Published on September 19, 2013, by

Ever read a book, roll your eyes about it, and then read the sequel? No? I did!

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlene Harris

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris is the second novel in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, which are also known as Sookie Stackhouse novels or the books that True Blood is based on.  I read the first one, Dead Until Dark, sometime last year after a few friends raved about it. It wasn’t entirely my cup of tea but I still came back for more. I’m actually going to reverse my usual review structure because it more aptly represents how I feel when I’m reading these books.

The Bad

  • This book is seriously stupid. It’s written in a dumb way with dumb words and dumb characters. You definitely know you’re reading fluff because it kills brain cells. Most books help expand your mind but I may be less intelligent for having read this.
  • The protagonist, Sookie, is… did I already use the word dumb? Her character is poorly written to an irritating extreme. You’re supposed to believe totally contradictory things about her – that she’s really smart even when she’s acting like an idiot, that she’s beautiful and somehow still a plain southern girl, that she’s an outcast in her town though everyone seems to love her, that she’s courageous when she’s really just impulsive and, again, dumb. Sookie is impossible to wrap your mind around because she changes to serve the plot.  In many ways, she’s a blank slate – I understand that this is the way some authors make it easier for the reader to project themselves on to the protagonist (like horoscopes, you gotta keep it general so it’ll apply to anyone), but I don’t do that so it just makes me roll my eyes.
  • Sookie’s relationship with Bill, who is a vampire, is supposed to be incredibly romantic but I find it problematic and depressing. He’s really possessive and pushy, from forcing Sookie to do a job she doesn’t want to do down to telling her what to wear. More than once in this book, Bill pressured Sookie to wear something very attractive, then acted like a jealous douche when someone lusted after her – major red flag! I think Bill’s creepy and kind of a dick, not sexy or lovable. One thing the world does NOT need is another dysfunctional relationship where borderline abusiveness is sold as “true love.” Twilight and 50 Shades have that well covered, thanks.
  • The other characters in the book are one-dimensional with no discernible character motivations at all.
  • Rape, near-rape, and sexual violence are common occurrences.  Yes, I get that vampires in general could be considered metaphors for the rape, victimization, and defilement of women.  But let a metaphor be a metaphor!  It doesn’t have to be so obscene, so obvious.  Because the writing is poor, it just seems lazy.  And as I said in my review of David Cross’s book, lazy reliance on rape is despicable.

The Interesting

  • I’ll probably read the third book.  Hell, I might end up reading all 13.  I have NO IDEA why.  While I’m reading, I’m constantly annoyed by the ridiculousness of it all.  But after I’m done, I kind of want to read another one.  Why is that?!  Maybe it really is killing my brain cells.  Not that it’s all bad…

The Good

  • The (non-rape) sex scenes are actually sexy.  Some talented, literary authors can’t even write a hot sex scene.  Harris would be very good at writing erotica, I think.
  • It was really quick to read.  Simple words, simple themes, and a quick pace.  They read like YA but with a lot more sex, violence, and swearing.
  • There are some strokes of creative excellence in between the silliness.  The way other types of supernatural beings (changelings and werewolves, for example) are incorporated into the series is actually very well done.  Subtle, unlike the vampires.  And the idea that vampire blood would become a drug is a stroke of genius.  Oh, and the mysteries themselves are not totally terrible.

Would I Recommend It?  Yes, if you really need to give your brain a break and are willing to accept Sookie as a totally ineffective and unbelievable hero.

What’s Next?  Still slogging through 100 Years of Solitude.  After that, I’m going to read two books written by a couple of my favorite bloggers – Life On Fire: A Step-by-Step Guide to Living Your Dreams by Kim Dinan from the blog So Many Places and Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche from Fearful Adventurer.

 
Published on September 14, 2013, by

I got a lot of reading done on vacation, so it’s time for another book review!

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire is the 4th book in the Wicked… quadrilogy? I used to call it the Wicked Trilogy but then this book happened. I read Wicked quite a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so I followed it up with Son of a Witch, which I LOVED. I thought it was almost better than Wicked, in fact.  I had to wait a while, but I snapped up Lion Among Men shortly after it was released… and I hated it. It was so boring and the Cowardly Lion is such an irritating character, the book was no fun at all. When I found out Out of Oz was also about Lion, I decided I didn’t need to read it right away. I wish I hadn’t, though, for two reasons – one, it was much better than Lion Among Men, and two, I’d forgotten a lot of the characters and details from the first three books. Thank god for Wikipedia!

The Good

  • The book is written in Gregory Maguire’s signature style, which I happen to enjoy. That’s a matter of personal taste, of course – I’m not sure it would appeal to everyone. Maguire has a unique vocabulary and his sentence structure is irregular. I like the way Maguire manipulates words but I can understand how it might be a difficult style to get used to – it’s not really easy to read, especially when you add in the odd names of characters and places. If it wasn’t so slick, and if the story wasn’t so good, I would probably think the style was contrived and accuse the author of being up his own ass (see: Genevieve Valentine).
  • There are wonderful cameos from minor characters in the first three books. Wicked, Son of a Witch, and Out of Oz are all a generation apart, so it was fun to ‘catch up’ with these old characters. My favorite was Grommetik’s appearance in an antique store.
  • The uncertainty. Though the perspective of the story is limited-omniscient, Maguire never reveals so much that the character’s motivations, political actions, or even deaths are very certain. It makes me think, it makes me wonder, and it makes me want to read more.

The Bad

  • The uncertainty! Yes, I know I just said it was a good thing. But this was the last book and I was hoping for some kind of closure at the end. The end… well, all of Maguire’s books seem to end on the same note – a giant question mark. Since this was supposedly the end of the series, I would have preferred to have SOMETHING wrapped up.
  • It featured too much of Lion and I just don’t like that character! The book’s protagonist was Rain, a young girl who was very interesting, but she ended up in Lion’s care for far too many pages.
  • Spoiler – I wanted both Rain and Tip and Liir and Trism to end up together.  Love is a twisted thing in Maguire’s novels.  It’s strong and beautiful but fleeting and ultimately empty.  It’s an ache.  That’s not a bad thing but I hoped for a happier ending this time.

The Interesting

  • Wicked was based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and this book draws a lot of inspiration from Baum’s follow-up, The Marvelous Land of Oz. It recreates the overthrow of Emerald City, for example, and re-imagines the key players. I haven’t read Marvelous Land of Oz, which had its upside (it would have spoiled one of the biggest twists in Out of Oz for me) but caused me to miss cameos from Baum’s characters. I’d recommend reading Baum’s novels before you read Maguire’s books so that you get a deeper appreciation of how he turns those stories on their heads.
  • Gregory Maguire had been writing children’s books for years before venturing into adult fiction, which may be why so many of his novels are re-tellings of classic fairy tales.
  • Wicked was made into a very popular musical – you may have heard of it, it’s called… Wicked. Anyway, I read the book before I saw the musical and was surprised by how they dumbed the story down. The play removed all the sexuality from the book, which was one of the aspects I really enjoyed about it. There are sexual themes in his books, including homosexuality, transgenderism, and bisexuality – all of which he addresses in a respectful and mature way. Out of Oz was no different. Be prepared for that if you choose to read the Wicked Years series – a few people on Amazon didn’t know and were apparently horribly offended.  Those people are probably awful but I guess it bears mentioning.

Would I Recommend It?  Yes, but you really should read the first three Wicked Years books (and maybe the Baum novels, too) before you dive in to this one.

What’s Next?  I’ve already finished Dead In Dallas and I’m currently wading through 100 Years of Solitude.

 
Published on September 8, 2013, by

I’m back from Hawaii! I can’t wait to tell you all about it, but I’ve got a couple of things I need put in writing before I forget. The first is my fitness challenge! I created this mini-goal because I needed motivation to get back in shape. My aim was to eat healthier, exercise regularly, drink more water, lose a bit of weight, and tone up. So how did I do?

GREAT! Not perfect – I didn’t nail every goal every day or even every week – but it was definitely an improvement and I’m proud of that.

Also, I lost 15 pounds! What’s that look like? Here’s a (mildly embarrassing) before and after:

20130908-121343.jpg

Left – 151 lbs. Right – 136 lbs. Please ignore my dirty mirror and ugly bathroom.

Pretty great, right? The best part for me is that my arms got smaller. I have what I call ‘noodle arms’ – they don’t have any muscles in them, they’re just wobbly like wet noodles. Don’t get me wrong, my arms still lack muscle, but at least they’re not as fatty!

Here’s how I did with each individual goal:

1 Hour Workout – 4 days a week

  • SO CLOSE! There were a few days where I did a bit less than an hour, but I did manage to work out 4 days a week and it works out to over an hour average.
Not a true 90 day view, but close.

Not a true 90 day view, but close.

1 Hour Yoga Class – 1 day a week

  • SO CLOSE! I fell off the wagon the last few weeks because my schedule got too crazy, but I did this one most of the time.

5000 Steps – 6 days a week

  • DID IT! Okay, so looking at the chart below, it doesn’t look like I did it. But I actually averaged 6800 steps per day, including my cheat days. To me, that’s a success.

90 day step totals

Eat 3 Meals – 6 days a week

  • ROCKED IT! There were only two days I didn’t eat breakfast and they were in the last few weeks when my schedule got turned upside down. I’m forgiving myself for those.

Prepare Food at Home – 5 days a week

  • NAILED IT! We ate at home so often, we kept forgetting whose turn it was to pay. That felt awesome.

Eat More Veggies, Whole Grains, Lean Protein, Non-fat Milk, and Yogurt

  • SO CLOSE! I didn’t always get 4 servings of fruit/veg in, but I did incorporate more of them than I was previously eating. I also stuck with lean protein and whole grains most of the time – I even whipped up a homemade Bolognese with ground turkey and whole wheat + flax penne pasta. I drank chocolate milk after workouts and found all kinds of creative ways to use Greek yogurt.
20130908-125649.jpg

My favorite way to eat yogurt – as a frozen pop.

Drink 48 oz of Water – 5 days a week

  • Total Fail!  I hardly ever made it to 48 oz.  In fact, my maximum capacity for beverages seems to be 40 oz.  And in the last few weeks, I was so sick of plain water that I switched to Crystal Light.

1 Cheat Day

  • I stuck to it!  One and only one cheat day a week, almost always Saturday.  I still ate things that were ‘treats’ during the week but I made sure I was either under my calorie goal or I worked out a bit extra.  I probably went a little overboard, though it didn’t seem to harm my progress.

Speaking of which – beyond the goals stated above, I used MyFitnessPal and FitBit to set a calorie goal, so there was more to the ‘diet’ part than I wrote about.  It was fairly strict, though if I stuck with lean meats and veggies, I had no trouble staying under it.  It made me realize how poorly I ate before, that’s for sure!

Overall, I’d say this fitness challenge was a success.  I’d definitely recommend it to someone just starting to get into a healthier lifestyle, because I think it helped me build some better habits that I can use in the long term.  I found some healthy treats that I really liked and got creative with my workouts, for example.  I plan to keep up the exercise routine for sure – we need to start training for our bike trip next year!

 
Published on August 24, 2013, by

Back in June, Tim and I went to see Neil Gaiman do a reading and then get some of Tim’s books signed.  I was familiar with Gaiman’s work – I was introduced to his writing through Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, and the Sandman comics that many of my friends were reading at the time.  I’d read a few things he wrote, but for some reason, I never got into him enough to read his whole collection.

That changed when we went to the signing, half because of his excellent reading from The Ocean at the End of the Lane and half because I started reading Anansi Boys during the FIVE HOUR wait for him to sign Tim’s books.  Yes, 5 hours.  He is very popular.

Anansi Boys is a sort-of sequel to American Gods, a book I read more than 10 years ago and totally forgot, so I decided I’d better start there.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods is, in a general sense, about a war between the gods of America – those who came to the new world with immigrants and those created by American culture.  An ex-convict named Shadow becomes the unlikely helper of Odin, an elder god leading the charge against new gods like Media and Technology.  His journey, which is both grand and personal, takes the reader through small town USA and introduces the personifications of deities from many parts of the world.  Then they all fight.  Yep.

The Good:

  • The gods are fascinating characters.  Gaiman clearly did his research, but the gods aren’t general outlines of holiness.  They’re real characters.  Odin is a morally ambiguous charmer, Czernobog is a grumpy old man, Mr. Ibis is a vaguely effeminate poet who occasionally eats parts of dead bodies, and Technology is… well, just picture a Redditor.  They’re not one-dimensional and many are not even ‘good’ in a straightforward way, so they really succeed as characters independent of their own folklore.
  • The book works as both a heartfelt story about Shadow’s personal journey and an epic of god-against-god battle.  That’s not easy to do.  Many authors lose their characters in grand adventures and high stakes, but American Gods manages to feel like a personal story.
  • The pace is perfect.  It meanders when it needs to – it is largely a road trip tale, after all – but with enough suspense to keep the reader moving right along.  Again, that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.  Gaiman is a crafty writer.

The Bad:

  • Ummmmmm…  I got nothing.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Interesting:

  • Neil Gaiman is a prolific creator and all around interesting dude.  While he’s only written 6 adult fiction novels, he’s put out 4 non fiction books, 6 volumes of Sandman comics, 14 juvenile fiction books, 14 short stories, and at least one issue of over 40 other comic books.
  • In addition to writing prose and graphic novels, Gaiman has done quite a bit of writing for movies and television, including Dr. Who.
  • Gaiman is a fairly public and accessible person.  He keeps up a great blog where you can read about the process of both writing and being a writer.  He also tweets on the regular and often discusses his life.  In fact, if you want a good cry, you have to read his post about the death of his dog.

Would I recommend it?  Absolutely.  Read this book!

What’s next?  Actually, I already finished another book – Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire.  I am WAY behind on my blogging, y’all.  I’ll be going on vacation next week and I always read at least two books on vacation – one serious and one silly.  I’m thinking One Hundred Years of Solitude and a Sookie Stackhouse novel this time.

 
Published on August 16, 2013, by

I think I’ve mentioned this before: I love to travel.  Any chance I get to go somewhere new, I take it.  Travel truly enriches the soul.  But I also enjoy the side effect (pre-effect?) of distraction for my brain.  In a sense, my vacation starts as soon as I start planning a trip because the research and excitement give me a break from day-to-day stress.

So what’s distracting me today?  HAWAI’I!

Travel to Maui

I’ve been to Hawaii twice before, both times to the island of Maui.  The first was with a good photographer friend of mine – we stayed in a hostel, went to a different part of the island every day, picked up a hitchhiker (!), and tried to eat like the locals.  It was what I think of when I think Travel.

Maui Vacation

The second was with Tim’s family and it was a whole different kind of experience.  We stayed in a really nice (like, way fancy) hotel and spent quite a lot time just staring at the ocean or reading on the beach.  We went snorkeling, we went to a luau, and generally played tourist.  It was what I think of when I think Vacation.

This time, I’m headed to the Big Island of Hawaii with Tim’s family and it’s likely that it will be more vacation than travel.  And let me tell you, that is perfectly fine with me.  This is our first big trip since New Orléans last August and it will be great to just hang at the beach and relax.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t plan!

Kona Coast Map

I covered flights in my last post and hotel is a non-issue for this trip because we’re staying at a resort with Tim’s family.  The Kona Coast Resort in Kona looks lovely and Trip Advisor reviews tell me that it’s well-maintained, close to the beach, and within walking distance of some stores and restaurants.

But let’s face it, hotel is one of the least exciting parts of the trip, at least for me.  I’m way more excited about the food, the beaches, and the little adventures we can have each day.

THE FOOD

Whenever I plan a trip, I always start with the food.  Remember when I said that Anthony Bourdain has the perfect job?  Food is at the heart of culture, so there’s no better way to get to know a place than to eat the local cuisine.

Much like food on Maui, food on the Big Island is described as ‘mediocre.’  I think this is true of all places that tend to cater to tourists.  During my first trip to Maui, I ate ridiculously well because we were often off the beaten path.  The second time, when we spend more time at the resort, it was about 50/50.  I think finding good food anywhere is just a matter of doing research, occasionally going out of your way, and being next to an ocean.

Dinner at Mama's

Yep, you can’t go wrong with seafood.  Da Poke Shack has the best reviews on the island – it’s fresh, it’s local, and it’s affordable, so it’s definitely going on my list of places to try.  If we want to eat some place super fancy, both of the restaurants at the Four Seasons get rave reviews.  Fish Hopper and Don the Beachcombers are more mid-range and would be good for those who aren’t super adventurous.

If we venture out of Kona, Da Fish House looks like a cheap local fave, Blue Dragon is fancy pants, and Sushi Rock is top rated for sushi on the island.

Hawaiian Meal

Since it’s hard to find anywhere else, I’ll want to eat some ono Hawaiian food.  In Kona, we’ve got a bunch of 4 star places to choose from: Umeke’s, Kanaka Kava, Pine Tree Cafe, Broke Da Mouth Grindz, and Big Island Grill – all affordable, none of them fancy.  The best of the rest of the island is Kaaloa’s Super J, another cheap, local joint.  It looks like it’s in someone’s house, but I think that’s part of the fun.  Minnie’s in Kapaau, Kawaihae Kitchen in Kawaihae, and Annie’s Island in Kealakekua look like good choices as well.Shave Ice in Maui

No culinary adventure would be complete without dessert!  When you’re in Hawaii, you gotta try the shave (no ‘d’) ice.  In Maui, it doesn’t get better than Ululani’s.  None of the places I looked at in Kona sounded nearly as good, but there’s positive buzz around Scandinavian Shave Ice and Moo Bettah Frozen Fun.  In my search for dessert, I happened upon a supposed Big Island specialty called ‘Donkey Balls’, available at Keoki’s Cafe.  I’m not entirely sure what they are but that doesn’t mean I won’t eat one.

Maui Street Tacos

It’s also important to know what’s within walking distance of our resort.  We lucked out on our last trip and found a street-side taco stand just a few blocks away from us.  This time we’re near Peaberry and Galette, a creperie that’s a must-try for me, at least for dessert, Bianelli’s, a pizza place with decent reviews, and… that’s about it.  Still promising!

THE BEACH

At The Beach

The Big Island is known for its volcanoes, not its beaches.  This isn’t the island that you go to if you want miles and miles of white sand but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few amazing beaches to be seen.  Beaches come in two flavors – the swim-and-lay-on-the-sand kind and the snorkeling kind.  Kahalu’u Beach Park is the closest beach to our resort and it’s the latter.  It’s rocky, choppy, and shallow, but it’s filled with fish and sea turtles.  For a beach of a different flavor, Kua Bay looks absolutely beautiful. Clear water, white sand with big black rocks, and even the occasional dolphin sighting. Other notable beaches in Kona are Makalawena, White Sand, and Kiholo.  You have to work to get there but they’re supposed to be worth it.

Sea Turtle

Around the island, the best spots for snorkeling are supposed to be Kealakekua Bay (which seems very hard to reach), Two StepBeach 69Mauna Kea Beach, and the Kapoho Tide Pools.  For playing in the waves and laying on the sand, I’m hoping to check out Hapuna Beach, Kekaha, and Hookena Beach Park.

Black Sand Beach

There are two notable beaches in which it’s not recommended to swim or snorkel, but I still want to visit.  This first is Punalu’u Beach.  Take a look at blogger Alex in Wanderland‘s pictures and you’ll know why.  They’re amazing!  The other is Papakolea Green Sand Beach because it looks otherworldly.

THE ADVENTURE

Remember that thing I said above about volcanoes?  Well, some are still active.  Lava actually flows on the Big Island and rolling piles of fiery goo sound pretty adventurous to me.  If Halema’uma’u is active while we’re there, we’ll be able to see it from the Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  There’s also a Kahaualeʻa flow that we could see from a viewing area in Kalapana, though much of that flow goes into lava tubes below ground.  If any of the flows reach the ocean, we might be able to see them by boat, too.  (If you want to see the lava flows right now, the National Park Service has some pretty sweet webcams.)

Tim on a Volcano

Not that the lava has to be active to give us an adventure . Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a lot to offer – stunning scenery, trails to hike or drive, and lava tubes to explore.  High on our list of things to do is the Kilauea Iki Trail, a 4 mile hike through rain forest into an old volcanic crater.  Tim’s excited to go to the Mauna Kea observatory for a closer look at Saturn – it looks like we may have to book a tour to get there, but reviews say it’s worth it.

Three Bears

When we come down from the volcano, there are a bunch of activities to choose from, like horseback riding through Waipi’o Valley, visiting historical sites like Pu’uhonua Place of Refuge or Hulihe’e Palace, or taking in a free hula show.  And why go to Hawaii if you’re not going to see a waterfall or two?  We saw many on the Road to Hana in Maui but none as large as Akaka Falls, plus it includes a walk through a beautiful rain forest.

Yep, we’ve got a lot of options for adventure – but if we end up just chillin’ on the beach for a week, that’s fine with me, too.  We leave in just TWO WEEKS and I can’t wait!  I hope to have lots of pictures and stories to share when I get back.  Until then, check me out on Instagram at @corgisaurus.

(Research notes:  To find out more about a destination, I always start with my favorite travel blogs.  Unfortunately, that’s gotten a lot harder since Google Reader killed itself, since it was the only reader with a decent search function.  After that I hit up Trip Advisor / Yelp / Lonely Planet, then I’ll look at travel books.  There are two great summaries I recommend checking out if you’re planning a Big Island vacation – Ottsworld’s Big Island Hawaii Itinerary and Budget Travel’s Tips for Visiting the Big Island.  Check out that first link for some truly stunning photography and find out why Sherry Ott is one of my favorite travel bloggers.)

 
Published on July 26, 2013, by

I feel the need to make a post about the 90 Day Fitness Challenge because I’m at the 5 week mark, but the truth is that I just had my worst week so far.  I did 4 workouts but they weren’t all an hour long, I missed my yoga class, I missed meals, I ate out 4 times, and I didn’t even come close to 6 cups of water a day.  It was a failure of a week.

I’m going to get back into it next week, I swear.  And in the meantime, I’ll remind myself that I still ate better and worked out more than I did before this challenge.  Though I may not be the best, I’m trying and that’ something.  Like this little guy – he’s not the highest or longest jumper, but he’s enjoying himself.  This GIF is me in so many ways.  Enjoy!

Corgi Jump

 
Published on July 14, 2013, by

I fell super behind on my book reading.  I started a book in May that was putting me to sleep every couple of pages but I tried to power through it.  Instead I just spent two months on it and I’m not even halfway through.  That’s not like me!  I gave up and switched over to…

Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England

I’m not sure why I bought An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.  I do know why I picked it up when I needed a book to bust me out of my Lady and the Monk rut – it was on the top of the pile of books waiting to be put on shelves.  Yep, pure laziness.  I just didn’t want to dig for something better.

I got what I deserved.  The book wasn’t bad but I have no doubt there would have been a better one somewhere in that pile.

The Good:

  • The story itself is interesting – a boy named Sam accidentally burns down the house of a famous writer, serves his time, and starts his life over only to find that the crime haunts him.  Someone starts burning down the homes of other writers and Sam tries to track down the culprit before he gets the blame, which would be a great plan if he weren’t an inept bumbler.
  • There are some interesting relationship dynamics in the book.  Sam’s relationships with his parents are particularly nuanced.
  • The ‘mystery’ aspect kept me reading.  Even when I wasn’t loving what I was reading, I stuck around to see who was burning down the other writers’ homes.

The Bad

  • Like I mentioned above, Sam is a bumbler.  It’s supposed to be part of his charm but it ends up being really frustrating.  You just want him to stop being such an idiot the whole time so you can get on with the story.
  • The ‘voice’ that the author uses is a bit awkward.  The narrator repeats himself and has verbal tics.  It starts out kind of ‘quirky’ but ended up being annoying after a while.
  • The end was really lame.  I won’t give it away but ugh.

The Interesting

  • Nothing, really.  Couldn’t find anything interesting about the book or the author.  Sorry!

Would I Recommend It?  If you’re reading something terrible and this is your only other option – sure.  Otherwise, dig deeper in the pile.

What’s next?  I went to a book signing for Neil Gaiman a few weeks ago and it made me want to read more of his work.  I think I’ll pick up American Gods again because I read it so long ago that I’ve forgotten it and then move on to Anansi Boys and Ocean at the End of the Lane.

 
Published on July 5, 2013, by

I admit it, I’m a bargain shopper.  It’s how I was raised.  We didn’t have much money growing up and my mom was great at stretching a dollar.  She still is, in fact!  And even though I’m lucky enough not to HAVE to be cheap, I still am most of the time.

Spending money on airfare is one of those times.  Why should I pay more than the person sitting next to me when we get exactly the same product?  We take the same flight, get the same food, see the same movie, and land at the same time – I want to spend as little as I possibly can because the quality of my flight won’t change (unless it’s an upgrade in flight class, of course).

There are tons of tips and tricks about how to save on airfare out there on the internet.  More than 2 million websites about it, according to the Google.  I think I’ve read a million of them (well, maybe just a couple thousand).  None have what I have, though – an easy price comparison spreadsheet template!

Making a price comparison spreadsheet is Step #1 for finding a cheap flight.  It’ll help you organize information, identify trends, and buy when prices are at their lowest.  Here’s how it works:

I figure out all the different combinations of airports I could use and make one sheet for direct flights, plus additional sheets for ‘hops’ or indirect connections.  Then I use some fancy functions to calculate the cost of the hops on my main page.  Was that confusing?  An example makes more sense.  Here’s the spreadsheet I’m using to calculate the cost of our upcoming flight to the Big Island of Hawaii (YAY, btw).

Airline Comparison Spreadsheet

This is the main page – I put my flight search engine on the left and my direct routes/dates on the top.  Typically there’s only one ‘direct flight’ column but the Big Island has two airports so I’ve listed both.  I also add a column for alternative dates because if I can save $200 by flying one night earlier, I will do it.

Then on the right I add some columns for my hops.  The only reasonable one for this trip is Phoenix to Honolulu then Honolulu to Hilo or Kona.  For all international flights, I check PHX to LAX, since flights to Los Angeles are occasionally dirt cheap on smaller airlines and they’re our closest international hub.

I find the prices for Honolulu to Hilo/Kona and put them on a second tab.

Flight Hop Comparison Spreadsheet

To easily pick out the cheapest flight from all the options, I use the ‘min’ function.  That means as I update the cost on the left, the Lowest Price field will automagically update with the lowest number.

Then I go back to my main spreadsheet and use another function to add the cost of a flight to Honolulu to the cheapest price for a hop from Honolulu to Hilo/Kona.

Add Function

This function references the Lowest Price field on my other spreadsheet and adds it to the cost of a flight to Honolulu.  That way I can see if it’s cheaper to hop two different airlines or take a direct flight.  If you look at my first spreadsheet example, you’ll see that using a local airline (Allegiant) to get to Honolulu yields the cheapest flight.

I update this spreadsheet once or twice a week starting as soon as I know about the trip.  The cheapest prices start to show up at 6 – 8 weeks before the flight (domestic only – for international, start the year before if you can) and at that point, I might update it every other day.  Why start early?  This gives me some baseline information so that I know what a ‘cheap’ deal really looks like.  If I didn’t know $712 was a little high, I might jump at it just because it’s cheaper than the Kayak price of $742, for example.  I also check more than once in a week because the best deals are usually, but not always, posted on Tuesday or Wednesday.  These are Friday prices, they went up a bit from my last search on Tuesday.  Start early, update often!

Is this a little complicated?  Yes.  Have I made it easier for you?  YES!  I made a nicer-looking template of this magical spreadsheet for you to download for free!

Just click the following link and go to File -> Download As:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApAKp63PVNEIdHRkaE5XamNTa1pyRFJuOU02TVNqTmc&usp=sharing

I fancied it up a bit from the screenshot examples above and made it easy to tell what info should go in what fields.  I also included the function calculations for you.  Hopefully it’ll help you save a couple of dollars on your next big adventure!

 
Published on June 21, 2013, by

Remember how I said I was going to update this thing every week?  So far, I really suck at that.  Sorry to disappoint my two readers!  <3 you ladies!

Why the delay?  In a word: exhaustion.  I am tired all the time.  But that’s because I’m working on some goals, so it’s a good thing!

Mini Goal: 90 Day Fitness Challenge

So far, I’d say I’m doing great with this one.  Not perfect – I haven’t hit every goal I set every week, but I’m working on it.  Progress, not perfection, right?

  • 1 hour strength/cardio 4 days a week plus 1 hour of yogaDOING IT!  I’ve been going to some classes, like Zumba and Kickboxing, and logging miles on the elliptical.  I’ve also been doing weight machines and hopefully I’ll develop muscles in my noodley arms.

Calories Burned

  • Add non-fat milk and Greek yogurt – DOING IT!  I’ve been making frozen yogurt pops and drinking chocolate milk after workouts.  I’ll be sharing the recipes for those yogurt pops soon, because they rock!
  • Minimum of 5000 steps a day – SORT OF DOING IT.  I’m hitting this goal if you take an average over the course of the week… but not every single day.  I’ve also messed up my log a few times by letting my Fitbit run out of battery power.  Ooops!

20 Days of Steps

  • Eat 3 meals a day and cook at home 5 nights a week – ALMOST DOING IT.  I have been eating three meals a day, thanks to Belvita biscuits which are the perfect breakfast food.  They’re sweet enough that they don’t gross me out but not so sweet that they mess up my blood sugar.  I’ve also been cooking dinner at home, but only 4 nights a week.  I let social stuff get in the way of that one.
  • 4 servings of fruits/veggies, 3 servings of whole grains, and lean protein every day – not doing it. 🙁  I generally eat only 3 servings of fruits/veggies and 2 servings of whole grains.  My nutrient stats still look pretty good, but I definitely need to add fiber and protein.

Week of Nutrition

  • Drink 48 oz of water every day – not doing it. 🙁  I max out at 40 most days.  I just can’t get that last glass in because it makes me feel sloshy.  However, 40 oz is a big improvement over the 0 oz I was drinking before.

While I may not be hitting every goal exactly, it’s really making a difference.  My cardio and strength have already improved.  My first Zumba class was a disaster, but last night’s wasn’t so bad.  I have a long way to go before I’m as good as most of the other Zumba ladies, but it’s cool to see improvement.

Food-wise, I can’t say I feel any healthier.  Healthy food, roughage in particular, does not agree with me at all.  For whatever reason, my stomach prefers carbs, grease, and sugar.  Eat a basket of french fries and fake cheese followed by a cupcake?  I feel awesome.  Eat a whole salad?  Not so much.  So I’m not feeling better, but I’m going to stick with it because I’ve been told my belly just needs to get used to it.

And my weight?  Down 6 lbs!  Pretty good for three weeks, I think.

My Fitness Pal Diary

Thing #27: Get a Meaningful Job

My most recent career move has taken me into the realm of professional development, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.  I love helping people, I like interacting with and speaking in front of groups, and I find it rewarding to see others be successful.  I just finished my first full 6 week training course with one group of newbies and now I have to ask myself… is this job meaningful?  Have I completed Thing #27 already?  It was towards the end of the list for a reason – I thought it’d take years to find a meaningful, rewarding niche for myself.  But have I done it?

After thoughtful consideration… I still don’t know.  I don’t get the high I used to feel after doing great work for my own business, but I was really good at that.  I’m not good at this yet.  I’m doing my best but every day there’s something I’ve never handled before so I’m just not nailing all of it the way I’d like.  It’s also totally and completely draining and it’s hard to find meaning when I feel so flattened.

So we’ll see.  I can see the potential in this job but I need a little more time to practice.

Thing #28: Read 300 Books

UGH.  I have sucked at this lately.  I fall asleep about 5 pages after I start reading… and that’s when I’m awake enough to read.  It doesn’t help that the book I’m working on, The Lady and The Monk, is soooooooo boring.  It’s nicely written but seriously dull.  I’m debating abandoning it because I’ve read it for a month and I’m only a third of the way through.  I think I’ll pause and switch books for a while.

That’s where I’m at!  I’m hoping to find time to post more about our wonderful house, the trip we’ll be taking in September, how I compare prices on airline tickets, and about some healthy recipes I’ve invented, so look out for those in the (hopefully near) future.

 
Published on May 31, 2013, by

It’s the first day of my 90 day fitness challenge and I feel… like crap!  I’m sore from Zumba last night and my healthy breakfast (granola and Greek yogurt) was super gross.  But I did read a really good book!

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

 

I found Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson in my Kindle’s ‘To Read’ folder and I have no idea how it got there.  Did a friend recommend it?  Did I read a review?  Was it featured at my favorite bookstore?  Or did I just like the title?  I don’t remember but I’m glad I put it on the list because it was all-capitals FANTASTIC!  The book is a collection of short essays about Lawson’s life in Texas, which is way more interesting than it sounds.

The Good:

  • I don’t know… everything?  Everything about this book is good.  I guess the main thing is that it’s hilarious.  I laughed, I cried from laughter, I woke up the dog.  Lawson has a unique voice and a ton of interesting stories.  She’s lived a weird life, which is a very good thing.
  • Lawson is often compared to David Sedaris, and it’s accurate in the best way.
  • It was very relatable (spellcheck is telling me this isn’t a real word, but Google says it is, so I’m leaving it).  Sure, she grew up in rural Texas around a bunch of dead animals, but the running theme of ‘family, crazy but you love them anyway’ really hit home with me.  When Lawson started to talk about her anxiety, the book transcended ‘funny memoir’ and spoke directly to my experience.  I love it when books do that – it’s such a great reminder that I’m not alone in the struggle with anxiety or weirdness.

The Bad:

  • I couldn’t sleep because I was giggling too much.  I read before bed as a way to relax, but this is not that kind of book.  I wish I’d saved it to read on a plane ride – there’s nothing I like better than annoying my seatmate with constant suppressed laughter.
  • This is Lawson’s only book.  I hope it sells like hot cakes so she’s forced to write another one!

The Interesting:

  • I won’t really have to wait for another book to be published to read more hilarious stuff from Jenny Lawson because she has a blog!  YAY!  It’s called The Bloggess and there are years of great posts, so you should check that out.

Would I recommend it?  Hell yes.

What’s next?  I started The Lady and The Monk, but so far it’s been putting me to sleep so we’ll see how it goes.  Next up in this blog, I think I’m going to share my techniques for getting cheap airline tickets.  Hint: it involves spreadsheets!