Accomplishing Goals using Values & Tasks

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

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

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

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

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

The Game of Values & Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Set Achievable Goals Using Values

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

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

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

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

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

Completing Goals & Creating Habits by Task Tracking

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

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

Let’s break that down by actions.

Things that mean eating better:

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

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

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

Sample Weekly Actions to Start:

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

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

Task Tracking Tools – Web & Excel

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

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

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

Get The Goal Tracker on Google Docs!

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

There are web-based social trackers as well:

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

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

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

June Monthly Spending in NYC 2014

June 2014 Spending in NYC

June 2014 Spending – Items over $100


My rent is off the charts – literally.

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

Wardrobe Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mini Vacation to D.C.

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

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

Groceries & Eating Out

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

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

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

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


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

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

June 2014 Spending - Under $100

June 2014 Spending – Items under $100


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

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

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

Debt Repayment & Savings

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

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

Post-Break Up Life

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

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

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

Welcome to Manhattan

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

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

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

Depression in NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was still waking up crying every morning.

The Break Down

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

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

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

A Little Bit Lighter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

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

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell me this is a satire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap Quick Trip to Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool - Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool – Washington, DC

Quick Trip to Washington DC from NYC

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

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

Vacation Splurges

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

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

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

Smithsonian Museums

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

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

Air & Space Museum

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

Museum of Natural History

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

American History Museum

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

Capitol Hill from a distance

Capitol Hill from a distance

Cost Breakdown

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

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

Weekly Updates: Rock-Rock-Rock Rockaway Beach

Life: Rockaway Beach

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

Some of the most delicious tacos in all of nyc

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

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

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

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

Jacob Riis Park at the Rockaways in Queens, NY

Jacob Riis Park at the Rockaways in Queens, NY

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

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

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

Running: Summer Series 5K

Lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn

Lovely Prospect Park in Brooklyn

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

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

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

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

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

Travel: Overnight to Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool - Washington, DC

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool – Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books: The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music: Braid

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

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

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

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

Internet: Links

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

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

Losing Garnett the Great – The Lacey Spears Story – lohud

Inside-Out Neapolitan Layer Cake – Sweetapolita

Netflix Instant Picks: Wayne’s World, What About Bob?, Short Circuit 2

Wayne’s World (1992) / Schtick Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks wayne's world

Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!

Oh Mike Meyers. Pre-Austin Powers Mike Meyers. SNL Mike Meyers. This movie has it everything you could want a SNL spin-off movie. The iconic Bohemian Rhapsody scene. Lots of buzzwords (schwing!). A goofy plot. Breaking the fourth wall. So much stuff and it all works.

No one in this movie takes themselves seriously, which is why it works so darn well.

Starring: Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey
Runtime: 94 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: SNL spin-off that knows exactly what it is

What About Bob? (1992) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks what about bob

This 90′s movie pairs Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss as a perfect team. Dreyfuss plays the stuffy psychotherapist, Murray (Bob) the obsessive-compulsive patient. Bob does not take it very well when he learns his therapist will be gone on vacation with his family for a month. He shows up at his doctor’s vacation home… and hilarity ensues.

In predictable nature, Dreyfuss warms up to Murray by the end of the movie. But it still plays out well and has solid good banter.

Starring: Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss
Runtime: 99 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: A patient follows his therapist on vacation

Short Circuit 2 (1988) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Short Circuit 2

There are few classic 80′s movies + sequels better than the Short Circuit series. Thankfully they only made two of them but both are definitely worth watching. Enjoy being uncomfortable while Fisher Stevens plays a stereotypically exaggerated Indian immigrant… The 80′s, right?

In the first movie, we learn that Johnny 5 was a trained killing machine for the military. After some plot device happened, he becomes alive! And is just a nice friendly robot that everyone is trying to steal or destroy. The second movie is basically the same plot.

I’m not quite sure how well the movie holds up as actual entertainment. I’d say it’s more of a good/bad movie. But a classic nonetheless.

Starring: Fisher Stevens
Runtime: 111 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Robot, Johnny 5, has to survive being almost sold, getting involved in a street gang, and being kidnapped.

May Monthly Spending in NYC 2014

May 2014 Spending in Brooklyn for a single income in a 1br apartment

May Monthly Spending in Brooklyn for a single income in a 1br apartment


Technically, I got my annual raise this month. But we weren’t notified until May 30th. So, the increase will be added retroactively into next month’s paychecks. This means next month will be a little bit more than usual because of the added increase. A little annoying for bookkeeping but good overall! However, income-wise, this month was actually the same as it has been. Stable, which I like.

I haven’t decided what I will do with the increase yet. Paycheck-wise it’s not huge. But every little bit helps. I will either increase my 401K by 1-2%. Or increase my student loan payment. For now, I’m just enjoying it.


Factoring in my FSA, I’ve estimated my rent to be 45% of my monthly income. This is totally acceptable for my budget. And pretty common in nyc.

It’s been suggested that I think about buying something permanent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way here. I’m not sure I want to live in nyc forever. But I am happy with things right now. With that said, I certainly don’t have enough for a solid down payment. And I’d want to get my student loans out of the way first.


Okay, so I didn’t do so well with groceries and eating out this month. I did bring my lunch to work most of the month. So, it was eating out that was a bit of the problem. At the end of the day, my combined food expenses are still under $400 so I can’t complain too much about that. I really would like to keep them under $300 though.

It’s easier for me to bring my lunch in the summer. I can bring salads and eat them outside. Or sandwiches. There are more options for me. And I actually enjoy taking my lunch breaks.

Groceries + Eating Out
Jan: $336
Feb: $339
Mar: $393
Apr: $298
May: $366

Debt Repayment & Savings

I have changed this, again, but for the last time. Really. No more changes for the rest of the summer. In September, I will assess if this is sustainable. Or if I should change the amounts one way or another.

I’ve decided to put a very small amount into my emergency fund; $50/month. This is an easy-to-access savings account and would be used for true emergencies. My other, high-interest, savings account, currently has enough to make me happy in it, so I’m freezing that.

Now, I will be focusing all my efforts on my student loan. I think I will be able to put $600/mo towards it.That’s 20% of my monthly income to debt repayment. The plus side is once that’s paid off, I should ideally be able to put 25% into savings. But I’ll get excited about that when it actually happens.

June Books To Read: The Martian, Spousnomics, Tell-Tale Brain

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 Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

This novel has quite a few things going on. The plot is that of an adventure sci-fi story. A mission goes awry and a NASA crew leaves behind one of their astronauts on Mars. He is stranded on the red planet and needs to figure out how to survive/escape. Fortunately for him, he is an engineer & a botanist. Unfortunately for us, the writing comes off as a DIY blog written by an engineer who just happens to be living on Mars.

It is an exciting story. There are explosions. And near-death situations. Space is scary (although the main character never seems to be scared). This isn’t a story about aliens or monsters. But, a la Gravity, is about being alone in space. The absolute only person that is on a planet. It is crazy to think about. That’s probably why the main character rarely thinks about it. He also rarely expresses any emotion that isn’t the excitement of a 15-year old girl or sarcasm.

The problem is the narrative. The novel’s first sixty pages or so are told in a diary format. This is the astronaut’s log. So we get to learn about everything after he’s already done it. Brilliant strategy for a first-time author. This means all Weir had to do was tell the reader what happened. Instead of showing what happened, like good writers are supposed to do. (Here is an example)

The reader never feels suspense if one of his macguyver-esque schemes was going to work or not, because the beginning of every diary entry gives it away. “I didn’t blow up! Now let me tell you what I did.” This is easy writing but not very interesting as a reader. To make matters worse, Weir changes the narrative numerous times. Abruptly, the story switches to the third-person at NASA headquarters. I’m guessing the author didn’t think the whole “diary” narrative through but didn’t want to go back and change everything. It switches between the astronaut first-person and the NASA third-person a lot, especially towards the end. Then, for no real reason, there are a few paragraphs that are about the astronaut but in the third person. It was very odd to read.

Again, the plot is great and creative. They are going to make this a movie and I can definitely see why. I actually think I would love the movie. See, a big part of the book is the Macguyver-esque solutions the main character comes up with to survive. It is believable since he is an engineer-botanist. And if you too are an engineer-botanist, you would love this book. But I’m not. So, I don’t need a technical manual to growing potatoes or creating water. It is neat and interesting. But half of the book is basically non-fiction. It’s not suspenseful or even interesting. It’s also easy writing because it makes for lots and lots of filler.

But still the plot is so good! Which doesn’t make up for the fact that the main character has zero depth to him. It’s amazing because the reader is with this stranded astronaut on Mars for over a year. A year! Yet, he never talks about holidays in an emotional context. Thanksgiving is mentioned because he finds potatoes to eats. He doesn’t actually talk about feeling lonely on Thanksgiving.

There is no mention of his birthday. No talk about missing his friends or family. Everything is a joke to him. I don’t even know if he was single or married. He joked about wanting to get laid. But never discussed wanting human contact. Never mentioned being sad in an emotional way. There were statements, “It’s very lonely here.” But again, this is the author simply telling us the character is lonely. We never see him sulking around the ship. Or reminiscing while looking out the window.

I wanted the main character to survive because he’s a human being but there was definitely no emotional connection there. I will bring up Gravity again because I felt the emotional aspect there was a bit forced. But after reading this, I realize that a survival story needs that to work.

Fortunately, I’m certain Hollywood will trim down some of the technical engineering stuff & throw in a love interest somewhere.

Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Sci Fi
Rating: 2/5
Summary: An engineer astronaut is lost on Mars and Macguyver’s his way to survive.

They Called Me God by Doug Harvey

Doug Harvey is one of three umpires in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I did not know that until I read They Called Me God. I’m a sucker for memoirs and this was no exception. It was definitely geared more towards a baseball fan, as there were some aspects of the game I wasn’t really sure about. But it’s more so about his life and early baseball. That is definitely fascinating.

The writing was a bit simplistic and repetitive but I get it. The guy’s an umpire not a writer. His personality does come through in the writing. He seemed like a very loyal/fair person. Sometimes to an extreme but he never apologizes.

There were lots of aspects of the profession that were interesting to learn about. And he definitely has an unique story to share. Even if you’re not a baseball person, I still recommend this.

Author: Doug Harvey & Peter Golenbock
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Memoir of one of baseball’s greatest umpires.


After I finished Spousonomics, I learned they reprinted it with a different title, It’s Not You, It’s The Dishes. Dumb name. I doubt I would have read it with that on the cover. Thankfully I didn’t see that one because I really did enjoy this book.

It is sort of marriage self-help but the economics angle really changes things up. I’m not anywhere near married right now and still found the book helpful. You can think of most of the situations in relation to standard human interaction. Many of these things come up in every day life all the time. Loss-aversion. The hot-cold empathy gap. It doesn’t just have to be for economists. It’s an interesting different way of thinking about relationships.

Honestly, I’m giving the book a good rating mainly because it taught me the term “limerence”. Which is essentially that “crazy in love” feeling. Or “butterflies.” Or that “magical first kiss.” I never knew it had an actual name!

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, Spousonomics is a light-read interesting book bringing economics into real-life situations.

Author: Paula Szuchman & Jenny Anderson
Genre: Non-Fiction / Relationships / Economics
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Interesting take on personal interactions with an economics angle.

Tell-Tale Brain

I am such a sucker for these neuropsychology books. I’ve read several now. One of them actually cited Tell-Tale Brain so I was looking forward to reading it. It got a little bit heavy toward the end. But over-all is quite readable for someone with zero neurology background.

There were so many fascinating topics discussed! The book starts out talking about Phantom Limb Syndrome. This is when an amputee can still feel their amputated limb. Sometimes it itches or it is in pain. They don’t visually see an arm where there is not one. But they do truly feel it. Parts of the brain truly think the limb is still there. The author was one of the first to discover a therapy to help with this.

He discovered that you could place a mirror next to a patient so it would reflect the real arm. This way it visually looks like there are two arms. Surprisingly, this actually tricks the brain! Many patients, especially over time, said that when seeing the other arm in the mirror, the pain in the “limb” would ease. Or disappear completely. Incredible! Our brains are weird!

One of the other super interesting conditions mentioned is Blindsight. Now, I had heard of this before. But hadn’t actually realized how it worked. The author describes a situation where he is sitting with a patient who is completely blind. He shines a small light and asks the blind patient to point to where the light is. Even though the patient cannot visually see the light, they correctly identify the position of the light most of the time. Far more times than to be considered “a lucky guess.”

This is explained in the book; I’ll paraphrase a bit. When viewing something, that information goes on a journey through our brains to our eyes where the image is actually shown to us. Of course this happens so fast we don’t even know it. When blind, part of this journey is no longer working, but some of it is. The brain can still see and process the information. It’s just that it cannot pass that information along to the eyes.

There are many other weird/interesting stories about the weird/interesting things our brains do. I really enjoy this topic and recommend the book if you do too.

Author: V. S. Ramachandran
Genre: Non-Fiction / Neuro-psychology
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Interesting studies of how weird our brain really is

A Few Thoughts on the Diva Cup

This is a short review of my experience with the Diva Cup, a reusable menstrual product. These are my opinions and this post is not sponsored.

Reusable menstruation products stored in the little bags they come with

Reusable menstruation products stored in the little bags they come with

One less thing to buy is always a good thing in my book. So when I first learned about sustainable menstrual products, I was intrigued though also a bit perplexed. I liked buying a product only once but questioned the cleanliness of it. I liked that the cup has less safety risks but questioned the cleaning process. I worried I might lose it. I worried it would be too big. I worried it would be too small. It was such a different way of thinking to the disposables that I had always used.

However, disposable tampons and pads can be expensive and are certainly wasteful. Plus, they were never that practical for me. My periods have always been light. Tampons were usually too much. I didn’t like the feeling of pads or panty liners. I also was neurotic about only keeping a tampon in for the minimum time for fear of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome.

[In 10th grade I was in an all-girl rock band. We named ourselves TSS. We were a band for a week.]

Using The Diva Cup

The Diva Cup, a reusable menstruation cup

The Diva Cup, a reusable menstruation cup

About a year ago, instead of running to the store to purchase another box of tampons, I decided to finally buy the Diva Cup. First, it was much larger than I expected. But don’t freak out. If you follow the directions and fold it up, it fits just fine.

After getting through the first few uses and figuring out what worked best for me, I couldn’t feel it at all. There are two sizes. Even though I am over 30-years old, I still bought the smaller one. My vagina didn’t instantly turn into a cavern when I turned 30.

Since the cup is made out of silicone, there is no TSS risk. You can begin using it before your period actually starts. This also makes it perfect for overnight, which I love. The brand suggests you change it at least once every 12 hours. Since I am light, this works well for me. If you are heavier, you may have to change it sooner. It will probably take you a few uses to determine how it best works for you.

Cleaning the Diva Cup

Unlike tampons and pads absorbing liquid, the reusable cups collect it. This means you have to empty and clean the cup yourself. With that said, cleaning the cup is much easier than I thought it would be. At home, you simply wash it with soap and warm water.

Public bathrooms are a little different but it’s definitely not a hassle. Just remember to wash your hands before you enter the stall, then wipe out the cup with some tissue. When you get home you can wash it properly.

You are given a little bag to store it in, so it is safe and clean when you’re not using it.

I’ve been using the Diva Cup for almost a year and haven’t once thought about going back to disposables. Most of the menstruation cups cost about $30. This will easily save you money in the long-run. It might also help you feel safer and a bit more eco-conscious.

I mainly love that it is perfect for a lighter period. I never have the discomfort of removing a dry tampon or the worry of a foreign object sitting inside my body too long. And I don’t have to feel like I’m wearing a diaper. I definitely recommend trying any of the menstruation cups.