Friday, April 24, 2015

Biking

The thing I miss most abut living in Boulder is how easy it was to bike everywhere. Boulder isn't a big city, and it's one of the more bike-friendly places in the country. It was pretty easy for me to get in the habit of running many of my errands on bike, biking to work, and just going out for quick rides on the weekends.

That all changed when I moved to Virginia. For one, the suburbs are a lot more spread out. Instead of being a mile away, my bank was now closer to three miles away. There are a lot more cars, too, and the whole experience is scarier. The heat and humidity, which I wasn't yet used to, didn't help. It wasn't long before I feel out of the habit completely, and my attempts to pick it back up were cut short by how horrifically out of shape I got.

I'm changing that now.

The ten mile ride to work is a lot more than the two mile ride I had back in Boulder. But I'm in much better shape than I was, even then. It adds to my commute, but it's a more efficient way to exercise overall and leaves me with more time free in the evenings. And if it cuts into my reading time, well, reading less was one of my goals for this year.

I'm hoping to be able to ride to work twice a week, weather permitting. As I get stronger, I may even up that. Although I'm currently pretty tired and sore from doing the ride yesterday. It didn't help that I picked a miserable day for my first bike to work. It was cold enough in the morning to make my hands go numb and windy enough in the evening to add twenty minutes to what is usually an hour-long ride. But I did it, and I can do it again, and I will keep improving.

On top of this, I'm trying to bike for smaller errands. I can easily bike three miles to the pet store or bike store when I need something small. Ditto the grocery store, which is only 1.5 miles away. Although I have to be careful how much I buy when I do that. I can only carry so many groceries. But if I make more, smaller trips, well that's just more excuses to ride the bike.

The key here is incorporating the bike into my daily life. To choose it over the car whenever it makes sense. Staying on the bike makes me want to get on the bike more. And biking constantly will make it easier to go on longer rides when I can. One of these days I may actually be able to keep up with Kevin on a thirty or forty (or fifty?) mile ride.

When I first moved here, one of Kevin's goals was to ride the entire W&OD trail, 45 miles from Purcellville to Shirlington. I dropped him off at the high end and picked him up several hours later at the low end. Maybe next year I'll get him to do the same for me. Or maybe we can find someone else to drive and ride it together.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need

My mother swears by this book. She picked up a copy back when it first came out and used the strategies and knowledge within as the basis for her own savings and investment plan. She's been trying to convince me to read it for the better part of a decade now, and I'm glad I finally did.

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need is fairly easy to read, considering the difficulty of some of the material. It's short and straightforward. And if I skimmed some of the sections, that's mostly because the information wasn't currently relevant. It's a good reference, though. One I'm sure I'll be coming back to again and again.

Most of the information contained in this book is common sense. Though it's possible I just think that because I recognize so much of my mother's advice as coming from this book: Save at least 10% of every paycheck and don't ever touch that money. Mutual funds are the cheapest, easiest strategy for long-term investments. You cannot beat the S&P 500. Some people do sometimes, but no one can do it consistently.

There were a few things that made me look at my money a little differently. For example, the author holds that a penny saved is actually worth 2 pennies earned. When you consider how heavily taxed additional income is (think about that bonus you only ever saw half of) this mindset makes a lot of sense. He has an entire chapter dedicated to saving strategies, some of which I already use or plan to. Others of which I just don't care about. I'll happily drink a cheaper bottle of wine I bought by the case because I can't tell the difference, or trade cable in for streaming services. But I'm not about to stop buying books.

There's a lot of information in this book, and I did skip certain chapters. I'm not interested in playing the stock market; I have neither the time nor the interest to do it well. I don't yet have kids I need to teach about saving. But those chapters may come in handy in the future. The ones that were relevant to me laid the information out in an easy-to-understand way with lots of examples to back up the author's arguments about smart investing versus gambling. And if those stories were mostly anecdotal, well investing isn't exactly science. If it were, I wouldn't be half as confused by it as I often find myself.

By the time I'd finished this book, I had at least the beginnings of pretty solid plan for my own (and my husband's (our?)) money. I was able to identify our goals, both short and long term, and convince myself that they were attainable. Even better, I only had to tweak our current strategy, rather than overhaul it completely. Like I said, I've already absorbed most of this. But it was nice to be reminded of it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: Signal to Noise

Signal to Noise is probably the closest I'm ever going to get to a musical in book form. (Well, until ebook technology and creativity mesh in exciting new ways that have to happen sooner or later). The story is about Meche, who is obsessed with music and, thanks to her DJ father, has a deep knowledge of a number of genres. She plays music constantly, flipping around to find a song that matches her mood. I knew most of the songs she referenced well enough to hear them in my head. More than once, I put the book down long enough to pull up the appropriate song on youtube so it could be the background for the scene I was reading. It made the whole experience much richer.

The story is split into two timelines. In 1988, Meche is a high schooler in Mexico City, hanging out with her fellow misfit friends and discovering the magic of music. And I mean literal magic. When they find the right record, they can make things happen, punishing their enemies, healing their friends, and coming across large sums of money. In 2009, Meche returns to Mexico City for the first time in twenty years, to attend her father's funeral, and it's revealed that she's estranged from nearly everyone she hung out with in the earlier timeline.

The earlier timeline is a bit like The Craft with an excellent soundtrack. Watching Meche's world fall apart had me riveted. And Meche herself is an interesting character: stubborn and selfish, quick to anger and slow to forgive. She's a little scary, and becomes scarier as she gets better at magic. Her friends try to rein her in, but she's so headstrong she mostly just drags them along with her. As the story progresses it becomes easier to understand how she could let twenty years pass without talking to so many of the people from her childhood.

The later timeline is more concerned with grief and consequences. It becomes a question of whether bridges can be mended with the maturity and hindsight that time can bring.

Overall Signal to Noise was a pretty great book, and an excellent addition to the current YA canon.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Perfect

Every now and then you get a perfect day.

Sunday was warm and breezy and sunny. Kevin and I went for a 12.5 mile bike ride, so he could show me how to get to my office from home. It's the longest ride I've ever done, and it felt good. I may have even been able to make it all the way home, but I'm glad we decided to take the metro back. I still want to work up to that round trip slowly, especially since the way home is almost entirely uphill. Though I don't think it'll be as steep or even as continuous as I initially thought. There were some uphill portions on the ride to my office that should even things out. I'm not too far from being able to do the round trip. Or, more importantly, from being able to bike to work.

After we got home, we cleaned up the main floor and I spent a few hours organizing my library. I pulled a few more books to donate, and an entire box-full of Kevin's childhood books that are falling apart. We're going to see how badly his mom wants to keep them, and then have her take those back and throw out the rest. I just don't like having an entire shelf of spineless, musty books that can't even be read. I'd rather buy new copies when it's time. I also moved a bunch of books to shelves in the living room which means that, for the first time in years, there's empty space in my library. It has room to grow again. Though I'm going to try to be more careful about keeping it pruned from now on.

Connor and his girlfriend, Allison, came over for dinner. We sat in the backyard and grilled burgers because, as mentioned, the weather was amazing. I feel like we've usually grilled a lot more by this time in the year. But between rainy weekends and Kevin being out of town, we haven't found the time. It was nice to fire the grill back up and enjoy a cookout. Then we played monopoly on the fancy board dad got us for Christmas. I got destroyed and it looked like Allison was going to win when we stopped the game to go watch Game of Thrones.

It was everything a weekend day should be - the perfect blend of productivity and relaxation, or alone time and family time. It's nice to stop and smell the roses every now and then.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Review: The Giver

I really ought to have read this book years (decades?) ago. It's short and simple and perfect and important. Important the way The Little Prince is important, and that was once described to me as the most important book in the world.

The Giver goes by fast. It took almost no time at all to read, partly because it's so short and partly because it's so straightforward. The messages it relays are clear: good times make the bad time worth it. Choice is important. We need to remember our mistakes so we can learn from them. And they way the arise, as a a seeming utopian society is slowly revealed to be a complete nightmare, is wonderfully organic.

There's really not much to say beyond: read this book. And skip the movie. Even the trailer made me angry.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Book Review: The Robber Bride

The Robber Bride is a horrific book full of people doing terrible things to each other. More than Mr. Fox, it drove the horror of this tale home, and I felt genuine concern for what would happen to some of the characters, particularly Larry. But this book also has something that I didn't think existed in Margaret Atwood's work: a happy ending.

This book tells the tale of four women who met in college, when three of them lived in a boarding house together. Over the years, Zenia has hurt the other three. She's a con artist and a compulsive liar and she seduces men away from Toby, Charis, and Roz. And while she is definitely a terrible person, she's also a bit of a scapegoat. None of the women are ever really comfortable with the imbalance in their relationships, so they just blame the dissolution of them on Zenia. By the end, it's clear that it's not nearly so black and white as they would like to believe.

I really enjoyed this book, which takes turns telling the story of each of the three wronged women from their perspective. Tony was my favorite, an intellectual who is more comfortable dissecting historical battles than dealing with the present. Roz is boisterous, but also practical and caring. Charis, on the other hand is a flighty, hippy-dippy woman who reminded me of my cousin's mother-in-law. She's a good person, but she also so naive and trusting. She believes in a lot of weird stuff, which makes it hard to take her seriously. She was definitely a fore-runner for the whole idea of the Earth's Children in Atwood's more recent MaddAddam trilogy.

And then there's Zenia, who floats through life destroying everything in her path. She lies and steals and then disappears before anyone can catch on. But she peppers just enough truth in the things she says that it's hard to write her off completely. And as evil as she can be, it's hard to blame her entirely for the havoc she wreaks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Review: Lumberjanes

Like a lot of people, I first heard about Noelle Stevenson when her "Broship of the Rings" fanart series exploded on the internet a few years ago. I kept following along as she continued to post fanart and comics of other geeky movies.

It wasn't too long before she started posting her own characters and artwork, mostly her homework assignments. Then she started her own webcomic, Nimona (which you should definitely read). Since graduating college, it seems like Stevenson has been everywhere. She's done some cover art, most notably for Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. She wrote one-offs for Sleepy Hollow and Wonder Women comic books. She's a staff writer on a children's show called Wander Over Yonder. And she has an ongoing comic called Lumberjanes through Boom! Comics. And she seems to be announcing more projects every month.

Lumberjanes follows five girls having adventures and fighting monsters at summer camp. They earn badges for things like archery, surviving a night spent in the woods, and making killer puns. Their counselor, Jen, is constantly few up with them. But with the power of friendship, and their complementary skills and knowledge, they always come back to her safely.

There's a lot to love about this book. The girls, April, Mal, Molly, Jo, and Ripley, are distinct. You get the sense that they wouldn't necessarily be friends had they not all been put in the same cabin at camp. But they also really care about each other and are endlessly supportive. Their adventures are of the supernatural variety, but they also remind me a lot of my own time spent at girl scout camp. There's a good level of nostalgia in these pages, mixed with friendship, puzzle-solving, and demon-fighting. It's definitely aimed at a young audience, but it works for a wide range of ages. I hope it gets a nice, long run, and that everyone involved has long, successful careers.