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.

Accomplishing Goals using Values & Tasks

Goals are a tricky thing. I’ve wrote in the past about doing away with them altogether. I’ve also learned a lot is semantics. I previously wrote about calling them ‘challenges’ instead of goals. Other places call them “plans” or a “tending to” list.

No matter what you call them, one of the biggest problem with the goals we make is we don’t know why we’re making them. We’re not basing them off anything. Or, even worse, we base goals after things we think we should do. Or things other people want us to do.

Often times, we create goals that are just setting ourselves up to fail. You never go to the gym. But you set a goal to go to the gym every day? Too much. You don’t regularly run. But you signed up for a marathon next month. Too unrealistic. You have poor eating habits and want to “eat better”? Too vague. You want to start achieving these life-changing goals all at the same exact time? Too many.

Think of Values as a destination and goals as obstacles along your journey

Think of Values as a destination and goals as obstacles along your journey

The Game of Values & Goals

Values are directions to keep moving in, where as goals are what we want to achieve along the way.

The silly game-board above (made by me) is a representation of the journey you’ll take to reach a life of living by your values. You’ll face obstacles along the way. Some you’ll conquer right away, some will take some time. And that’s okay.

How To Play: Each space above is an actionable task that is in line with your goals & values.

We’ll create your Values list below. And will talk more about task tracking further down.

When landing on a space above, repeat that task for a week. Two weeks. However long it takes for this to become a habit. Some weeks will be easy. Some will be hard.

When temptation takes over and you slip-up, you have to go back and try again. But… that’s it. The world isn’t over. All your hard work isn’t gone. You’re not a complete failure. You don’t even have to start over from the very beginning. Just a few days. It’s not even a big deal. And slip-ups are perfectly natural.

How To Set Achievable Goals Using Values

A goal like “Eating Better” is really a value. It is a destination. How will you get there? Getting to eat better regularly is a long journey. And there will be obstacles. Actually, each goal you create is an obstacle to complete. This will get you one step closer to living fully by your Values.

Values never go away. Even once you reach them. You stay there. You maintain. Hopefully, for each obstacle you overcame, you gained a new habit. If you take a stroll and drift away, you will just have to suffer through the obstacles once again. A value becomes a habit you have to maintain. The idea is that it’s important enough to you to continue to stay there.

Let’s first take a hard look at what we value in life. Here’s a short list of examples:

  • Physical & Mental Health
  • Financial Independence/Stability
  • Appreciating & Respecting Others
  • Career
  • Education
  • Creativity

These are a sample of core life values that could be important to you. Some may be, not all. How you live your life should revolve around your list of values. That makes it easy to create goals from them.


Completing Goals & Creating Habits by Task Tracking

One of the best ways I’ve found to manage accomplishing goals and create habits is by making actionable tasks. And tracking them.

Let’s start with a common one. You value your health. I’m sure for years you’ve told yourself you’re going to “start working out more” and “eat better”. But what does that mean? What steps do you have to take to do that. What will make you feel like you are eating better?

Let’s break that down by actions.

Things that mean eating better:

  • Eat more fruit & vegetables
  • Eat less carbs
  • Eat out less
  • Eat fast food less
  • Cook at home more

Look at that list. We have a lot of vague terms like “less” and “more”. How much more? How much less?

Instead, we’ll make specific actions on a weekly basis revolving around our goals and values.

Sample Weekly Actions to Start:

  • Eat 1 fruit or vegetable a day – 3 Times a Week
  • Go carb-free – 1 Time a Week
  • Cook at home – 2 Times a Week
  • Bring lunch to work – 2 Times a Week

These actions tie directly into our goals which ties directly into your values. By eating 1 fruit or vegetable a day, 3 times a week, we are living by our value of caring about our health. Should you eat fruit/vegetables every day? Yes! But that’s not where we’re at right now. We’re starting small. You could even start with one day a week if you’d like. I also recommend having no more than 4 tasks per week. Too much too soon often ends in failure.


Task Tracking Tools – Web & Excel

Weekly task tracking to complete goals, form habits, and live life by your values

Weekly task tracking to complete goals, form habits, and live life by your values


I created a Google Docs spreadsheet that allows you to track each task/goal weekly. Everything on the sheet is automatic, you just need to add checkmarks (=char(10004)) when you’ve completed a task that day.

Get The Goal Tracker on Google Docs!

In the screenshot above, these are the tasks I’ve been working on so far this month. Some of these I want to start. Some, like running, I just want to make sure I’m consistent. I like that this is a gentle reminder to live my life how I want to. But is reasonable enough that I can actually manage accomplishing tasks each week.

There are web-based social trackers as well:

Joe’s Goals: This is a simple website that lets you check off when you’ve done a certain task.
irunurun: This is a social website & app that also lets you check off tasks. It also let’s you assign weight to tasks.


Look at your current list of goals and make sure that they match up to a value. If one of your goals is “wash the dishes every day”, think about why you want to do that. Is it related to Mental Health because a dirty kitchen stresses you out? Is it related to Respecting Others because you live with roommates?

Finding the reason why you want to do each goal, will help provide motivation to get them done. Tracking actionable tasks will help form habits. Living a life by values will keep you on the right path.


June Monthly Spending in NYC 2014

June 2014 Spending in NYC

June 2014 Spending – Items over $100


Rent

My rent is off the charts – literally.

Factoring in my FSA reimbursements, my rent is about 45% of my monthly income. This is acceptable for my budget. And is fairly common by nyc standards. I know I could save money by living with roommates. But at this point in my life, I prefer to make the sacrifices to pay extra and live alone. This is going on my third year in this apartment. My rent has increased by $80 total.


Wardrobe Building

I am slowly building a nice adult wardrobe. By that I mean good quality, fitted clothes. Technically these items are more expensive than what I’m used to. But hopefully wil last longer. After years of buying elastic waisted old navy and h&m dresses, I really need an update.

Last year I bought two Anthropologie dresses and one nice blouse. I wear them often and they still fit me well. This year, I added a $100 dress from Madewell and another Anthropologie dress ($120). Both are work appropriate, which really is the goal here.

This was planned spending. And I will likely continue to purchase new nice dresses next June as well.

The other clothing related items I bought this month were also planned. Shoes. Because I walk everywhere, I generally go through shoes about once a year. I wear four main types of shoes: black flats, canvas shoes, casual sneakers, running sneakers. I have a pair of each and alternate wearing them when appropriate.

Let me say right now, I hate shopping. I don’t like shoes. I don’t wear outfits. I don’t care about fashion.

So I generally replace each pair of these shoes, once a year, with a new identical pair. This month was shoe buying month. The flats, canvas, and casual sneakers were all about $40 each. Running sneakers, which I desperately needed, were $100. I purchased a pair of Brooks Pure Connect 3 at City Sports. (Every time I go to Jack Rabbit I feel like an idiot).

The only extra shoe I bought this month was a splurge. I decided to try out a pair of Keen sandals ($100). Mainly for wearing in the ocean. But also for weekend wear around town. I don’t already own a pair of sandals – I don’t like open toed shoes. So these were a good alternative to them. Plus, these are perfect for the beach. Unfortunately, one of the loops broke off the first time I wore them so I would not buy another pair in the future. Otherwise, they are super comfortable.


Mini Vacation to D.C.

Also this month, I took a spontaneous overnight trip to Washington D.C. Bolt bus was $14 going, $1 coming back (yay). I didn’t look too hard for hotel deals, as I don’t mind splurging for comfort. The museums were all free so my only other expense was food/booze. Including the hotel, total was spent a little over $350.

I wrote a full post on the details of the trip.


Groceries & Eating Out

The first week of June I had already spent a hundred dollars eating out. Thank you summer.

I didn’t buy as many groceries as I normally do. It’s difficult to cook when it’s so hot and stuffy in the apartment. I do not want to be around extra heat. Summertime also means it is nice enough to eat outside and take a full lunch break. This leads to me buying real meals, like those $9 salads. Yep, that’s what working in the financial district is like. Here’s the monthly breakdown of food expenses so far:

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

Six months into the year, I’d say my food spending is pretty consistent at this point. I’ll just have to settle with the fact that I eat between $300-400 worth of food each month.


Entertainment

Unplanned, I bought tickets to see Braid live at MHOW in July. I didn’t know they’d be touring but would love to see them again. The tickets were $25. This’ll be my fourth time seeing Braid and seventh time seeing Bob Nanna live. Yay! I love them.

In the month of June, I made it to Rockaway Beach every single Saturday! Really, these days are pretty affordable. The A train is “free” with my monthly metro card. Tacos (obligatory) are $3.50/each. And that’s my only real expense. I bring snacks, like goldfish or graham crackers from home. And my own bottled water. Then the beach usually tires me out so I don’t do too much that evening. It’s been a pretty great weekend routine so far.


June 2014 Spending - Under $100

June 2014 Spending – Items under $100

Home

At the end of June, after seeing two cockroaches in my apartment, I went on a cleaning binge. Yes, I know it’s summer in nyc and not actually a reflection of the state of my apartment. But it’s still gross. So I bought some new house items. Like a new (larger) dish strainer and drying mat. Re-usable rags. A real mop bucket. I threw out some old cheap gross kitchen utensils and replaced them (spatula, wooden spoons). Bought the cats some new litter mats and scoopers. I finally have a real garbage can.

Then I also bought some extra things (of course I did). Like a set of 10lb dumbbells so I don’t have to pay for a gym membership. And a cheap ($15) “sports” watch. Essentially it tells me the time and has a stopwatch. This is all I need for running.

I’ve realized that it’s been three years since I last moved. This is a record for me. However, it means that I haven’t purged my belongings in a while. Replacing old kitchen items was the beginning of a massive cleaning I really need to start focusing on. I organized my closets recently. That was a big help. I still like to think of myself as a minimalist and try to make purchases/throw things out based around that.


Debt Repayment & Savings

Given all my spending this month, I still made my $600 student loan payment. Ideally, I would like to curb some of my unessential spending and bump this up to $1K by the end of the year. I know the loan isn’t “bad” debt but I just want to be rid of it. I’m still freezing my savings for now to focus on the loan payments. It will feel great to be done with that and just be able to sink everything into my savings. Soon!


My First Year in NYC Was the Worst Year of My Life

Post-Break Up Life

I moved into Manhattan July fourth weekend 2011. For two years prior, I had been working in the city commuting from New Jersey. My main motivation for the move was to be closer to work. Taking the NJT train over an hour twice a day was draining and costly. I wasn’t necessarily excited about living in NYC but I was ready for a change.

The previous October, I ended a 4-year abusive relationship and immediately started seeing a therapist. I began trying to have a normal life again. I went out on dates, met people, slept with people. I was more than ready to get out of my NJ apartment that held many bad memories of the bad relationship. A friend offered me a room in her UWS apartment and I happily accepted. It would be a change of scenery plus closer to my job. It seemed like a good move all around.

Honestly, I never desired to live in NYC. I wanted a shorter commute and I wanted to move somewhere new. The city fit both criteria. But I never dreamed of living in Manhattan when I was younger. Now I love living here, but I certainly didn’t that first year.

Welcome to Manhattan

The apartment I moved into was at W. 108th st and Broadway. A fifth floor walk-up. With little direct sunlight. My bedroom just barely fit a full sized bed.

The first night in the apartment, my roomamte woke me up to help her take care of a dead mouse in the kitchen.
The last night in the apartment, my roommate woke me up freaking out that a cockroach fell on his face.

But in NYC it’s not about the apartment, it’s about the location. The location was the best/worst part for me. It certainly was convenient being a block away from many food places, clothing stores, and quintessential nyc attractions. But everything felt busy all the time. It felt like there were always people everywhere. The tall buildings made me feel claustrophobic. The lack of sunlight made everything dreary. Plus, everything was considerably more expensive than other parts of the city. And you all know how I am about money.


Depression in NYC

I know depression had been building inside since the break-up. And especially since I was talking about a lot of things in therapy. It was the first time I was really taking care of myself emotionally. And my brain was not happy about that.

Depression would have found me either way but moving into an overpopulated city the size of a shoebox where everyone feels alone in the crowd certainly sped up the process.

As soon as I moved into the city, I suddenly wanted to spend less time with my new group of friends. I had been going out so often that it finally caught up to me. I didn’t adjust to the lack of privacy very well. Public transportation meant I was around people all the time. The only way to escape from people was to sit at home in my dark apartment. So I did a lot of that.

I should say I spent a lot of time at home when I wasn’t at work, which honestly wasn’t often. I was working a job I no longer enjoyed from 8a-7p daily. Long hours. Boring work. Sure, it was close-by but that just meant work expected me there more.

Sometime in August, I started waking up every morning crying. This crying would continue until I could either pull myself together to go to work. Or if I couldn’t find the energy, I’d call in sick. Going out into the world felt overwhelming. Caring about anything was exhausting. Showering daily felt like an impossible task.

I began crying everywhere. At work in the middle of the day. On the way home on the train. Every night to fall asleep. Every morning when I woke up. Anything else I did was just in between crying sessions.


Depression Doesn’t Care About Your Great Job, Big Apartment, Accomplishments…

Depression is different for everyone. And it is impossible to describe if you haven’t experienced it. It’s not a lack of motivation. Because nothing feels good. Period. Ever. When I tried to go for a run, I would just feel as sad after as I did before. Nothing mattered. Who cares if I take a shower or not? I’m not leaving the apartment. Why do I need to eat? I’ll still feel sad anyway. Why bother stop crying? I’m only going to cry later. If nothing will make me feel better, then why bother trying at all.

It felt like I was living in darkness. An actual dark cloud of sadness. I guess that’s an expression for a reason. The bouts of crying were never triggered. It was never because I had a sad thought or watched a sad movie. They just overcame me. It felt like I was crying “for no reason.” Though there was a reason, buried back there.

Even though my lease wasn’t up until July 2012, by January I couldn’t handle living in Manhattan anymore. I spent two weeks barely showering and hardly eating but mustered enough energy to apartment hunt. By the middle of February I signed a lease for a 1br apartment in a residential neighborhood of Brooklyn. I currently live in that apartment.

The new apartment was amazing. It was huge. Fifth floor with an elevator. In a part of Brooklyn with families and homes. The sidewalks weren’t crowded with people. Tourists didn’t get down that far. Lots of natural light in the apartment. I was living on my own. No roommates judging or complaining. Just me, happy to do whatever I liked. Which at the time was mainly sit on the couch in my underwear sobbing all night long.

At the same exact time, I also found a new job. I was trying my hardest to fight this depression but depression was not giving up easily. I now had a new job away from midtown. Actual 9a-5p hours. Doing something I enjoyed. With coworkers who were wonderful and supportive.

On paper, everything was going great. It really was. And depression didn’t care one bit. I was still sad. I was still crying. Except now I was crying alone in my giant apartment away from all my friends. I was still hardly showering and eating. It’s hard to eat and cry at the same time.

This part was the hardest. To sit there thinking “I should be happy. I’m supposed to be happy. Why aren’t I happy? What is wrong with me? A normal person would be happy. I just want to be normal. I will never be normal.”

I was still waking up crying every morning.

The Break Down

In the beginning of March, I woke up one morning crying. Really crying. This didn’t happen as often as just regular crying. Trust me, when you spend most of your waking days crying, you learn to identify different types of cries. That morning was the hysterical-sobbing-hyperventilating type of crying. I couldn’t breathe. I was hysterical walking around my apartment. I couldn’t stop. I thought I was going to be sick.

I stood in the kitchen for a moment and had one long stream of thought: I should call in to work today, I’m so tired, I just want to lay down, I just want quiet, I just want to stop crying, I just want some rest, I’m so tired, I just want to sleep for a little bit, I just want a break, I want all this to stop, I could take the big kitchen knife, go lay down in bed, slit my wrists, then it would be finally be quiet, that sounds so relaxing, I can just lay in bed all day, so relaxing.

I didn’t want to die. I just wanted a break.


A Little Bit Lighter

With the coaxing of my therapist, I began reaching out for help around this time. Instead of laying down in bed with a kitchen knife, I instead turned to an online Depression forum. It sounds silly but it was actually very helpful. In that moment, I wanted help but also anonymity. Kind words were said to me by people who actually understood what I was going through. From that, I built a few relationships to help me get through the tough times.

After that day, I started to reach out more to friends as well. Instead of hiding in my apartment or going out and pretending everything was fine, I started talking about it. There’s a point where you stop caring so much that you’re not even embarrassed anymore. I was at that point. “I’m too sad to shower and too sad to care.”

I was also referred to a psychiatrist and prescribed a low dose of Welbutrin to “help take the edge off.” And that is exactly what it did. Between opening up about my depression and taking the medication, by May I had gotten to a point where I could function. Don’t get me wrong, I was still very sad. But I could eat dinner and shower.

By summer, I had stopped crying every morning. I was still crying. Just not as much. Which was still probably a lot compared to someone not depressed. Sometimes I called into work. Sometimes I canceled on friends. I still felt alone. But I wasn’t crying every single morning. And I started feeling like I could take on added responsibilities. I began volunteering and adopted two cats. Small steps. Nothing overwhelming.


By that fall, over a year after moving into Manhattan, I was finally coming into my own. I had my own likes and dislikes in nyc. I had favorite bars and restaurants. Favorite neighborhoods. My commute was perfected. I knew the subway system. I began feeling like I belonged. But of course I wasn’t out of it completely.

Because it’s three years later and I’m still not. I still cry, just not every single day. I still feel sad some mornings. But I no longer call into work over it. I function now. I shower, eat, socialize. I have grown friendships with supportive people who care about me. I’ve learned how to live a life and not take anything for granted. I’ve also learned that NYC can be a real bitch.


July Books To Read: The Dresden Files, Bill Bryson, A City of Thieves

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files: Storm Front & Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Many friends recommended this series so I finally decided to check it out. It sounds like it fits my interests. The main character is a wizard named Harry Dresden. I guess Harry is a popular wizard name. But Dresden is different, okay. He’s in the yellow pages.

Essentially book 1, Storm Front runs like a P.I. novel. Dresden runs a private investigation service but also works with the police department at times. Since he is involved in wizardry, the department are skeptical of him. Even to the point of basically accusing him of the plot-point murder. Everyone is against him. Everyone thinks he did it. As an introduction to a character, it’s a weird one. So he spends the whole time trying to prove his innocence. It’s weird.

As a character, Dresden is a mess. Your stereotypical bachelor. He is a super powerful wizard! But can’t take care of himself. He can’t clean, pay his bills on time, or even eat & sleep without someone reminding him to do it. He just keeps falling apart.

This wouldn’t be annoying except this caricature behavior didn’t change in the slightest from Book 1 to Book 4, Summer Knight. After not liking the first book, I was told to jump straight to book four. The first three weren’t edited very well and the later books pull together the bigger plot. I was told that would make it more interesting.

Four books later and Dresden is still sitting in his dark apartment because he forgot to pay his electric bill. Sometimes he cares about money, but sometimes he doesn’t. His personal behavior is inconsistent and frustrating. I get it. He’s so smart and powerful yet he can’t pay his bills. I just don’t like that it is such a defining characteristic of him. Why doesn’t he get another job? How do other wizards make money? I want to see Harry Dresden create a budget.

Admittedly, Summer Knight wasn’t nearly as predictable as Storm Front. I was able to see that there is an over-arching plot. Unfortunately, I just don’t care about it. I can see the appeal here, but overall it’s just not my type of story. I did enjoy in this one that he was able to bring an outsider into the wizard world. And this book seemed to be less The World V. Harry Dresden. That made it easier to read.

I do not plan to read the rest of the books. I wish Butcher would write an essay about how much Toot Toot loves pizza.

Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Harry Dresden is a different kind of wizard. Kinda. Not really.

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

Bill Bryson’s cross-country trip across the United States; he is miserable the entire time

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

It’s unfortunate I have to say this, but this book has completely turned me off from Bryson’s writing. I have no further interest to read anything he writes. Being young isn’t an excuse to be a fat-shaming, arrogant, pretentious, racist asshole. His humor in this is so over the top, at first I thought it was a satire. But nope, it’s just an American calling all other Americans dumb.

According to Bill Bryson, all tourists are idiots. Although he, of course, wasn’t one of those tourists. All fat people are food experts, but he wasn’t one of those greedy food grubs. All Americans are idiots but he’s not an one because he lives in Great Britain.

The hypocracy in this book is too much to count. Aside from his “I’m perfect, you’re the problem” attitude. He steps on his own toes a lot. There’s a whole paragraph dedicated to him as a kid persuading their father to visit a tourist attraction. His dad gives in then also buys them toys in the gift shop, though begrudgingly. Later Bryson dedicates a paragraph to how his father thought anyone who stopped at roadside attractions were idiots and never paid for anything because he was so cheap.

After about 30 pages, I had grown accustomed to Bryson being a curmudgeon. Then he went too far, even for me. And then this brash attitude continued the rest of the book. Here’s a direct quote from The Lost Continent:

“I share a birthday with Eisenhower myself,” the lady with the bluish hair went on, still loudly, consolidating her position in front of me with a twitch of her ample butt. “And I’ve got a cousin who shares a birthday with Harry Truman.”
I toyed for a moment with the idea of grabbing the woman by both ears and driving her forehead into my knee, but instead passed into the next room.

Here is another paragraph of Bryson at a roadside cafe in Vermont judging a husband and wife, wanting to hit their child:

Poor guy! And on top of that here he was married to a woman who was slovenly and indiscreet, and had a butt like a barn door. Even his kids were ugly as sin. I was half tempted to give one of them a clout myself as I went out the door. There was just something about his nasty little face that made you itch to smack him.

Please tell me this is a satire.

It’s not a satire. So I bailed on the book after 200 pages. I read all of his trip through the Eastern part of the United States. I just couldn’t bare to read what he had to say about the West. Actually I started it but the first bit was just mocking Nebraska and I couldn’t take it anymore. The saddest part is his mocking is so repetitive. I mean, there’s only so many ways to make fun of hicks & southerners. Bryson exhausted them after the first few pages. The rest of the book are just the same jokes over and over.

Aside from Bryson’s horrific writing style, the book itself was laid out oddly. Comparing it to A Walk in the Woods, he never explains why he’s taking this trip. He never explains the route. He skims over a lot of his travels. He dedicates about 100 pages to the south (because there’s plenty to complain about) and barely 10 pages to all of New England.

Even his incorporation of facts, practically what he’s known for now, was scarce. Any interesting information he gave was immediately buried under him berating everyone and everything.

Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel Memoir
Rating: 0/5
Summary: A misanthrope travels around the US complaining about everything repeatedly.

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad by David Benioff

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad

This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager. And most of the historical references are correct. The story itself is fictional. But it’s a good one.

We are immediately introduced to the two main characters: Benioff’s grandfather Lev and Kolya, as they meet in a prison. Instead of being executed, they are sent off to see a colonel. And are given the mission to find a dozen eggs in a week. This begins the story.

City of Thieves is most certainly a coming of age story. Excluding the war context, two teenage boys are given the punishment of having to scour the country-side to run an odd errand in a certain period of time. It’s been done before. And it’s predictable. However, the journey is absolutely worth it. As a reader, going along on this literal and figurative journey with Lev and Kolya really is an entertaining ride. I say that with caution because this is a war story, some parts are gruesome. Most parts are not happy. But I have read worse on the subject.

This is the first book by Benioff I’ve read and I enjoyed his writing style. It’s an easy read. And the scenes are pretty theatrical. But not overly simplified. Besides, he really seemed to put in some effort to the historical accuracy. Granted, I haven’t read many books on the Russian perspective of the war. So this was a good change for me. Most of the places he references are real. And the descriptions of hunger and loss felt very real.

There are a few things that help keep this story fresh. It is a war book but not about the front lines. It is about the people who were left behind. Boys too young to go out to the war. Doctors without supplies. Women conflicted between loyalty and survival. Also, it is based on true events. Sure there are exaggerations and dramatizations. But some parts of it are real, and that alone is pretty amazing.

I should also point out that I’m a sucker for coming of age tales, so this story was definitely right up my alley.

Author: David Benioff
Genre: Historical Fiction WWII
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A teenager’s life during the Siege of Leningrad.

Cheap Quick Trip to Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool - Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool – Washington, DC

Quick Trip to Washington DC from NYC

Week long vacations can be so exhausting. The week before you’re busy preparing, planning and packing. Then you go away for a week. Then when you come back you have so much catching up to. It’s usually not worth it to me. I much prefer long weekends or overnight trips. One of the great things about living in nyc is how easy it is to leave it!

There are cheap bus tickets and okay-priced train tickets that get you to most eastern seaboard places in a day. I decided to take advantage of this and found some cheap weekday bus tickets to DC. Instead of a long weekend, I just went overnight from Monday to Tuesday. Really I just wanted to take a cheap quick trip to Washington DC. It was actually nice to have a normal weekend, and then a bonus trip at the end. I got to spend Saturday at the beach, Sunday relaxing, then went away. I may do things like this more often. I always have extra vacation time at the end of the year; use it or lose it.


Vacation Splurges

For as much as I am money-conscious in real-life, I am not a discount traveler. Because I am so conscious of my spending day-to-day, I am able to splurge for travel. Or at least not have to penny pinch so much. Being away from home can be stressful for me at times, so I would rather pay a little more for comfort than get a ‘great deal’ that turns out to be awful.

Fortunately, without trying too hard I was able to get cheap bus tickets. The bus trip to DC is four hours and that is just about my max for the bus. The trip to Boston is a little longer so I usually take the train for that. The Bolt bus ticket was $14 going there on Monday, and $1 coming back on Tuesday. Yay!

The only other travel expense was a hotel. I am just starting to get to that point in my life where I can afford to get a hotel room when traveling, rather than sleeping on a friend’s couch. So I have little experience looking for hotels. If I’m going to pay for it, I don’t want to risk it being seedy or just uncomfortable in general. So I set a budget and booked a hotel based on reviews. It was $200/night (that was my max anyway). Let me say, it was definitely worth it!


Smithsonian Museums

I’ve learned by now to have an attack plan when it comes to visiting museums. You cannot see everything at once without your feet falling off and your eyes going blurry. It’s just not worth it. Instead, I immediately grab a museum map and pick 3-4 exhibits I really want to see. That will still take an hour or two. And your feet will likely just be beginning to hurt at that point. This is especially useful if you are doing more than one museum in a day.

Here’s a quick break-down of the exhibits I saw:

Air & Space Museum

  • The Wright Brothers
  • Exploring The Planets
  • Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air
  • Time and Navigation

Museum of Natural History

  • Bones
  • Live Insect Zoo (this was great!)
  • Hope Diamond
  • Mummies

American History Museum

  • Gunboat Philadelphia
  • Star-Spangled Banner
  • Americans at War


Capitol Hill from a distance

Capitol Hill from a distance

Cost Breakdown

  • Transportation: $15 total bus tickets
  • Hotel: $208 after taxes + fees
  • Metro: $10
  • Booze: $30
  • Food: breakfast $15, dinner $20, dinner $20, lunch $30
  • Dessert: $6
  • Attractions: Free museums
  • Gifts: none
  • Cabs: none
  • Total: $354

I definitely plan on going back again for another shorter stay. Would love to hear any recommendations you have for the city!


Weekly Updates: Rock-Rock-Rock Rockaway Beach

Life: Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Taco Some of the most delicious tacos in all of nyc

Some of the most delicious tacos in all of nyc

It’s not far not hard to reach, we can catch a ride to rockaway beach!

I love the beach. And the ocean. And being outside. And the sand. And everything about the beach so I love the Rockaways. Coney Island is closer. But I want to see the ocean! We live on an island after all.

It’s a 1.5 hour train ride (or 1hr bus ride) for me to get out to Queens. And it’s totally worth it. First I eat tacos. Then I layout my blanket & towel, snack on some goldfish, and relax while listening to the ocean.

Everything about going to the beach is wonderful for me. That’s why I plan to go every weekend that the weather is nice. It just never gets old.

Jacob Riis Park at the Rockaways in Queens, NY

Jacob Riis Park at the Rockaways in Queens, NY

There has been much improvement of the Rockaways since last year. Although there are still plenty of signs of damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I’m doubt it will ever be the way it was pre-hurricane. The area is definitely getting more built-up with summer restaurants & bars. In a good way of course, but I did like the low-keyness of it.

Jacob Riis on the other hand looks pretty good. Compared to the public part of the beach, it is a little cleaner. And less rocky. Unfortunately, it is also far from Rockaway Taco.

If you live in the city and still haven’t been out to the Rockaways, get a move on it! The beach is too good to pass up!


Running: Summer Series 5K

Lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn

Lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn

Running in the summer here is simply not fun. I need to motivate myself twice as much in the summer than in the winter. The humidity kills me. Sweating like a pig is gross. I can’t even come home to my apartment and cool off. So I’ll do anything possible to stay motivated in the hot months. And that’s why I signed up for a Summer Series of 5K’s.

The series spans from the end of May through the end of August. There’s only been three races so far and already two were during miserable bouts of high humidity. The races take place after work at 7p, but that’s just not late enough for the temperature to really cool off.

The first race I ran with my friend. The second race I ran trying out the Galloway method; running for 4 mins, walking for 1 min. The third race I focused on not wheezing from the crazy humidity. Here are the results so far:

#1: 0:42:25 (13:41 min/mi)
#2: 0:33:39 (10:50 min/mi)
#3: 0:36:55 (11:53 min/mi)

I know these are fast by any means. But keeping slow times secret doesn’t actually help anyone. My focus right now is just staying motivated; time doesn’t really matter


Travel: Overnight to Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool - Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool – Washington, DC

I’m not much of a travel deals person. I don’t travel often and when I do, I just want to relax and be comfortable. I don’t mind saving a buck at home. But I don’t want to think about it as much on vacation. Fortunately a short vacation to Washington, D.C. is pretty affordable.

The trip was only Mon to Tuesday, so one night at a hotel. Honestly, I didn’t really look for hotel deals. I knew I didn’t want to go over $200 but that was an easy limit to stay under. I travel so rarely that I don’t mind splurging a little bit. Especially since the museums are free so my only other cost there would be food.

Purchasing Bolt bus tickets a few days beforehand worked out just fine. Since the trip was over weekdays, the bus tickets were cheaaaap. Going down the ticket was $14. Coming back it was $1! Yay!

The funny thing about living in nyc, is it’s not always as much fun to visit other cities. But if you want to get out to a rural area you have to rent a car. So when looking at DC attractions there’s plenty for a New Yorker to skip over. Most of our art museums are better. Our pizza/food will be better. That made it pretty easy to stick to a short, cheapish trip.

The trip itself was really great! Well, it was boiling hot both days. But besides that, there was plenty of air conditioning, good beer, and informational museums everywhere.

I’ll write a full post next week, including a cost breakdown (exciting, I know).


Books: The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher


After numerous recommendations, I started The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. It’s based around the wizard Harry Dresden. He’s not your average wizard, okay. He’s in the yellow pages.

Dresden is your typical caricature character who always has something happening to him. He is very smart and skilled at wizardry. But can’t pay his bills, feed himself, get a woman, comb his hair, sleep, etc. Everything about him is an absolute mess.

In the first book, Storm Front, everyone is against him. I’ve been told this happens less and less through out the series. I hope so. A plot revolving around proving a character’s innocence is painfully predictable. And boring.

It was suggested I jump to the fourth book to help move things along faster. There are certainly improvements in Summer Knight, over the first book. At least not everyone was out to get Dresden. But it still was a non-stop train of events that I still found boring.

After hearing Dresden whine about how he has no clients and no money; at one point using candles because his lights were shut off, I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t get a part time job. You gotta side hustle, Harry. In which book does he create a budget? I’d read that.

Although I did enjoy Summer Knight over Storm Front, that’s not saying much. Here’s what it comes down to. I just don’t like series. Book series. Television series. Maybe I don’t have the attention span for long-winded story arcs.

With that said, I would happily read a one-off book about how much Toot Toot loves pizza.


Music: Braid

After receiving an email from Songkick that Braid will be playing in Brooklyn next month, I decided to snatch up a ticket right away. This was an unplanned purchase. But at $25 definitely does not break the bank.

I’ve loved the band Braid since college. This will be my fourth time seeing the band. Although I have seen Bob Nanna in his other musical projects (Hey Mercedes, City on Film) several times.

Braid may not be a band you’re familiar with, so I made a short playlist highlighting some of their key songs (imo!). The band came out of the Champaign-Urbana scene in the late 90′s. They’re definitely and emo band but, you know, in a good way.

Here’s the Braid choice song playlist via Spotify, enjoy!


Internet: Links

Productivity/Health
Summer Shape Up!/ASICS Shoe Giveaway! – Budget and the Beach

Personal Finance
Spend Money Where It Counts… On Yourself – Mo Money Mo Houses

News/Crazy
Losing Garnett the Great – The Lacey Spears Story – lohud

Recipe
Inside-Out Neapolitan Layer Cake – Sweetapolita