Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Five Favorite Kids Book

Reading is my favorite hobby, and so far, my kids are really loving it, too.  We read LOTS of kids books in this house (My guess would be a minimum of ten per day).  We read most books over and over again.  Some are certainly more preferable to me than others.  I thought I'd write a post about my 5 favorite kids books in hopes of generating some new ideas for favorite books!  I can't promise these are my absolute favorites, but they are up there for sure, so in no particular order:

1. Pout Pout Fish

I love Pout Pout Fish.  There are several great books in the series, but the original is my favorite.  It's a cute story about changing your attitude (which is a necessary daily conversation in a house full of toddlers!!)  In fact, 'bluuub' has become a colloquial method of expressing feelings in our house!

2. Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site.
I work on a construction site, so I wasn't surprised when I received two very special versions of this book from friends! (The board book version with a stuffie from Jen and a SIGNED copy from Sara!!) But I haven't enjoyed all of the construction books we've read.  This one has a beautiful and relaxing cadence, lovely artwork and adorable characters.  It's a nightly favorite of Alex!

3.  Little Blue Truck
A very cute reminder about friendship.  It's filled with animals sounds so it's been a big hit for a while here.  I love books with a message, and this one has several.


4. Snuggle Up Sleepy Ones

This was previously Colin's night time book, and we read it twice a day for several years.  It's now a struggle to convince him to let me read it, but it remains a favorite!  Cute pictures of animals settling in for the evening.  (Although you do have to get past a page where Roar rhymes with paws)

5. I love you as Much


Alex's night time book!  This is a cute night time story about all of the mommy animals saying I love you to the baby animals.  "I love you as much as a mother can love."


Monday, June 13, 2016

Personal Capital, a useful overview of personal finance.

I still use a very complicated personally developed excel sheet for my budget.  I've cycled through Mint, YNAB (you need a budget), Quicken and a paper budget, but I always come back to my Excel Sheet.  I think each of those programs has a lot of offer to a specific type of budget-er.

Personal Capital, on the other hand, I think has great value for almost anyone.

Unlike the other programs I mentioned, Personal Capital offers an overview of your accounts and balances, including investments, real estate holdings, and other assets.  It's great use is providing a long term view of  finances.

Despite keeping pretty close records of my spending and maintaining a household budget, I didn't have a great way to track our net-worth.  I would add up the balances of all of our accounts every once and while, but it was cumbersome and not particularly accurate.

Personal Capital syncs all of my accounts so that if I want, I can see how my net worth is changing on a daily basis. (I strongly advise against this, however.)  Still, it's useful to watch things changing and to use the information to make better financial decisions for my family and long term goals.

For example, one of our goals as a family it to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible.  However, it's a very long term goal.  Watching the balance decrease graphically over time in personal capital has been a great encouragement, as well as watching our net worth increase.

If your primarily goal is paying off other debts, I think it would be even more useful to be able to see all balances, and progress in one place.

Eventually, when we don't have debt, we can work hard to save and have an easy way to track all of our accounts.

I'd encourage anyone looking to make a first step towards getting controller of their finances to create an account.  Let it track your accounts for a while and then check in when you're ready.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fifty Books!

I've reached one of my goals for the year!!

This year, one of my goals was to read 50 books.  I just finished what I thought was my 50th book, although upon listing them, I realized it was actually 52.  For the purposes of my goals, my year starts in October, and I'm excited to have accomplished it with so much time to spare.

You can read my reviews of the books I read here and here and I will post my final reviews soon, but first I wanted to take a minute to pat myself on the back.

Reading made it as a goal for me because it's something I enjoy doing and something I think is good for me and my mind.  People frequently ask me how I have time to read.  I am a fast reader, but I also love reading.  I don't watch TV and infrequently watch movies, so almost all of my entertainment time is spent reading.  Now that my kids are older, I can even sometimes read my books while they read theirs.  (On a side note, if I included the books I read to my kids, this number would be significantly higher, as I probably read at least 7 kids books a day!)  I also enjoy audiobooks and I include audiobooks in my count.  I considered documenting which I read and which I listened to, but it was too late in the year, so maybe next year.

Good Reads generated this interesting graph for me.  I can thank my Classic Literature Book Club for stretching out my 'year published' range!


According to Goodreads (which did fail to have 2 of my books), I read 17,438 pages of stuff so far this year. 

My 50 books:

1.Yes, Please by Amy Poehler2. Daemon by Daniel Suarez3. Freedom by Daniel Suarez4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens5. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume6. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson7. Getting Things Done by David Allen8. Opposite of Spoiled9. Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates10. Essentialism by Greg Mckeown11. Art of Tidying by Maria Kondo12. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman13. Art before Breakfast by Danny14: Finders Keepers by Stephen King15. Dad is Fat by Gaffigan16. Better than Before by Gretchen Ruben17. Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nahisi Coates18. Silence by Nhat Nanh
19. How to Talk so kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber
20. The 4 hour Body. by Tim Ferris
21. 10th of December  by Greg Saunders
22. Spark Joy by Maria Kondo
23. A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand
24. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
25. Tale of a 4th grade Nothing by Judy blume
26. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
27. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
28. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
29, The Cartel by Don Winslow
30. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
31. Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

32. For the Love by Hatfield
33. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
34. Elanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
35: 10% Happier by Dan Harris
36. How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer
37. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
38. Walden & Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
39. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
40. The Mathematics of Love by Hannah Fry
41. The Tale of Tallest Rabbit by Rodrigo D Lopez
42. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
43.You're never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
44. White Oleander by Janet Fitch
45. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
46.A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
47. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
48. Living Well, Spending Less, 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup
49. Divine Collision by Jim Gash
50. Living Forward by Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy

51. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
52. Parenting without Power Struggles

I really enjoyed some of my books.

My favorite fiction for the year was probably "Super Sad True Love Story" although most people I've recommended it to didn't like it much.

The book that made the biggest impact on my life was almost certainly Maria Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up."

I didn't like all of the books I read, but probably the only book I regret reading is "Outlander". The problem is that I didn't enjoy reading the book, as it was a bit too 'romance' for me, but I was very curious about the 'rest' of the story.  I didn't realize I was diving into a large romance ocean with that particular serious and now, unwilling to continue swimming, I'll never know who was staring up longing at the protagonist at the beginning of the book. (I have a good guess, but no idea how he got there...)

My reading list isn't much shorter than it was when I started, so I'm looking forward to more worlds,  adventures, and life changing advice.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Across the County on Amtrak's Southwest Chief

There are some exciting things happening in our family. As a consequence, we needed to get a little bit creative with our family vacation this year.

So we decided to take a train across the country!

Not long ago, we took a short ride up to Santa Barbara from Orange County and had a fantastic time.  Our boys loved the train and compared to driving, it was a fun way to enjoy the trip with two entergetic toddlers.  I had a slightly more difficult time convincing my husband that a two and a half day trip would be equally enjoyable...

I'll answer a few of the questions everyone asks first, and then go into more detail about our trip.


Is it cost effective compared to flying?

It depends on how you look at it.  Our trip for a family of four, in a family room, from Fullerton, CA to Chicago, IL was $1600.  Our flight from Chicago back to Orange County was $600.  I didn't spend much effort finding the absolute lowest price on either, although I did shift our dates to midweek.  So flying is cleary much cheaper per mile.  However we spent 2 full nights and 6 meals on the train, all included in the fair.  I think it's reasonable to assume about 200 dollars per night for a hotel and $20, $30, and $40 dollars respectively for three meals a day for 4 people.  Even then, at 1180, the train is slightly more.  Sure, I could include gas (2000 miles, 25 miles a gallon, maybe 250 dollars in gas?) and wear and tear and eventually make the argument that it is cheaper than driving, but it's still probably close.  The bottom line is if cost is the deciding factor, the train isn't probably your best bet, unless you are willing to sit in coach.  

Are you crazy?

Possibly.  I love the idea of sharing fun adventures with my family.  When our first was less than a year old, we moved into a dorm for a short amount of time so my husband could finish his degree.  I like exploring different ways of living and traveling.  I like exposing my kids to different people, places and experiences.  For us, the cross country train fit perfeclty with those goals. That said, there were several times we looked at each other over heads or our rambunctious children and thought "What were we thinking?" but in fairness, we do that on a regular basis at home as well.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely, but not right now.  18 months to 2.5 is one of my favorite ages for many things, but not for travel.  At this age, sitting still is not a skill he's mastered.   I'm glad it didn't stop us from taking the trip,but I'll wait until they're older to do it again.  

Our Trip

Departure
We decided to leave from Fullerton Station instead of LAX.  The drive was easier, and the area familiar.  We convinced a friend to drop us off.  We arrived early in anticipation of traffic and because we didn't fully understand the check in/security process.  When we arrived, we checked most of our bags.  They let us keep our stroller and check it just before boarding.  Since we had arrived early, we had plenty of time for a quick dinner at the Spaghetti Factory.  
 

We were still at the station in plenty of time and watched some of the Metrolink trains arrive and depart.  Train stations have some interesting people.  While one of my goals was to get my family out of the familiarity of our South Orange County Bubble, there were a few uncomfortable exchanges while we waiting for our train.


Despite my anxiety, there was plenty of time to get on board when the train stopped.  I was slightly concerned, as the Surfliner had stopped for less than 2 minutes when we took our trip to Santa Barbara, but we had plenty of time.  In fact, we intially boarded the wrong car (there were two sleeper cars) and had to deboard and board again on the correct car. (It turns out your ticket says the car number, but it's not very obvious)

Onboard

On board, I was pleasantly surprised at the size of our room.  I had read every reivew I could find of Amtrak sleeper cars and had read a wide array of comments.  While certainly smaller than a hotel room, it was not cramped.  There was a luggage rack outside and we left our larger bag there.  It would have fit in the room fine, and a slighly smaller bag would have fit under the seat.  



Our room consisted of a bench love seat and 2 single seats that faced each other.  There were pillows everywhere when we boarded.  Our steward came in and introduced herself and offered us dinner reservations (we boarded at 6:45).  We didn't see much of her on the trip.

Food on the Train

With a sleeper accomodation, all food in the dining car is included.  The food was not bad.  It was certainly better than standard airline food and equivalant to some of the fancier dinners I've had on international buisiness flights.  

The dining car was located adjacent to our car and featured 4 person tables.  Because our family is four people, we didn't share, but if you have less (or more) you are assigned to share a table with other passangers. I'm glad, for their sake, that no one else needed to eat with our children.









 The worst meal was the salisbury steak.  I'm not entirly sure what possessed my husband to order it.  Luckily for him, my steak was very good, but I wasn't in the mood for meat and he ate it.  The children's menu is hot dogs or mac and cheese.  My kids happily ate a lot of mac and cheese for almost every meal.  There were also some good vegetarian options including bean enchiladas and veggie burgers. They also had several good dessert options.  By the end of the trip, many menu items were not available.

In addition to the dining car, there is a snack bar under the observation portion of the next train car.  Since we had 3 very large meals a day, we visited only once as something to do and bought the kids a treat.  It was fairly expensive and stocked with chips, cookies, microwavable food, and drinks.  

We packed WAY too many snacks.  I wasn't sure about the food and nothing is worse than hungry kids when traveling, so I had an entire suitcase of unecessary juice boxes, chips, fruit, nuts, and everything else I thought could survvie the train trip.  We did feed them a few snacks, but my snack bag was way overkill.

Sleep.

We chose a family room.  Our room was the width of the train and designed for a family of four.  The family of four it is designed for has children who are slighly older than ours and who don't fall off of things when sleeping, however.

Our attendent weirdly chose only to set up the beds on the left of the picture, but we were able to get the others set up on our own.  It is remarkably difficult to get photos in such a small space!

The ladder to the top bunk was a HUGE hit and made me super uncomfortable.  Still, we let them climb it (with help) several times.
Yep mom, I could totally fall off of this in the middle of the night on a moving train!


Night Sleep

Nap 'sleep'


In the end, we all slept on the bottom two bunks.  My husband and I serving as bed rails for the toddlers.  It was not nearly as uncomfortable as it sounds.  The biggest problem is that the side beds, (shown in the bottom photo) are only about 4 feet long.  As a result, we slept cuddled on both beds, but there was a 3.5 inch gap between the beds.  Luckily I brought our own bedding (I was nervous...) so we had plenty of blankets and pillows to shove in the gap.

Sleeping with kids can be rough, but it wasn't worse than expected and the first night I actually slept pretty well once we got them to sleep.  Putting the kids to bed and doing anything was out of the quesiton, but we've decided that generally it's not even worth it to try in most cases when on vacation and we just enjoy the extra hours of sleep instead. I did listen to an audiobook when I couldn't sleep. 

They also have an uncharacteristically modern blue night light in the room.  


Entertainment

Our biggest entertainment was probably eating.  It felt like everytime we started getting bored, it was time to eat again...  



Reading: Although I bet when you travel without kids you get to read A LOT more.





Tablets: (Make sure you preload media, not much internet along the train route




And snacking.

The diner card also had paper table cloths which we made use of at each meal.





And of course, gazing out the windows.  There was a variety of interesting and different scenery along the route.  It was a bit hard to follow the map, but when I had internet access, I used Google Maps to see where we were.  

Overall, we had a fantastic adventure.  A train trip isn't for everyone, but I'm glad we did it.  And I would absolutely do it again, but we've had enough trains for at least a few years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Essential Purpose

Lately I've been focusing on simpling things in my life and getting a better handle on my essential purpose.

That sounds much loftier than it is.  Mostly, I've been spending a lot of time removing the things that aren't important so I can better understand and pursue what is.

My goal to read 50 books this year has already paid huge dividends in this area; my closet looks incredible (Thanks, KonMari); my clothes are fitting better (Hard to thank you Ferris, so... Fist bump?) and I've been making time for silence in my life.

Most recently, I've been reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  It randomly landed on my reading list as part of a classic book club that I'm in.  I'm only through the introduction and already, I'm finding the book incredible.

Our Inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.

Within an hour of picking up the book, I'd already highlighted about 7 passages (which is rare, I would say I normally average 2-3 per book), but this one in particular stood out to me.

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things." --Henry David Thoreau

As I sat reading on my cell phone, I realized how true this is for me.  I'm not here to berate the mom checking her phone at the playground (ahem, me, ahem) or vow to stop using my phone (or ipad, or xm radio, or...), but it did give me pause.  If this was true in 1854 (the year Singer invented the sewing machine, for perspective) how much more true is it today?  Or to put it another way, how many more toys are there available for distraction?

And just in case that didn't hit home enough for me, I also found this:

Somet things are really necessaries of life in some circles....which in others are luxuries merely, and in others are entirely unknown." -- Hendry David Thoreau
 
"Some things are really necessaries of life in some circles....which in others are luxuries merely, and in others are entirely unknown." -- Henry David Thoreau
I have had days when I was nearly unable to work because the wifi at my office was down.  I can't possible claim WiFi is not necessary to my life, yet millions of people around the world live their daily lives with out it.  While I won't go as far as to claim that everyone who uses wifi is 'the most helpless and diseased,' I have to face that my reliance does have a tendency to occasionally cripple me, and it may not be helping me in my purpose as much as I suppose...



Monday, February 29, 2016

Why my Routines Rule.

I get a lot done in a day.  I like getting a lot done in a day.  Sometimes people ask me how I do so much.

The answer?  I cheat.

Seriously, I do.  My routines are how I cheat.  I automate as much of the mundane activity in my life as I can and by doing so I free up a ton of mental and emotional energy.  I automate things using my routines and my lists.  

Think of every task you need to get done to get ready in the morning.  
  • Open eyes
  • Turn off alarm clock
  • step out of bed.
  • Shower
  • brush teeth
  • comb hair
  • get dressed
  • etc etc etc
If we had to think of every one of those tasks we would go absolutely crazy.  But we don't have to.  Our brain takes care of it for us.  I realized I should do that with more stuff. (It wasn't just my idea, Gretchen Rubin, helped)

I don't want to rely on my subconscious to remember everything, so I make lists.  For pretty much everything.

The most prominent, and the most life changing, has been my nighttime routine.  I keep a list taped to the inside of my pantry that has all of the things I need to do each night for a successful day the next day.  Things like making sure I have all of the ingredients for dinner, packing my lunch, feeding the pets, and cleaning the kitchen.  I'm sure these tasks are going on in almost every one's house, the only difference is I don't have to think about it.  And that's awesome.

Because despite what people occasionally suggest, my routines don't take away spontaneity, they provide space for it.  With my mind free from remembering to switch the laundry, I can plan that awesome murder mystery dinner party I want to host instead.    And instead of "getting ready for the next day" being a mystery phrase that my husband hears me utter, it's a quantifiable thing that he can see and even do for me on occasion! ;)


Monday, February 15, 2016

What I've been reading: Goal Check In!

Check out my first Goal check in Book Review here.

I absolutely love having a goal to read books.  I love reading and having it as a 'goal' makes it so easy for me to make a bit of time for reading (or a lot of time as my reading list probably shows...)

Since my last update, I've read the following:

19. How to Talk so kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

I liked this book.  I don't read a ton of parenting books, but this one was recommended to me and is consistent with most of our parenting philosophies. We were having some challenges with our 3 year old and the book offered some practicial methods for resolving them.  Sometimes you just need a fresh perspective. I recommend this book to parents looking for some new tools.

20.  The 4 hour Body.

 Tim Ferris is one of my least favorite people.   After reading his first book, I would have bet a large sum I'd never read another one of his books, so I'm not even entirely sure how I ended up with this one.  And to be fair, I didn't even really finish it. ( ended up skimming/skipping his chapters on intimacy and bulking up, no thank you TF).  I still give myself credit for it though since we've decided to try it.  It's working wonders for my husband I've seen absolutely zero numerical results (weight or inches).  Still, I feel pretty good and I'm glad it's working for one of us.  Plus, an eating program that allows diet coke and red wine can't be all bad... Still; boo Tim Ferris. Boo.  I don't recommend this book.

21. 10th of December


I don't like short stories.  This book pretty much perfectly illustrates the reason why.  Somewhere in the murky and clouded distance between these stories, an incredibly novel is lurking.  I would LOVE to read it.  Still, there really are some great stories in here. I recommend this book to people who like thriller/fantasy books and who don't mind a short story.  I was talking to someone the other day who LOVES short stories because she said they don't keep you up all night reading, which is a good point. So if you don't want to be kept up all night, but don't mind some super creepy weird dreams, read away.

22. Spark Joy



This is the very first time I've EVER preordered a book.  (To be fair, there are some others I would preorder if I wasn't so happy waiting for them at the library).  But I am mid 'Tidy" and figured I could use all of the KonMari I could get.  I liked it, but it's not a necessary read.  I recommend this book to people who loved her first book and are in the middle of clearing their homes.

23. A Summer Affair


It's probably not a glowing review when I look at the title less than a month after finishing the book and can't remember a single thing about the book.... I would recommend this book to someone looking for a vacation read without much impact.

24. That Old Cape Magic


I read this on the recommendation of a friend and I was surprised.  It didn't seem like her type of book.  After discussing it with her, I think I'll give the author another shot, but I wasn't a fan of this one.  Maybe it's more endearing if you have personal history with any of the locations in the book (the Cape).  I don't recommend this book.

25. Tale of a 4th grade Nothing



After reading her new novel "In the Unlikely Event," I'd almost forgotten how much I loved Judy Blume.  This really was a fun read and I'm glad I revisited.  How can you not relate to a kid who's baby brother ate his pet turtle??

26. Super Sad True Love Story
 
This book is in the running for best book of my chellenge.  Set in a dystopia not so distant future where young people communicate almost exclusively via text, no one reads actual books, and your social status is broadcast publically for all to rank and judge (it IS the future... barely), it is a super sad love story.  I'd recommend this book to anyone who didn't stop reading this review at the word dystopia.

27. Heart of Darkness


I have to admit, I was pretty excited when our classic book club choose a short book.  Little did I know.  I listened to the entire book and was so lost I had to start over and read the book.  It's a short book, but it's heavy.  And full of 'stuff'.  No wonder English teachers drool over this book.  It was good to revisit such an iconic Honors English book as an adult.  Besides Mr. Redmens English class at HHS, I'd recommend this book to people who like Classics with the warning that it's harder to get through then you would suppose.

28. Ready Player One


I read "Armada" and really liked it so I added this to my library hold list.  It's a fun read, although I'm not quite nerdy enough to get all of the references.  I do think that someone should tell Cline that no matter how many times he writes a book about it, spending all day watching 80's sitcoms and playing video games is never going to make him save the world and get the girl.

I recommend this book to nerds, especially those who spent some time growing up in the 80s.

29, The Cartel


I think this book popped up on my list this update because I decided to counter "Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing."  It was long, heavy, and difficult to read.  It's focused on the drug wars and the Mexican Drug Cartels.  It's frighteningly realistic, although my little sister's current geographical proximity to the locations in the book prevented me from checking just how realistic.  I'd recommend this book to people who like crime novels and aren't squimish.

 30. The Luckiest Girl Alive


This was a fun read despite, or maybe because of, some of the most incredible over writing I've seen lately. For example, this gem, "I pressed my face into the crook of his neck, hot and steamy as a New York City sidewalk helplessly exposed in the thick of summer."  
I'd recommend this book to people who liked "Gone Girl" or "The Girl on the Train" although I don't think it was quite as good.


At 30 books, I'm way ahead of my goal to read 50 books by October.  If I counted the books I read at naptime and bedtime everyday, I think I might be able to reach 1000 this year! :)