed so… neat. Using a Cheerio as a life preserver. Sliding down blades of grass. This family adventure movie is a whole lot of fun. Sure, you know what is going to happen when, but as far as Disney live-action goes, this really is a classic one that holds up well.

Starring: Rick Moranis
Runtime: 93 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: The kids get shrunken down to microscopic levels and the parents have to save them

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) / Fantasy Adventure

Netflix Instant Picks Baron Munchausen

Director Terry Gilliam puts this film together like no one else could. The surreal and beautiful world includes adventures in a hot air balloon to the moon and being swallowed by a giant sea monster. Are these stories true? Of course they are. Baron Munchausen swears by it.

Every character is witty & charming. All the sets are quirky. This is a bit of an “out there” movie as any good fantasy adventure should be. Like most of Gilliam’s works, you either really like it, or you don’t.

Starring: John Neville, Robin Williams
Runtime: 127 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Terry Gilliam brings Munchausen’s tall-tales to life in this well-done fairy tale.

What To Do When Parents Ask for Money

I’ve been very public about the emotional stress of my father asking me for money. At one point, I did give him money. Later on, I refused. There are over 60 comments, all with stories similar to my own. It is heart-breaking to hear so many others dealing with what to do when parents ask for money.

There has also been some criticism on the matter. A common sentiment is that children have an obligation to help their parents. Or that negligence in this way is shameful. Or that it’s selfish to not give a relative what they want. Everyone’s situation is different and it’s difficult to know all the sides of a story.

Care about what you can take with you

Care About What You Can Take With You

Recently, my father passed away suddenly. Although our relationship was complicated, I loved him completely and miss him every day. He will always be in my heart.

While sorting through the emotions of this, I did ask myself how I felt about my financial decisions regarding him. The issue of him borrowing money from me had become a center-point of my stress for a long time. I couldn’t just ignore all the complicated feelings included in that.

Let me tell you, when I was sitting next to my dad’s hospital bed, the last thing on my mind was money. I had just flown “at-all-costs”, literally, to see him in his last hours. Were his last hours spent berating me for not giving him money? Or even thanking me for when I did give him money? Not at all. All we talked about was love. Money was so far from all our minds.

cody, wy

Do I Regret Not Giving My Dad Money?

When I look back on everything, do I regret not giving my dad the money he asked for? No. Honestly, I regret the first time when I did give him the money he wanted.

While I was sorting through dad’s things, I found a lot of pictures he had of the times I visited. Those are memories that are now impossible to recreate. I am so grateful that I was able to share those times with him. I instantly wished I had been able to visit him more.

The first time these money issues came up, was when he asked for over $600 for car repairs. I eventually did give him the money plus some. But I told him that I had originally planned to use that money to visit him. And if I gave him the money then, it meant I would not be able to visit him that year. He understood and accepted that.

Instead of having more memories with my dad. Instead of having spent more time with him. Instead of sharing more experiences with him. Instead of all those priceless things, I gave him money to get a car fixed. That car barely made it another year. He wasn’t thinking about that car in the hospital. It was so important at the time, but so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Lamar Valley

Spend On, Don’t Give To

Now, I know that “life can’t wait” sometimes. But I truly wish I had spent the money on my dad by visiting him. Rather than give the money to my dad on something that didn’t even matter.

To those of you who are going through similar situations, I urge you to remember this. Giving someone money is not helping them. It does nothing for them. And in the long-run will hurt your relationship with each other. Instead, if you want to be compassionate, spend your money on them in a truly helpful way.

Spend money on going to visit them. This will allow you to spend time together, hopefully relax, and let you see what their living situation really is like.

Spend money by getting them professional help. A bankruptcy lawyer if they are that destitute. A therapist if their mental issues are holding them back. A job coach if they are continuously unemployed.

Consider these things an investment rather than a loss. I can guarantee that no parent will say “You didn’t give me enough money” as their last words.

yellowstone lake

Fight The Guilt With Knowledge

Being asked for money by a loved one brings up immediate feelings of guilt. Especially if you aren’t able to or don’t think it’s right to hand it over. I recommend learning more about their exact situation before doing anything.

People can get manipulative when they’re desperate. And they tend to exaggerate. It’s possible that the relative is exaggerating the direness of their situation to make you feel even more guilty. They know this will get to you and then they will get what they want. It is not disrespectful to ask for more information. Once they ask you for money, they are essentially giving you permission to investigate their own finances. Whether they like it or not.

Take some time to investigate their income, expenses, debts, bills. Again, with this knowledge you can determine actions that would be most helpful. Not what they think would help them. But what would truly help them.

I wish I had done this. I experienced a lot of guilt around my father asking me for money. Especially when I did not give it to him. It turns out, I didn’t have a full grasp on the situation. While going through my father’s things, I found extra income that he never mentioned. I am happy that he was able to earn more money. But clearly this should have been acknowledged at some point. There were times I asked him about his money-in and money-out, but without actually seeing everything myself, I could never know the whole story.

Spending time with a parent is better than giving them money

Always grateful for the time dad and I got to be together

Giving Is Not Helping

I want to reiterate how strongly I feel about this. Spending money on a loved one is something you will never regret. Sharing time and experiences with them is all you’ll have after they’re gone. Not houses, cars, clothes. What they think will make them happy, may not be what will truly make them happy. Give them the help they need, not want. In the end, your relationship will hopefully be stronger, not have guilt or stress, and be warmly remembered.

Every picture here is from visits with my dad. No matter what tough times we went through, he will always be in my heart.

July Spending & August Goals 2014

I’m going to expand the spending recaps to include some of the goals/tasks I’ve been working on. I’ve been keeping them to myself because it’s personal and I don’t need the blog to stay accountable. But I like providing a living example of a productivity process that has been working for me.

July living expenses in nyc - All expenses over $100 in Brooklyn

July living expenses in nyc – All expenses over $100

July living expenses in nyc - All expenses less than $100 in Brooklyn

July living expenses in nyc – All expenses less than $100

July Living Expenses in NYC

Well I went through a break-up this month so…. the bad news is I re-decorated my living room. The good news is, in general, I spend a lot less money when single. So hopefully this will even out in the coming months.

Now that my life is more stable, I reduced my monthly therapy appointments which will save me $190/month. This was also because I have used all my FSA funds for the year. Those reimbursements were very helpful. So I’ll just cut the costs directly instead.

The house & cat expenses are related to my living room make-over. I replaced an old cat tree with a nice (though pricey) standing scratching post. Plus, long shelves hung above the couch. And a few wall decorations like a clock & photo frames. I bought a bunch of prints when I moved into this apartment three years ago and never hung them up. I love the new look and it feels like a good “fresh start” for me. It also really makes my apartment feel more comfortable. Which is good because I imagine I’ll be hanging out here more often.

Let’s take a look at my super consistent food spending (groceries + eating out) this year:

  • Jan: $336
  • Feb: $339
  • Mar: $393
  • Apr: $298
  • May: $366
  • June: $362
  • July: $353

I’m very proud of that food spending. Sure, I’d like to have more months like April but clearly my eating habits are what they are. I’m aiming to cook more at home this month, so I’m interested to see how that affects my food spending.

Also this month, my electricity bill was a mere $10 extra than usual. This has been a very pleasant summer weather-wise. Let’s hope August stays this mild and my air conditioner rarely has to be used. There was also a lot of gift buying this month. I had a baby shower, a friend’s birthday, and a 1 year-old’s birthday. Small gifts all around but it added up quickly.

August Monthly Goals & Weekly Tasks

Tracking weekly tasks directly related to monthly goals and long-term values

Tracking weekly tasks directly related to monthly goals and long-term values

Value – Financial Stability

Goals: Continue increasing net worth, paying off student loan, using CC responsibly
Weekly Tasks: None

While there aren’t any weekly tasks, I have stayed on track for this goal throughout the year. Although I have been tempted to change my payments, I have continued doubling my student loan payment this month. And I have been paying off my CC balance at the end of each month.

Value – Physical Health & Fitness

Goals: Have a consistent routine running 4 times a week, Eat healthy
Weekly Tasks: Run 3 times a week, Eat 1 fruit/vegetable a day 4 times a week

Although I have been running a long time, it has never been consistent. Which really means very slow progress. Ideally, it is recommended to run four times a week if you want to see real improvements. This is what I am aiming for long-term. However, it is too much of a jump for me to try to do now. So for this month, I will track my runs with a goal of three runs a week. This consistency will hopefully turn into a habit.

Like most everyone, I would like to “eat better”. This is also tied into my running performance and my health in general. Keeping track of how often I eat fruits & vegetables is a really easy way to quantify “healthy eating.” Eating at least one a day, will put me on the right path for this. A long-term plan would be to increase that. This also keeps me aware of what I have eaten throughout the day. I’ve been working on this one for the past month but want to stay focused on it for a few more weeks. It also really ties into my goal of buying more groceries, to ensure I always have vegetables at home.

Value – Respect & Appreciate Personal Relationships

Goals: Make my friends feel special, Exhibit patience to everyone
Weekly Tasks: None

From March of this year, I have been trying to stay on top of my friend’s birthdays. By either sending birthday cards in the mail. Or taking an extra second to send an email and/or text to wish them a happy birthday. Since I don’t use Facebook, I have had to put in an effort to keep track of my friend’s birthdays. I know it’s a little thing. But it is something I can do to show my friends I am thinking of them. Especially if they live far away.

Patience is something I have been trying to work on this year. But it is very difficult. I have improved in my patience with strangers (like, on the subway). But tend to get more impatient with friends or loved ones sometimes. This is disrespectful and not how I intentionally want to treat people I care about. I will continue to try to be conscious of when I do lose my patience. And aware of what surroundings trigger this. Then I can work on strategies to keep myself calmer on a day-to-day basis. This also falls under my value of Mental Health below.

Value – Mental Health & Surroundings

Goals: Don’t let apartment messiness get out of control, Stay calmer
Weekly Tasks: Don’t leave dishes in the sink overnight 3 times a week, Buy groceries 2 times a week

Cleaning is not fun for me at all. But, this is my apartment and I am responsible for it. While I don’t really care about cleanliness per se. Seeing the apartment dirty or cluttered really stresses me out. I am trying to frame cleaning as a mental health issue for me. I hate seeing a sink full of dirty dishes more than I hate actually doing them. I’ve been able to recognize that my mood is noticeably improved when the kitchen is cleaned up. This is also directly related to my physical health because when the kitchen is clean, I am more apt to cook. And when I am cooking, that means I am less likely to order (unhealthy, expensive) food out.

Since grocery shopping stresses me out, I only do it once a week. If that. But vegetables just last me a few days. So by mid-week, I am out of food and back to eating lunch out and having popcorn for dinner. While I don’t like going to the store, I want to get into the habit of going more often. This is all related. The more groceries in the house, the more likely it is I’ll cook. So hopefully with a clean kitchen & stocked fridge, I will eat at home more, which means healthier meals at a lower cost.

Netflix Instant Picks: My Girl (1 & 2) + Hitch

My Girl (1991) / Coming of Age

Netflix Instant Picks My Girl

Coming off the success of Home Alone, Macaulay Culkin is just one of the stars in this coming of age story about two 11-year olds over the course of a summer. Of course it’s Anna Chlumsky who steals the show. Chlumsky, as Vada Sultenfuss, grows up in a funeral home run by her father (Aykroyd). Her senile grandmother also lives with them. Her mother passed away during Vada’s birth. And her father has just starting to kinda-date a new woman (Curtis). That’s the set-up for what turns into a very well-done emotional tale. I really wish more movies took the risk this one did.

Vada and Thomas J (Culkin) are best friends and outcasts. Both are teased by some of the other kids. But they have a sweet & strong friendship. There are hijinks and some predictability. But not a ton. There are some scenes for a writing class Vada takes. Later on this serves to help show her emotional growth. It works really well.

The ending… well, I can’t spoil it. I distinctly remember thinking “that can’t be it? that can’t be happening?” Which is exactly what Vada was thinking. And really helped you feel connected. This was also pretty traumatizing for me as a child watching this movie. And for that reason I think all children should watch this movie. And adults. Pretty much everyone.

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Anna Chlumsky
Runtime: 102 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: Coming of age story about a girl, her best friend, and one summer. You will cry.

My Girl 2 (1994) / Coming of Age Sequel

Netflix Instant Picks My Girl 2

Pumping this out in a record three years after the original, this sequel definitely doesn’t hold up to the first one. But it doesn’t completely fall flat either. Unfortunately, it just follows the traditional plot of a coming of age story. Your emotions aren’t jerked around. You might smirk a few times at something feel-good. But you never feel quite as connected to the main character as before.

This time around, Vada takes a trip to California to stay with a relative. At the same time, she turns into a Nancy Drew to try to track down information about her mother (who died at Vada’s birth). Of course she has another boy-friend to pal around with. The story is fine. But it’s predictable and loses the ‘magic’ the first one had. Not the worst follow-up, but not a must-see by any means.

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Anna Chlumsky
Runtime: 98 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Predictable sequel to a classic coming of age story

Hitch (2005) / Romantic Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Hitch

Generally, I don’t enjoy romcoms. So for me to think one was okay, is a pretty high regard. Hitch was a standable romcom as they go. Will Smith plays a dating coach who is very good at what he does. So good, a journalist starts investigating him under the assumption it’s a scam. You’ll never guess what happens between the dating coach and the journalist…

Sure, it’s predictable. But a fun predictable. The story is still interesting and good natured. Nothing is over the top. Smith performs well for the role.

Starring: Will Smith
Runtime: 118 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: A dating coach is being investigated by a reporter and they, of course, fall in love.