Audible: The Cure for Boredom and Road Rage

I confess I don’t read books at the rate I used to. It makes me sad, but I just don’t have the time anymore. My non-work schedule is devoted to spending quality time with my son.

But recently I’ve been hooked on listening to books through Audible (which is owned by Amazon) where you can download audiobooks and listen on your smartphone, kindle, tablet, and computer. It has changed my life. I can now productively listen to books while commuting on a jam-packed train, driving, or strolling Franco around the neighborhood.

A couple weeks ago, I was stuck driving in insane traffic (talk about parking lot) and instead of getting frustrated and pissed, I was happy as a clam because I was listening to a great audiobook. It’s amazing!

So far, I have listened to two books.

Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

The narrator did a great job of altering her voice for the different characters, which I appreciated. Even though I didn’t really care for any of the characters (I felt they were all unlikable), I still found them entertaining and the plot good enough to hold my attention.

The book explores the tension surrounding mixed race couples and families in the 1970s by centering the plot around the death of a teenage girl who is half-white, half-chinese, and her struggle to fit in alongside her parents’ high expectations of her.

The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

This book draws a lot of comparisons to Gone Girl. It’s a suspenseful whodunit. About two-thirds of the way into it, I figured out the mystery. I was hoping I was wrong and there was a final twist in the end, but I guessed correctly! There are 3 narrators:

Rachel: a divorced alcoholic who has a few episodes of completely blacking out without any memory recall

Anna: former mistress and now current wife of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom

Megan: married but philandering missing woman who was the nanny to Anna’s and Tom’s baby

Fantastic thriller. Loved it.


Author: Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve queued this up as my next audiobook. It gets rave reviews as an audiobook. And why wouldn’t it, with Jeremy Irons narrating!

Please recommend your favorite audiobooks in the comments!

Real Estate Investing 101

I couldn’t sleep last night. I’m a light sleeper to begin with, more like a nervous sleeper as I’m always thinking about the stress in my life. And recent developments could seriously alter our future.

We are on the hunt for a new home. Yes, on top of everything going on with our current property, with checks to contractors being written in the tens of thousands of dollars. It would make your head spin. Piddly amounts like $400 to test mold and air quality and $750 for plumbing don’t phase me anymore because I’m used to seeing stratospheric invoices for the contract work and legal fees. We are in the midst of the spring selling season and Dean and I are determined to buy a more suitable home for our family.

A few weeks ago, we were prepared to submit an offer for this Victorian in Alameda listed for $895k.

We were willing to go as high as $1.2 million, but were told not to bother. I found out today that it sold for $1.45 million.

I’m not a real estate expert, but I do know a thing or two about economics and at that price point, the economics don’t work.

Buying a home is one of the most important financial decisions you will make. It’s right up there with choosing a school and financing your education, finding a job and negotiating your compensation, and selecting your spouse (who can be either an asset or a liability). I think most people think of the wrong things when they are purchasing a home. Does it get enough light? Does it have a nice backyard? Is there enough closet space? Can I see our family living here for a long duration?

To me, it’s primarily about the economics…because when it comes down to it, you are investing your hard-earned dollars and it better make financial sense. Here’s my idiot-proof guide to buying a home.

1. How fast will it appreciate?

2. Worst case scenario, if you were to lose your job and could not afford the mortgage anymore, could you: A) immediately rent the property for more than the mortgage or B) put it on the market and breakeven or make a profit.

Those are the questions you should be asking.

I hear so many stories of people who lost money in real estate and I’m thinking, what were they doing buying property in Podunk, CA? How many venture-funded companies are in Podunk, CA? Why would anyone want to live in Podunk, CA?

Whereas other areas like Silicon Valley or high-growth neighborhoods…those make sense.

This is our current home, a humble 2-unit property in San Francisco.

It’s adjacent to a very busy and noisy street. Few people were at the open houses. There was no bidding war for the property. We paid $915k. We rent out the top unit which is a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, while we live in the bottom unit which is a 2 bedroom, 2 bath. From Day 1, the economics worked tremendously.

Not only that, one year later, it is currently valued at $1.5 million and climbing since 2 bedroom, 1 bath homes in our neighborhood are being listed at $1.5 million. The point is, you want to buy where there is demand and that demand will continue: metropolitan areas, hot suburbs easily commutable to jobs, cities with good school districts, up and coming neighborhoods.

We submitted an offer yesterday for this 2-unit property in Alameda listed for $958k. We offered $1.2 million and apparently are in the running so we shall see. I’m really nervous about moving out of San Francisco (which would also mean a bit of a longer commute since I work in the city), but this property is only 3 blocks away from my parents and where I grew up. Plus my parents help care for Franco so this would make it easier on them.

Law and Disorder

There has been so much going on, stuff that I haven’t wanted to blog about, which is why you haven’t heard from me. But it’s probably time for an update.

After a lot of back-and-forths, meetings, calls, and consultations with experts, we have retained a lawyer and are moving forward with suing the developer who sold us our home. Last December, half of our home flooded which I blogged about here. I won’t go into the details, but we now feel strongly that the developer was at fault and completely negligent with the remodel, and ultimately, sold us a defective property.

The contractor who is currently working to solve the problem told me that there were gaping holes in the wall which resulted in the water intrusion. We have spent close to $40k on the fix (which is still ongoing). The solution consists of a newly-installed drain system around the perimeter and major water-proofing of our home. We have been living in a 1-bedroom with a 10-month old baby who just started consistently sleeping through the night recently. It has been very stressful. I don’t even want to talk about it, it makes me so anxious and upset. Soon enough, however, we will be back to normal and hopefully the attorney we hired will negotiate an appropriate settlement, and justice will prevail.

I feel compelled to add that we are not litigious people. We tried to work with the seller directly and considered splitting the cost 50/50, but after consulting with a civil engineer and professional contractors, they said that the negligence was so obvious that the seller should be paying the full cost of remediation. He balked.

It has been so weird contacting lawyers and trying to nail down the right one. I don’t know anything about the legal system except what I see on TV and the movies. Let’s just say contacting a lawyer isn’t something I ever want to do again. And even though there are a ton of lawyers out there, it seems like a pretty tight network because there were conflicts of interest every which way. Gah! I’m glad I am a business person.

Will My Baby Go to College?

Our nanny is a Michigan alum and is already indoctrinating Franco in the Wolverine way. It makes my heart swell to look at these pictures because Michigan is a great school. I’d be so proud if Franco went to Michigan or Cal or Stanford, but that is his decision to make and not mine. What parent wouldn’t want their child to be educated and graduate from college?

While I am a fervent believer in education, I also do not think college is for everyone, especially now when the expense does not often justify the result!

I tweeted the following last week and it generated such debate that I wanted to bring the discussion here into my blog, given that education is an important topic that I cover.

Here are my personal thoughts:

College is one of the most important investment decisions a student will make. If, as my Tweet indicates, one-third of college grads do not think college prepared them for employment, then what a waste of money! College is not about attending football games or getting trashed at a fraternity party. Sure that is part of the overall experience, but the only reason someone should go to college is to be a gainfully employed citizen once they finish. If not, why go?!

I am concerned that too many high school students are told that they have to go to college. That it’s simply the way it has to be. I laugh when I hear about all these parents who are shepherding their kids through the college application process. I’m sorry, but if your kid cannot fill out these applications on their own, then they should be repeating high school!

College is the status quo and if you want to break out of the cycle (i.e., 9-5 job, 2 weeks vacation), then you obviously have to take risks and do something different for God’s sake!

Oh but Catherine, you’re screaming right now, that’s exactly what you did. Exactimundo. The “status quo” was the right path for me because I love the corporate life. Coming into work every day, in my cubicle office, to stare at a monitor for hours on end makes me happy. I am doing exactly what I set out to do.

I believe college is worth it if you can get into a top school. Highly-ranked schools are competitive, where you will be in class with peers who are driven and motivated. They have massive alumni networks which you can use to your advantage for internships and your career post-graduation. They recruit the best talent in teaching and students, and that is where the donations flow.

Paying the price of private college education at a low-ranked school is akin to flushing money down the toilet. Sure there are exceptions. Scholarships, financial aid, etc., but I question the value of going to Generic University when your chances of employment are equivalent to or even less than going to a state school.

The college system as we know it is unsustainable. This is a new age where there are many different paths to take, and children shouldn’t feel forced into college and saddled with debt. These days, why not go straight to a paycheck? What high-growth startup wouldn’t want to hire an eager high school grad with a high SAT score?! No college diploma necessary!

I compiled all of the comments from my Facebook feed into the first comment below. Great points and worth a read.

Excited to get other opinions. Please feel free to comment.


I tweeted about this recently, but want to dedicate a post to this product as it deserves all the exposure it’s getting.

I heard about LuminAID through my grad school because one of the co-founders, Andrea Sreshta, is currently getting her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

From the product website: The LuminAID Solar Light is a solar-powered, inflatable light that packs flat and inflates to create a lightweight, waterproof lantern. Safe, Sustainable and ultra-portable, the LuminAID provides up to 16 hours of LED light and can be easily recharged in the sun, ideal for recreational use outdoors or in the home as an extra light source.

LuminAID has huge implications for charitable organizations and bringing light to areas devastated by natural disasters.

Recently, the founders presented the product on the show Shark Tank. They are first up in the episode here. I don’t watch the show, but all five investors wanted to invest which apparently rarely happens. This product is winning awards and getting a lot of recognition. One is on its way to me as a gift for donating to my school. I’ve also bookmarked this as a great, inexpensive present.