Teach Yourself Spanish with Free Tools

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Duolingo – Website, App

Duolingo helps you learn a new language for free on their site or mobile app.

Duolingo helps you learn a new language for free on their site or mobile app.

Duolingo offers to teach you various languages using their website or mobile app. It has been extremely helpful and was the kickstarter for all of this. The app requires an Internet connection, which is a downside. But I usually use it before bed anyway.

It does teach vocabulary in the standard method of learning language. However, it teaches through examples. So there aren’t any lessons or flashcards or instructions. You merely learn the vocab and verb congregations by seeing them in sentences. Each “lesson” is really a test in which you have to translate individual words or sentence, either into English or into Spanish depending. The variety of question changes which helps to keep this from getting too tedious. And while there are nothing but questions, it doesn’t quite feel like a test. (I’m bad at tests).

Duolingo has worked best for me as a supplement to more structured learning.

Accelerated Spanish – Podcast, Website

Use mnemonics to learn a new language quickly

Use mnemonics to learn a new language quickly

The Master of Memory general series teaches memorization tactics using mnemonics. I’ve never used this method for learning before but it actually works. Even if it feels hokey.

The accompanying podcast, Accelerated Spanish, is the best podcast I’ve found for learning a new language. Trust me, I went through most of them. The creator, Timothy Moser, has a perfect voice for this and really performs well. Although he is telling goofy stories, he never makes fun or breaks the interruption. I also like that the podcasts are 15-30 mins long. This is perfect for when I’m doing less mentally-intensive tasks at work. Or my work commute. If they were any longer, I would likely lose focus.

Without this podcast and website, I would have already given up learning the language again. I love that the website doesn’t teach you greetings and nouns. It starts out by teaching connecting words and pronouns first. Using the argument that these small words make up almost 50% of the language. It really has helped for getting the gist of sentences quicker. Sure, maybe I don’t know one or two words but it’s easier to pick out nouns based on context than “and”, “between”, “from”, “with”, etc.

I tend to listen to the podcast at work then come home and spend an hour on the appropriate lesson on the website. The videos are even goofier but as a visual learner, seeing the pictures to go with the story is really helpful.

There are also tests if you’re into that type of thing. (I’m bad at tests).

Bilingual Children’s Books from the Library – Books

Read bilingual children's books to learn a new language with familiar stories.

Read bilingual children’s books to learn a new language with familiar stories.

The library has been a huge free resource for learning Spanish on my own. I found a section within the children’s section devoted to bilingual and foreign language books. Here, the majority are in Spanish or Spanish/English. This is so helpful.

I started out by reading La Caperucita Roja (Little Red riding Hood) and La Pollito Tito (Chicken Little). And Nieves Blancas (Snow White). Reading through these, first in Spanish, then English, was helpful to get an understanding of how the language is used. I knew the stories enough to also guess translate based on context.

Bilingual books with stories are easier than really simple books that are just nouns and numbers.

Immersion by Changing Every Day Settings to Spanish

Change native language settings on your smart phone to really immerse yourself in the language.

Change native language settings on your smart phone to really immerse yourself in the language.

After a month of half of teaching myself Spanish via online resources, I decided to test myself. I changed the native language on my phone to Spanish.

It’s been about two weeks now since I started to learn Spanish and I still have it set that way. I do know enough of the language (and the general settings layout) that I can switch it back if I really need to. But so far it’s been fine. And very helpful! Learning the days of the week and months of the year was far easier when I see them every single time I check the clock on my phone.

I am learning new words through context and menus that I wouldn’t have encountered so often otherwise.

The first week was a little frustrating. Not because I didn’t know the words but because my brain was confused. Like, when waking up in the middle of the night and seeing “miercoles, 14 de Noviembre” on my screen. It took me a minute to realize I was seeing things straight. Also, changing the settings changed some other things. Like, my weather app defaulted to calculus!

Immersion By Finding Every Day Things in Spanish

One of many ads in Español seen on the NYC subway

One of many ads in Español seen on the NYC subway

Even a casual lunch at a Cuban restaurant with a friend turned into a Spanish lesson just by browsing the menu. It was in Spanish and English. But it was interesting to see how they phrased things. Since there are varying dialects of Spanish. (I am aiming for learning Mexican Spanish, rather than Spain Spanish).

Living in NYC, this type of immersion is extremely easy to find. Every single day I can find at least one advertisement or flyer on the subway that is in Spanish. Sometimes it has the English translation but not always. I now look for something in Spanish on the subway and read through it, trying to translate it, or learning new words. That is free and so simple. And something I get to do every single day.

I’m not quite at the point where I can eavesdrop or anything. But I certainly do hear Spanish every day as well.

Do not Get Frustrated When Trying to Learn Spanish

I’m barely two months in to really focusing on this. And I find myself really frustrated. Then I have to stop and remind myself that I am trying to learn an entire new language! Heck, I still get mixed up by certain words in English. Like affect, effect. And there are plenty of English vocabulary I am unfamiliar with. I can’t expect to know every word in another language in two months!

And I also have to remind myself that I spent 4 years, years, in high school learning French. I’m no where near that much learning for Spanish.

There are some disadvantages to teaching yourself. You have to have a lot of self-discipline and motivation. But also, you do need to find native speakers (or friends who know it very well) because there are some cultural type idioms and phrases you will not understand just by text alone.

You also don’t have a gauge of how well (or not well) you’re doing when you learn Spanish on your own. In a class, you see your peers and know if you’re doing better or worse than them. But with no comparison, it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t think you are progressing. It is difficult to see our own progress.

But I love walking around the house calling my cat bonito gatito!

2015 Goals: Work Hard & Be Nice to People

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Work hard and be nice to people

The foundation of my new year’s resolutions and how I generally want to live my life.

The foundation of my life values can be summed up in the quote Work Hard and be Nice to People. It’s difficult to know who the original source of this simple statement is. The picture above is actually of my cubicle at work; I want to be reminded of this daily.

I’ve written in the past about creating life goals based off of your life values. That is exactly what I have done this year, using this mantra as the foundation.

I have four life values that I want to focus on next year. Three of them involve working hard and the fourth involves being nice to people.

  • Knowledge/Skills/Continuing Education
  • Financial Stability & Independence
  • Physical/Mental Health & Fitness
  • Respect Others and Appreciate Friendships/Relationships

Within each life value, I have several goals/challenges that I am setting for myself. These aren’t new year’s resolutions as much as keeping myself on track for how I want to live my life.

Value: Knowledge/Skills/Continuing Education


  • Edit a NaNoWriMo story
  • Submit a story to a literary journal
  • Continue learning Spanish
  • Think more about chart blog
  • Think about signing up for a writing class


After writing four NaNoWriMo stories, I’d like to finally go back and edit one. I don’t know if I will ever do anything more with them. But I’ve already experienced the process of writing fiction and would like to know the experience of editing it. I’m challenging myself to complete a full re-read of my most recent story, editing it with pen, then hopefully putting those edits back into the story. It will be a lot of work but I would like to spend more time on writing this year. Which is why most of these goals are related to writing.

Typically, I only write fiction in November for NaNoWriMo so I definitely want to branch out from that. I love writing. And while I write for this site weekly, I want to write more fiction. Mainly to see if I really enjoy it, or if I just like the rushed feeling of NaNo. Also, to figure out if I am good at it. Or if it’s just something I like doing.

I’m not looking to make a career as a novelist or anything like that. But I am challenging myself next year to write a short story and make it polished enough to submit to a literary journal. That also means I need to read more literary journals. It was also suggested that I participate in some writing workshops, classes, or critique sessions. So that is something I will think about for next year as well.

Also, I started teaching myself Spanish late in 2014 and do want to keep that up. So in 2015, I’d like to focus on my writing skills and continuing to learn Spanish.

Value: Financial Stability & Independence


  • Continue paying off student loan
  • Continue using credit card responsibly
  • Have positive Net Worth
  • Earn extra income once a quarter
  • Spend money where I spend my time


There isn’t much to “check off” when it comes to my financial goals. These are mainly reminders that I stay on the right path. Although I should hit the positive mark on my net worth this year.

Recently I heard the phrase “Spend Your Money Where You Spend Your Time” and I love it. For me, this is a perfect way to spend money without feeling guilty. And to purchase things without worrying about it putting a damper on my minimalism. For example, I spend a lot of time running so I don’t need to feel guilty buying running clothes/shoes/etc. This also will help me to not go out and buy a lot of things for a new hobby until I actually start doing it.

Earning side income is something I always struggle with. I have no desire to be a freelancer or to take on any major freelance projects. I really treasure my free time. And plan to use my free time to meet some of the above goals in gaining new knowledge. I don’t need extra money but it is nice. Trying to earn extra income every month may be too much for me, so I wrote it down as quarterly. This can be anything from selling items on craigslist to cat sitting to a small writing gig. I do want to push myself a little bit in this area. Just so I can stop being so focused on penny pinching, as I get sometimes.

Value: Physical/Mental Health & Fitness


  • Leave the city once a month
  • Continue running 3 times a week
  • Run a half marathon
  • Try one new recipe a month
  • Think about creation vs consumption


Although I feel better about living in nyc now than I did in the past, I still like the breather to get out once in a while. For my mental health, it helps me feel less trapped and a reminder of what life is like outside the NY bubble.

For the past two months I have been very focused on running consistently. Instead of focusing on speed goals, I’m just focusing on consistently running three times a week. When I start focusing on speed, then I just get really discouraged because I’m progressing fast enough. So if I simply focus on just the act of running, then even a mile means success. In line with that, I do want to run a half marathon again this year. Probably the Brooklyn Half. And it may be more than one. But I at least want to do the one.

Also in the latter part of 2014, I began cooking at home a lot more. One struggle I have with that is eating the same things over and over and over because my recipe repertoire isn’t the biggest. I’d like to push myself to learn new recipes and expand my menu rotation. This is mainly to encourage me to eat at home as often as possible.

I have had many thoughts about consumption vs creation lately. This is also a benefit to my mental health to give myself a push to create more rather than merely consume, read, and lurk on the Internet. Many times this year I’ve thought about ending this blog, as I want to take it in a more personal direction, which can be pretty scary. However, this site is my largest form of creation outside of work and I really would miss that.

Respect Others and Appreciate Friendships/Relationships


  • Don’t get angry at others for behaving how I don’t want them to
  • Actively maintain friendships and show people I care about them
  • Continue celebrating friend’s birthdays
  • Spend energy being nice to people not being mad at people
  • Don’t blame others for how I choose to spend my time


Last year I decided to focus heavily on how I interact with others as I have many behavioral traits that I do not like in myself. Things such as losing patience, getting irritable quickly, blaming others for my mistakes, etc. I know my friends and family still love me despite that, but I don’t like treating people I care about like that. Or even strangers who also don’t deserve it.

These feelings became even stronger after my dad passed away last August. I want all my friends to know that I truly care about them. I want to treat everyone with respect. And show my full appreciation. I have done small things this past year including sending birthday cards to friends/family, exhibiting a lot more patience on the subway, and really focusing on not getting angry at someone just because they’re not behaving how I want them to. This has been really hard but I am making progress.

One behavior I have that I really do not like at all is when it comes to relationships. It really is something I want to work on before I enter my next serious romantic relationship. See, I will have a plan in my head to cook myself dinner and have a quiet night at home on a certain night. But then let’s say my SO is having a rough day and suggests we go out for dinner and drinks instead. I agree because it is easier than cooking dinner and I get to spend time with my SO. I go out and have a really nice time. A fun time. A good night. But then! I come home and realize I’ve spent $50 and get mad at my SO for making me go out and spend money and then they made me order three beers and now I’m kind of buzzed and will wake up with a headache in the morning. And since I didn’t cook I will have to buy lunch tomorrow so now my SO is making me spend even more money! Then I’ll take it out on them because I see it as they’re ruining my life!

Obviously no one is forcing me to do any of these things. I am choosing to spend the money, drink the beer, eat the food, then blaming someone else for my irresponsibility. And this ridiculous behavior has been the cause of so many fights. Really a waste of energy. Really not fair to anyone. And then no one feels good after.

I write all this out yet I still engage in this behavior. So, I hope to take better responsibility for my actions in the coming year and not blame others for things that are my fault. Of course my SO will still love me even during these outbursts but I shouldn’t rely on that.

As you begin to think about what you want in your life next year, take a minute to write down exactly what you value in life, then write goals for each value. This way you can ensure you are living the life you want.

2014 Big List of Books I’ve Read

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Continuing the yearly tradition from 2012 and 2013, here is the big list of books I read during 2014.

Fiction: 23
Non-Fiction: 14
Comics/Graphic Novels: 10
Did Not Finish: 7

Total Spent: $35
Total Books Taken out from Library: 41
Total Saved by using the Library: $680 (at retail price)

Marbles by Ellen Forney / Graphic Novel

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

This is a graphic memoir from Ellen Forney about her initial diagnosis and coping with bipolar disorder. It is the best description of mania & depression I have ever read. And is absolutely perfect for the graphic novel format.

As an artist, she spends the latter half of the book debating about taking medication. Her worry is that bipolar disorder is actually the key to her creativity and antimanic drugs will take that away. She then goes through a brief history of famous writers who have been diagnosed as manic or depressive post-mortum. In the end she finds a combination of drugs that reduce her bipolar mood swings while keeping her creativity.

Although I have not experienced mania to that extent, her description of depression was quite spot on of my own experiences. She mentions getting out of bed just to go to sleep on the couch and how her therapist was proud of her for just getting out of bed. Because that truly is an accomplishment when in a severe depression.

The illustrations of her mood swings are very vivid. Providing a better explanation than words on exactly how she was feeling each time. Even though her bipolar disorder will never go away, after a two year struggle she has learned to manage it, which triggers to avoid, and when a mood swing could be coming on. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples / Comics

Saga Vols 1-3

Saga comics Volumes 1-3 (current)

I first read the beginning of Saga’s Volume 1 immediately following Preacher and thought it was a rip-off. The storyline seemed too similar to me so I bailed. It took me a year to give it another chance after hearing many people rave about it. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

The story line, while not original, is certainly interesting. I love that the point of view is from the child. The cast of characters are intriguing and I hope there will be more development. More than anything, the illustrations are wonderful.

Other Graphic Novels/Comics

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos / Fiction

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

I loved this short, straight forward, coming of age story. Revolving around an outcast who forms a band (of course) in high school then the emotions & adventures that happen to them. The main character is very interesting although the ending gets a little too predictable and sappy. But this was a great quick read I was able to finish in two days and I loved every word of it.

Jumper by Steven Gould / Fiction

Jumper by Steven Gould

The first half of this book is some of the best adventure sci-fi I’ve read. The idea of being able to teleport to places you’ve already been to is a really fun concept to think about. I love that the 18-year old male main character does exactly what you would expect of an 18-year old male who just found out he can teleport. First, he robs a bank. Then, he tries to impress a girl. Lastly, he avenges the death of his mother.

For this same reason, the last half of the book grew tiresome for me. Teenage boys are stubborn and, well, dumb, and this character is no exception. That means it is realistic. But still frustrating as a reader. It is still a really fun adventure story although I probably would have enjoyed it more as a teenager myself.

Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross / Fiction

Charles Stross' Laundry Files

Charles Stross’ Laundry Files

This was the first Stross novel I’ve read and I really didn’t know what I was in for. This is part of a series of stories in this weird sci-fi world Stross created. The world is a mix of sci-fi monsters & demons, with james bond spy plots, plus Douglas Adams-esque wit & humor.

I wasn’t completely able to follow the plot but I loved the world and the characters. This is a book that knows exactly what it is and owns that. The main character makes many jokes and references to spy movies, which means no one is taking this book seriously and that is a perfect fit.

This story can be enjoyed by both spy/adventure fans and fans of sci-fi, it really is a good mix of both.

Horns by Joe Hill / Fiction

Joe Hill's Horns

Joe Hill’s Horns

This is the first book I’ve read by Hill and I loved it. The story is slightly fantasy as it involves the main character waking up one morning with horns growing out of his head. His transformation to the devil is an interesting one. And he is also a crime solver as he needs to prove himself innocent of the death of his girlfriend from a few years ago.

I loved the writing, the pacing, the characters, and the plot itself. The ending got a little… weird. But it wasn’t completely expected, which is always a relief.

City of Thieves by David Benioff / Fiction

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 fictionalized version of the Siege of Leningrad is partly based off of Benioff’s grandfather’s personal stories. Most of the historical events are true but many of the scenes have been embellished to make a good story. It works for me.

Despite the context of war, this is a story of two teenage boys who get in trouble and have to essentially perform community service to get out of it. They trek across the country side to run an errand for a general. Along the way they make friends, see how the war is affecting their country, learn about each other, and themselves.

Although it is a fictional account, history fans will find the story interesting. It is a coming of age story at it’s heart but the war aspect is very This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager.

Other Fiction

Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters / Non-Fiction

Kelly McMasters' Welcome to Shirley

Kelly McMaster’s Welcome to Shirley

This is part environmentalism and part memoir as the author grew up in the “atomic town” of Shirley she is writing about. Shirley, a small town on Long Island, NY, is located near a national laboratory that tends to have a leaky reactor.

The first half of the story is simply her auto-biography. She also gives a wonderful history of the town of Shirley. As a New York native, I found all that pretty intriguing. Then the second half turns to environmental awareness as she becomes a teenager and many of her neighbors get cancer. A very rare type of a cancer. Such a rare type of cancer that it doesn’t make sense so many people in such a concentrated area would get it.

That is when the town started looking into the near-by reactor. McMaster’s research is sound and her personal attachment only makes this feel more authentic than if it came from an outsider. The story of her life and all the history actually works very well together. Nothing is too sappy or over exaggerated. Simply knowing that that is where she came from makes the environmental hazards of the laboratory feel even that much worse, as a reader.

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell / Non-Fiction

History of Food Sitwell

This is a history book told chronologically through the lens of food.

Each chapter is a recipe though the text is often more about the time period than the actual recipe or food. The opening chapter is circa 1958-1913 BC and describes how the Egyptians used food for daily life, ceremonies, animals, and other ways. The recipes are put there to provide context but are not really meant to be followed.

There was an incredibly interesting chapter on the first supermarket in the US, Piggly Wiggly. He goes into detail on the history of self-service supermarkets and the man who invented them. It was incredibly interesting. And for the life of me I can’t remember what the recipe was for that chapter.

The recipe and the chapter text seemed to correlate less and less as the time period grew newer. I loved the history segments in the beginning of the book but my interest did wane by the last quarter. The modern recipes just weren’t as interesting.

This is a book more for history nerds than foodies.

On Writing by Stephen King / Non-Fiction

On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve read several of the ‘best’ writing reference books by authors now and there is definitely a reason why this one always makes that list. Honestly, I was skeptical that King’s advice would be practical because of all his success. But it really is.

Heads up, the beginning quarter is an autobiography. I understand why he did this but it was quite boring for me. I wasn’t reading this to learn about King, I wanted to learn about writing.

So he more than makes up for this in the rest of the book. He actually goes beyond my expectations by talking about sentence structure, contractions, adverbs, publishing, agents, literary journals, writing environments, and even provides good & bad examples of his own writing & editing.

There were certainly some take-aways I got out of this story that I really put to use in this year’s NaNoWriMo writing. I stayed clear from adverbs; King hates them. I did most of my writing in one spot, at home, instead of jumping around from one coffee shop to another facing many distractions.

He also makes strong points on limiting dialogue, showing not telling, and not to worry if you don’t have a plot. As he says, get your story down first, the plot will come later. People’s lives have stories, not plots. That is some of the best writing advice I’ve heard.

Tell-Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran / Non-Fiction

Tell Tale Brain

I started getting into pop-neuroscience books last year after reading Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. The Tell-Tale Brain was a book Sacks referenced so I decided to go straight to the source. While it is readable for the layman, it isn’t quite as “pop” as Sacks’ writing. I enjoyed it though some parts were a bit over my head.

The two most interesting topics were phantom limb syndrome and blind sight. Both are amazing medical conditions where the brain ‘sees’ one thing but our physical bodies ‘do’ another. He goes into details with case studies and the entire thing is very fascinating.

A Season of Saturdays by Michael Weinerb / Non-Fiction

A Season of Saturdays College Football Michael Weinerb

I picked this up at the library to get ready for the start of the college football season. This is another history book within the context of college football. Although it is very football focused, it also includes history about various colleges, rivalries, the ivy leagues, and the sport of football itself.

Weinerb never gets too technical in terminology but this is a book about football and you probably would only enjoy it if you enjoy college football.

Other Non-Fiction

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson / Did Not Finish

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

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

This book completely turned me off of Bill Bryson. His behavior and attitude throughout most of the book is pretty despicable. He is absolutely miserable, insulting every person and town he drives through. There are nothing but complaints despite he is going on an amazing road trip across the United States. At the time he wrote this, he was living in Britain and he won’t let you forget it.

The story itself is strange because there is little context as to why he is taking the trip or what he expects to get out of it. Basically the opposite of his A Walk in the Woods. He doesn’t like anything he sees, mocks everyone, and is generally a curmudgeon.

I read 3/4 of the book then couldn’t stand to hear him complain about the New England towns. The entire book is completely repetitive and I simply had enough at that point.

Other Did Not Finish Books

November Monthly Expenses in NYC 2014

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November Monthly Spending for a 1BR in Brooklyn

November Monthly Spending for a 1BR in Brooklyn

My current rent is a little over $1,400 for 1br apartment in not the hip part of Brooklyn. Since it is a rent stabilized apartment, my rent will increase in February when I renew my lease. Although I still haven’t decided if I want to renew for 1 or 2 years. As the lease term affects the percent of increase.

I did keep a list of what I considered entertainment throughout the month. These expenses included tickets to see Patton Oswalt next month, Magic cards and accessories, and a new printer plus accessories. Eating out and alcohol expenses are broken out separately.

There are zero health-related expenses this month which is a significant decrease from the several past months. I am sticking to not signing up for any more races this year. For next year, I have three I’m looking at but am putting a budget on this. Something like no more than $300 in race fees for all of 2015. The motivation is great, but as long as I have a routine, I don’t need to pay $40 to run a 10K. Also, many half marathons are getting mighty expensive and I prefer to run them than the shorter distances.

Combined Food + Groceries:

  • Jan: $336
  • Feb: $339
  • Mar: $393
  • Apr: $298
  • May: $366
  • Jun: $362
  • Jul: $353
  • Aug: n/a
  • Sep: $260
  • Oct: $255
  • Nov: $248

This month was consistent with the rest of the fall as both these expenses are declining. Although $250 for combined eating out and booze spending is probably my limit. This is certainly better than spending almost $400 on this in the beginning of the year! I am trying to keep up the momentum of cooking at home by making sure I grocery shop once a week and trying out new recipes. This month was slightly different as I spent more eating out but less on groceries than last month.

I’m 30 And Single Because I Know What I Want

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I want to be with a good person

I have written about dating before. Back a few years ago when I was really into it. Playing the field, as they would say. Dating, after all, is a numbers game.

I wasn’t in my early 20’s but I also didn’t really know what I want. I was trying to figure that out. I didn’t want a relationship and learned quickly that nyc was the perfect place for not-relationships. So when I moved to nyc, I had a lot of sex. A lot. And that was fun for a while. For about 6 months, actually. Then it grew boring. As things in excess do.

I gave a lot of people a lot of chances. Or some no chance at all. There wasn’t really a rhyme or a reason to it.

I took some time off from dating and sleeping with people to learn about myself. Figure myself out. Then, as a completely new person, I entered a serious relationship. Got hurt. And here I am again.

Taking A Break And That’s Okay

Since my summer break-up and the loss of my dad happened back-to-back, I haven’t had any rebound flings. I haven’t had any interest in dating or having sex with strangers.

Part of it is the normal thoughts that happen after a death. Worries that you’ll regret things. Worries you never see your loved ones enough. I decided that I want to spend quality time with my friends. Prioritize the relationships I have now rather than spend energy finding new ones.

Also, I need to take some time with myself. Lots of life events happened this summer and I need a break. Dealing with the emotions that come with dating and new relationships, is just not something I want to deal with right now.

Back in September, after being on/off okcupid for a few weeks and having a date cancel, I decided that I just wasn’t ready. I do not want to invest the emotional energy and physical time into dating right now. I told myself that I would not proactively date for the rest of the year. Then would re-assess my emotional state in January.

I Want To Be With A Decent Human Being

I’ve also realized from my time sleeping with everyone/anyone, that I really just want to date someone who is a good person. I’ve always felt a fluctuation with my sexuality but never really defined it. And I don’t really like the words that are out there to define it.

But when it comes to what I want in a relationship, here it is:
I want a good person, who I connect with on a physical & emotional level, who treats me well, and is respectful to others.

That’s it. As long as all those match up, I don’t have a preference for their gender identity, ethnicity, race, etc. Just be a good person. Just be a decent human being.

I Know What I Want And What I Don’t Want

One aspect of dating that cracks me up is mental stability. Both OK Cupid and Match have questions like, “Would you date someone on anti-depressants?” or “Would you date someone who regularly sees a therapist?” Many many people answer ‘No’ to both of these. One man went as far to say that he didn’t want to date someone who needed “crazy pills” to function.

This is akin to saying you don’t want to be with someone who has to exercise to stay in shape.

Instead of being weary when others bring up their own anxieties or experiences with depression, it tells me they are self-aware. They want to get better. Know how to get better. Are working on getting better.

It’s the ones who aren’t getting help, you should watch out for.

Lonely But Not Alone, A Revelation

While I have made this decision to be alone right now. Which truly is best for me at the moment. There are certainly times I feel lonely. It can be an intense feeling. Maybe it lasts a few moments or a whole evening.

In these moments, my depressive brain tries to take over, with silly thoughts like “you’ll be alone forever” and “you’re going to die alone with your cats.”

But I’m not alone.

I can feel lonely. But I know I’m not alone.

There are so many friends, family, and other support in my life. No, it’s not the same as a romantic relationship. Which is why I do feel lonely. But I’m not alone. There are people who care about me.

Being able to feel these two similar emotions separately is not something I could do several years ago. In that way, being 30 and single almost seems easier. I know I’m not all alone.

I know I’m not single because there’s something wrong with me. I’m not mentally putting any of that extra weight on my relationship status.

150 Years of The Rivalry: Lehigh vs Lafayette

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Lehigh vs Lafayette 150th Meeting at Yankee Stadium Tickeet

Commemorative ticket for The Rivalry ‘s 150th game at Yankee Stadium

This past weekend both schools celebrated the 150th Lehigh vs Lafayette game, coined “The Rivalry”. For the occasion, New York City baseball field Yankee Stadium was converted into a college football field specifically for this game. This has been done before, though it is rare. Last year, they filled it up with ice to become a hockey rink for the Winter Classic NHL series. For me, anytime I can go to Yankee Stadium and not have to watch baseball, is a good time.

It may seem odd that two tiny private colleges in Eastern Pennsylvania, part of the Patriot League of College Football, get the honor of being able to play at Yankee Stadium. Well, this isn’t just any college football game.

It’s About History, Not Football

College Football takes over Yankee stadium for The Rivalry 150th meeting of the Patriot League's Lehigh vs Lafayette

College Football takes over Yankee stadium for The Rivalry 150th meeting of the Patriot League’s Lehigh vs Lafayette

I love college football. And not because I love sports, but because I love history. American college football has such a rich history as a sport and to our culture. And especially on the east coast, where it all began.

The first American (college) football game was Rutgers vs Princeton in 1869 [wiki]. Some consider it the first American football game played, some denote it specific to college. Either way, the final score was Rutgers Queensmen 6, New Jersey Tigers 4. (Princeton was originally the College of New Jersey.)

Although that game in 1869 was more of a cross between rugby + soccer than American football as we know it today. Back then there weren’t helmets, trophies, or the forward pass.

Lehigh vs Lafayette

As of 2014 The Rivalry between lehigh vs lafayette has been played 150 times since 1884 with only a single interruption in 1896

Let’s move ahead sixteen years to 1869 for the very first Lehigh vs Lafayette football game. Even on Wikipedia this is coined as, simply, The Rivalry. It is the most-played football rivalry in the nation.

November 22, 2014 was the 150th time the two teams have met to play against each other. Final score Lafayette 27, Lehigh 7. This is a bit closer than the first game. The first game of “The Rivalry” was held October 25, 1884 and ended with Lafayette 50, Lehigh 0. Quite the shutout.

Live Football at Yankee Stadium

Lehigh vs Lafayette Half-Time Show at Yankee Stadium for The Rivalry 150th Game

Lehigh vs Lafayette Half-Time Show at Yankee Stadium

Watching college football at home on television, as I spend most of my Saturdays in the fall, means missing the marching band at half-time. Sometimes it is nice to hear from commentators and get caught up in the other football games. (Almost all college football games are played on Saturday.) But most of the bigger colleges have really great marching bands. Those kids work hard at coming up with original material and choreography. I wish I had more of a chance to catch it live.

So it was a special treat to see the Lehigh and Lafayette bands + choir all play together for the first time in history, during half-time. It didn’t matter that Lehigh’s marching band was small or that Lafayette had a pep band. The bands, singers, and dancers all put on a great performance. It added to the experience.

Let’s not forget these are two very small private liberal arts colleges in eastern Pennsylvania, less than 20-miles apart. Lafayette has 2,500 undergraduates, and Lehigh has 4,800.

Yankee Stadium converted into a football field for The Rivalry Lehigh vs Lafayette

Yankee Stadium converted into a football field for The Rivalry

What was I doing at a football game for schools I didn’t attend? I actually have various ties to both schools. I went to the game with a friend who did attend Lafayette, so that is who I was cheering for. Plus, as a college football fan I was not going to pass up the experience of watching a game in nyc. Something that is pretty much impossible.

The closest opportunity I have to watching live college sports is at Rutgers, in near-by New Brunswick, NJ. They may be in the B1G now but that doesn’t make them any good. I will probably catch MSU play RU in basketball later this year, but going out there for a football game, would not be worth it. I much preferred simply taking the D train to the bronx.

Also, although I did not attend either Lehigh or Lafayette, I am familiar with both cities they are located in. Bethlehemn and Easton Pennsylvania. For several years, I lived in Phillipsburg, NJ. This is “the last exit in New Jersey” as the sign says on I-78 East. It is on the NJ/PA border. And there isn’t too much to do there. So often times, our group would head into Bethlehem and meet others there. It’s a loose connection to the schools, but I’m counting it.

Lafayette Wins the 150th Game

Okay, back to the matter at hand. After half-time, Lafayette got cocky with their 21-nothing lead and let Lehigh have a touchdown. That was enough of that though. Lafayette scored another touchdown, though missed the extra point. It didn’t really matter.

Lafayette won the 150th game of The Rivalry. And since that is who I was rooting for at the time, let’s consider it a happy ending.

Book Review: A History of Food in 100 Recipes

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A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

This is a history book, not a recipe book. Sitwell takes us chronologically through a brief history of the world, revolving around food and storytelling.

The book starts out circa 1958-1913 BC with a recipe for Ancient Egyptian Bread, which was found on the wall of Senet’s Tomb in Luxor, Egypt. This is common through most of early history since published cookbooks didn’t appear for quite some time. Recipes are found drawn on walls, written on clay tablets, incorporated into stories, mentioned in the Bible, sung in songs, etc. People have been talking about food for centuries.

The book is laid out so each recipe gets it’s own chapter and discusses how food was used during that time. These are not recipes for you to cook by. But they do provide an amazing insight into the time and culture.

Here is a recipe for “Fish Baked in Fig Leaves” by Archestratus circa 350BC:

You could not possibly spoil it even if you wanted to… Wrap it [the fish] in fig leaves with a little marjoram. No cheese, no nonsense! Just place it gently in fig leaves and tie them up with a string, then put it under hot ashes.

Ratios weren’t standardized. Time wasn’t standardized. Many of these recipes are little more than ingredient lists.

The first cookbook published by a woman was in 1664, The Cooks Guide by Hannah Woolley. This was just one of several books and articles Woolley wrote on Household Management. Also, like many other cookbook publishers around this time, she was frequently plagiarized. It was discovered that some of the more popular cookbooks in their time had been copied directly from other cookbooks that few people saw. Historically, it’s all about who you know and what resources you have.

As for actually reading this, I loved the first three-quarters of the book. My knowledge of food within the context of history was definitely broadened. Although, I found the early chapters much more interesting than the later ones. The last bit of the book provides current recipes and details on modern food culture that I did not find as intriguing as cultural history.

Even with my interest waning towards the end of the book, this was one of the best food and history books I’ve read. The writing is very readable with a good balance of wit and knowledge. Sometimes the author pats himself on the back needlessly. Or ties in his family, the members of which have a place in food history. I could have done without that since it’s a history book not an autobiography. But I understand the author was excited to be part of this history.

It’s written in a way that you can skip around by recipe rather than chronologically if you’d prefer. There isn’t an overarching story that ties everything together. Although previous authors do get referenced later.

For anyone interested in history. Or anyone interested in culinary. I definitely recommend this book.

Title: A History of Food in 100 Recipes
Author: William Sitwell
Genre: Food, History
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A history-focused food book that tells a story through recipes; is not a recipe collection.

October Monthly Expenses in NYC 2014

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October 2014 Expenses and Average Monthly Spending in NYC

October 2014 Average Monthly Expenses in NYC

Rent in my building went up this month after the landlord did some infrastructure improvements. Since I live in a rent stabilized building, he had to special request this increase from the city. Then all of us residents had to sign and approve it. Unfortunately, this means my rent will increase again when I sign my lease in February. I am now paying a little over $1,400 to live in a 1BR in nowhere Brooklyn.

On the plus-side, this was a bonus-paycheck month, since I get paid bi-weekly. That paycheck went fully into my emergency savings. It is exactly what I needed to get building that back up again.

I got a little carried away with entertainment this month. I bought a FitBit One at the end of the month. And some MTG cards to put together a new EDH deck I’ve been thinking about for a while. These purchases were both close to $80. I also went to three Alkaline Trio shows in one week. I bought the tickets at almost face value off of craigslist. The tickets themselves totaled a little over $100. All of my booze costs this month, a whole $30, were just because of those shows.

Health costs this month are solely from running races in the nyc area. I’m doing more 10K’s than 5K’s now but these still cost between $30-$40. I have been using it as motivation for myself. And socialization with friends. But the costs are adding up. I am hopefully at a point where I don’t need races to motivate me to run. I have made the decision to not sign up for any other races this year. Most of the NYC races are in parks. As shutting down roads is too costly. They don’t shut down the park either. So paying $40 to literally run in a park that others are literally running in for free next to you is something I just can’t justify anymore.

Over the summer, I reduced my therapy appointments to every other week. Financially, this was a great decision. Spending only $200 on that a month helps a lot. Health-wise, I seem to be doing well with the new schedule, too. This makes me feel pretty good about things.

I’m trying not to worry too much about saving money with the cats. I have started giving them mainly wet food. It’s not a raw food diet or anything. But cat food cans are certainly more expensive than a giant bag of dry food. But the little one has sensitive teeth and is prone to UTI’s. So I want to keep them as healthy as I can.

Booze + Eating Out
I’ll talk more about my food costs below. I wanted to highlight just how little I spent in booze and eating out this month. I spent $28 in booze. And spent $26 eating out. The eating out costs are exclusively my $5 bagel breakfast sandwich I buy every Friday. That’s it.

How Much Money Do I Save by Eating at Home?

I don’t normally break down expenses like this. But I’m continuously intrigued by my food spending this year. Before July, I had some extra money and was dating someone. This meant, eating out or getting delivery for dinner, a lot. More importantly, that meant not having leftovers for lunch. So I would frequently eat out for lunch and dinner. At the very least, I was consistent each month.

After August, I used my savings for an emergency so finances were extra tight. I also was out of that relationship. When I’m only feeding myself, I can be much less picky. I never order delivery for just myself. I never eat out by myself. This means, I was doing a lot more cooking at home. And cooking at home means leftovers. Leftovers means I don’t have to buy lunch out every day. That is the real cost savings.

Combined Food + Groceries:

  • Jan: $336
  • Feb: $339
  • Mar: $393
  • Apr: $298
  • May: $366
  • Jun: $362
  • Jul: $353
  • Aug: n/a
  • Sep: $260
  • Oct: $255

I traveled for most of August so I’m excluding those costs as it is an outlier anyway.

September and October grocery costs are also including a dinner party I hosted for several people. I’m able to do afford hosting things like this now that I’m spending so much less money on eating out.

Cooking meals at home that give me leftovers to eat for lunch the next day is saving me about $100/month.

Creation Vs Consumption: Finding the Perfect Balance

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Consumption and Creation are the Base of Everything We Do

We need a balance of creation vs consumption in our lives to be happy & successful. This balance should be 60% Creation, 40% Consumption. Creation leads to real accomplishments. Consumption is necessary in the process of creation. But consumption should never be the goal itself.

Why Consume?

Creation cannot exist without consumption. However, creation will not occur if we consume 100% of the time. We create, to make things better. To improve upon what already exists. To give our unique take on something. To create something new. To create something customized.

But you need to know what is already out there first. You need to know the weaknesses. What is lacking. The competition. What makes something great? What makes something not great? What you should copy. And what you shouldn’t. This is why we consume.

Every writing reference book I’ve read recommends reading reading reading reading reading everything. Read poetry, journals, periodicals, non-fiction, fiction, reference, memoirs, all genres. Regardless of what you want to write. Just read everything.

We need a base. We need ideas. We need inspiration. We need to find our passion. We need to disagree with something and write a counterargument. We need to agree with something and write a clearer argument. We need to get mad or fall in love.

Examples of things we consume:

  • Food we didn’t make
  • Media (TV/Movies/Books)
  • Products & Services
  • Internet (Wikipedia/Blogs/Forums/Social Media)

Why Create?

Doing nothing but consumption can be boring. It isn’t challenging. It doesn’t stimulate our critical thinking. While consumption can get us thinking. Too much is overload. Too much consumption and we lose our energy. We lose our motivation to create.

We get sucked into thoughts that “this is the best”. We surround ourselves thinking about one tv show, book series, or movie. We consume more and more information about this interest. Instead of creating a new show, series, or movie. Why make something when someone has already done it for us? We grow lethargic.

Creating keeps our mind fresh. It keeps us on our toes. It keeps us learning. Motivated. Accomplishing tasks and goals feels good.

Goals can only be accomplished by creation. These accomplishments directly lead to success.

It makes us feel we are worth something. Even merely writing your opinion in a product review is creating something. Because creation is a process. You do not just learn how to create one thing. You experience an entire process by creating.

After consuming a movie, you might say “I loved it!” And if someone asked you why you loved it, you would shrug and say “I don’t know, but it was really good.” And why was it really good? “I don’t know, it just was.” That is consumption.

But now, let’s actually write a fully thought-out opinion on what you loved about the movie. The characters? The soundtrack? The setting? The time period? Do you love all movies set in that time period? Is it because you love history? You thought the story was historically accurate? That is creation.

And in that process you may realize some aspects of your own preferences you hadn’t thought about before. Our opinions are more than simply love/hate. We are more complex than that.

Examples of things we create:

  • Energy by working out (races, bike rides, bootcamps)
  • Meals (customized to our preference, for friends, dinner party)
  • Stories (via blogs, forums, social media, long-form, video, audio)
  • Friendships/relationships (by maintenance and putting ourselves out there to meet new friends)
  • Opinions (reviews, editorials)

Create One Thing A Day

Often times, you may find yourself just staring at your mobile device. Or staring at your laptop. You’re bored. And are waiting for something new to appear for you to consume. You refresh all your social media accounts. Nothing new for consumption. You go over to Wikipedia and consume. You’re just sitting at your screen consuming for a long while.

Fine, that’s okay. But an alternative to waiting for something to happen to you, is to create. Just start writing. Or recording. Or drawing. Draw a re-enactment of that Wikipedia article. Write a story set in the same time period. Write a blog post sharing this information.

Instead of just researching recipes, actually make one. What’s the worse than can happen? Throw it away and order pizza.

Creation is scary. It can be a risk. It is personal. It is putting ourselves out there. It can fail. Or it can succeed.

Consumption just is. It doesn’t result in an active accomplishment. Consumption-based goals are not accomplishments. You can’t fail at consuming something. Or succeed. It’s not scary. It’s not a risk. It is the safe route. Reading 50 books in a year is easy. Writing one is scary.

Keep That 60/40 Balance, Focused on Creation

I recommend a general 60% Creation 40% Consumption balance in our lives. Because there are times we will want to create create create. We will want to write all the stories, or blog posts. Speak at all the conferences. And make all the meals. But we can’t forget to consume. Because consumption, at 40%, keeps us on our toes. It keeps us learning. And then we can create to share this information. Or to make it better.

Finding our personal balance between creation vs conusumption directly correlates to happiness. Even in failure, our lives are happier when we are creating. And producing anything brings us closer to our goals and to success.

NaNoWriMo Excerpt: Introduction

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For the past four years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo; National Novel Writing Month. I don’t know if I will ever do anything with the stories. But the process of writing. And coming up with new ideas, is fun for me. Fun, I use that loosely. But I enjoy the challenge.

I also enjoy the act of writing this fiction a bit more than blogging. The immediate nature of blogging can feel overwhelming. But with this fiction, it has time to grow before I share it with people.

But this year I have decided to help keep myself accountable. And to prevent myself from churning out empty words. By sharing excerpts of my story on here.

I wrote 2,613 words yesterday. 50,000 is the goal. Below is some of what I’ve written.

Remember, December is for editing.

She drove into Atlanta nervous as usual. There was always traffic and people walking around. She actually did not consider herself a small-town girl. But she did enjoy the comfort of being home. Being able to hear crickets every night. Looking out her window to see for miles. Atlanta was certainly different. She knew it was a small city. But it was still a city and it made her nervous. She wasn’t necessarily worried about her safety. But there were so many people. She was worried about getting lost. Or getting a parking ticket.

Part of her liked that she didn’t have many friends in Atlanta. This made her feel almost invisible. In a good way. In a fearless way. Who would notice if she wasn’t wearing the latest trends? Because she certainly would not be. And who would notice if she tripped and made a fool of herself. Because she certainly would. No one there knew who she was. She liked that. And was frightened by it at the same time.

The last time she was in Atlanta was six months ago. January 21st, 2013. She came in for a concert. Events were the only reason for her to come down here. Music. Books. Plays, sometimes. She never really felt she was missing too much. The drive was easy enough. Although she rarely wanted to make it on a weeknight. Today was an exception of course.

Hannah wandered around the bookstore pretending to peruse. Well, she was perusing. But she was also staring blankly at the shelves lost in her own thoughts. The event didn’t start for an hour and was barely set-up. She walked around looking at all the titles. The authors. The book covers. When the store finally started putting out chairs, she had an intense conversation with herself over whether to sit down or not.

I don’t want to sit over there all by myself. No one else is sitting down. I’ll wait until another person sits down. Okay, someone just sat down. But I don’t want them to talk to me. And if we are the only two people there, they will probably talk to me. I kind of have to pee. Why don’t I put back this book that I’ve been holding and not looking at. Go to the bathroom. Then when I come back, the seats are more likely to be filled up and I will sit down then.

Whew. That was a lot of thinking for such an unimportant decision. As was the usual case.

Hannah walked upstairs to the children’s section, where the bathrooms were. There was only one and it was occupied. Good, this will help kill some time. But I hope not too much time. I don’t want all the seats to be filled when I get back. She tried to look over the railing but wasn’t able to see the event space from her location.

Should I go back down? I can probably hold it. Can I hold it? What time is it? As she glanced down at her phone, the door opened. A girl her age with a pixie haircut, t-shirt and jeans, and red converse, came walking out. Hannah went in and did her business. She had noticed the girl’s t-shirt right away. It was for Bishop’s Collar. The band she had come down to see in January. She hadn’t bought a shirt. But the show was good.

I’m trying to write the main character as neurotic, anxious, and annoying. She will, hopefully, become less annoying as time goes on and she grows up.