Monday, January 29, 2024

Weekend review

Well the weekend didn’t turn out like we had planned. We were supposed to go to my parents but Paul woke up with a fever on Friday morning. Because of course. I was really looking forward to seeing my parents but hopefully we can go over Presidents’ weekend in February. Hopefully the 3rd time is the charm (we were initially supposed to go over MLK weekend but rescheduled due to bitterly cold temps).

I came into the weekend totally worn out after an intense week at work. I did 33 client meetings last week on top of having so much other work to do. I had a quiet week at the start of January and now work is back to a frenetic pace. I’m constantly pivoting from task to task. My heart races a bit just thinking about it honestly…I had to put an auto message on teams saying my response may be delayed because of my volume of client calls. I get so stressed when I am on call after call and I have emails pouring in and my teams app is flashing with 5+ messages, etc. I’m so grateful for my new hire but I wish I could clone him and have 2 people working for me. This pace of work isn’t exactly sustainable but I think/hope that as he gets more efficient I will be able to assign more work to him. My role has really changed and grown in the last 3 years - which is great because I like to be challenged. But I would love some quiet, less frantic days.

But back to our weekend… We laid low on Friday and I made tacos for dinner. Usually Taco won’t eat tacos… but he did on Friday! 

Paul was up in his room with his iPad since he was sick so Taco had our undivided attention and wow - he was like a different kid! No tantrums, no yelling, easy to entertain. Turns out not sharing the limelight makes a big difference. I mean bedtime was where the wheels fell off but it was nice to have an easier night of parenting after a long week of work.

Enjoying a pre-bedtime graham cracker. His celiac test was negative so he can continue to eat gluten!

My Saturday started with Paul throwing up but at least it was in a bucket? Luckily he started to feel better a couple of hours later so it was a fairly short-lived bug. I still got my Caroline Girvan workout in - 45/50 of the epic heat series! January has been a great month for workouts since I was home for 2+ weeks while my office was renovated. I’m hoping to keep up with doing 4-5 workouts each week even while traveling or being in the office. 

Phil and Taco went out to his mom’s after quiet time and I stayed back with Paul. So it was a very easy, low key afternoon for me. I made lentil soup for dinner (Paul had something else). Taco enjoyed all the attention at his Nana’s and put some puzzles together. 

On Sunday I did another CG workout when Phil was up for the day (I’m the early morning parent since I am more of a morning person). Then the boys and I made monster cookies! This was my first time baking with Taco. He did pretty well. He did turn the mixer on the highest speed when I turned around and he required a lot more monitoring than when Paul helped me bake at this age. But I think Paul was the outlier in being so easy to bake with… or it’s just that first child rule following energy he tends to have.

And yes Taco is wearing Mickey clothes in every picture in this post. His obsession with Mickey is alive and well.

Paul had swimming where he once again got 1:1 attention from a floating teacher. 

Post nap it was pretty mild out (30s) so we went to the park for a short visit. We hadn’t been to the park for months! 

Bedtime was a total gong show for both boys, though, so it wasn’t all sunshine and roses on Sunday. Paul is usually easier - I’m guessing he was acting up being I am traveling again this week after a nearly 2 month break. 

Speaking of which, today I fly to LA for an internal sales conference. It’s my first time attending in my almost 9 years with the company. It will be a good chance to meet a lot of people in person that I have only interacted with over phone/email/zoom. I get back Wednesday night around 7pm so it’s a pretty short trip. I will be completely extroverted out by the end! I’m crossing my fingers that no one else gets the stomach bug Paul had!

How was your weekend? 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Weekend Recap

Our cold spell is coming to an end today - thank goodness. It’s been a long 10+ day stretch of terribly cold sub-zero weather but it will be in the 30s this week which is going to feel tropical. I mean when it was above 0F last week (like 3F) I told the boys, ‘hey it’s not so cold anymore!’ Ha. 

We had a pretty nice weekend! It did not get off to a great start, though. On Friday morning, Taco had his 3y well child appointment and his doctor agreed it made sense to test him for celiac between some of his symptoms and our strong family history. I stupidly did not realize it would involve a venous draw of blood. But they didn’t get enough from the first draw so they had to draw from his other arm. It took 2 phlebotomist and me holding his body to do the blood draws. Oof. During that awful process, I was questioning if it was all worth it but I still think it’s worth it to know whether he should be eating gluten. I’m hoping it’s negative because it will really complicate things but I would rather know versus have him be miserable. 

Things improved that night, though! I met up with another mom in the neighborhood that I actually met through my blog (Hi Anne!). We met up at 7:30 at the restaurant by my house that is 100% gluten free (Colita) and ties for my favorite restaurant in the city (112 Eatery is my other fave). Our kids are similar ages and we just get along so well - it’s a kindred spirit kind of connection. I hadn’t had non-work/non-family social plans since the first weekend of December so was long overdue for a social outing! 

On Saturday I did a Caroline Girvan workout and then the boys and I met up with friends at the zoo while Phil got a car serviced and grocery shopped. It was quite cold outside so we stuck to indoor exhibits. 

Eating snacks while posing for a photo

I packed lunches for them but our friends ordered food. Taco apparently likes ketchup? He dipped a few fries in it but mostly ate it plain off his finger. He also had some cookie for dessert. The cookie was not dipped in ketchup to be clear.

Admittedly the wheels kind of fell off after nap/quiet time. Winter is hard. I can really only manage one outing per day, especially when it’s so cold. So there was a lot of whining/meltdowns/sibling discord in the afternoon/evening. I made turkey wild rice soup for dinner which hit the spot on a cold winter day. I use this recipe but add chicken or turkey and I leave out the mushrooms since Phil doesn’t like them.

The weather on Sunday morning felt worse as it was windy so felt colder than Saturday. Bleh. I did another CG workout once Phil was up (I’m the early morning parent and get a break during naptime). And then time kind of stood still while we entertained the boys indoors. 

I was glad to take Paul to swimming in the afternoon. It felt less cold outside. Woo hoo! Paul was struggling a bit so another floating teacher jumped in to help the other kids so he could get some 1:1 time with the teacher. This place (Foss) is expensive but worth it since they do things like this.

Post-lesson macarons

I made pasta sauce for dinner which sneakily includes blitzed carrots, onions, and celery. I had mine on spaghetti squash; the boys had theirs on pasta. After the boys were in bed, we watched the Bills/Chiefs game. We were cheering for the Bills so were bummed when they lost. 

Next weekend we will be at my parents which I am really looking forward to. We badly need a change of scenery!! 

How was your weekend?

Friday, January 19, 2024

2024 Time Study Results

For the third year in a row, I participated in Laura Vanderkam's time tracking challenge. She's been tracking her time for something like 8+ years. I only do it once/year and don't have a desire to extend it past the week challenge but it is an interesting exercise to go through. The challenge always takes place during the same week of January each year and while there is "no typical week" in most people's lives, it can show you some trends/themes of life. Like the first year I did the time tracking challenge in 2022, I was up during the night for 5.5 hours as Taco had tubes and then, separately, got some sort of virus that resulted in high fevers during the night. I am relieved that being up at night is the exception and not the norm these days! I did have to go into his room twice last week but I was in and out - so as long as my body let me fall back asleep, that night waking didn't make the tracker. One night I could not fall back asleep so was up for 30 minutes reading (still using the lessons I learned from my "sleep training for adults" post). 

A quick note about process. My time log is not super detailed. Laura provides excel spreadsheets with 15 and 30 minute increments - I use the 30 min one and I do not get super detailed with my time tracking. I just want a general sense of how my time was spent and I want to use "sumif" formulas in excel to calculate how my time was spent. So you won't see "eating" or "meals" below because I don't ever spent 30 minutes solely dedicated to eating a meal. Maybe this is bad but it is the reality of life with young children/the life of a working mom. I'm with the kids when I eat breakfast, dinner, and weekend lunches; I'm often eating while working on weekdays. I know that probably isn't recommended but so be it. Similarly, you won't see "blogging" below - I do most of my commenting from my phone or during snippets of downtime at work. I’m often commenting on my phone when the kids are focused on something that doesn't require my involvement. So no, I am not giving them my absolutely undivided attention for every minute of the 41 hours below, but I'm next to them and engaged when need be.

All that said, here is how my week shaped up!

Sleep - This kind of overstates how much I sleep but represents my time in bed. I am sure it is eye-popping to many. I know there are many who struggle to get 7 hours of sleep/night. I typically turn my kindle off at 9:30 and stay in bed until 6. Sometimes I get to "sleep in" until 6:30 on the weekend if Taco sleeps that late. When I wore a FitBit, which I felt more accurately tracked sleep, I would average around 7.5 hours of actual sleep. But yes, I spend quite a bit of time in bed each week but I need more sleep than the average person since I have a chronic illness that requires me to prioritize sleep. Admittedly, I feel a little lazy that I spend over 8 hours in my bed each night? It feels very countercultural... but it's what I need to stay healthy and flare-free. 

Kids - We spend a lot of time with our kids! More hours than I spend working (at least during this particular week). I know there's this thought that working moms barely see their kids. It is just not true and time tracking proves it. Granted, this really changes as your kids get older and stay up later. Paul goes to bed around 8 these days, so we get at least 3 hours with him on a week night plus loads of time on the weekend. 

Work - This was a quieter week at work for me as our salesforce underwent a reorg at the start of the year so I have barely had any meetings so far this year as sales people are introducing themselves to their new relationships. Plus I was WFH so I used downtime to work on a few projects - like writing all the school holiday info in my planner for the fall 2024 school year and I worked on a few pages of our 2023 photobook. There are weeks where I barely have time to eat lunch and am overloaded with meetings, or I travel and have long days. So I don't feel much guilt about lighter work weeks. It all evens out over time. 

Admin - This is kind of a catch all category for tasks related to the home/family. A good chunk of my "admin" time was spent doing some January cure projects, like deep cleaning our kitchen and deep cleaning our fridge. It also includes meal prep, organizational tasks, folding clothes, etc. 

Exercise - This is kind of a slim category but I actually worked out 6 times that week. But they were all 35-40ish minute strength training workouts which I rounded down to 30 minutes. I'm really happy that I worked out as much as I did - and it's entirely because I was WFH. It's much trickier to fit workouts in when we have to all leave the house together at 7 to do school/daycare drop-offs and drive downtown to work.

Read - It should surprise no one that reads this blogs that I spent 10 hours reading. I would say it was an average week of reading for me. I generally read from 8:30-9:30 each night and then sneak reading time in at other times, like when Taco naps on the weekend.

Couple time - I know this is a low amount of time, but a lot of those "kids" hours are spent together as we are generally all home together at 5pm on week days and we spend a lot of hours together on weekends, too (although I am more likely to take the kids somewhere while Phil grocery shops or cleans the house). During this week, our couple time was the 30 minutes we spent watching a show after the kids go to bed. Paul is in bed by 8, we watch a show until 8:30ish, and then I go up and read for an hour. That gives Phil time to watch shows he knows I won't enjoy. Phil and I didn't get married until we were 37 so we are used to having our "alone" time. I think/hope this category will change years from now when the boys are older and don't require constant surveillance!

Personal time - This is a new catch all category that I started to use each year. During personal time, I could be watching tv or reading/commenting on blogs or playing spelling bee on my phone. Most of these hours happened over the weekend during Taco's nap or a time when Phil had the kids downstairs to give me a break. 

Year-over-year changes

It's always interesting to look at year-over-year changes. 

- I exercised for fewer hours in 2024 than I did in 2023. But in January 2023, I was going strong on the 23 minutes outside in '23 challenge. I would go for 30 minutes walks outside which I categorized as exercise. The quality of my 2023 workouts was certainly better as I did 5 Caroline Girvan strength training workouts and 1 of her HIIT workouts (which I hated many minutes of but found very effective). 

- I had no doctor appointments this year! Hurrah! 

- No commute either since I worked from home during the week!

- I also had very little social time. The prior year I had an abnormal amount of social time as I brought a new mom lunch, celebrated a friend's birthday, and had a family gathering and a zoom catch up with a friend. Last week I spent 30 minutes on a zoom with a blog reader (hi, L!) talking about my job/field of work. 

- Couple time decreased slightly but Paul goes to bed later than he did last year, so we had a bit less time to watch shows together before I head up to bed. I know this time can easily get compressed but I do hope there is less "active management" around bedtime in the years to come so more of that time can be spent with Phil! This is all the more reason to really work on getting back to regular date nights, though, so I am glad we have one just around the corner in early February. I love and value my time spent with Phil so want to work on increasing our quality time together.

Have you ever tracked your time? Do you feel like you have a good sense of how you spend your time?

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Baby it’s cold outside

First things first - I was a guest on Elisabeth’s blog yesterday! Hop over there to find out a good story about the origin of my name - and my feelings about my name as a child!

Now back to the task at hand. And look! A post that isn’t about 2023! At the halfway point of January!

We’ve gotten off pretty easy so far this winter in Minnesota but Mother Nature has woken from her slumber and real winter has arrived in these parts. Cold temps hit on Friday with a feels like temp of -12F. We were supposed to go to my parents’ lake home for the weekend but the forecast showed -30 to -40F windchill temps by Sunday and possibly more snow. So we postponed our visit and hunkered down for the long weekend. 

How does one get through a weekend with bitterly, dangerously cold temps? On Saturday, the answer was screens. Lots of screens. 

Cuddled up on the couch watching a movie

I don’t have much guilt about this to be honest. There is only so much I can do to entertain 2 small children when going outside isn’t advised. So they watched Kung Fu Panda 3 and Mario Brothers on Saturday. But that allowed me to thoroughly clean our kitchen in the morning (a January cure task! My completion rate for the January cure isn’t great but I have done all of the organization tasks so I’m calling it a success) and make a kind of putzy Indian Curry in the afternoon that I only make maybe once a year since it takes a couple of hours (worth the effort as it tastes amazing).

We did other things besides watch movies and tv, though. Taco has gotten quite good at puzzles. He happily put 4 together on his own. He couldn’t do these without assistance a couple of months ago. It’s so cool to see their brains develop!! 

Awkwardly smiling by his favorite of the 4 puzzles

Sunday was colder but we had to get out of the house because the boys had gotten terribly squirrelly after not leaving the house on Sat! So after my Caroline Girvan workout (36th workout of the epic heat program) I braved the -30F windchills and took the boys to an indoor playground. Paul loves the place we went but it was a little advanced for Taco. He still had fun but could have left after 30 minutes and Paul could have stayed for hours. We stayed for about 1:15 as a compromise. Taco liked the gym areas with little trikes and such but some kids were zipping around like madmen so we weren’t in there a ton. This place has a big climbing/slide area but it was too intimidating for Taco.

Our afternoon activity was Paul’s swimming lesson while Taco napped. He moved up a level this session and is being VERY challenged. Our plan is to keep him in lessons through the spring and then take the summer term off.

Phil, Paul, and I had the day off on Monday for MLK day but Taco’s school was open. So he went to school and Phil and Paul went to Phil’s mom which meant I was alone in the house for much of the day! I worked out, finished deep cleaning the fridge (such a satisfying task!), watched some of Lessons in Chemistry, read, and basked in the silence. 

How was your weekend? Was it a long one for you? We had a nice weekend but I’m ready to get back to our routines. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Finance Friday: 2023 Spending

This is my final 2023 in review post and I'm discussing my favorite topic - finances! This shouldn't be a surprise since I work in finance (the fixed income area of asset management, to be specific). My finance posts seem to be especially popular so it seems like it is interesting to many of you! In general, people tend to be very private about finances but I feel like I've threaded the needle of being transparent without oversharing. At least that is my intent. After all, I am married to one of the most private people I know! 

First off, some disclaimers:

1. The chart doesn't include contributions to investment accounts like our 401ks, the boys' 529s, our brokerage account, etc. I also exclude any equity we purchased in Phil's firm. That is part of his compensation package - he buys equity and then receives dividends. It feels similar to investing so I leave it out each year.

2. It doesn't include most medical expenses because I generally use my HSA for mine and the boys' medical expenses. Phil is on his own insurance because it's more economical that way. He typically has next to no medical expenses, although 2023 was the outlier as you'll see below. I also don't include the premiums for our medical insurance because those are pre-tax and out of our control. 

3. Our housing category is extremely small because we paid our mortgage off in 2020. There are a variety of reasons for this, but we didn't sacrifice investing in order to pay off our mortgage. We loved the feeling of having no debt when we paid off our last house so decided to do it again. We especially like having no debt since Phil and I work in the same industry (asset management) which is very volatile. It's a personal decision and I completely recognize our privilege in being able to do this, although we have definitely lived frugally/below our means so that we can do things like pay off a mortgage. I also know that most financial advisors would not recommend that we pay off our mortgage because it was a low cost source of financing when we obtained our mortgage in 2019. But Phil and I are both CFA charterholders and are smart and logical and this was the decision that worked best for us and our circumstances/preferences.

So here goes! This is going to be a lengthy post, so buckle up!!

Overall - our spending increased again last year and that was entirely related to buying a new car in October. We also sold our Camry and did very well on that sale (bought it new for $18k 8 years ago, sold it for $15k), so the net increase in spending wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Call-outs on categories that warrant mentioning:

Auto & Transport (28%) - This went from 6% in 2022 to 28% in 2023 since we bought a Rav4 Hybrid. We got a loan at the time of purchase and then paid it off within a couple of weeks. As I've mentioned before, we do not like to have debt. Interest rates are so high so I am glad this is possible for us. We don't drive very much so we should not need to buy another car for a very long time, barring anything happening to one of our cars! My 8 year old Camry had about 40k miles on it when we sold it and the car Phil has had since 2013 has even fewer miles on it!

Daycare (25%) - After being our biggest expense for several years, this dropped to our second highest expense. This year I broke out kid activities from daycare because I know that expense bucket will grow going forward. Even if I included activities, this category is still less than the car category. But back to daycare - the expense decreased by 15% since Paul started kindergarten, but it is still pretty high since we pay for before and after care for Paul, care on non-school days, and Taco transitioned to a slightly more expensive daycare in August. It's worth every penny paid and we are extremely happy with both of the boys' programs. 

Donations (7%) - Donations as a % of spending decreased, but since our spending increased, our donations still increased. I feel good about this number although it could be higher.

Travel (6%) - Travel increased which I am thrilled about. It's still pretty low since we are not big fans of traveling with little kids (you do you but it's not worth the money spent generally). The 2023 travel expenses were for my trip to Tucson, AZ with Paul, my girls trip to Banff, and flights and VRBO for our April Destin, FL trip later this spring.

Doctor (5%) - New and hopefully one-time category for us! I use my HSA for medical expenses but Phil pays out of pocket since he usually has very few expenses. He found out he had skin cancer on his nose in early 2023 so this expense is entirely related to having it removed which was an extremely painful and kind of expensive procedure. 

Dining (4%) - Our dining expenses stayed the same, percentage-wise. I definitely generate more dining-related expenses than Phil. He buys lunch when he goes into the office but generally spends $10 or less. I have monthly book club meals where we order with abandon plus other occasional gathering. This also includes my weeklyish latte from Starbucks.

Groceries (4%) - Oddly this category decreased in 2023 as both a percentage of spending and on an absolute basis. I don't know how. I think we spend less than the average family on groceries. Phil buys as much at Aldi as he can which really keeps your grocery bill down. And we don't eat a ton of meat? Also Phil is not a big guy. We eat about the same amount so meals stretch further than if he was like a 200 pound man. I'm not sure how else to explain how low our grocery spending is. I feel like we eat high quality meals so it’s not like we are forsaking quality to keep our spending down, nor are we trying to target a certain budget. We spend what we spend and it ends up being fairly low. 

Target (4%) - I work a block from Target and have young kids so this is always going to be a healthy line item in our spending! I do not go to the trouble of splitting out my Target shopping into specific categories because that seems like a lot of trouble just to know that X% went to groceries or diapers or what have you. I feel good about the fact that my Target spending exceeds my Amazon spending because I'd rather support a local company (Target headquarters are in Minneapolis). Some of this spending is on groceries, but I don't buy a lot of groceries - just odds and ends that we run out of mid-week, like bananas (we eat so many bananas in this house!).

Kid Activities (3%) - Another new category! I'll track this going forward as I know kid activities will only increase. This line item includes the cost of gymnastics (which we stopped doing in December as I got burnt out on the parent/tot class and Paul was complaining about going in the fall), Karate (which Paul started in November), and swimming lessons for Paul. 

Home (2%) - Well this category sure got small in 2023! It was bigger the prior to 2 years as we installed a gas fireplace in Jan 2023 so had a down payment in 2022 and then final payment in 2023. Now this is a very measly line item since we don't have a mortgage. I think our property taxes probably went to the taxes category (which I also exclude from this spending analysis) so I should probably fix that going forward so this category is more representative of our true housing costs. [Edit: home would have increased to 9% of our spending if I included our property taxes. I will fix this next year!]

The rest - The remaining categories are too small to warrant much of a deep dive. Amazon is a smaller piece of our pie since I try to choose Target over Amazon whenever possible. Clothing expenses increased in 2023 because I bought some new work clothes - most of which were work dresses from Boden. Personal care is haircut/color - which only happened twice last year since I had to cancel my final appointment of the year due to work travel. Other is any category that represented less than 1% of our spending.


Overall, I feel good about our 2023 spending since it's a fairly low percentage of our incomes. We are frugal by nature and value growing our nest egg so we can hopefully retire early or at least opt off the hamster wheel of asset management. I look forward to a time when travel is a bigger piece of the pie but as long as I have a child that naps daily, I'm not looking to increase our family travel budget. Plus we are fortunate that my parents have a beautiful lake home and are always thrilled to host us. We go there quite often in the summer so that is a cheap family "vacation". 

Do you review your spending on a regular basis? Are there any finance posts you'd want me to write this year? 

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

2023 in Review: Blog Stats

Are you tired of talking about 2023 yet and ready to move onto 2024? I'm coming to the end of this series of post so I will soon move on and focus on the time at hand. For my penultimate post, I'm talking about my blog stats. I've never reviewed blog stats in the past. I don't aim for a certain level of readership. I don't have any ads. I just write to get my thoughts down and to connect with others. But it is interesting to see what resonates the most! 

One caveat before I start! I switched my comment form to disqus this fall since the blogger comment form has not been working great for much of 2023 for iPhone users. But that means all of the comments that were left before the switch are missing. Womp womp. So you won't see comments on anything posted before late fall which is a huge bummer because the comment sections can be so interesting!

Top 5 posts of 2023:

1. Finance Friday: 2022 Spending - My annual spending post is always a popular one! I'll be back later this week with my 2023 spending so stay tuned! 

2. Guest Post: Elisabeth - Elisabeth and I did a blog swap back in April. 

2. Kid Activities + Complicated Feelings About Sport - I talked about how I was not athletic as a child and how my involvement in sports was certainly net negative for my self-esteem. 

3. Virtual Coffee Date - I talked about Paul starting Kindergarten in this "coffee date" and how I almost felt bad about not feeling sad that he was starting school. I felt nothing but joy because he was so ready for school. 

4. Five Things Friday - In this run-of-the-mill weekly post, I talked about my boss telling me that we needed to talk later in the day without telling me what we needed to talk about and how stressed out that made me! It resonated with many of you. 

Top 5 posts of All-Time:

1. Living with RA: My First Flare - I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) in August 2013. It took a good 6 months to get my cocktail of meds figured out, but once I did I didn't have another flare until January 2016. In this post, I talk about that flare.

2. A Fall Weekend at the Lake - I do not know why this is such a popular post! It's a recap of a weekend at my parents' lake home when Paul was about 7 months old. But check out the pics of baby Paul in this post! This was his bobble head phase when his head was sooo big for his tiny body. 

3. Wedding Wednesday - This was the first in a series of posts about planning our wedding. I shared some of the big and somewhat controversial decisions (like not having a wedding dance and no bridesmaid dresses for example) we made. We had a very short engagement - we were engaged on December 9th, 2016 and got married on May 19th, 2017. That was perfect for us. We were 36 when we got married so had no desire to have a long engagement. 

4. 10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4 - Stable Job - I used to do a 10 days of Thanksgiving post series in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and this post in particular stood out. It was about how grateful I was to be working with my mentor again and in a stable, healthy work environment. I had been on a career rollercoaster for years before moving over to my current role in July 2015. I miss working with my colleague who has since retired but pretty much everything I said in this post is still true. 

5. Sleep Training for Adults - I had truly horrible insomnia in the summer of 2015 and sought out a sleep specialist for help. I used cognitive behavioral therapy to cure my insomnia. It worked but it was not a fun process to go through. But I shared what I learned. And I still use it. Twice in the last week I've been up in the middle of the night reading on my kindle after tossing and turning for over 10 minutes after being woken by various things (using the bathroom one night and a child the other night).

I have some new readers so you probably learned a thing or two about me! Have you looked at your most popular posts? Are there any that are surprising to you? 

Monday, January 8, 2024

2023 In Review: Reading Stats

I'm back with another "2023 in review" type of post. This time I'm reviewing my 2023 reading. I have two ways of tracking my reading - goodreads and a spreadsheet that I get as a benefit of being in the Sarah's Bookshelves Live patreon community. That spreadsheet has a dizzying number of things you can track - I probably only track about half of the categories available. But I just hide the things I don't care about/don't want to track. 

The stats

Here are some breakouts I find interesting!

Number of books: I read 97 books in 2023 versus 114 in 2022. It was the first year since 2018 that I didn't read over 100 books but I don't really care at all. I don't push myself to read a certain number of books. I read when I can. I can see that my evening reading time will be compressed as the kids get older, stay up later, and are involved in more activities. 

High-level genre: Fiction = 69%; Non-fiction = 31% - this split was identical to 2022 which is kind of crazy!

Backlist (books not published in 2023) = 47%

Book format: 93% e-books; 4% hardcover; 2% paperback; 1% audiobook - again this breakout was identical to 2022. Similar to 2022, I only listened to one audiobook. I am not an audiobook person as I choose podcasts over audiobooks.

Book source: 95 out of 97 came from the library! Because I lean so heavily on the library, we make a donation each year as part of our charitable giving. 

Top 4 genres: Memoir/Essays (21%), Literary Fiction (21%), Contemporary Fiction (19%), Historical Fiction (13%). I read more historical fiction than previous years. That's usually a genre I'm not drawn to but a couple of my best books were historical fiction so it can work for me - so long as it's not about WWII. I got way too burned out on that time period!

% of female authors: 79%!! Not at all surprised by this stat. I am far more drawn to female authors.

% of diverse books: 40%. I feel pretty good about that stat. It could be higher of course, but a good amount of what I read features diverse characters or is written by a diverse author. 

The ratings:

5 stars = 20 books

4 stars = 38 books

3 stars = 33 books

2 stars = 5 books. I'll list them since there are so few. Vita Nostra, Girlhood, and Bleak House were books I read for book clubs. I also rated The Guest Lecturer and The Puzzle Master as 2 star reads. 

Average rating = 3.8. This is down from my average rating of 4 stars in 2022. I read a lot more 4 star books in 2022 versus 2023. 3.8 is still pretty good, though. 

DNFs: I DNF's 6 books in 2023 v. 8 in 2023. If I DNF a book, I do not rate it so those are not included in the ratings above. I can DNF a book as early as 5% so I don't feel it's fair to rate a book I didn't finish. I have an shelf set up for DNFs in goodreads so they don’t get included in my # of books read.

Do you track your reading in a detailed manner? I'm such a data geek so I love having access to all of these details!

Thursday, January 4, 2024

2023 in Review: Goals + New Goal Approach for 2024

When I think back on 2023, I would give myself an A in terms of how I did keeping all the plates spinning. But if I graded myself based on the goals I set at the start of the year, I'd give myself a D because I only accomplished half of my goals. This is why I have a tricky relationship with goals. I want to push myself but I hate not accomplishing what I set out to achieve. So it's time to change my goal process. 

But first up, here's how I did. 

1. Work: My goal was to travel about once/month and I mentioned in my goals post that I was unlikely to travel 12 times so felt that 9 times was an appropriate goal. Ha. January 2023 Lisa had no idea how her work life would blow up... I traveled 14 times and, more importantly, did about 4.5 times as many client meetings as I did in 2022. Complete.

2. Reading: I read "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens with The Bookshelf Patreon group and I pretty much hated it. I gave it 2 stars. I think huge classics where the author is a white male that is basically paid by word are not for me. Complete.

3. Relationships: I wanted to go on a quarterly date with my husband. We went on 0 dates. But we did try! We had scheduled a couple of dates in late winter/early spring but the babysitter (the daughter of a friend) had to cancel. We decided she's too busy to use as a babysitter (she's in high school after all) but did not get around to finding another babysitter. Phil and I do get quality time nearly every night before the boys go to bed and we also carpool together 3 days/week and have surprisingly good conversations on the drive home before picking up the kids. But I need to work on this in 2024. Incomplete.

4. Travel: I wanted to go to Tucson with Paul in April and Banff with my friend Amber in August. Both trips happened and both trips were amazing!! Complete. 

5. Fitness: I wanted to run a couple of 10ks. I ran 0. I was supposed to run one on Thanksgiving but had to drop down to the 5k since I was too sick to run for much of the month leading up to Thanksgiving. Incomplete.

6. Outdoors: I set a goal to go outside for 23 minutes every day, inspired by the Happier Podcast. I did well at the start of the year - I would usually go for my walks mid-day during work days and would run or go for walks on the weekend. The wheels totally fell off in March when the spring banking crisis happened. I barely had time to eat lunch in between client calls so going outside for 23 minutes was out of the question. So I kind of gave up and never got back on track. I was outside a lot in 2023, but not 23 minutes every day. Incomplete.

Ok. So that was not an uplifting recap of goals. 50% is pretty awful. I don't want to have to write another "whelp, that didn't happen" kind of post when recapping 2024, so this year I am shifting to quarterly goals. This will allow me to flex to what is happening in life and take a more seasonal approach. Here are my Q1 goals. 

1. Do most of the January Cure. Apartment Therapy hosts this every year - it started yesterday so it’s not too late to join. I ignored the emails last year because I was not in the right place of mind to focus on household organization. This year, I feel differently. Plus I will be working from home for a good chunk of January while my office condenses down from 3 floors to 2. Some of the things Apartment Therapy asks you to do are not happening. Like day one's task was to create a vision board. NOT HAPPENING. Home decor is so not my thing and I don't have any grand dreams for our house besides not stepping on tiny toys and legos and generally having less plastic toys around. Additionally, if they ask me to do a deep cleaning of my floors or scrub my dust boards, I won't. But anything related to organization or decluttering is something I will do. 

2. Go on one date with Phil. My birthday is in February so that seemed like a good time to plan a date. I have already booked the babysitter (who works at a daycare so is a total pro) we used pre-pandemic for the weekend before my birthday in February. There's also a young girl on our block that wants to babysit. Another family with similar-aged kids has used her and raves about her. But I fear that Taco will not let her do bedtime. So we are going to go with the pro for the first 1-2 times to ease him into having a babysitter. 

Did you set goals for 2023? Were you successful? Have you set goals for 2024? 

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

2023 in Review: Best Books

Happy New Year! Today I'm kicking off a short series of 2023 in review posts. I feel very late to the game in terms of posting my best books list, but I wanted to wait until the year was over in case I read something really great in the final month of the year! 

2023 was a great reading year for me. I finished 97 books. I read fewer books than I did the last 2 years, but that's ok. I don't need to read a certain number of books each year. If I had set a goal, like 100 books, I would have probably gamed things and picked short books to hit that goal!

I hemmed and hawed quite a bit when narrowing down my list but came up with 12 favorite books for the year, broken out by best book, best non-fiction, best commercial fiction and best literary fiction. 

Best Book of 2023

It was not hard to pick my best book of 2023. Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano was easily the best book I read. Napolitano had me from the first sentences: "For the first six days of William Waters’s life, he was not an only child. He had a three-year-old sister, a redhead named Caroline." There is so much heartbreak and anguish in this novel, but I love a book that makes me feel things. It's about the lives of 4 sisters and a young man, William. It's positioned as a retelling of Little Women but I don't think it needs to be read as a retelling. As someone from a big family, the inter-sibling alliances and drama felt so true to life. 

Best Non-Fiction

Finding Me by Viola Davis was a buzzy memoir that I listened to when I had long drives to/from the lake. Her life story is not for the faint of heart. She experiences so much trauma and abuse. It's amazing that she built the life she did. I rarely listen to audiobooks but made sure to listen to this one since she narrates it. It's excellent but should not be listened to around small ears. 

In Love by Amy Bloom was my favorite book club book I read this year. It's a memoir about Bloom's husband's decision to go to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life with dignity and peace after he is diagnosed with dementia. We had a great discussion about this book - certainly our best discussion of the year. Sadly, everyone had a personal experience with dementia. Phil's dad died from it, another member's mother died from it, another member's MIL is struggling with it, and so on and so forth. This book sparked a good discussion between Phil and I about what he would do if he was diagnosed with dementia. I hope and pray that is never the case because it is a truly awful disease. 

Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa was another great book club book about the impact of race on health care and health outcomes. We have a lot of medical professionals in our club - genetics counselor, pediatric urologist, nurse anesthetist, child psychologist, and someone that works in marketing for a large medical company. Everyone loved this book and felt that it should be required reading for those in the medical community. But everyone would benefit from reading this. 

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith was a heartbreaking read about the demise of a marriage. The final straw was infidelity but there were troubles ahead of when the husband cheated. Smith is a poet so this is especially beautifully written and so very moving. I was reading this on the couch, wearing a mask since I was reading it while I had covid, and Phil saw me across the room and asked what I was reading because he said I had the most emotional look on my face. So the fact that he could see my distress, even with a mask on, says a lot. I bought this book for a friend going through a separation, but I think even if your marriage is rock solid, there are lessons to take away from this book. 

Best Commercial Fiction

Drowning by T.J.Newman was the best thriller I read this year. Newman is a former flight attendant that writes plane-based thrillers. They are excellent page turners but probably not something you want to read ON a plane or if you have a fear of flying. 

All That is Mine I Carry With Me by William Landay was an excellent book with a horrible title!! But don't let the title prevent you from reading this. I also found this to be a complete page turner. There are mixed feelings about this book, especially the ending, but I loved it. 

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld is a great romance book set during the pandemic. It's set on a fictional version of Saturday Night Live. Sections of the book are written in epistolary form which I really loved. This was another page turner. 

Best Literary Fiction

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro is about a relationship that develops between a little boy and the older man that lives across the street. The final scenes of this book stayed with me. This is heavily character driven so it's probably not for you if you need a plot to move the story along. 

Stealing by Margaret Verble is a heartbreaking book about a little girl that is sent to a residential school for Native American children where she experiences unimaginable abuse. I didn't love the ending of this book but still count it as one of my favorites of the year. The most interesting tidbit about this book is that the author struggled to get it published for years because no one thought the story of abuse at a residential school was believable... then the truth and horror of these schools was revealed by the news and she was able to get it published. 

Go As a River by Shelley Read is a coming of age story about a young woman in Colorado. It's beautifully written and also features a lot of heartbreak. I guess I go for books that really punch you in the gut! This is a debut novel but the author is older - in her 50s I believe.

In Memoriam by Alice Winn is a novel set during WWI. It's about 2 men who have feelings for each other but have to hide those feelings since love between 2 men was not accepted at that time. It really shows the evils of war and how despite declaring a "winner" at the end of war, no one truly wins and the price paid by soldiers is unimaginable. This is another debut novel. 

What were your best books of 2023?

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

What We Read in December

I had a very strong reading month to end the year. I read 10 books, which is higher than normal for me but I was isolating for a chunk of December when I had covid. I would wear a mask around Phil and the boys but it was so uncomfortable that I would go to bed in the guest room when the boys were both down and forego watching a show with Phil. Here is how my reading shook out for the month. 

Faith-related books

I'm going on what you could describe as a faith journey so I am going to break them out in a separate category since they don't really fit in the others. In December, I read All My Knotted Up Life by Beth Moore and Leaving Church by Rachel Held Evans. Moore's is a memoir. She experienced childhood trauma at the hands of a trusted adult so that was hard to read about. Then she was essentially kicked out of the Southern Baptist Church because she spoke out against Donald Trump. I am not Baptist so had no idea they ousted her. Oof. Evans died in 2019 from complications of an infection that put her in a coma. It was weird and sad to read this book. She was also raised Baptist but ends up becoming Episcopalian. 

Best books 

No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister is based on the quote "no two persons reads the same books or sees the same picture." I would describe this book as linked short stories from the view of the various people who were impacted by this book in ways both small and large. Pete and Alice in Maine by Caitlin Shetterly is about a marriage that is falling apart - but then the pandemic hits and they flee to their second home in Maine where the couple tries to pretend all is fine in front of their children. This pairs well with my final and favorite book of December: You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith. Smith's book is a memoir about the ending of her marriage. It is a very heart breaking read. I swear I haven't intended to read books about marriages in crisis. It's just the way my holds worked out (I exclusively read books from the library so what I read is based on what is available). 

Pretty good to OK books:

Search by Michelle Huneven is a book that multiple podcasters raved out. It's about a Unitarian Universalist church that is looking for a new pastor. If you've been on a committee of some sort that needs to make a decision, this would probably be a good book for you to check out. Once More With Feeling by Elissa Sussman is a rom-com about two people who were child pop stars but come back into each other's lives. I had to go back and read the synopsis to remember what it was about, though, so it was not a memorable read. I Will Find You by Harlan Coben was a pager turney thriller about a man that was imprisoned for killing his toddler son. But his son is spotted by the father's SIL. Is he really dead? It required the suspension of disbelief to some extent but was still a great read. Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak is something I read because it was set over the Christmas holiday. It was written in 2017 but is about a family that is quarantining as one daughter is working in a country hit by a terrible virus. It was solidly "just ok." I read The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride after hearing a lot of buzz about it. It's won the National Book Award which seems to be a kiss of death for me. I liked it more than I thought I might have when I started it, but I didn’t love it. There were so many characters to keep track of!

The Boys' December Reads

We read a lot of Christmas books in November/December. The book I read the most was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We quote from this book a lot, like "oh the noise, noise, noise" or "and they've feast and they'll feast, and they'll feast, feast, feast, feast." The repetitive phrases really stick with a person. Paul can recite an impressive amount of this book!

Taco got some Mickey lift-the-flap books that he is really enjoying! 

And I found this list of most borrowed books from my library super interesting. All 10 of the most checked out juvenile print books are Dav Pilkey books. Mr. Pilkey is doing ok. Sheesh. Paul is very into Dog Man books. I don't love them personally, but it's not about me. If they bring Paul joy that is all that really matters. My parents never restricted what I read and I won’t for my boys either. He got 4 Dog Man books for Christmas and was thrilled about that! 

On our last trip to the library for the year, Paul found this book about chess. He is totally obsessed with chess right now and is determined to beat daddy. 

I'll be back tomorrow with my best books of 2023. Did you read anything great in December?