Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover


Book review: One Year Lived

I love books. In fact, if it weren't for some of the shows on AMC and Southland, I could probably give up my television and just read books (maybe watch a movie or two). And even more than books, I love free books. So when the author of one of my all time favorite personal finance memoirs, Adam Shepard, contacted me to read his new book, One Year Lived, there was no way I was going to say no (and if you haven't read his first book, Scratch Beginnings, I implore you to do so immediately. It was written as a sort of rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, which is fascinating in its own right, but Adam's book is much more optimistic and presents a whole different side to the working class equation).

The premise of One Year Lived is essentially this: Adam takes one year to travel around the world (on a budget, of course), trying to complete items on a list he made in college (side note: I really would like to know what was going on in his mind in college. Because that's where he formed many ideas that he's acted upon. When I was in college, I thought of very little beyond making sure I got to class on time and remembering to wear my sorority letters on assigned days so I didn't get into trouble) and really living. Enjoying all the world has to offer outside of his typical middle class, American life. Making a difference, experiencing different cultures, and creating moments and memories that he'll reflect on at 70, sitting in his recliner, grandchildren at his feet.

Honestly, reading the book made me a little jealous that he had the nerve to do what so many of us dream about doing (well, something I dream of doing). None of his adventures came without sacrifice, of course–money, career opportunities, moments with family and friends–but he made the jump (both figuratively and literally. You'll have to read the book to find out what I'm alluding to). He did it. He saved the money, said goodbye to his regular life and set out on an expedition that most of us plan on paper but postpone until it's too late. It's hard not to admire that kind of audacity, especially when you consider the fact that he did it alone (side note: I could never do something like this alone. I'm too shy and awkward).

But his nerve and ability to chase his dream and complete the list he made in college are not what I liked most about the book. What hooked me is Adam's ability to tell a story. Reading his book was like sitting down and listening to a friend regale tales from his recent vacation (I half expected a slide show). And the stories are not bragging; in fact, it's just the opposite. Adam does a phenomenal job of weaving personal tales of failure and regret into his summation of his time in each country. He's smart, funny, and self-deprecating at times which, for me, makes for good, entertaining reading.

Not only that, his appreciation and admiration of the different people and cultures he experienced shines through in his descriptions of them. Vivid, detailed, and written with almost no judgment, Adam talks about those he encountered in such a way that you feel like you know them, too. And in a year, he met quite a cast of characters so you know that makes for some good reading.

One Year Lived is, without a doubt, a book I recommend, particularly if you're interested in learning how to afford a once in a lifetime trip and enjoying all that it has to offer without going totally broke. If that's something that doesn't interest you, I recommend reading it just for the stories. And I'll make it easy for you to read. Until this Wednesday, 4/24/13, you can download a copy of eBook, for free, in one of 3 formats by clicking the link to the book's website, using the login slimshep12@gmail.com and the password 123456 (seriously. That's not a joke).

Give the book a shot. Even if you don't like it, it was free! But I assure you–you will like it.


20 inexpensive ways to be kinder

Every morning, I walk my daughter to her classroom (her choice). When I dropped her off this morning, I overheard her teacher and another kindergarten teacher singing “Happy Birthday” to a child inside the classroom. My daughter is not the most forthcoming with information, so I just assumed it was a kid in her class. Wrong assumption. It was a first grader who had my daugher's teacher last year (this teacher is so fantastic. All the kids love her and former students visit her every morning). Why was my daughter's teacher singing? Well, it turns out, this kid's family forgot her birthday. And she was devastated. So Mrs. B (that's what we'll call her) took it upon herself to make the kid feel better. After all, she tells them that she's their school mom (we can talk about this another day) and that's what moms do.

And it worked because that kid walked out of Mrs. B's class smiling.

This little moment of kindness got me thinking. It really doesn't take much effort or money to be kind to someone. And, in light of recent current events, we need a little kindness right now. You never know how big a difference a small gesture can make. So, here's few things you can do to get your started:

  • Smile at a stranger.
  • Give a friend a hug.
  • Hold the door open for a mom and her kids.
  • Don't park in the handicapped spot just because it's closer (or the spot for people with infants).
  • Tell a cop or cashier or a teacher or anyone, really, that they're doing a good job.
  • Stop to help someone change a tire.
  • Put money in an expired parking meter.
  • Say “thank you”.
  • Say “I love you” to your spouse or significant other.
  • Text “happy birthday”.
  • Offer to feed your neighbor's cat when she goes out of town.
  • Give blood.
  • Volunteer to help at your child's school.
  • Lend a listening ear to someone having a bad day (you can also leave a supportive comment or Tweet to someone you know is having a tough time).
  • Call your grandmother.
  • Give a compliment.
  • Return your wagon to the return aisle rather than leave it in front of someone's car.
  • Let someone in front of you on the road.
  • Donate to a food bank or Goodwill or an animal shelter instead of throwing out that stuff you don't want.
  • Recycle.

It really doesn't take much to start being kind. And also, it's easier to be nice than to be an asshole (except for some people. But we can ignore them, knowing that their assholeyness is a character flaw on their part, not because of anything we did). And I much prefer to do what's easy. How about you?


Readers, what are some ways you express kindness in your everyday life?


Confessions of a smug weekend suitcase packer

This is a guest post from my college friend Steph who blogs at Life According to Steph. She’s really smart and funny, so when you’re done reading her post, visit her blog or on Facebook or Pinterest. Also, tomorrow is her birthday and I know it would make her feel extra special if you stopped by. While you’re there, check out my guest post

bagsI used to be the girl who packed a lot of clothes for a weekend and didn’t use half of them. I’m Type A – I
love organization and efficiency. This over packing didn’t suit me, so I honed my packing skills and pared down. Armed with my trusty packing Excel spreadsheet, I carefully plotted my outfits, books, and beauty items (Jana’s note: I am impressed with this idea of a spreadsheet. The only thing I have that comes close is a toiletry bag that’s permanently packed with everything I can possibly need, except for makeup. I pack that separately and the day of the trip). I got packing down to a science in which there was no waste.

My bags were small and my pride was large when sharing rooms or houses with friends who brought so
much that they never used. There was no need to separate clean clothes from dirty in bags while I was
packing to leave. I wore everything I brought, and when I returned home, everything went right to the
laundry room. My system was awesome.

Then we went away for what was supposed to be a quick weekend trip to Atlantic City, an hour and a
half from home. My husband had an accident and had to get surgery. This required two overnight stays
in the hospital for him, and one for me. My streamlined packing found us ill-equipped for an extended

While this was hopefully a once in a lifetime occurrence, it got me thinking (read: stewing). I hate being
unprepared. I sat in the post-op waiting room, looked down at my clothes, and knew I’d be wearing the
same thing again the next day. Being stuck in a hospital while a loved one is going through surgery is bad
enough, feeling gross was not a good add on. My pared down packing was kicking me in my own ass.

We were surrounded by pricey outlets, and the more budget-friendly Old Navy was a far walk through
streets rife with pushy homeless people. I didn’t feel like dealing with that. I’d already spent $30 in cabs
back and forth to the hotel to get our stuff out of the room, and since my car was still over there, I knew
I had another $10 cab ride to go. I decided to tough it out instead of spending more money on new
clothes. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t want to leave my husband alone in the hospital, high as a
kite on dilaudid, trying to get out of bed when he wasn’t supposed to and gleefully trying to text on his
iPhone while I was browsing the yoga pants at Old Navy.

When we go away in the future, I’ll do these things differently:

1. Bring an extra set of pajamas and an extra day’s worth of clothes.
2. Know if my health insurance covers transport (I know this now, but didn’t know it then, and
couldn’t get in touch with anyone on a Sunday).
3. Pack my computer. My iPhone is good, but not enough if I’m stuck somewhere and need to
work remotely.
4. Always make sure I have extra cash – I usually don’t, I just happened to this time. It was great to
not worry about finding a MAC machine.
5. Carry an iPhone charger in my purse. At the end of a long day out, both of our phones were
dead. Thankfully we were with a friend who gave me hers to take to the Emergency Room that

Jana’s note: I am not quite the expert suitcase packer that Steph is but I do have major paranoia issues regarding my person winding up in one location and my luggage in another so, in my carry-on, I will always have extra underwear and socks and some toiletries. And, not that I would know this from any experience or anything, but it really does suck to forget (or not have on hand) a charger, a toothbrush, underwear (yes, this is the second time I’ve mentioned my underwear. It’s very important to me), and enough cash. I also *might* be the overpacker that made Steph feel smug. 

Readers, what are some of your overnight packing tips?

My (for now) ideal bookshelf

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid reader. It’s a common site to see me with my nose buried in a book and a ridiculous amount of books laying in wait on my nightstand. In fact, here’s what it looks like right now:

books on my nightstand

Not pictured are the 5 books on my iPad (for those who are interested, they are Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, What the Dog Saw, Sharp Objects, Little Women, and Les Miserables) and the Laura Ingalls Wilder biography I have on hold at the library. Which makes a total of 13 books. It’s pretty insane. (Also, as a side note, I think my library is conspiring against me because whenever I put books on hold, they all come in within days of each other. I can read fast but I am not a machine and I have a sort of life. I don’t know what they want me to do). But it’s a free hobby and it keeps me busy and out of trouble for the most part (although maybe books contribute a little bit to my insomnia). In fact, one of my reader’s Pinterest challenges to me this year is a type of book bingo and it’s the one I’m most excited for so far. Not only will it expose me to all kinds of books but it’s bingo. Who doesn’t love bingo?

I digress.

As a huge book nerd, one of the books I had on my list this year was “My Ideal Bookshelf”, which is essentially a collection of book lists from celebrity writers, chefs, photographers, and others. They each wrote a short essay describing why the books meant so much to them and then, next to each essay, was a painting of the titles. It was a pretty cool book but, overall, it made me feel like an illiterate fool. I had never heard of 95% of the books mentioned and, of the ones that I had heard of, I think I counted 6 that I had actually read (oddly enough, Judd Apatow and Chuck Klosterman, two people I highly respect, had books on their shelves that I had actually read. So that was fun for me). But it did make me start to think about what I would put on my ideal bookshelf.

I admit it’s kind of a weird thought because how do you pick your favorite books? Every book I read has made me smarter, improved my vocabulary, made me a better storyteller, and fostered a love of good grammar (including the books that suck. I’ve learned a lot from those, too). So how do I narrow it down? If you’re me, you think like this:

You need to move into a very tiny apartment. You have room for your necessities and only one shelf to devote to your books. While you can utilize the library or your e-reader for most of your reading, there’s just something comforting about having a bookshelf. So you think long and hard about it and you determine which ones you can read over and over again without getting bored and are entertaining every time you read them and you make a list of those. And if you’re me, your shelf contains these books (I’m not listing personal finance books because I already did that once and I don’t want to seem boring):

  • Quitter by Jon Acuff
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder (it’s play. I know. But it’s going on the shelf)
  • I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Pact or Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (I can’t decide. Maybe both)
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess
  • Downtown Owl and The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
  • Rest Rabbit Rest from the Sweet Pickles collection
  • Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Maybe also The Hunger Games trilogy and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

That’s what I would put on it for now. I’m having a year of the classics, which is why you don’t see many of those on this list. I read some in high school and college but reading for an assignment is different than reading for fun. So maybe next year, I’ll revisit this post and update the list after I’ve read those.

Books have played such an integral part in my development as a writer and in my debt payoff journey. They provide a free escape, a free education, and so much more. My life is better because of books.

Okay, fellow book nerds. What does your ideal bookshelf look like?

3 ways to repurpose an egg carton

I am not a crafty person. I cannot sew, draw, crochet, knit, paint, or even take good pictures. Art is not my friend. But you know what is my friend? Finding creative ways to use stuff around my house. For instance…

My family eats a fair amount eggs, at least a dozen per week (for a family of 3, I guess that’s a lot). While we’re really good about recycling the cardboard egg cartons (Styrofoam is not recyclable where we live and also, the brands that come in Styrofoam are pretty expensive given the organic label and some other factors. If I had endless money, I’d probably purchase these regularly. But I digress…), there are times I look at our egg cartons and wonder if there’s any other use for them.

After all, paper towel rolls can be turned into telescopes or weird looking dolls. Baby food jars can be turned into storage containers for screws, buttons, and even craft beads. When cassette tapes were popular (please tell me I’m not the only one old enough to remember those), I had friends that used baby wipes boxes to store them in their cars. And my favorite, saving shoe boxes for all kinds of loose ends and school projects (like dioramas. Those were fun. I kind of want to make one now). But the lowly egg carton always gets recycled or thrown in the garbage, never to be repurposed.

So let’s change that.

Here are 3 ways to use an egg carton that doesn’t involve throwing it into the recycling bin:

  1. Flower bouquet. I received these flowers as a Mother’s Day present from my daughter a few years ago. To create them, cut out the little individual pockets that each egg is stored in. Poke a hole in the bottom and thread a pipe cleaner through the hole; the carton becomes the “flower” and the pipe cleaner the stem. Then paint, color or decorate the “flower”, glue or tape tissue paper to the stem, stick in a vase with some marbles (purchased at the dollar store or craft store) and viola! A beautiful bouquet that never needs water.
  2. Portable ice cream toppings bar. Want to be a hit at every potluck ever? Then do this. When you’re asked to sign up, offer a dessert. Bring a carton or two of ice cream and some toppings (marshmallows, sprinkles, chocolate chips, crumbled cookies…any dry topping will do. Even cut up fruit!). Fill the egg cartons with the toppings and put them on the buffet table with little serving spoons, one for each topping. If you want to be extra nice, you can make individual toppings bars for each guest (if there aren’t too many). This is great for kids’ birthday parties, too. No fighting!
  3. Paint palettes. This works great for kids’ crafts.  You know how, when your kid wants to paint, especially with a friend or as a party craft, you kind of cringe because you know how messy it can get with the kids sharing paint across the table (plus the arguments of “she’s using too much red” or “he won’t share”)? To cut down on the mess (and the fighting), repurpose egg cartons into mini paint palettes. Fill each mini palette with the same colors and distribute one to each kid. It’s kind of like the cupcake effect—by giving each kid just one, with all of them identical, there’s no fighting over who has more. And less paint drips and splatters all over your floor.

It makes me feel good that I can bring new life to the egg carton. And it can feel as important as it’s repurposed friends.

Readers, do you have any other uses for an egg carton? Please share in the comments!