March Monthly Spending in NYC 2014

Marc 2014 - Monthly Spending in Brooklyn

March 2014 – Monthly Spending in Brooklyn

I spend 47% of my monthly income on a 1br in “I’ve never heard of that neighborhood” Brooklyn. This is a stabilized rent, so it has only increased by $80 in the two lease renewals I’ve been through.

I have needed a new laptop for a long time but was holding off. Finally, I decided in December that I would use my tax refund to buy a replacement. That’s exactly what I did. With most of my return, I bought a Lenovo Yoga 11S. I wish I could have put that in my savings instead but I really waited as long as I possibly could.

Once a year I see a psychiatrist to make sure the one medication, Wellbutrin, I’m on is still going well. The appointment costs $375/hour. But I get a $500 HRA from my company so I can claim it on my insurance and get all the money back as a reimbursement. Also, I can charge it to my Discover card and get rewards. I know it is crazy expensive (and she doesn’t accept insurance) but it all works out in the end. And I have no desire to find a new psychiatrist now.

Usually my cat spending is under $50/mo for food or litter. But this month involved a $650 dental cleaning for Scarface. He had to get four teeth removed!

It wasn’t an emergency but was necessary. And hopefully this means we won’t have to do another one of these. I am trying to actively brush his teeth (not a fun time) and keep an eye on his gums. As soon as I notice swelling I will bring him to the vet, instead of waiting forever like I did last time.

I spent about $60 more on food than I did the previous months. The main reason, which is logical, is because I’ve been running more. I just can’t eat enough when I’m running six miles in the morning.

January spending on groceries + eating out totaled $336.
February spending on groceries + eating out totaled $339.
March spending on groceries + eating out totaled $393.

I have been using Fresh Direct for most of this month. It is very convenient but some of the items cost more than my closest grocery store. This probably accounts for some of the increase. Running also makes me want to eat higher priced items like dried fruit and nuts.

Debt Repayment & Savings
These are both automatic payments that I will not let myself change. I already have an easily accessible emergency fund with one month’s rent. Now, I am trying to build up a larger savings, slowly, in a slightly higher interest savings account. It is through a different bank so transfers take a few days. I learned the hard way that having emergency money in a difficult to access bank account was stupid.

It’s Not Too Late To Budget

Once again, this is your monthly reminder to start budgeting! Start tracking your spending! Forget excel, just take out a pen and a piece of paper. Write down everything you bought today. Easy, right? Now do that every day. See, it’s that easy. Once you learn exactly how much you spend monthly, you’re be on the right track.

How To Make Plans Like an Adult

Scheduling in a Calendar

We never actually learn how to manage time or make plans. Social arrangements are made by our parents. Then when we go off on our own, we are just supposed to know how to make appointments. But we don’t so instead we spend a lot of time double booking ourselves, tiring ourselves out, or even burning bridges. It becomes stressful!

I certainly still make these mistakes from time to time but here are a few of my strategies on how to make plans like an adult.

Stop Saying “Maybe”

I know this is difficult because I answer “maybe” all the time to invitations. But it is a horrible habit. The feeling behind “maybe” or “we’ll see” or “I’ll let you know” more or less means that this person isn’t important. That you’re waiting to see if something better comes along. That you’re not really interested in being with this person. If that’s the case, then just say no outright.

Look at this way, your friend would prefer you say no right away, rather than saying maybe/yes and cancelling last minute. They’ve been looking forward to seeing you then you drop out. Now they’re disappointed. On the other hand, if you say no initially, then decide later you can make it, you can still (in some cases) attend. Drop in as a surprise and your friend will love it. Or ask them last-minute if you can attend. If you can’t, then it is your own fault. But at the very least your friend will be glad you wanted to come.

Start saying Yes or No. Never maybe’s. Respect your friends and their time.

Stop Showing Up Late

This is also related to respecting your friends and their time. Plan ahead! Stop underestimating how long it takes you to get ready. Or to drive somewhere. Or to walk to the train. Or construction work detours. Leave early. Let someone know right away that you will be late.

Being late is rude. This person has planned their day around this time slot and you being late will interfere with all of it.

At the very least, be conscious of the event you are going to. If you are meeting a group of people at a bar, you probably don’t have to be there from the beginning. But if you’re meeting for dinner, your lateness might really mess up the rest of the evening. In this case, it’s not only about you.

Stop Double Booking Yourself

Double booking always sounds like a great idea because you get the best of both worlds. For example, you decide to get dinner with your roommates around 6p, then you’ll still have time after to get to another friend’s birthday party by 9p. So you say yes to both.

Then the inevitable happens. Someone is disrespectful and gets to dinner late, so you have to wait longer for a table, and wait service is slow. It’s now 9p. You had a great dinner. Enjoyed yourself and had fun with your friends. Now they’re suggesting keeping things going by going somewhere else for a drink. You’re having a great time and want to spend more time with them. But you remember you have the birthday party to get to.

This will only end badly.

First scenario, you stay with your friends and cancel on your friend. Or you tell your friend you’ll be late, go get “one drink” with friends, then end up cancelling on your friend later.

Second scenario, you leave and get to your friend’s party. But you are already late now and it’s close to 10p. The party is much calmer than you expected and people start leaving at 11p, you barely get to see your friend at all and wish you hung out with your roommates intead. Or you spend the whole time thinking of what you missed out on. Or the party was crazy and your friend is already too drunk. You wish you got there soooner.

No one wins here. You are trying to please everyone but instead you’re stressed out from running all over, watching the clock, and barely getting to talk to anyone anyway. FOMO will get you no matter what.

Another way double booking gets you is if you are exhausted after the first event. Especially if things take longer than you expected them to. Or you waited around for someone who was late. Or it took longer to find a place for drinks. All sorts of unexpected things can come up. But now it’s 9p and even though you can still make it to your friend’s birthday party, you would rather just head home to watch Netflix.

So you can go to the party, be miserable and tired, and stay for such a short period of time you don’t even get to talk to your friend. Or you cancel last minute and head home, feeling guilty.

Sure you can chance getting a second wind but it’s hardly worth it. Just think things through and don’t double book to begin with. A better option is to tell your friend you can’t make it to her birthday. Don’t say “maybe”. Don’t say “I’ll see how long dinner takes.” Just say you won’t be there. Then after dinner, and only then, if you are feeling up to it, by all means stop by your friend’s party. (This is assuming it is something casual and not dinner where they needed a head count). Your friend will be happy and surprised to see you!

Stop Over Booking Yourself

Related to not double booking is also not over booking. This took me a long time to figure out. I would look at my calendar and see that I had plans every day but Wednesday. Then when asked to hang out that week, I would say “I’m free wednesday.” Well, after going out Mon, Tues, Wed, by Thursday I’m beat and end up cancelling on that friend. Now, it’s not their fault that i overbooked myself. That I didn’t make time for them.

Instead, I focus on only one or two social activities on week nights. Then I actually schedule quiet nights for myself. I will write in my calendar “Netflix” or “Writing” or “Cats” or whatever I need it to say to remind myself to not make plans that night. Because I do have plans that night. My plans are to stay in and rest up. Then I will be energized and not crabby for more social plans afterward.

Trust me, your friends will be grateful for this. It’s never fun to be cancelled on last minute or to hang out with someone who is exhausted.

Stop Forgetting Appointments

There is absolutely no excuse not to remember an appointment. Treat friend hangouts as you would anything else. You have a calendar on your phone. And your google account. And at work. Write things down! Seriously! Now! Forgetting or cancelling because you forgot is rude. It is telling people that they are not important.

Find what works for you. Phone reminders and notifications might be the easiest. I personally love my moleskine calendar. I keep it on my every day and write down everything in it as soon as I make the appointment. I also look in it every morning so I know what is coming up later in the week. This is the best method for me. But may not work for you. You have to find what works for you. Trust me, you cannot remember everything no matter how hard you try!

Stop Waiting To Respond

You probably already know that you can or can’t make it to that event. Why wait a week to respond? Just tell the person right now. Nothing is going to change. Especially if you can’t make it. Say that right away. Then if things change, it will be for good news.

Books To Read Recap: Alex Versus the Universe, Anthony Marra, Allie Brosh

I’ve started writing individual thoughts for books to read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence


Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods sounds like it would make for an interesting story. And the first hundred pages would you lead you to believe this as well. The first half of the story is strong, funny, and a really good read. Then the tone changes rather abruptly and the second half of the story goes in a completely different direction. The writing stays strong throughout. But the wit the book starts out on, gets lost as the plot becomes more and more serious.

Alex Woods was hit with a meteorite, lives with his eccentric mother, suffers from epilepsy, reads a lot, and gets bullied at school. This makes for a really interesting character and he is still a relate-able character for the reader. Extence’s description of school and bullying is on-point and hilarious. It just didn’t stick around in the story long enough.

What starts out as a strange and light-hearted story about a young boy in highschool, quickly turns into a Tuesdays With Morrie style plot. It’s not nearly as syrupy but gets pretty close. The story turns on a dime when Alex begins spending time with an elderly neighbor. This starts out as penance for destroying his property. But then they become friends. Of course the elderly man typically kept to himself and wasn’t fond of Alex right away but then he grew to like him quite well. Of course the elderly man lived alone and Alex soon began taking care of him. Of course the man is dying of some incurable disease. Of course Alex thinks he can save him and learn from him, etc. Any other predictable stereotypes you can think of for a teen + elderly platonic emotional relationship, it’s there.

I’d suggest knowing more about the story before going into it. If you’re looking for a witty uplifting story about a teen learning life lessons from the elderly, this is your book. Oh! There is also a quirky addition of Kurt Vonnegut. All of his books get discussed and summarized. I’m guessing the author is a fan? That helped to cut out some of the sugariness from the Tuesdays With Morrie part.

Author: Gavin Extence
Genre: Coming of Age
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Strong writing, witty first half, sappy second half.


Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet (DNF)

Being honest here, this book is a DNF for me. Did Not Finish. There wasn’t any reason in particular why I bailed on it. It was more so the combination of teenage-style writing, mediocre characters, and an obvious plot device. After 100 pages, I simply didn’t care what happened in the story or to the characters. There wasn’t a connection to any of them. I’m not even sure the book was about anything. There was a lot of rambling. And a lot of stereotypical character traits.

I won’t rate DNF books. Just because I bailed doesn’t always mean the book was bad. But it does mean I didn’t feel any desire to continue reading the author’s reading style or learn more about the characters. So take that as you will.

Author: Kelly Braffet
Genre: Fiction
Rating: DNF
Summary: Simplistic writing, mundane characters, obvious plot

Have You Found Her? A memoir by Janice Erlbaum

Have You Found Her? by Janice Erlbaum

Also reviewed in my weekly updates.

Just because I finished this book in one sitting (four hours) doesn’t mean it was good. Often I lose interest in predictable stories. And this one was predictable from the get go. But every time I thought the reveal was going to happen, things just continued. To the point where I thought that maybe my cynical thoughts were wrong. For that reason alone, I kept reading. However, I did consider bailing to look up the ending on line. Instead I trudged through it.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is interesting. Stories of manipulation are always fascinating for an outsider to see. The problem with the story is the pretentiousness of the author. This is a memoir from Erlbaum but is about her relationship with a young girl she met in a women’s shelter in Manhattan. Erlbaum’s ego is too big to hide. She really thinks she is saving the world by “helping” this girl. She really thinks she is a saint. Sometimes she becomes self-aware of this. For maybe half a sentence. But then goes right back to thinking she did something amazing.

Even by writing a story about how she was completely duped, she still manages to turn it into how much she sacrificed for someone she didn’t know at all. She details all of her good intentions even if things didn’t work out in the end. No apologies for these mild spoilers because the ending is completely obvious less than fifty pages in.

Author: Janice Erlbaum
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Strong writing, pretentious attitude, obvious ending

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

I’ve known for a long time that I don’t have a sense of humor. If you ever doubted me on that, this review will confirm it. The Hyperbole and a Half book was fine. It was an enjoyable read. Eh. It’s difficult because I’ve seen some of the drawings before. Sure, they’re still funny and entertaining, but it did take away from the book for me.

I couldn’t tell what the book was trying to do. The organization was strange, especially the latter half. The beginning started out silly. Clearly her letters to herself and the self-deprecation those included were supposed to be funny. The second half featured her drawings on depression. These are great. But then right in the middle of these serious thoughts, was a funny piece, then it went back to serious mode. Not much new was added.

It seemed like she was trying to put herself out there then changed her mind mid-way and pulled back. Or was trying to please two groups of people. It just doesn’t work.

Allie Brosh is loved by lots so I realize this will be an unpopular opinion. Seriously, I just don’t have a sense of humor at all.

Author: Allie Brosh
Genre: Comics/Auto-Biographical
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Cop-out autobiography, drawings you’ve already seen

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (DNF)

This novel has some truly beautiful writing. Unfortunately, the jumpy story makes it difficult to keep track of and care about the characters. Flashbacks in time, between characters, and between story lines happened far too frequently. Just as you’re getting back into the voice of one character, you get jumped to another.

With all that said, the writing is absolutely wonderful. Beautiful prose, descriptions that are magical. Anthony Marra takes a horrific subject and makes everything sound romantic and graceful.

For example, here is the most beautiful paragraph you will ever read about a man trying to take a shit:

The Silver Mkarov pistol was all Ramzan thought about for the two weeks preceding Dokka’s disappearance, in which he failed to produce a single bowel movement. Each morning, venturing into the cold in nothing but a robe and lambskin boots, he turned the corner of the house, passed icicles filling the gutter’s missing segments, passed the frostbitten fingers of fallen birch limbs, and waded down the sharp incline to the scattered pine cones that had amassed into an ankle-deep mound at the outhouse door. Inside, he sat with his elbows burrowed into his knees, a full-bodied clench that left him red-faced and winded. Snow flurries fell through the roof’s missing half, landing on the back of his neck, and melted into sweat. His scrotum was an empty coin purse flattened between his legs. He was enable to father even a soft dollop of excrement.

There’s 384 pages of that. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. And it is this beautiful writing that keeps you from feeling absolutely horrible after reading such a sad story. This is a story about wars, and lost lives, and lost people. It is sad. Yet the writing is beautiful and flow and descriptive and it felt like I was floating while reading it. I would love to read a linear story by Marra.

Author: Anthony Marra
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: DNF
Summary: Chechnyan War, Flashbacks, most beautiful prose

Netflix Instant Picks: Jumanji, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Click

Jumanji (1995) / Family Adventure

Netflix Instant Picks Jumaji Robin Williams

Not only is this a fair adaptation of the book but after nine years it still holds up. Sure, the movie is predictable but it’s a family film at heart. The special affects also hold up when comparing to today’s visuals. They do a good job presenting the past and the future and making sure both are separate.

The story of Jumanji tells of a board game about the jungle that actually comes to life. You can actually be taken into the jungle. Lions can appear in your bedroom. You can turn into a monkey. The movie shows all these things very well without it coming off as too hokey. There are times things are forced and silly. Remember, family movie.

Besides, Kirsten Dunst is adorable.

Starring: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst
Runtime: 103 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: A game about the jungle that becomes real life.

Click (2006) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Click Adam Sandler

I remember watching this movie at the theater, in some mall in South Jersey. I was with some friends, two of whom might have been on a date. I don’t quite remember. The movie hadn’t sounded interesting to me but I went with the group anyway.

Turns out, when given the power to control your life with a remote, being able to pause and fast forward and rewind, not fun things happen. Click starts off with the basic use of the remote having Adam Sandler fast forward until he receives a promotion. He thinks he will get it within the next few months but it actually takes several years. Of course in that time he has missed part of his family’s lives.

Then it gets weird. And it’s not funny at any point. We’ve seen this story before… he sees how his selfish ways are ruining his family then he gets a chance at a do-over. Predictable and boring.

And that’s all I have to say on the topic of malls in south jersey.

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Walken
Runtime: 107 min
Leslie Rating: 2/5
Summary: Being able to control life as though it’s a movie isn’t as great as it seems.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) / Foreign Action

Netflix Instant Picks Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

It took me a while to warm up to foreign martial arts films but now I can’t get enough of them. This is definitely in my top three for the choreography alone. It’s not just people fighting each other.

These are beautifully choreographed fighting scenes. Dances almost. It’s about skills not just strength. Really beautiful to watch.

Among the eye-catching action scenes is a very strong story. The plot revolves around Chow Yun-Fat attempting to avenge his master’s death. With a tasteful side of romance thrown in. This film is beautiful and should be seen by everyone.

Starring: Yun-Fat Chow
Runtime: 120 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: Beautifully choreographed martial arts movie to supplement a story of romance.

Buy My Cookbook Zine at MoCCafest 2014 – April 5-6

Cookbook Zine: Sweet Stuff

The weekend of April 5-6 at MoCCa Fest in Manhattan, my cookbook/zine will be available for purchase at Nikki DeSautelle’s table #D24!

I created and designed this cookbook zine last year at MoCCa Fest and am bringing it back! The cookbook features numerous delicious dessert recipes including cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and frosting. The layout is perfect for beginner’s as it breaks ingredients out by dry & wet sections. No longer be afraid of baking!

The layout and drawings are from scratch. All recipes have been tested and tried. That was the fun part.

MoCCa Fest spans both Saturday and Sunday, April 5-6th. The talented Nikki DeSautelle will be at her table all weekend. I will make a cameo appearance for most of Saturday. Stop by and visit us!

Big thanks to Nikki DeSautelle for letting me share a table with her again!

Mocca Arts Festival 2014, hosted by the Society of Illustrators, takes place Sat-Sun, April 5-6, from 11a-6pm. Tickets are $5 per day. The festival is located at The 69th Regiment Armory, 68 Lexington Avenue between E. 25th & E. 26th Street.

How Much Does A Cat Dental Cleaning Cost? A lot.

Don't let these cute sleepy critters fool you, they can get sick too

Don’t let these cute sleepy critters fool you, they can get sick too

Previously I wrote about not needing a large emergency fund if your life is generally low-risk. Not owning a home or car means there is a low risk for major life emergencies. I don’t have to worry about any surprise repairs.

And then I adopted two cats.

Before adopting them, I had determined how much food and litter would cost per month. It came out to $30/mo, which I I could handle. I knew that other expenses could spring up sometimes but didn’t really give it much thought. Indoor cats are at a much lower risk of danger than outside ones. That was what I told myself at least.

When it comes to pets, the common question is: “What is your limit of spending on your pet to save their life?” Some people will say they don’t have a limit, some will say $1,000, or $500, or whatever other arbitrary number that sounds like just enough.

The problem here is that the question assumes you’d pay this all at once. Rarely is this the case. Your pet might need prescription medicine or food that is costly. They may need regular visits or treatments. They may need pre and post appointments for a procedure. It won’t be $1,000 all at once but it adds up over time.

I currently have an emergency fund of one month’s rent but did not adjust this when I adopted the cats. My mistake. When I discovered my cat needed a dental cleaning, I immediately made a plan to use my tax return to pay for the procedure. I was lucky that it could wait and was not a medical emergency.

Of course, there is a conflict here. It’s not fair to my cats to not give them the help they need because I can’t afford it. However, I also can’t sacrifice my financial well-being. This is why it is so important to make sure you can financially take care of an animal (more than just the monthly costs) before taking one in. You are agreeing to take care of this animal. Make sure you can take care of yourself first.

Scarface cat hiding from the vet

Scarface hiding out from the vet

How Much is a Cat Dental Cleaning?

After owning my cats for a year, I decided to take them to the vet just as a check-up. Turns out, my cat Scarface has sensitive gums that were swelled up and infected. Some cats are more susceptible to tartar than others and he happens to be one of them. Because of his swollen gums, his teeth were being pushed out. This resulted in him having canines that looked like vampire fangs.

The vet recommended I bring him back for a dental cleaning. I was given a quote of between $250-$650 depending on teeth extractions and other complications. He would need to be put under anesthesia so it was a full procedure.

That first appointment was $100. Dental cleaning requires pre-blood work to make sure he could handle the anesthesia, this was $150. The dental cleaning itself resulted in my cat needing four teeth pulled, that came to $550.

All of the appointments including the cleaning totaled $800. Now, that wasn’t all at once and is how health bills usually work. It is more than I expected to pay for my cat’s health. But this is what I signed up for. Also, I hope this will prevent more serious dental issues in the future.

Weekly Updates: March Madness + Half Marathon Training Modified

Life: Half Marathon Training – Weeks 6 & 7

After receiving advice from a very helpful comment and another running friend, I’ve decided to completely modify my current training plan. I had been following Run Keeper’s sub 2:15 half marathon plan.

The plan itself is a bit advanced for what I need. So using advice from last week’s comment, and listening to my body, I wrote up an entirely new calendar for training. The new training plan consists of two runs during the week day, one of them speed work. And two runs over the weekend, one of them long. Then two days of cross training and a rest day.

For this race, my minimum goal is sub-2:20 to PR. In 2012 I ran the Brooklyn Half in 2:22:52 and the NYC Half in 2:21:13. I don’t care how much I PR by. For training purposes, I’m giving myself a goal race pace of 10:30mm. That’s an estimated finish time of 2:17:39. This current week was my first modified week and it’s been going really well. I might be able to take it up a notch. But it feels better than not being able to keep up. In the long run that wouldn’t help anything and could really cause injury.

Here’s my training workouts from the past two weeks!

Half Marathon Training – Week 6

  • 12 x 400: 5mi / 0:52:01 / 10:24mm
  • Treadmill: 3.1 / 0:33:55 / 10:56mm
  • 4 x 1: 6 / 1:04:57 / 10:49mm

Week 6 Total: 14.1 / 2:30:53 / 10:43mm

I also spent 30 minutes strength training three of the days. This is something I like about going to a gym. It is a nice change and is really helping me feel more fit.

Half Marathon Training – Week 7

  • Running: 4.01 / 0:54:38 / 0:13:37mm
  • Treadmill: 2.67 / 0:30:00 / 11:14mm
  • Elliptical: 2 / 0:30:00
  • Treadmill: 6 / 1:06:23 / 11:04mm
  • Running: 10.4 / 1:58:00 / 11:21mm

Week 7 Total: 25.08 / 4:29:01 / 11:49mm

Life: March Madness – Go Green!

Perfect Bracket Go Spartans March Madness MSU
Go Spartans!!!!!!!!!

I’m sorry if you don’t like basketball, really I am. I don’t get award shows and I know how annoying those are when they’re happening. And the NCAAM tournament isn’t just one night. But I do think it’s fun even if you don’t like basketball. Usually people who randomly guess brackets end up doing a lot better anyway.

I’ve made three brackets this year: two for groups and one for me. This year is strange with so many non-fans rooting for my team to win the national championship (MSU alum here). Even the president pick them to win! Thanks, Obama.

After two days, my brackets aren’t in terrible shape. My picks were all over the place but I am winning in one of the groups with 260 points. Thank you NDSU.

Really I love all the stories. Like the Olympics, I love hearing the struggles schools and athletes faced to get there. The records the underdogs break when they win. And the look of determination on all their faces. Remember folks, these are college kids. Little babies! The oldest on a team might be a 22 year old fifth-year senior. Little babies running around with a basketball doing amazing things.

Fun fact: North Dakota State University is the first team from the entire state of North Dakota to win a game in the NCAAM tournament.

Book: Have You Found Her?

Have You Found Her? A memoir by Janice Erlbaum

Have You Found Her? A memoir by Janice Erlbaum

This is one of those books I was able to finish in one sitting. That doesn’t mean it was good. I spent four hours on the couch last Sunday reading this memoir and being a bed for the cats. What kept me reading this pretentious tale was the predictable-ness of the story.

Within the first fifteen pages I had predicted an ending. I basically kept reading to see if I was right. It took a while, the reveal wasn’t until the very end, but it turns out my plot prediction was correct. It’s difficult to read true stories like this and not be able to understand how the author couldn’t ‘see this one coming too’. Yes, I know, it’s different being inside something than outside looking in. It’s just frustrating at as a reader.

The writing style was fine and easy-going. Erlbaum’s thoughts and actions were so goddamn pretentious though. Unbelievable in some cases. Like she really thought she was saving the world.

Erlbaum starts the story explaining she lived in a girl’s shelter in NYC for a few months as a teenager. Now she’s a grown-up living the good life in a fancy pants apartment. She wants to give back. So she starts volunteering at that same shelter. She immediately makes favorites, bringing certain girls gifts and things, getting pretty obsessed about how helpful she is. How much of a difference she can make on these girl’s lives.

Then she meets Sam. This is not a book about her volunteering at the shelter and all the different girl’s she meets. It is not about her learning the stories of other’s. This is her story about how her intimate (platonically) relationship with one of these girls. It is about how she tries to saves someone. I guess that’s why it is a memoir. It is all about her and her supposedly good intentions.

Then Erlbaum meets Sam and immediately starts taking care of this girl who is in and out of hospitals.
Sam is in constant need of attention. There is always a drama. There is always something wrong with her. Her life was extremely bad growing up. Though she can expertly play a piano (she said she learned from a drug dealer…)

It’s really one thing after another, which is enough to keep the reader interested. But only because you’re waiting for the truth to come out.

If you like memoirs, stories of mentally/physically ill teenagers, or NYC stories I recommend this. But it is easy reading and predictable. I give it 3/5.

Internet Best Of: Links

Impostor Syndrome and Writing – Fit is the New Poor

Baby Steps in the Morning – The Asian Pear

Cheap Eats: Dollar Samosa’s – The NY Budget

Food & Health
This Infographic Shows the Phytonutrients You Need to Stay Healthy – Lifehacker

Stick A Fork In It (Or: When Food Blogs Stopped Being Food Blogs) – The Amateur Gourmet

March Madness & Bracketology
Statistical NCAA Tournament Predictions – FiveThirtyEight

Brooklyn News
Driver charged after SUV ends up on subway car in Brooklyn – ABC News

Brooklyn History
How Brooklyn Neighborhoods Got Their Names – Mental Floss

Donate to Stephanie’s 2014 Walk for Hunger – Project Bread

Netflix Instant Picks: Gattaca, Taxi Driver, Men in Black II

Gattaca (1997) / Sci-Fi

Netflix Instant Gattaca

Gattaca, starring the talented combination of Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman, is in my top 5 list of best sci-fi movies.

A world where all babies are genetically engineered. No diseases. No imperfections. But some were born off the grid, In-Valids. Ethan Hawke’s character is one of these imperfects and is seen as weak by society.

The plot revolves around Ethan Hawke trying to assume the identity of someone who was genetically engineered. There are plenty of close-calls and suspense. Some parts are cringe-worthy as becoming someone else includes leg lengthening to match their height.

The take on genetic engineering is interesting and everyone plays their parts, perfectly.

Bonus: This is Jude Law’s first major movie role.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law
Runtime: 106 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: The lengths people go to for perfection.

Men In Black II (2002) / Sci-Fi Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Men in Black Sequel

Taking a good concept and keeping it going, Men in Black II, is really more of the same. This isn’t bad but don’t expect a whole different story or anything. Will Smith’s character is still strong. And the aliens are still silly.

Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
Runtime: 88 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Strong follow-up with more silly alien antics and Will Smith.

Taxi Driver (1976) / Classic Drama

Netflix Instant Picks Taxi Driver

Watching Taxi Driver for the first time in a New York City theater was strange experience. The movie’s atmosphere was perfectly gritty and creepy. De Niro’s character is perfectly delusional.

The movie is very New York. I would say it is one of the most quintessential New York movies. Everything about the feelings it portrays is accurate including characters, neighborhoods, and caricatures.

There are many memorable lines from the movie (you looking at me?) and a killer ending. For a movie from the 1970′s this definitely holds up and I can’t recommend it enough. .

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster
Runtime: 114 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: An intense look at someone becoming psychotic.

Verbal Harassment is Not Harmless

Living in an urban area means you might not own a car. Not having a car means you have zero privacy. You walk to get groceries. To the post office. To a friend’s place. To dinner. You walk in the rain or snow or heat or nighttime.

Since you are in public, some people think it is appropriate to tell you what they think of you. That you’re beautiful. Or sexy. Or that you have a big ass. If you ignore these comments, you might be called a bitch.

This is practically a daily occurrence in the city for many women. From verbal harassment when trying to simply cross the street. To sexual harassment on a crowded train. This is harassment. It is uncomfortable, it is not safe, it is disrespectful, and it is hurtful.

What Happens When You Ignore the Problem

Let me tell you a story.

I have experienced a considerable amount of verbal harassment while living here. It is always uncomfortable and gross. I am never flattered by the “compliment”, as men refer to it. I am never grateful for the “attention”, as men consider it.

But nothing made me feel as unsafe as a recent incident.

I was waiting for the bus on a Sunday afternoon on my way to visit a friend. Initially I was at the bus stop alone but after a few minutes a man came up and was waiting as well. I was facing the direction of the bus with my back turned to the man.

After a minute or so I heard him say, “you’re beautiful.” I didn’t acknowledge this. My general tact is to not engage. I continued facing away from him and didn’t react.

So he continued:
Lady, you’re really beautiful.
I want to sing a song about you.

I still did not respond but was doing my best to will the bus to appear it. It did not. I continued ignoring the man. At this point I was already uncomfortable.

He kept going on undeterred:
You have a nice ass.
That’s a sexy ass.
I want to touch your sexy ass, lady.

We were on a public sidewalk. On the corner of a busy intersection at 5p on a Sunday. He was a safe distance away from me. I didn’t quite think I was in danger but I was very uncomfortable. And kept feeling grosser and grosser by the minute. Why was I feeling gross? All I was doing was standing at the bus stop. That’s all.

Since I had ignored everything up to this point, he decided to escalate:
I want to grab your ass.
I want to stick my dick inside you.

Then I was afraid. I turned around and yelled, “Please stop talking to me.”

He turned around and ran.

Because Unpredictable Behavior is Frightening

That was the most lewd harassment I’ve encountered. But that is not to say the common “you’re beautiful” “have a nice day, beautiful” “watch that ass” makes me feel any less disgusting.

Why is verbal harassment frightening? Because it is not socially acceptable behavior. It is unpredictable. If a person thinks it’s okay to say that to someone, what else do they think is okay. What other behaviors do they think are acceptable? What other types of attention do they think women want?

This incident happened in my neighborhood. What if I run into that guy at another time. When there’s less people around. What if he actually tried something.

When someone does not follow society’s rules, this unpredictable behavior is threatening.

It also means there are times I don’t want to pass a slow walker because I know I will hear a “sexy ass, mama” as soon as I do.There were times I didn’t feel safe riding my bike because cars would honk or people would yell out their windows, causing a distraction.

I’ve been followed home by a car trailing me slowly. The passenger making kissing sounds at me out the window.

It’s The Way It Is

And sadly women have to deal with it every single day in the city.

I am certainly not the first to address it or be bothered by it. Groups have tried to discourage it before.

But clearly those who engage in these so-called compliments do not see the problem with it.

Recently I found a quote about this written in 1978. Over thirty years have passed and absolutely nothing has changed:

On the subway home, I was doodling in my notebook, and as the train began to pull out of the station, I glanced up and saw a young man standing on the opposite platform. He waved and leered at me and licked his lips. I frowned pointedly, as always when this happens, and lowered my head and lifted my pen from my notebook so he could see it (a weapon?)

I’ve been thinking about my reaction to him. The frowning is a carefully acquired habit, something I’ve trained myself to do when men say anything to me on the street.

I suppose that every woman has to decide sooner or later, if she lives in New York, how she’s going to deal with rude gestures and verbal assaults.

What Can We Do About It?

Sure, I may not be able to change a man who is set in his ways thinking he is just “complimenting women”. But we can teach young boys that this is not acceptable. We can provide examples of socially appropriate situations to compliment women. We can teach children appropriate talk to say to each other. To say in public. To say to strangers. To teach that words can be hurtful even if that’s not your intention. To teach that certain words can make someone feel uncomfortable. To teach how to be respectful of everyone.

This is disrespectful behavior. It’s disrespectful of me as a person. Disrespectful of my personal space. It makes me feel uncomfortable. It puts me on alert. What else could this person say? What else could this person do?

How Do you Handle This?

I would like to pose a question to other New Yorkers. How do you handle these situations? Usually I ignore and don’t engage as that just makes things worse. However, in the incident above, it was worse because I ignored it.

I try not to move or leave as to not give control to the other person or give them a reason to follow me. I try to think about public places I can go to if I need to.

I never let this affect where I am going or what I’m wearing. It’s not fun enduring it but I will not let a stranger control my life in that way. I should not have to change my behavior.

I hate that I have to do this.

It’s Okay It’s Not Okay

I don’t want to over-dramaticize this. Or make it seem like NYC isn’t safe. It’s not that. Things happen here and everywhere. But this is something considered harmless that happens all the time.

Verbal harassment is not harmless.

February Monthly Spending in NYC 2014

February 2014 - Monthly Spending in Brooklyn

February 2014 – Monthly Spending in Brooklyn


To simplify the chart, I have given up on measuring the exact value of rent. It’s high. I spend 47% of my monthly income on a 1br in “I’ve never heard of that neighborhood” Brooklyn. This is my third year living here and my stabilized rent has only gone up by $80 total in that time. That is really good for NYC.

I don’t see it necessary to actually chart this expense. Especially since it really skews the chart. Just imagine the bar going on and on and on and on.

Since last month was out of control with eating out, I made a conscious effort to buy groceries and bring my lunch. This was a success. But it did not save me any money whatsoever.

I completely broke even with last month. It didn’t matter whether I ate out or bought groceries, the total spent on food was exactly the same.

January spending on groceries + eating out totaled $336.
February spending on groceries + eating out totaled $339.

This was a very helpful experiment though. It means that I don’t have to beat myself up over buying lunch every now and then. It means I don’t need to worry when I haven’t bought groceries lately. I don’t need to make such a fuss over spending money on food like I usually do. This is actually a very relaxing thought.

The majority of this month’s large spending on health was due to a bill from a few months ago that I finally received. Even with what my insurance covered, I still owed several hundred dollars. It wasn’t unexpected so that’s good at least. Hopefully I can claim what I paid from my FSA.

This was a walk-in appointment that required a consultation, some lab tests, and prescriptions. The whole thing was totally preventable if I wasn’t an idiot. However, it was necessary at the time so I can’t complain too much.

I finally set up an FSA this year. The amount shown in the chart is the amount I paid out of pocket. But this will be claimed against my FSA, which means I will be paying less in total. I’m hoping that will help a lot throughout the year.

When I started seeing a therapist I made a conscious decision to not limit myself to only those who accepted my insurance. It’s not a quality issue but I mainly wanted to have the largest possible choices I could. The best fit for me is a therapist who is not covered by my insurance. But she works so well for me that I have been okay with paying for this out of pocket. In the long run, it really is an investment.

Usually my cat spending is under $50/mo and that’s for food or litter. This month included a vet bill. And next month will too. To take my cat to the vet (plain visit is $50) and have some pre-surgery blood work done, came to about $150. The blood work was in preparation for a dental cleaning he needed to get done. This was done in March (and totaled $550, excluding this earlier appointment).

Good thing I love the little guy.


Most of this month’s spending was planned. I knew I wanted to make the vet appointment as soon as I received my tax refund. So income this month was about a thousand dollars higher than usual because of my tax and state refund. That money had already been allotted to the cats, misc health things, and buying myself a new laptop. All necessities.

As much as I would have loved to be able to throw this money at my student loan, I knew it needed to be spent on particular things. As it is, I have a set plan in place for the loan repayment and re-building up my savings. This is going well and doesn’t need a boost from the tax money.

All You Need to Budget is Pen + Paper

Continuing my campaign to get everyone budgeting and tracking their spending, this is a gentle reminder that you don’t need fancy software or a math wiz to keep an eye on your finances. Pen and paper. Or chalkboard. Or a whiteboard. Or nail polish. Any sort of writing utensil and blank canvas will do the trick!