America’s hidden gems: a review of the Roadtrippers app

A review of the app Roadtrippers- this app is worth your attention on your next trip!

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Our family recently moved across the country.  Having done this twice before, we wanted to take “the Road Not Taken” as Robert Frost might have exclaimed- “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” The problem is that most mapping software is programmed for other things- the shortest overall distance, the one with less tolls, the one with less traffic. What about the route that is the most fun, or the most scenic? And that keeps little kids from murdering each other in the confines of the back seat of the car?

While my husband worked to try to find a way on a large map brought up on a computer screen, I used the free version of the app from Roadtrippers. We had already been through the midwest and south routes across the country, but no one in our family had traveled across the Northernmost states of the country. He found the general route, and the first place on the trip. Having input our destination on Roadtrippers, it selected the easier route- through the midwest. I input the first city planned to visit, and Roadtrippers automatically discovered the route my spouse had in mind. It probably would have been nicer to be able to adjust the route in a “drag and drop” method, but I didn’t see the software had this capability. So, to get a specific route, you might need to figure out the first leg of the trip, and then the app seems to get the idea.

The real place that Roadtrippers shines, however, is when you click options along the way, say “children’s attractions” or “things to do.” Immediately, pins appear along the route, showing you offbeat and fun local things to do that we would NEVER have discovered ourselves.

One of the first places we stopped was the Historical and Cultural Center of Clay County where they had the Hjemkomst replica of a viking ship and a full size model of a wooden Norwegian church (the Hopperstad Stave Church) which was delightful for our small “Frozen” fan. We stopped at the Makoshika state park in Montana, a place we would never have found on our own. The park rangers were amazingly nice and knowledgable people and lent us tiny child sized backpacks for our little ones, filled with binoculars, magnifying glasses and activity books to help us imagine what it had been like when dinosaurs walked there. We touched dinosaur bones, and hiked- truly one of our favorite places now.  We stopped at an amazing ghost town in Montana called Garnet, and learned what it was like to live on the frontier in the 1800’s. We saw so many interesting and beautiful things we would not have experienced without this app.

Additionally, the app keeps track of your hotels and restaurants, and can suggest places along the way, preventing the “oh no, there’s nothing within 100 miles to eat except a gas station and the kids are howling as if we routinely starve them” phenomenon. Eventually, I paid the small fee for an annual subscription (“Roadtrippers Plus”) because it allowed me to have more stops on the trip, as the free version has a limited to how many stops you can list on the trip. Additionally, I could send a link to our families so they could keep track of where we were that day, and also use the free live traffic information that Roadtrippers Plus provides. It also let us know exactly how long each day, and each leg of the trip would take, and how much the gas would cost for the trip.

After trying this app out on such a long trip, I can enthusiastically recommend the app, both the free and plus versions. I think the upgrade to plus is worth the small fee, and I’m excited to use the app on smaller trips around our new home. Consider giving this app a try! Click on any of the links above to learn about the app or the places I mentioned. I’ve added some screen shots of the app in action below if you’re interested!

 

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A screen shot of the app in the trip mode. You can see the length of time between each place we visited and how many miles, which was useful for an expense report later.

 

sample placeClicking on a pin gives you a summary of the place, basic information like phone number, address, and hours, and some reviews. I found that I agreed with the reviews! You can add the place to your trip with one click, and rearrange the order of places to visit by dragging and dropping to the desired order.

Choosing the right planner for the way you work: a series

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Getting organized is hard work! I read a news story recently that reported we lose three days a year just looking for things. Imagine what we could do with an extra three days- go on a romantic weekend trip, take the kids on a fun trip, complete an entire project, take a spa retreat… We even hire people to organize us!

The reclaimed time aspect of getting organized is probably the most important part of the process, but getting organized helps us save money, too. Besides not buying extra things we already have but can’t find, organizing our time ensures that we pay bills on time and not incur late fees, sign up for things early when costs are lowest, and buy things we need when they are at their least expensive.

We can save time and money, and feel less overwhelmed by having a good system for keeping our time organized. In my practice, I often hear patients say, “I forget things I’m supposed to do a lot, and let people down. I used to be able to remember everything without writing things down when I was young.” There are a lot of reasons that you can have trouble with memory, including medical and psychiatric problems such as anxiety and depression, pain, poor sleep, and head injury. I don’t know about anyone else, but keeping track of my schedule has become monumentally more complicated as my professional responsibilities, (multiple ways to keep track of licensing and board responsibilities and continuing education units, anyone?), childcare and household responsibilities, and social commitments increase. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t have to keep track of as many things- my work shifts, classes, bills and dates. In my forties, I keep track of my patients’ care and schedules, my own teaching and professional requirements, my kids’ schedules, my spouse’s schedule, financial information, household maintenance, blog and hobbies, and my own health maintenance. That’s a lot more information- of course I need to write it down now!

But an easy step to help with information overload is figuring out a system to get your time under control. I use a two step process plus modifiers to help my patients. There are probably a lot of ways to divide personal organization, but this is the way I like to think of the issue.

Are your days mostly task-oriented or appointment-oriented?

Look at your normal, average day.

Are you mainly going to meeting-after-meeting-after-meeting-after-appointment-after-meeting-after-ohdearlordnotanother-meeting with just a few (or a lot) tasks? Do you have a lot of appointments to schedule in the future? You’re probably more appointment oriented at this point in your life.

Or, do you have relatively few things tied to a specific time during your day, but a long task list of things you get done on your own schedule? You can still have a few appointments, but those are maybe just a few a week.

For example, I have morning rounds, afternoon rounds, teaching classes, meetings to mentor residents, and scheduled meetings for providers and patient’s families, as well as my own family commitments and my own wellness commitments. These are mostly scheduled times, with some tasks as well. I’m more appointment oriented.

Write down which category you fall into, and let’s go on to the next decision point.

Are you a paper, digital or a hybrid kind of person?

This one is harder to decide, typically. There is good data that people in general learn and recall better when they write things down. But there can be good reasons to use digital- including repeating appointments, sharing a calendar, etc. Digital also tends to be lighter if you need to lighten your load while commuting.

Benefits and drawbacks of paper

We already discussed that you remember things and learn better when you use paper. Also, jotting down an appointment typically is much faster than the multistep process of turning on your phone, computer, or tablet, opening the app, entering in data, and saving. You can express yourself better with beautiful planners, papers, and pens. You don’t have to charge paper. A paper planner can be left open on your desk while you work for reference. Paper may be the only option if you work in a secure workplace that handles classified or proprietary data that doesn’t allow electronics. Certain methods of paper planning can really help you prioritize what is important to you instead of clicking “add all” to your digital calendar and suddenly have half a dozen appointments you have no intention of going to cluttering up your month.

On the other hand, paper can be damaged or lost, and there’s no real back up. Paper can be heavy to carry, and less convenient to add repeating appointments to. Some digital calendars can have nice linked information that you can find everything you need in one place.

Benefits and drawbacks of going digital

We talked about digital being more convenient to carry and add multiple appointments to. You can set alarms to remind yourself to do something. Often, digital systems have cloud back ups that can keep your data safer from loss.

However, digital systems can be lost if you’re not backing them up to your computer or the cloud, and I’ve found a lot of people who aren’t. Digital systems can be a lot harder to actually plan on and picture what your week or month looks like (does anyone really like the monthly view of a calendar on the tiny iPhone screen?). You learn better by writing, as we talked about before. Apps have annoying bugs and upgrades, and tend to be more expensive if you have to upgrade devices than a paper planner. Goal planning can be a little more difficult. You may not be allowed to have a device at work, depending on what you do at work.

The hybrid planner

You don’t have to choose one of the other, but can develop a system which uses aspects of digital planning and paper planning. I’ve written pretty extensively about this system here, which I’ll refer you to. Read this blog entry, then come back to this page.

So, write down which type of planner you need: digital, paper, or hybrid. Next week, we’ll go over which planners I think suit each of the six types best and where to find them. After that, we’ll discuss how to use the planner that you’ve chosen. Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

 

 

 

A review of the Peloton: wunderkind exercise bike or fancy coat rack?

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Our family bought a Peloton bike with the idea that it would be a painful, but necessary addition to our house. Taking up a bunch of room in our small living room, we thought it might be helpful in keeping the adults in the family semi-fit. Still, the bike was met with a lot of concern and criticism. A sample of the potential complaints before the bike arrived:

“But do you REALLY have to wear the biking shoes?”

“Won’t classes being boring? I’d rather just watch TV and bike if I have to. Can’t you take the tablet part off so I can watch TV, or can I watch TV on the tablet part?”

“Is the bike really a good workout?”

“The bike won’t be like spin classes.”

“You could just ride a regular bike outside and buy a trainer for inside.”

“Isn’t this a lot of money for an exercise bike?”

We ordered the bike after going to try on the shoes, and get fitted for the correct setting on the bike at the kiosk at our local mall. We had a chance to try out the Peloton at that time, and the sales associate, who was very friendly and enthusiastic (and clearly a fan/rider herself), helped us with correct form. After that, she ordered the bike for us, which took about 10 minutes or less. A day later, we received a call from the delivery service, and the bike was delivered and assembled the next day.

To answer some of the questions above: yes, you need biking shoes, and those biking shoes need to be firmly attached to your feet. No, classes are not boring, but yes, if you insist, you can watch television, though I don’t know why anyone would want to.  No, the tablet doesn’t come off and as far as I know, you can’t watch TV on it. Yes, it’s a good workout, and you’re going to be sweaty afterward. No, perhaps it isn’t really like spin class, but over the long run, it is cheaper, and the classes are amazing. Yes, you could ride a regular bike, but you won’t have to contend with other drivers. Yes, it’s expensive.

Everyone in our house loves this bike. I have exercised more in the last few months than I have in my entire life. I love the classes, and especially some of the instructors (that’s you Robyn Arzon, Christine D’Ercole and Denis Morton!). The tablet offers an immersive experience that feels like you’re really there, and if you take the live classes, the instructors regularly provide shout outs to virtual riders meeting milestones. There are also on-demand classes (obviously no shout-outs), with all kinds of music, lengths, instructors, themes, levels of difficulties, and my favorite, ones with DJ’s. It feels like the dance parties I was always too busy to go to because I was working, and afterward, despite riding 45 minutes, I feel refreshed and accomplished.

There are milestones you can meet, which keep me motivated, and you can offer “virtual high-fives” to the other riders or your friends. You can also just take timed rides, or ride in over a hundred different places on earth- next up for me is exploring Paris, something I have never done in real life!

My spouse rides the bike, and has loved it. He’s very tall, perhaps the maximum for this bike at 6’5′.  He plans to combine the Peloton with weight lifting at the gym, and I have been doing the floor classes included with the Peloton digital app with good results. There’s even Yoga classes with Colleen Saidman Yee!

Perhaps the biggest skeptic in our house was my mother, who has been able to ride the bike even with some orthopedic issues. I think she didn’t want to like the bike, but recently skipped a beach vacation, reporting that she “didn’t want to break her streak.” And she hasn’t even asked me recently if she can watch TV on the tablet screen, which is a victory for team Peloton!

 

Review of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day” by Ken Mogi

 

Japan Land ofthe Rising SunReview of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day” by Ken Mogi

I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism lately, even if I can’t force myself into owning less books and magazines. A seriously small closet has made me consider every piece of clothing I own, and the Marie Condo movement similarly inspired me. This led me to a book I reviewed earlier about lessons from elderly Japanese adults, available here.”Awakening your Ikigai” by Ken Mogi, which I found while browsing the shelves at my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, seemed like a natural fit for my recent interest. The author is a neuroscientist, who the jacket notes has written many books, most of which do not appear to be available in translation.

My favorite parts of this book.

The book is beautifully designed, in hardback, at a reasonable price. It would be a fantastic gift for someone interested in self-improvement. There were sections I loved- about taiso, the unique form of Japanese exercise; about the concept of starry bowls, and of tradition. The idea of slow, satisfying progress. As an American, I was fascinated by the historical concept of outward luxury and ostentation being harmful for a cohesive society. Having luxury in the lining of clothing rather than outside is a really interesting concept. I think a lot of people are starting to be less interested in items that have giant brand name logos all over them, but the thought that this started hundreds of years ago for different reasons is intriguing to me.

Not my favorite parts.

I felt like sometimes it was unclear where the author was going in each chapter. Each chapter was a like individual jewels, but without any unifying idea to hold the chapter together. The concept for Ikigai is that there are five essential parts (pillars):

  1. Starting small,
  2. releasing yourself (accept who you are),
  3. harmony and sustainability;
  4. The joy of little things;
  5. being in the here and now.

I think it probably would have been natural to develop each pillar in a chapter, but instead, they were often mixed throughout chapters.

The verdict: read it or not?

I think the book is worth reading, with some patience for the idea that it is sometimes challenging to follow the author. There are concepts here that I haven’t seen in any other books, and I think the book could be a good springboard for studying Japanese culture in more depth.

How to Read More Books

How to Read More Books

I often have people ask me how I manage to read so many books with a full-time psychiatry job, writing, teaching, and a family with small children. Last year, I read over 80 books, a combination of nonfiction and fiction (mostly mysteries). The most likely answer is that I do less of other things- I watch only a little television on the weekends (O, “Game of Thrones,” why do you make me wait until 2019?), and reading is really a way of life for me. I learn new things from reading, keep myself cognitively sharp, and in the case of fiction, gain insight into the thoughts and feelings of others. Reading is a valuable use of my time, but also helps me slow down and relax.

In terms of book consumption, fiction is different than non-fiction.

I read fiction mostly on a Kindle or in the Kindle app on my iPad. I get a lot of books from the library, because it’s easiest. I think there are a fair number of people who don’t know that you can register for a library card at your local library, and use it to sign up for their e-library. You visit the virtual library, check out a book, which is delivered instantly to your Kindle. After two weeks is up, the book disappears. The benefits are clear- mostly instant access, free books, and very portable. One downside is that if you reserve several books with a waiting list, and they all “drop” at once, you have some fast reading to do. Or sacrifice the book you weren’t as interested in. The other issue has more to do with the length of time it takes to read certain books- I take longer to read non-fiction, so I never pick up non-fiction by the library via Kindle. Also, Umberto Eco is out for me- his books take me longer than two weeks to read! Books with pictures are not as good in Kindle but generally ok on iPad. I also don’t read poetry on a kindle- sometimes the formatting doesn’t translate very well.

If you’re going to read electronic books from the library, you’ll also need an Overdrive or Libby account (free) and a PDF reader. Though less common, there are some books only available by Overdrive and PDF. Libby is the new version of Overdrive if you’ve not seen it. I don’t think it’s a huge improvement, and I’d rather use my Kindle account if possible, since I share library books with other family members. There are other types of readers, too- Nook, Kobo, etc. You can also get a fair number of books through sites like Project Gutenberg.

I want my own non-fiction books, in paper.

I like to mark up non-fiction books, and take notes. I tend to buy these in paperback, unless it’s a monumentally sized book, in which case it may be easier to have in electronic format. I only buy cookbooks in paper format now- the electronic format was not as pleasurable to flip through.

I listen to audiobooks on the train and bus, and on the exercise bicycle in the morning.

I just started this- I used to be a podcast listener- but I get through about an extra book a week this way. You can also borrow these from the library!

I read in small pockets of time.

I always have a book with me, so I don’t miss little bits of time. I read during breakfast (I know- not very mindful), at lunch if I am not having lunch with a friend, and before bed. I read when my kids are reading, or if they’re watching cartoons- they regard reading as something that everyone does at this point.

I don’t have a formal speed reading regimen.

I’ve been reading every day since I learned to read. I’m at this point, a pretty fast reader. But I don’t have never taken a speed reading class- to me this seems like making the point of reading to consume more, but to me, reading is an activity to be savored. Life is already too fast as it is. Why speed up reading?

Choosing paper for your fancy new fountain pen

Choosing paper for your fancy new fountain pen

I’ve written before about fountain pens here. Once you’ve caught the fountain pen bug, it’s hard to go back to ordinary pens. The variety of ink colors, textures, and even scents; the ease of writing; the pleasure of the pens themselves- all of these things are why I’ve used fountain pens for more than a decade. However, using a fountain pen will be an optimal experience only if you use the right paper. A visit to a fountain pen store, or a website like Goulet Pens, my personal favorite, will reveal a somewhat bewildering range of choices.

What are you looking for in a paper? Let me help you decide.

There are a lot of factors involved in choosing the perfect paper. If you really catch the bug, you’ll probably end up with a lot of different kinds of paper! To start, though, I think it’s useful to consider a few questions:

  1. What are you using the paper for? If it’s a journal, you’ll probably want to consider a bound book of some sort. Are you taking notes for studying? You might be more flexible and a letter sized pad, spiral notebook or loose leaf paper might work better. Are you writing letters? Then you might want stationery.
  2. Are you left or right handed? Left-handed people CAN use fountain pens- I am left handed and almost never smear ink. However, there are things to think about if you’re left handed. Some notebooks are designed to be used from back to front, avoiding the spiral where your hand should go. Some papers are faster drying, and therefore might be better for left handed writers since they may smear less (though I write from below, and never really smear ink).
  3. What size paper do you want to work with? Many of the better quality papers use the European style numbering- A4, B5, etc.
  4. When you write, do you prefer blank, lined, graph or dotted paper? There’s even paper ruled to help you with handwriting (french ruled).

My recommendations.

My absolute favorites, in hardcover:

  1. The Rhodia Web notebook– a hardback that comes in several colors, with the smoothest, nicest paper ever. It has a paper pocket for small papers in the back, and an elastic band to keep it closed. Ink dries a little more slowly on this paper. Ink does not bleed through these pages! Comes in blank, lined and dotted varieties.
  2. The Leuchturm 1917: a hardback that comes in a ton of colors, and has an optional pen loop you can buy for a few dollars more (which could actually stick to any of these notebooks). It has nicely numbered pages, which many notebooks do not, and an index at the beginning. It closes with elastic as well. The paper dries faster, so is theoretically nicer for left handed people, but I am not as fond of the paper as I find some inks bleed through. Comes in blank, lined, dot grid, and graph. This is the journal of choice for the Bullet Journal.
  3. Shinola journals: Similar to the Rhodia, but with bookcloth covers instead, and a little harder to find. This is a brand from Detroit that has been re-vamped recently, and I am impressed.

Paperback journal favorites:

  1. Apica A4 journals:I actually think this is the best paper on the market. It is very smooth, no bleed through and a pleasure to write on. This is a bound paperback journal, and I like to write in these when I’m taking reading notes. It comes in a lot of other sizes, too.
  2. Shinola journals: these come in all different sizes and colors, but in paperback bookcloth instead of hardback, as above.
  3. Rhodia: Rhodia comes in every shape and size. You can get spiral bound, reverse bound, and stapled composition book sizes. I use the composition book sizes if I want something light to carry with me.
  4. Field notes: small, fits in your pocket, nice paper. Basic. I carry these around for random thoughts.
  5. Traveler’s notebook: a piece of leather that holds one or many small paper notebooks with a piece of elastic. There are planners, credit card holders, plane ticket holders, etc, as well as notebooks. I carry these when I’m, well, traveling. Cool in an Indiana-Jones kind of way.

Favorite letter writing paper:

  1. Rhodia A5 pads: smooth, plain, white paper. A very basic, inexpensive pad of paper that shows off ink nicely.
  2. Tomoe River: thin, dries VERY slowly, but shows ink with shimmer nicely.
  3. G. Lalo: beautiful, thick paper in several colors- perfect for a love letter or something weighty, like a condolence letter.

Another great way to try notebooks is with a variety pack. Companies like Goulet pens have reasonably priced variety packs that let you try several kinds of small notebooks to see what you like. I hope you explore writing by hand soon. Please let me know below if you have any favorites!