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11 Of The Best Things I Learned While Living and Traveling in Europe

Photo by the Author Jacob K Thomas

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The time was coming upon me, I knew my time was short.  How short, no idea.  I just knew I needed to keep in mind, things were going to be changing.

In late 2018, a lot was going on, my relationship with my long-time girlfriend ended, work was work, and I was kind of lost.  I was still being active, I still enjoyed my life in Germany.  I mean I’d lived there for over 7 years at that point.  I knew though that my time there needed to come to an end. 

I wasn’t making any money, my debt wasn’t getting any lighter, even though I loved hanging out with my friends, realistically because of my job, I knew in August of 2019, I had to be back in the states.  With all of that being the case, I knew one thing was going to be true.  I needed to see a few more places before the European adventure ended.

During all of my trips that happened from about November 2018 to July 2019, I realized and learned things I think I knew years ago, but I guess I just didn’t let the thoughts flow as they should have.  In any case, I came to think about the tips and thought.  What proceeds are what I think are the 11 best things that will be helpful to some, while some will say, yea, duh, I knew that a long time ago.

Photo by the Author Jacob K Thomas

1. I was actually OK traveling alone

I’ve done a good number of trips by myself.  What I would call my first real vacation was alone.  I went to San Diego and Los Angeles by myself.  Met some interesting people, saw some cool stuff.  Saw two baseball games and a football game.  That was in 2008, of course, a lot changed from then.  I’ve traveled solo and with people.  From a lot of points, traveled with groups, with a friend, and with a girlfriend.  Once I started traveling solo by choice.  I realized I was fine.  I know how to meet people.  I was able to stay entertained solo.  Not to mention, sometimes you just need that time alone, so you can get to know yourself.

If you ever think, “I can’t travel alone.”  Yes, you can travel alone.  Countless people do it every year.  A survey done by Klook found that 76% said that they have traveled alone already or would consider it regardless of age, gender and nationality.  If you are a female, you may think it’s not safe, but a report done by Overseas Adventure Travel found that 60,000 women traveled solo between 2018 and 2019.  To go along with that, of the 47% who are registered as solo, 85% of them are women.  Also, Pinterest saw a 350% increase in women pinning things that pertained to ‘solo female travel’.

Overall, traveling alone can put you outside of your comfort zone, which isn’t a bad thing.  We need to be challenged, it’s cliché, but what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

2. I worried way too much about money

As I’ve mentioned at various times, I’ve always been in a bad financial place.  Money was an issue.  It stopped me from going out at various times.  It stopped me from doing various trips.  Heck, I feel like, in some ways, it made my last relationship at times harder than it should’ve been.  With that, looking back, it was a mistake.

Now, I’m not saying I should’ve gone out and put myself into more debt, but I should’ve assessed my situation better.  I could’ve come up with ways to make things work.  As I’ve figured out and after so many years of traveling and seeing things.  You can do things on the cheap.  You can still enjoy all of the great places without spending every single penny.  Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Workweek talked about how he was able to live in various countries and do some of the greatest things at a price that would surprise you.

Remember you can experience so many things, don’t let money be the thing that prevents you from doing it.

3. I should’ve taken more time going more places

In line with the previous thought, I feel I may have missed out by not going to more of the places I should’ve gone.  There are a lot of reasons for this happening.  I remember in either March or April of 2019 deciding between Vienna, Budapest, or Marrakesh.  I had a flight in my basket to go to Marrakesh for about $70 roundtrip.  Yes, $70 roundtrip to Marrakesh.  This would’ve been awesome.  I could say I’d been to another continent.  I always wanted to go to Morocco.  I didn’t pull the trigger at that point.  Why?  I was scared.  There are many reasons why I was scared.  In any case, when I did decide to pull the trigger.  That flight price was gone.

I instead ended up doing Vienna, which was awesome, but the point is, take the time and do these things.  I think one of the reasons at the time, was do I want to take more time off.  I had the hours to use, I wasn’t going to zero in my time-off at work.  Americans are horrible at taking their vacation time.  A record 768 million days were left unused in 2017 according to research from U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos.  It’s even worse when you work for the US government because you can roll a certain amount of time over every year.  There have been countless times, I’ve only taken two weeks off or one week in total off because my plan was, I’ll just rack up these hours for a big trip next year.  After 2020, I think we understand we aren’t guaranteed anything.

Take your time off.  Put together that bucket list, or check things off that bucket list.  Tomorrow may never come.  Don’t have regrets about what you didn’t do.

4. Packing light is always the way to go

My first trip to Poland in 2017, was during the summer.  It was going to be a slightly longer trip, say 4 or 5 days.  It was a group of us staying in a shared house.  In packing for that trip, I didn’t know what bag to take, how much to take, etc.  The argument I got into before the trip with my ex about the bag was so major.  I wanted to take a bigger bag because I always had an issue with packing light.  I downsized my bag, in the long run, it worked out and she was right.

During that period along with others, especially after that trip.  I finally understood about packing light.  I still don’t pack as light as I should, but it’s a work in progress.  Jessica from Nacho Average Fro has some really good tips on packing light.  I especially like the idea of deciding on a color scheme or figuring out your purpose.  I used to take so many clothes because I thought, “Oh maybe I’ll do this, or maybe I’ll do that.”  I might have done something special once or twice.  If you are scared about forgetting something, there are enough shops in a lot of places, you’ll be OK.  I know the little voice is making you think of all the what if’s but tell it to shut up.

5. Flying on budget airlines isn’t that bad

We all have our horror stories about a budget airline canceling your flight or giving you some sort of hassle about your bag size.  They also might want to charge you some sort of fee you had no idea about.  All of these things are valid, but what did you expect when your ticket was probably what, $60 or somewhere around there.

You have to have context and look at the bright side.  You spent next to nothing to go somewhere that is probably going to be great.  Not to mention, why are you taking so much stuff?

Photo by the Author Jacob K Thomas

6. Meeting up with friends you enjoy make trips great

One of my good friends and his now-wife decided they wanted to go to Ireland in November 2018.  I hadn’t been to Ireland yet, he’s one of my best friends and when we both lived in Germany, that was my travel buddy.  I of course went and had a great time.

Who you travel with matters and if someone you know well is going to be going somewhere you know you want to go, why not just go?  If you are thinking, “Didn’t you just say, traveling alone is OK?”  Yes, I did, but it’s not like you are going to be with them 24/7.  It’s good to see old friends and get a chance to catch up while experiencing somewhere new.  It’s a win-win situation in my mind.

7. Even if you forget something, you’ll be OK

On that same Ireland trip, I somehow forgot an adapter for my phone charger.  The UK and Ireland have different plugs than Germany.  I normally remember these things, but this time I didn’t.  It wasn’t a big deal, I just bought a new one, then went along with my day.

I understand the fear of forgetting something, but if you do, it’s not the end of the world.  This goes back to packing light.  If you forget something that you need, just go buy it.  Trust me, it’s OK.  When I was in Naples, Italy, not Florida.  I forgot a shirt to sleep in.  I ended up going to this department store that had a sale and bought a simple t-shirt for a few euros.  I still have that shirt and wear it now and then.  I’ve gotten rid of a lot of shirts, that one stays around because it’s actually a good quality shirt.

8. Yes, you can find an English speaker

When you move abroad or are going on a trip abroad, this is always one of the first concerns.  It is a fair concern, but it shouldn’t be.  English is taught everywhere.  A lot of people watch English television shows, listen to English music, etc.

There are some countries where it will be a little bit harder than some, but with translation apps improving so much every day, finding someone who speaks English shouldn’t stop you from wanting to see somewhere in the world you always dreamed of.  Remember what people use to do when English wasn’t as big?  You would walk around with your language book, try to pronounce whatever it is you wanted, or point.  We have come a long way since then overall, though finding someone to speak your language, or in my case, an English speaker, it’s not a concern that should ever stop you from going somewhere.

9. Remember those times with friends, who knows when they’ll happen again

You may think it’s weird that first I said it’s OK to travel alone, then who you travel with matters, now I’m telling you to remember those times that you travel with friends.  It all depends on the situation that you are in.  You can definitely travel solo, but when it comes to actually organizing or deciding to go on a trip with someone, your group matters.

When you do get to go on a trip with a group of people and they are some of your best friends, you need to remember those times, because we aren’t guaranteed anything in the future.  I mean I think about my last trip before moving back to the states, it was to Poland, I got to celebrate my friends getting married.  The entire trip was the perfect send-off after over 8 years of living in Europe.  Good food, great company, the funny moments, and the things you’ll want to remember forever.  Now after a year of not being able to do anything, it makes you wonder when you’ll be able to see those friends again.  The one thing that can’t be taken away though is the fact I had a great trip that was full of excellent memories and moments.

10. Take pictures, even if they aren’t great, they are your memories, not the Instagram followers

Anyone who knows me will agree I like to take pictures.  I think the only person who has me beat in the picture game is probably my stepmother.  In any case, pictures allow us to have those memories.  They allow us to share things with family, friends, acquaintances, mentees, etc.  The issue that I run into that is something that a lot of us run into.  We want great-looking pictures.  Why?  Oh yea, the ‘gram.  I haven’t posted a picture on my Instagram since December of 2019. 

We live in a world where we want perfection.  We want to showcase our life and what we are doing.  Just stop and take pictures that will allow you to share and relive the good times.  Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to take amazing photos.  You should try to take the best photos possible.  You aren’t going to be able to relive that time you went to the Great Wall and it’s blurry as all can be.  The point is, if that photo is a little blurry, an angle is off.  You can’t get something without a lot of people.  It’s OK, take the picture.  If anything, it could be a good reason to learn photoshop and get rid of all the extra tourists.

11. Leave time to just relax, it’s OK to not see everything that everyone says you need to see

I went to Malaga in 2017.  This is one of the best places to go in Spain.  The location allows you to not only enjoy everything that Malaga has to offer, but it can be a starting point to see other amazing cities.  You can go to Granada, Seville, as well as Gibraltar, or if you are really adventurous, you can try going to Morocco and seeing the city of Tangier, which is right at the tip of the country.  There is a boat that gets you from one point to another.  Sounds like fun, right, or you can just relax in lovely Malaga, along with doing a day trip to one of the nearby cities, like Nerja, then maybe go to Granada, if you want.

All these things were ideas that I purposed to my ex when we went.  We had 5 plus days in Malaga, which to me meant, we have 5 days to see all of the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast).  As an American traveler, because of the limited amount of vacation time and that lovely FOMO, we really try to pack way too much in.  My ex had a really good point.  Why can’t we just enjoy where we are, along with a smaller trip to somewhere else.  The fear is that we aren’t going to see the things that everyone tells us that we need to see, like the Rock of Gibraltar.  It’s OK not to see everything.  I went to Amsterdam, didn’t see do Anne Frank’s house.  Have you seen the lines to get into that place?  I’ve gone to Paris, didn’t ride up in the Eiffel tower, definitely didn’t go inside of the Louvre. 

Sometimes it’s nice to just go to some amazing places, see a handful of amazing things, recharge your mind and body, then take those memories with you.  Not to mention unless it’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip, you probably are going to want to go back, then you can go and do all those other things.  I’ve been to Brussels and Berlin probably the most.  Each time I’ve gone and found something new and interesting.  That’s the point, take in what you can.  It’s supposed to be a vacation or a lovely trip to a new place.  Not a race to claiming that you saw everything your guidebook or that website told you that you are supposed to see.

Photo by the Author Jacob K Thomas

What are some things you’ve figured out during your travels?  I sometimes think that these things are probably things that I should’ve figured out a long-time ago, then again, probably not.  A lot of things depend on your life experiences, upbringing, etc.

I hope those of you that can get back out there, and travel are doing so and enjoying, as well as I hope these tips make your next trip enjoyable.  Thanks for taking the time and reading this.

7 of the Best Moscow Mules from Around the World

Photo by Reyhan Meral from Pixabay

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Oh the Moscow Mule, you know the drink, right? Ginger beer, vodka, and some lime. That’s it, that’s the recipe. Thanks for stopping by, we’ll see you next time. OK, there is a little bit more to this.

I was searching around for a Jäger sour recipe, yes jäger sour, it’s a thing and it’s actually really tasty. Anyhow, found the recipe, but next to the cocktail I was looking for, was a recipe for a Berlin Mule. I of course did what any person who sees something that you can’t believe is true. I clicked on the link to find that a Berlin Mule was Jagermeister and ginger beer. I thought to myself, I know there are various recipes for different variations on a mule, but is it possible that a lot of countries, or the major cities of those countries have their own mule? You know the answer to that, right? I decided to explore and present to you the various or at least a few of the variations that I found of the classic Moscow Mule.

The Classic Moscow Mule

Now when I was first introduced to this drink, it was over 10 years ago before I moved to Germany. I actually started making a drink that was similar to a mule, but wasn’t the actual drink. This was vodka, ginger ale, bitters, and lime. A really nice drink on it’s own.

The classic Moscow Mule has nothing to do with Moscow exactly, I mean the original vodka used is said to be Smirnoff, which came from Moscow, but this like so many things was a branding creation. It started on the West coast in the 1940s. Jack Morgan wanted to use his stock of ginger beer at his Cock n’ Bull Club, the new owner of Smirnoff, John Martin’s company had just recently purchased the right had the vodka. A new cocktail was born, then took off in the West coast. Just to mention it one more time, this is how we were introduced to Smirnoff in America, yes, it is funny how that all happens.

Photo by Praglady from Pixabay

I have to say, I’m not a fan of the lime in a Moscow Mule. In Germany, especially at a good cocktail bar, they flavor theirs with cucumber. It provides a more refreshing flavor and compliments the drink overall. In any case, the classic has vodka, ginger beer and lime.

The last thing that makes the perfect looking drink is the proper glass. In this case it’s a copper mug. I’ll be honest, over the years and the multiple times I’ve made this drink, it has never been in a copper mug. Why? I do care about the proper glass for the proper drink, but for me to buy a copper mug for a drink that I wasn’t making that offend. Nope, couldn’t do it. With that being said, the copper mug is the correct glassware for the mule. The main reason is because copper will keep your drink cold, so the combination of the copper, a nice cold cocktail, along with the ginger beer. It’s a perfect match.

As you’ll see below, there are more than a handful of variations of a traditional Moscow Mule, I mean I even have my own take on a Moscow Mule. I’m sure you’ll find one that you’ll like. Pick a few and you’ll have a nice travel around the world by way of the Moscow Mule.

Photo by Alex Plesovskich on Unsplash

Variations on a Mule

London Mule

When I first saw London Mule, I was a little lost, mainly because for some reason I wasn’t associating London with gin. In any case, this take on the original is replacing the vodka with another beloved spirit. In this case gin. A good dry London gin is the only way to go with drink. Replacing the vodka with gin will change the profile, but it is still going to be pretty tasty.

Glasgow Mule

You see Glasgow, you think Scotland. If you see Glasgow Mule, you think a delicious smokey or peaty cocktail. Of course different scotches will have different levels of smokiness. If you are a someone who would prefer to drink their best scotch straight and not use it as a mixer, then go with something on the level of a Glenfiddich or a Glenlivet. Each have a medium level of smoke, but work great when it comes to this drink. To go along with that, a few additions were made to the basic foundation. In this case elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and some bitters. All of these make a nice blend, while cutting back on the smokiness of your scotch. I still think though, if you don’t have any of that, scotch and ginger beer are just fine.

Mexican Mule

The Mexican Mule to me isn’t that crazy of a mix. I’ve made a few different ginger beer margaritas. The combination is just right, you have that nice spice of the ginger beer blended with the orange liqueur and lime juice. Now once you take out one of the margarita components, the orange liqueur. You are left with the Mexican Mule. You’ll want a silver tequila, not to mention a good ginger beer.

Kentucky Mule

You would be forgiven for thinking like I did that a Kentucky Mule is actually a Horse’s Neck, but nope, that has ginger ale along with some bitters. The Kentucky Mule will use a good bourbon, my jam is Makers Mark. I know it’s crazy commercial, but it is a reasonably priced bourbon, which can be used as a mixer, or if you are really not into any of the mixing stuff, then you can also drink it straight. People just like the bourbon on the rocks. I’ve done it a few times, but for our case, ginger beer, bourbon, lime, have a good time.

Berlin Mule

As a mentioned, my foray into all of these different Moscow Mule variations was after seeing the Berlin Mule. I am a Jägermeister person. I enjoy the taste. I’ve had glühwein (mulled wine or hot wine) with jäger, odd combination, yes, of course, did it taste good? Yes, why yes it did. I’ll admit this combination might not be the best of the mule variations, but I will try anything once or twice. I was skeptical about a jäger sour and was surprised, so this one can’t be that bad, right?

Italian Mule

Yes, Italy has its version, you think Italy would be left out of the fun? When I was wondering if they did, I thought what would their liqueur be. When I saw it, I completely thought, duh, of course, Limoncello, then this time, some basil. Those are the elements, those with the ginger beer give you pretty different take. This to me is the lightest of the options, which to me pretty much is proper Italian drink. Think of a spitz, that’s kind of what you have here.

Seoul Mule

The last of the variations, at least the ones that I found brings us to Seoul. Yes, South Korea has their take on the classic. The liqueur of the country is of course soju, then the lime is replaced with yuzu, which is an Asian citrus fruit. The soju is comparable to vodka or tequila, mainly because it is the Asian version of a distilled spirit.

So those are the options, 7 different versions of a Moscow Mule. Which one do you think you are going to try? Whichever one you try, let me know. Leave a comment below or give me a mention on instagram, I’m at @jacobkt225.

As always thank you for taking the time to give this a read. We’ll see you next time.

2021 Goals from the Annual Review

I was happy to do my annual review, so I could to go back and look at my life during 2020.  I should also say that I’m happy to just be writing the follow up to the last post.  My biggest issue most of the time is follow through.  I have recently thought about the ideas I have come up with and never followed up on.  I’ve wondered what it would be like if I had a type A personality.  I just have issues with getting motivated and continuing things.  I generally like to say every year that I’m going to do better and be different, but overall, goals just fall to the wayside.

With all of that, I’m just happy to be writing about my goals for 2021.  I really think I can make this year a productive one in some way.  I’ve gone through and followed the path that Chris Guillebeau has set out as far setting out various goals, deadlines I should make and think about etc.

Just to recap, the annual review and the goals I’m setting for myself are different from resolutions.  Why are they different?  Resolutions are things you where you say, “I’m going to make these giant changes in my life.  I want to get the beach body, I want to drink less, I’m going to run everyday a certain amount of miles.”  The goals you set for yourself are measurable things you want to do.  As mentioned in my other post though, these goals can change.  Even after I wrote down the goals, I realized there was something else I wanted to do and one of my other goals didn’t make sense, so I just changed it.  That is the great thing about doing this type of thing.  You really have a lot of control.

Lastly, checking back in on your goals, seeing what needs to be adjusted, what doesn’t make sense in your plan is a great way to keep yourself honest.  I just can’t say enough positive things about this annual review, if you couldn’t tell.

Now after all of that, here is what I have planned out that I would like to do in 2021.

Polina Zimmerman – Pexel.com

My goals for this year are broken down in the following way:

  • Writing
  • Learning
  • Financial (Saving)
  • Reading

With these being the goals, you then need to setup your measurable goals from the basic goals you have made.  In this case, here is what I have planned when it comes to my goals for writing.

  • Write 500 words daily about something. 
  • This will give me content and allow me to then publish 2 blog post a month. 
  • Write every evening during the week, then in the morning on the weekends. 
  • Take about 30 minutes to just put thoughts out on a subject. 
  • Make a list of blogs that I want to read on a weekly or daily basis.

I’ll be honest, I’ve set these to be goals and so far the only one I can say I’m doing is checking out blogs that I should read on a weekly or daily basis.  The importance of reading other blogs is of course to understand style, get ideas, and just see what other writers and bloggers are doing.  I’ve said before there aren’t anymore original ideas.  Everyone is borrowing or expanding on everyone else’s ideas.

When it comes to learning, I have this laid out for myself:

  • Do online courses or watch videos on photoshop.
  • Practice my photography.
  • Find courses on skillshare and YouTube that help me in editing my photos and create other things.
  • Take my DSLR out on the town twice per week to take photos. 
  • Take photos in my apartment and work on staging as well.

My financial goals are always at top of my mind as well, so those goals are going to be laid out in this way:

  • Set aside a targeted monthly amount to send to a few different accounts.
  • Organize an emergency fund.
  • Analysis my various spending to make sure I stick to my monthly budget.

Reading

  • Read 5 books or more this year.
  • On a daily basis, read for at least 30 minutes.
  • Read 2 or 3 articles per day, either news or some other websites.
  • Read magazine articles, then pick a few articles from my subscribed magazines, take notes on them for reference of what I read.

With all of these goals, I’ve started off OK on some, while others will be a struggle.  As I’ve mentioned before, these aren’t like resolutions, these are things that I want to do, so I can make myself better overall.  For example, I really want to read more.  This isn’t just because I want to, rather it’s good for my growth.  The thing is I have to figure out the right way to get myself to actually get the goal accomplished.  I think I’ve found that with what I have planned out.  Now that I’ve set out my goals, I’ll do quarterly check-ins on what I want to do.  I’ll make adjustments as needed, even remove or add things.  It all depends.

I hope I’ve inspired others to give the annual review a try.  I think it will definitely give you a new outlook on your life and other things in the future.

As always, thank you for taking the time and giving this a read.

Living through a crisis

You walk in and you see empty shelves. You know that you had been hearing about people buying up certain things, but you think, nah, can’t be that bad. You walk into the market, OK, someone is wearing a mask. That other person is wearing gloves, latex gloves.

Let me walk over to the paper isle. I came in here for toilet paper, I’m down to a roll. OMG, it’s real! People are actually buying up all of the toilet paper! I can’t walk down the aisle because if I do, I’m going to start laughing uncontrollably. Not because it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen, but because it is completely outrageous. Why is all of the toilet paper gone? Guess that means I need to go to another store to get toilet paper. Store #2 has some, but the shelves are really bare. Myself along with several other people comment on how incredibly insane this is.

This my friends was the beginning of me living through our current crisis. The entire Coronavirus thing hasn’t really come as a surprise to me. I watch the news. I live in the state where at the time was thought to have the first death resided. Though to be honest, I didn’t know what to feel or think. I just knew this was very crazy everything I was seeing in the overall public reaction.

At work, my colleagues were talking about how they had gone to places and certain things were out, OK, toilet paper. It all started with toilet paper. I’ve gone and read several articles on panic buying. I’ve watched several news stories detailing why and how it’s happening. Let me tell you I get it, but it’s still crazy as can be.

I started writing all of this back in March, when things were just starting to get going. It was still unreal then. Imagine that we are into May, things are still pretty unreal. I’ve been working from home since the middle of March. I haven’t seen pretty much anyone. I didn’t see my girlfriend for almost a month because after we last were together, a few days later, she thought she might have gotten COVID-19. Still don’t know if did or didn’t, should probably mention, I think I had something.

This entire situation really makes you think and wonder about your life and what life has for you. I’ve been watching, listening, reading a decent amount of stuff because I want to. I don’t subscribe to what some people say in terms of, don’t watch all of this stuff, it’ll just make you feel worse. That’s what got so many of us into where we are now. I’m happy to know what’s going on. Though I’ll admit in the last few weeks, I’ve started to not listen to current up to the minute things. I need to keep caught up on my podcast.

With living through this most interesting situation. I feel like I need to reflect on what’s been happening while I’ve been living through this.

Working from Home

My job sent out a survey asking how we are doing during this entire thing. I know this isn’t good to say, but I have to be honest. Working from home is really good. I already get to work from home every other week, so I already knew the benefits of doing it, but what will be soon 2 months of doing this. It’s really awesome! I do feel like I’m getting more work done and have less stress of someone watching over me. I can also say that technology is great in certain expects. We use Microsoft Teams, which is pretty good to use. If anyone I need to contact is around, my job is pretty simple to do.

I’m not overly upset about the personal interactions of an office because I’m still communicating with my colleagues. The biggest difference are those times when it would be better to talk to someone face to face, so you can see body language and facial expressions to get a good feel. I was listening to a story on Marketplace about one of those issues. I will admit this is a negative to it all, but that’s the only one realistically.

Personal Interactions and Going Out

In terms of going out, I don’t. With the fact that America has no real testing procedures setup, I’m good with just staying in and going out for the things I need once a week. Yes, that means I don’t go out for walks, I’m not even opening up my apartment door until the end of the week, or unless I’m getting a package. I’m able to do this mainly because I have a balcony, so it’s not like I’m not getting air or something. If the weather is nice, I like to sit outside on my balcony and just enjoy life that way.

I know some just like to say this stuff isn’t real, it’s just the flu, everyone is just making too much out of all of this, but let’s look at a few things. We have over 37,000 more deaths that have happen due to the COVID-19 than would’ve normally happened, mind you this amount was calculated in April, we definitely over 40,000 now. The fact that we have over 90,000 deaths right now and counting over the last few months is pretty crazy. The sad thing is that we have people who want to be upset at the fact that these numbers are low, or certain areas didn’t have as many deaths as originally projected. I have to say these people are sad and need to just go somewhere.

Now that this rant is over, going out and being exposed to things, isn’t that important. As long as you are keeping yourself entertained and have the mindset that I have, which is, this isn’t going to last forever you’ll be OK.

Shopping and Dealing with other people, Checking on Friends

After the initial shock of going to markets and seeing nothing on shelves. Not being able to find toilet paper and getting over the fact of how I need to shop for stuff. Everything has actually been OK.

My fear at first was, “What if I get Coronavirus? If I get it, I’ll have to quarantine myself, do I have enough food? What if I don’t get better.”

I had these thoughts, plus so many more as the time went on. Once the first few weeks were over and I got into the idea of being at home, I was OK. The biggest change was just checking in with people. I have to say one of the things I’ve read and heard from people is the idea of keeping contact with friends and family. I’ve been writing friends from all over. I really think it’s important to make sure everyone is OK. Not only to check in, but to allow me to keep sane. I really do miss my friends in Stuttgart. I’ve made a few here, but the closeness doesn’t compare to what I had.

I’ve also been checking in with people because the best information you get about what is going on in different countries, states, counties, and cities isn’t from the news. It’s from people who are living it. The one biggest thing that has bothered me during this is when I listen to CNBC, yes listen to CNBC. When I’m getting up for work and during my day, I’m listening to Siriusxm on my iPad. I don’t make time to watch TV until the evening. I digress, Jim Cramer consistently talks about his daughter in Madrid and how she can’t leave the house unless it’s with a police officer. She see’s a police officer whenever she needs to leave. Whenever I hear this, I’m like this can’t be the case. I wrote my friend in Madrid, they aren’t allowed to go farther than a certain distance, but its not like there is an armed officer stopping them from living life.

These are the things that make me just want to know the truth. When you know people and made close friendships. You have to utilize those friendships.

Certain things here in Washington aren’t open just yet, which frankly I’m OK with. I am aware that there is an economic effect to things being closed, but when you live in a liberal state like this. Health is more important than money. Some restaurants have gone to carryout if it made sense for them. I’ve gone to a few places and gotten food here or there. Some of the local breweries are selling beers to go, which I have gladly supported. It’s been good to try out some different things that they have to offer.

Well, this has been way longer than it should’ve been. Guess I had a lot on my mind. I hope everyone is being safe and doing some cool task around their homes. I have been, which I hope I’ll be able to get myself to write about soon.

If you have been doing something cool, let me know. I would love to hear what everyone is up to.

Be safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, be happy!

6 Month Back in the States, Oh My!

It’s been 6 months since I’ve moved from Stuttgart.  It has been a mixed bag of feelings for me to be here.  Living on the West coast of America has been different.  The first reason some might think is kind of stupid, but I find it kind of interesting, especially after living in Europe for 8 years.  I feel like I have more time to do things.  I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have friends.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m 3 hours behind the East coast and everything in America is based off of the East coast, but time seems endless.

I get up early to watch football, the games end, then I can go and do things on a Sunday evening.  I actually like watching Sunday night football, then I start watching random series, because the game is done, then because the West coast has their own separate prime time stuff, I get the best of both worlds.  Like I said, this probably means nothing to a lot of people, but this is cool to me.

Living in Vancouver, Washington has been nice.  I have told people that if this was the place I really wanted to stay.  I would stay here.  I actually do like certain things about this area.  Yes, it is the Pacific Northwest (PNW), which means so much rain, especially right now in the winter and my work hours.  I leave and come out of work, it’s dark and I wonder what am I doing with my life.

What else do I like about this area, the grocery shopping selection in proper American fashion is great, in certain cases.  I don’t know if it’s the PNW or what.  Other than what I was used to with a Whole Foods, bulk food bins are my addiction.  After living in a small apartment in Stuttgart with a not much space, along with at German markets, a lot of things were sold in smaller quantities, I realize I don’t need a lot of things.

With that being the case, the bulk bins are awesome!  My favorite place to go to is Winco.  I have been shopping at a lot of grocery stores, but man the fact I can get almost any type of flour in the bulk bins in any amount, at a very reasonable price is amazing to me.  For me, it’s not that I want to have a lot of stuff, rather I would prefer to have small amounts of things, so if there is a recipe that I have in mind, it’s great to almost just get the right amount of stuff.  Another thing I’m not a fan of is to have a lot of stuff laying around just to go to waste.  I’m also not a fan of having to freeze things.  There is a reason I haven’t bought frozen vegetables in over 5 years.  I’m a person who loves peas a lot, I now just wait for pea season, so I can get them fresh or not at all.

There are a lot of things that I can highlight about being back in America.  Some of which I will detail down the road.  Right now, though it’s a point of reflection after being back in the state for 6 months.  The things I’ve realized I don’t miss or how I’ve realized I’ve changed over being gone from the states in 8 years.  To go along with that, what I currently miss about being in Germany.

How I’ve Changed

Bacon is great, but…

Yes, I’m going to start with food.  I’m a foodie.  I just have to let it be and go with it.  When I was first living in Stuttgart, I was a normal American, eating bacon here or there.  It’s not like I was throwing it back all the time, but my weekend breakfast, or if I was out somewhere.  I would totally love to have it.  Over time, I fell out of a need to have bacon.  The reasons are several.  The first, even though I worked on a US base, where I had the ability to purchase American products.  I really enjoyed the things my host country had.  That meant, about 90% of my shopping was done at German shops.  I mean the percentage is probably more, but I’ll go with 90% just to be safe.  German bacon doesn’t have the same fat content and the way the bacon was sliced was totally different as well.  German bacon is sold and sliced very thin, so those factors, plus you find other really interesting things to eat.  Bacon just wasn’t as important to me.  I would get some here or there, but not as much as I use to.

Driving isn’t great, give me a train or bus

Public transportation in Europe, especially Germany is fantastic.  Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to drive to work every day.  I can’t say how much I would drive.  My ability to take a train to the majority of the places I wanted to see was great.  Not to mention where my apartment was located, I could walk to a lot of things.  When I did my grocery shopping, I would just get up, go to the market get my items and I’d be good to go.  I did drive to a lot of places because it was just convenient, but when I was taking my last few trips, there was no car in sight.  I would leave from my apartment, take the train to the airport, then that would be it.

When you come from a driving culture, you just think you have to drive all the time.  Though Germany has the Autobahn (freeway) and Stuttgart has one of the biggest car cultures, you would still be able to do a lot without a car.   

Walking and being centralized is amazing

I lived really close to the center or downtown area of Stuttgart for 6 years.  It’s not like being in the states in a downtown area, but still imagine knowing you can just walk out of your door, go out for a nice dinner, get some drinks, and enjoy.  I know a lot of people would say that Stuttgart wasn’t the best place, but it fit me really well.  Things were close, there was a lot going on.  It just felt right.  I also learned how nice it was to just walk around.  Not feel confined to a car.  Just going out noticing things around my neighborhood.  There would be days when I would be walking around with my headphones on.  Other days I wouldn’t want to have any distractions.  My distractions were just seeing the city that I lived in.  It was nice being in a city, a place that had energy.  Was it small?  Yes, totally, but it was big enough to be just right.

The Value of Friendships

I have discussed this with many people and the fact that good friends and proper friendships really meant something while I was away.  I have so many people who I really feel like are people I can always reach out to for a long time coming.  I don’t know if it was because of my age or the moment that I moved, but I definitely learned what it meant to meet people.  Learn about them and what they were about.  It’s something right now I am finding is really hard to do.  I never thought about making friends or how easy or hard it would be.  I thought it was something you just did.  Little did I know when I moved back.  I did something way different and special in some ways. 

You don’t need as many things you think

When you are an American, you know that you have the ability to have so many things.  The real question is, do you need those things?  I have really thought about buying certain things, then said to myself, “Do I really need this?”  The answer came out to being, no, I really didn’t need it.  I came to this realization based off of a lot of different things.  One was after I read the Marie Kondō book, then it also hit home when my grandmother passed away.  I ended up selling a lot of my stuff and mailing only the things I needed.  The liberating feeling of not having a lot of stuff was really great.  Now when I’m in my apartment able to not really worry about certain items, has been great.  Let me tell you when you have met a lot of people or dated someone who didn’t have a lot and it was on purpose.  You know that you don’t need a lot of items to make it.  Downsizing isn’t a bad thing at all.

These are just some things I’ve felt I need to share.  A lot has changed while I’ve been back, while some have stayed.  Have you ever lived overseas and now are back in the states or somewhere else?  If so, what have you realized has changed in you once you moved back.  It’s a question I do wonder about, but honestly never reached out to friends to ask them.

I think I’ve just given myself some homework for next time. 

A New Adventure Ahead

It was March 15, 2011, getting ready for my flight to Stuttgart, Germany. The start of the year had been so much on our family. My granddad passed away in January. It was a real shock. This was the first time that a really close love one had died. My grandparents raised me, so when he died, my mom, stepdad, and grandmother weren’t prepared for that.

With all of that, months down the road we knew more changes were going to happen. My stepdad knew something different was on the horizon, him and my mom were off to Germany. I was on the fence about going. I had never been to Europe. Besides random trips to Canada, had never been out of the country. I was working my job at a Hilton Garden Inn in Aberdeen, Maryland. It wasn’t the best job, but I was actually liking it. Though to be honest it wasn’t going well. I wasn’t a good manager. I had a hard time with my employees. I knew how to do certain things, but anyone that really knows me. I’m not a leader. I can do certain things, but leading isn’t my thing.

When it came time to finally make the decision, I knew what I had to do. Stuttgart, Germany was the place to at least give a try to for a few months. I landed late Wednesday afternoon on March 16, 2011. Can’t say really what was on my mind. The flight and layovers were a lot, I guess I was just happy to see my mom and stepdad. It was time to see what being in another country was all about. My plan was to stay from March to November. If I liked it, then I would stay a little bit longer. Fast forward from planning on just staying 8 months, to staying 8 years later, my life really has changed.

Living overseas really is something everyone should do. You learn so much about different things. You learn things about yourself and you can really figure out what is important, as well as who is important. I met so many people, got to experience so much as well, but still didn’t get as much done as I should have. Of course that is life. It’s funny when I would talk to my friends there, especially the American ones, being in Europe, being in Germany, it was like a vacation. To be able to enjoy picnics in front of a castle, that you walked past on a daily basis. Knowing that you are around hundreds of years of history and its not something overly special. Life was just different.

I would tell people that I met when I would come back to the states about the fact you can drink outside was this amazement to me. Mainly because almost everywhere in the United States this is illegal, but to be honest, it wasn’t just the drinking. It was ease of life. In Germany and in Europe you worked to live. You didn’t live, so you can work. In America, everyone lives to work. I learned that there was more to life. Everyday I was able to walk around, not worry about driving here or there, made my heart so happy. The moments I was able to just walk out of my apartment go and do my grocery shopping, then go back out and get a drink with friends. It made me happy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, living abroad wasn’t always the easiest thing. From awful customer service, various times the language barrier just left you frustrated, and the traffic, my goodness the traffic. Being overseas did make me miss certain things about the states. That however got fixed by the fact that it was still different. It oddly felt like home. I had a nice apartment in a decent area of town. I was able to just go out and run various errands without driving. I was happy!

However, with every good thing, it has to come to an end. My work became the reason that I was able to stay in Stuttgart for such a long time, actually longer than I should have been able to. I was going to move last year with my now ex-girlfriend, but again, life doesn’t always allow you to do what you are supposed to do. With the beginning of the year I knew it was time to make a move. That move was spurred on by other life changing events, which I have discussed here. It was time to come back to America and deal with a country that I was still aware of, I mean you have to know what’s going on in the states, you can’t block it out. If you think it’s possible to block it out. You are just fooling yourself. America is like a mob family, you think you are getting out, but you just get pulled back in.

I’m not back in the states, moved to Vancouver, Washington, yes there is a Vancouver in America. Randomly it is about 5 plus hours from the Vancouver everyone else knows. What does this new move mean. No idea, I have to tell you. I just know that right now. I’m missing my friends. I’m missing the Schloßplatz. I wish I was able to just hang out at the biergarten or just shoot the shit with people I felt like were my family.

I hope to one day be able to start another European/Germany vacation for another stretch. It won’t be like the first one, but you can at least try and make the best of it.

Now to get settled in this new life of living to work, but to tell you. I’m working to live a life full of fun. You only have one life, so you have to do what you can to make it great.

The Aftermath, Part II

It has been a very interesting time in the last few months since I wrote about the issues I had to go through in clearing out my grandmother’s house after her passing.  A lot has happened.  For one, I’m no longer in Germany.  Yes, after over 8 years, the time came to move.  This is the biggest thing of all.  Of course, leaving from a place that I thought of as home and now being back in the states is a big deal.

I have so many things to write about that deal with that move.  It’s going to be lot to go back through in my mind and put down.  I’m really looking forward to it all, I guess.  With all of that being said.  I need to recap and actually do a part II of the process of clearing out the house.  That means I get to do an Aftermath Part II, hence the title of this lovely writing. If you need a refresher, you can always go here.

First, let me say taking care of the house and getting the things that got I done wasn’t easy.  It really left me sad, frustrated, lost, and frankly I just wanted to say fuck it.  You really get to understand and find out what you are really made of in times like this.  You really get to bond and see who is there for you.  Who has good ideas.  You also are able to see what people you want to have on your side and those you can do without.

So what happened with everything, you may ask?  Well, I was able to actually get the house completely empty.  Let me tell you the best thing you want to do is have an estate sale.  If you don’t know what an estate sale is, well, it is the best thing you can do to free your soul and your house of things.  As I mentioned before my grandmother had a lot of stuff.  Way too much stuff.  The task of clearing it out and trying to sale things on my own wasn’t going to be possible.  Enter in the estate sale plan.

I found that my grandmother had a lot of cards.

If you do a search of an estate sales, you will find out that there is a decent amount.  I even found out that friends of friends are doing these things.  When it comes to doing one of these, you really want to have the best.  I’m happy that my dad knows a lot of people.  He was able to get me in touch with one of his friends that is a real estate agent.  She then was able to point me in the right direction.  I do have to say, you still want to do the reading of what you want, but its good to have someone that also can give you more insight. This is not something you want to do alone. You need some sort of a team for this.

One of the main things that you want to do when dealing with the idea of doing an estate sale is interviewing multiple people.  My dads’ friend was able to get me in touch with a lady that she knew.  She was able to present me with her plan.  It was all very interesting, however, let me tell you.  When it comes to having someone sale the items that meant so much to you and your family.  You have to have the feeling that the person is the right person.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have that feeling.  I had heard that there was another person, that was the best of the best.  I wanted the best of the best. 

I should mention I did all of this in the last few days I was in the states.  Not something I really wanted to do, but it is what it is.  I just knew that we had to get rid of things in the house.  I went with Bernard Davis.  This is someone who has done estate sales for almost 20 years.  He came over the house, he walked through, then told me how everything works.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of hiccups in everything that was supposed to be done.  One of the main ones is the fact that being overseas and you are trying to move back to the states, not a great time to have your estate sale person cancel on you with a misunderstanding.  Its also not good to have your future renters try to mark way too many things as not being for sale, when you are supposed to be doing a full sale. 

With all of that, Bernard came through.  We were able to get the house completely empty.  Something I never thought could ever happen, but it did!  Now we are onto a new chapter.  This is the fact that I have a house to take care of.  I’m old enough to do this, but I still am amazed at the fact that this is something I’m doing now.  Luckily, I have my mom and stepdad to help me with a lot.  I frankly don’t know what I would do without them.  We have a lot to do down the road.

Now, I’m back in the states.  Its strange to not be enjoying everything German these past few months, but it is also somewhat nice to be back.  There are a lot of stories to come.  Not to mention a lot of lonely times and frustration.  I guess its all the fun you are supposed to enjoy when you are becoming and are an adult.  Have I mentioned, I really don’t like it.

7 Reasons Why I Stopped Drinking & Why it’s Been Better for My Health

Photo by Sergey Galushko from Dreamstime.com

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I was talking to a friend of mine who was expecting his first child. He told me he was doing Dry January because he had drunk enough in December, not to mention he wanted to be prepared and always ready since his wife was going to be due in the coming weeks. I told him, I probably wasn’t going to stop drinking this year in January because I’ve done it in the past and I wasn’t drinking that much in general, so I didn’t see a point. Once I said that and thought about it, I thought, “Why not just stop for a month?” That was the middle of January, now it’s April, which means I’ve done 30 days of not drinking, along with not drinking during lent, I’m not a real religious person, but it is a date to keep up with during the season.

It wasn’t until I really stopped to think about what I was doing and why was I doing it, did I start to analyze my real question. Why and how did I stop drinking for what is now over almost 80 days and counting? It took me a minute to understand why I stopped drinking. The reasons weren’t the normal things I’ve read on different websites. For instance, these are some from one website:

  • You often feel the need to have a drink,
  • You get into trouble because of your drinking,
  • Other people warn you about how much you’re drinking,
  • You think your drinking is causing you problems.

In looking and comparing my reasons to the ones above, this is how I compare.

You often feel the need to have a drink

I pretty much never feel the “need” to drink. When the pandemic started, and I was always at home. I would have a drink here or there, but I had a schedule for when I would drink. It would look like, a cocktail or beer on a Thursday, a cocktail on Friday, beer on Saturday, then that was it. I had that same plan for the last several years. I’m not a big drinker. Yes, when I lived in Germany for a few years, I would hit it hard at certain points, but there were other points when I would generally never touched anything. With that being the case, I never felt the need. It was more of a want or I guess I’ll have a drink because I like making cocktails thing for me.

You get into trouble because of your drinking

I’ve done some stuff that wasn’t the smartest, which I could probably blame on my drinking, but it was never something that was a consistent issue. Those who drink to that point, are always able to track it back to their drinking habit, or issue. This wasn’t a reason for me.

Other people warn you about how much you’re drinking

I really can’t say that anyone has told me I was drinking too much. There might have been some conversations about my drinking in regards to the money that I was spending on it. This was probably the case a lot since I didn’t have that much money while I was living in Stuttgart. That of course meant I was going out and drinking when I didn’t have the money for it.

You think your drinking is causing you problems

Based on my previous year with the pandemic, not to mention everyone else in the world, drinking was the last thing causing me any problems. In total, some people may have felt it was helping them. No, my drinking wasn’t causing me problems. I wasn’t like some people who have issues sleeping. I generally sleep fine. If I drink or don’t, I’m still randomly getting up to use the bathroom. Also, I generally don’t get a hangover. Yes, that’s right, I don’t get hangovers.

Frankly, all of the reasons people stop drinking don’t match up to my situation at all. So, I guess the question is, why did I stop drinking?

In the beginning it was pretty simple and not that profound. I just didn’t see a point in drinking. When I stopped in mid-January it was just to do 30 days of not drinking, like I said earlier after talking to my friend. Another funny part, once I kind of couldn’t remember when I started my 30 days, I went and added a few extra days. Those few extra days went into March. Now it’s April and I’m still not drinking.

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash 

I couldn’t just leave it at that though, I had to really think about why I’m still not drinking, it came down to a few reasons other than what I said above.

I was tired of drinking alone

Like I said before, I don’t drink that much, since I don’t drink that much, means I was only drinking a few times during the week. With that being the case, when I would start to drink, the chances were that I was drinking alone. It’s always a bad sign when you are drinking alone. This also goes to another thought and realization, over the last few years, I was drinking alone, a lot.

When I stopped drinking, it was around the time that my girlfriend stopped coming over and doing Zoom trivia with the rest of our friends on Friday night as well. She actually had stopped a few months before, but still, she wasn’t coming over for trivia. When this did start to happen, I was here at home drinking by myself. Yes, I wasn’t technically drinking alone. I was talking to people online, but let’s be serious. I was drinking alone. When I started to think about it. This was one of the first things I came to understand.

I’m not around anyone who is a serious drinker

This isn’t anything against anyone, but when you aren’t dating someone or around people who are drinking, I don’t feel that pressure to drink. I mean seriously, if you don’t have anyone to share a good cocktail with, and you aren’t around people who understand different beers or something like that. You have to stop and think to yourself, am I enjoying any of this? The answer was simple, no, I’m not. 

I think a lot of people know I like cocktails. I mean my last post was about variations on Moscow Mules. I also have several cocktail books. Heck, my girlfriend bought me this really cool book because she saw I checked it out from the library and thought, why not make it a present for him. However, when it comes down to it, making a drink for yourself out of a great book can only take you so far.

The Pandemic, the PNW weather, no passion

I was talking to my dad about the fact I have some sort of COVID fatigue. That plus the schedule I put myself through for work, and the lovely weather we get here in the Pacific Northwest. All of these things just don’t make me want to think about making a cool drink, or even want to open a beer. It’s weird, people drink when they are depressed as a way to make the sadness go away. I’m different for sure. As the continuing theme of this is, if I have to drink alone, I just don’t see a reason to drink at all.

Photo by Jacob K Thomas

Where do I go from here?

Now that I have thought about why I’m not drinking, along with what is driving me to continue this, my next question is, how long is this going to go on? That one I don’t know. At this point, my no alcohol time has gone through Easter. Something I didn’t think I would ever do, but as I’ve already discussed, what’s the point. I’m not finding any joy in drinking right now, and if you aren’t having fun or can’t find any enjoyment in something, why keep doing it?

With all of this being said, I should look at all of the positives that are supposed to come of not drinking. Of course, you can research and find so many things, so out of the probably 50 things on sites like WebMD or whatever blog you find. Here are the ones that I can at least relate to.

Weight loss

While we are dealing with a pandemic, so many people are dealing with weight issues. The COVID 15 is real. I know many people who are struggling with working from home or just eating poorly for whatever reason. I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. I consistently maintained my weight and since cutting out booze lost several pounds. Even though I don’t drink that much during the week, it became obvious to me that the few drinks I was having during the end of the week we’re adding a few extra pounds. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need to lose weight, but there is nothing wrong, with staying at a low weight. When I was younger, I was so big and frankly, my motivation is always to never be overweight again.

It will improve your memory

I generally have a good memory, I can remember people and things from years ago pretty easily, but I do think cutting out some booze has helped me a little bit. I’m not sure how you measure this on a short-term basis, but I do think I can buy into this idea. Memory issues are something I know a lot of my friends deal with when they drink. The funniest times are when I’ve been hanging out with people and they introduce themselves to someone and I’m like, “You two have met before.”

Less alcohol can help improve your memory, but you need to do more than just cut it out. At least that is my belief, keeping a good memory takes work and you need to find other techniques and avenues to get this task done.

Your body will feel better

I think my body does feel better. Yes, I can’t say if my body is better or not. Why? I think it goes back to the fact that since I moved back to the states, heavy drinking hasn’t been happening like in Stuttgart. At some point, your body adapts to things. Your liver has the power to heal itself, so unless something goes crazy, I can’t say I feel oh so much better. There are other factors that I have to factor into all of this. The main one is the fact that I’ve made myself do other stuff that has thrown off my sleep, so I think that has kind of screwed up the body feeling better stuff.

I can say though in general, if I was to get a body scan or some test, I think the results would be that my body is doing well. I mean I have lost weight, right?

Better mental health

I like to think that I am someone who has good control over everything, so with not drinking, I probably have connected with myself more. I mean I was able to really think and understand why I’m not drinking beyond the simple, “I just don’t want to.”

With that though, I just need to be able to and want to explain this to other people. The biggest takeaway that I took from a lot of things that I read is the fact you do get a lot of interesting responses and questions on why your not drinking. I do just want to be able to explain as I have here. Now, I just need to go to the next step.

Well, at this point, the dry times are still going and I’m fine with it. I don’t feel any pressure and I have also discovered various alcohol-free beers, hell, even bought a bottle of alcohol-free sparkling wine. It is totally more than that horrible sparkling cider crap that a lot of us were given to drink in our younger years. If there is anything that I’m happy to know is that the world is always trying to improve non-alcohol offerings. We need this. 

What about you? Have you stopped drinking after the major boom in liquor sales when the pandemic first started? If you haven’t stopped completely, have you cut back?

As always, thank you for stopping and reading this. Hope you all are making it through these very interesting times.

Looking back and looking forward, My Annual Review

In 2017 I created a post where I went over my resolutions for 2016.  It was a good post, if I say so myself, where I had 13 resolutions for the year.  I achieved 9 of my resolutions.  It was a good year and I was really proud of myself for those things.  I also had hoped I would’ve done another good list and just kept it going.  In reality, as I generally like to say, “Life happened.”

There was no resolution post, I think I might have made a list, but needless to say my follow through didn’t happen.  Overall 2017 was a good year, took a few trips, had a lot of fun things happen.  I mean I was living in Germany; it was always a good time.  In any case, this isn’t about that year, though I do have some great trips to reminisce about, but that’s for another day.  I really thought I would be able to continue a process of goals and making myself better.  After 2017 I didn’t do any resolutions.  I had a lot of things going on, which made me rethink the entire resolution thing.  The good thing about life and how I try to do things is that I always look for something new.  In walk one of my favorite people Chris Guillebeau and his annual review

The annual review is so much better than doing resolutions because it allows you to look back and then look forward.  I think I found about the annual review in 2018, when I first heard about it, I was enlightened.  The idea of the annual review is to find a way to keep yourself accountable.  I tried to do it at the end of 2018, again, life happened.  Now we are in 2021 and after the shit show that was 2020, I needed to keep myself accountable.

I was happy to read that Chris was doing his annual review and was reminding other to do it too.  You can read about his process, as well as do as he suggest.  There is Susannah Conway who I looked up and she created an excellent review packet of her own.  It really pushes you to look back and see what you want to do for the future.

With all of that, it’s time for me to review what happened to me in 2020.  I should mention that is the first part of the review.  You need to look back at what went well in your previous year, then you need to look see what didn’t go well.  Normally you would be doing this at the end of the year, but I’m behind.  The thing is though as Greg Roth tells you on his own review post at the beginning of 2020, that’s OK.  This review isn’t about the time that you do it.  Yes, it would be good to do the review at the end of the year, so you can set goals for yourself before your new year starts, but this is one of those better late than never situations.  I agree with the idea of, you can be reading this in June and start at that point.  Just get this going.

What Went Well in 2020

Finally Financially Stable

Now, yes, I know we are in the middle of a global pandemic.  No one can go out, or rather I should say that we aren’t advised to go out, but you must be able to find some positives somewhere.  The first thing I’m happy I can say is the fact that 2020 allowed me to get financially stable.  What does this mean?  In the 2017 resolution review, I talked about my debt.  My debt was one of the most crippling things.  It was my Achilles’ heel.  If I wanted to do something, if someone invited me out to do stuff, I would say yes, then proceed to put whatever it was on the credit card.  You know the thing you shouldn’t do, unless you are going to pay it off.  My debt was bad, I think it really hurt my ability to proceed in life with as well as stopped me expanding on other goals as well.

Anyhow, 2020 was the year that debt consolidation happened.  In about March or April anytime I had to pay for things on a credit card it has been paid off.  Now I’m looking for ways to get points on my credit card, as well as save money.  You know like an adult is supposed to do.  I mean, I’m not getting any younger, but life is different now and I’m happy to proclaim that my debt is under control.

All those travel photos, plus photoshop are going to use

I’m not trying to create a theme but staying in because of COVID really did make me review things, plus relearn things.  I traveled to 17 countries, while I lived in Germany, took a lot of pictures, as I’ve been reviewing, some were totally better than others.  In any case, I learned about different stock photography websites, where you can submit your photos, then get paid if anyone wants to purchase the photos.  This has been something that has truly been a learning process.  The biggest part of the process is knowing what will be accepted and what won’t be accepted.  I already knew I wasn’t a good photographer.  I think over the last I don’t know how many years I’ve said I was going to get better.

I’ve actually worked on it and I think I’m getting slightly better.  I’m not great, but I’m getting to a decent level.  With that being the case, this is where relearning photoshop, not to mention lightroom have helped.  Knowing how to use these things won’t completely fix really bad photos, but they will help fix minor things, where I’ve been able to submit things and they have been accepted.  Now the next thing is to get someone to purchase them.  That’s harder of course, but the way I see it is, if you provide something, then at least it can be found somewhere.  This is my plan for the photos I’m submitting.  It is going to be a, if you build it, they will come model.  Let’s see if this works out or not.

The stock market is still a thing

The great thing about becoming financially stable is the fact that I could get back into caring about the stock market.  I’ve always been someone who paid attention to the stock market.  I know companies, I know what some do.  I just had no money to invest.  That changed thanks to the pandemic and having a few more dollars.  I didn’t have a huge killing, but I was able to earn something.  This just makes my goal for 2021 to be higher and hopefully things will work out.

The stock market isn’t something that’s easy and you should be careful, but there are resources to utilize.  I’ve just decided to not be afraid of it.  If there is anything to know, you need to get yourself out and do stuff.  Not to mention, one of the best plans is to just get a good savings account and stock away money there, but interest rates for savings accounts are horrible, so none of have any chose but to invest in the market.

What didn’t go Well in 2020

Reading just isn’t my thing

I think every year I say I will read a certain number of books, then I end up accomplishing 1% of my goal.  Last year, I read 3 books, which is better than the previous year I think, but who knows.  I do like to justify this lack of reading books by pointing out I read articles in magazines, newspaper articles, and other random things.  However, reading books is important.  I was so bad I barely listened to any audio books too and I have an audible account just sitting around.  Figuring out when and how I was going to read is the biggest issue. 

Didn’t practice photography

Now I said that I found stock photography websites to post things, but with COVID, somehow my practicing and using my DSLR didn’t happen as much.  I somehow hit a creative wall with my camera.  I found myself using my iPhone more than anything, plus doing things on photoshop and lightroom.  I also decided I want a new camera, but a new camera isn’t cheap, especially when I want a pro model.  I’m going to figure this one out, so I can get better and product some amazing things in 2021 and beyond.

These are just some of the highlights of things that I feel could’ve gone better and did go well in 2020.  Some of these things might not seem all that good or bad, but I prefer to not complain about how I couldn’t travel.  Though I will mention I was supposed to go back to Germany in April, but of course that was totally cancelled.  I can say I’m happy to say I did get refunded back for that flight.  THis was after I had to reschedule it from another date originally that wasn’t going to happen.  Getting the refund back was the best thing that could’ve happened.  Especially after I was saying how happy I was to be financially stable and all.

Thanks for reading this part of my review, the next part is the goals for 2021.  Even with everything going on, I want to make this one a constructive and memorable one.  We know all of the problems we have, but we have to work on the things we can control and make them better.

What do you need

During this lockdown, self-quarantine, self-isolation, stay at home time. I’ve done a lot of interesting things. I’ve decided I wanted to relearn a few things. I’ve cooked, a lot. Boy have I cooked a lot.

I’ve also not gained a lot of weight, yes, I’ve maintained a reasonable weight during this three six month time. I get up every morning, get on the scale, and just hope. Thankfully even though I’ve been cooking a lot, doesn’t mean, I’ve eaten like a crazy person. Not to mention, I go for daily walks around a lot of random places in the city. I’ve done a lot of urban hikes and found a lot of randomnesses.

With all of that, there have been those things, I just know I need to get when I’ve gone out for my once a week shopping. After reading this article in the Washington Post, I thought about the things I’ve always needed. To go along with this, I’ve thought about the things I decided I really wanted to make or learn to do when it comes to my cooking.

To go along with that, I’ve asked a few of my friends what they’ve realized they always need when they’ve gone shopping, or what they learned to do, or cooked.

Some of these will be just like everyone else, yes, one of those breads is going to be mentioned, sorry. I think we all just wanted to see if we could do it or not. I mean, I really wanted to see if I could do it. I looked for a regular recipe, found one that I was really confident would work for me, then I just followed the steps. I was so happy when it worked out.

Other things, hopefully won’t be too cliché, well it probably will be. I mean in today’s internet age, nothing is original. Go and do quick search for an idea that you think, oh yea, I have this great idea, should be great. Yup, it’s been done and probably done in a great way. I’ve thought, “Oh, I wanna make this cocktail.” I go to Pinterest, it’s been covered, like 10 times. I know there are still some original ideas, but you really gotta work to make sure it is original.

I asked a few friends for some things they were cooking or buying. I was so happy when a few got back to me. With that, let’s look at what they were doing. I hope everyone is inspired to examine their habits and maybe it will show you something about yourself.

Sarah from Stuttgart Steps

My friend Sarah from Stuttgart Steps is a great tour guide and an excellent cook. The 8 plus years that I lived in Stuttgart, she would host some amazing dinner parties. I learned about a few different cuisines, especially when it came to understanding cooking kosher foods. The times were great and in the times that we are in now. I totally miss hanging out with her and her husband, not to mention our other friends. It was a true family feel.

When it came to how she was making it through COVID-19, she put it this way:

I was probably more aware of COVID-19 as a threat as I’d traveled to visit family in California in mid-January and returned to my home in Stuttgart, Germany, in mid-February.  As a result I started stocking up on essentials at a time where people thought I was being a bit of a paranoid prepper.  

As always I relied on Rancho Gordo beans, although despite my prepper profile I had a few bags so didn’t think to re-order early, which meant I did go through a couple months of rationing their amazing black beluga lentils, which make the best dal makhani.   I was very happy I’d brought back some artisanal sausages and pepper jellies from California to supplement cheese plates which was lovely on our balcony as the weather during German lockdown was unseasonably sunny and pleasant.

I did receive a sourdough starter from a friend, and despite being quite good at making challah, I had some sourdough disasters.  What I learned was the leftover starter that results from “feeding” is the best part of the whole ordeal.  I now have sour pizza dough in my fridge and freezer at all times, ready to be rolled out for pizza or flatbread when the occasion calls.  Crumpets were the best discovery – no additional flour needed, and they are the perfect breakfast pastry and didn’t require any additional flour at a time where flour was scarce.

My smartest purchase was at the Stuttgart Markthalle the day before true lockdown started.  I got a hunk of amazing aged parmesan and a slab of ‘Nduja, a soft, spicy Calabresiean sausage that adds a delicious richness to flatbread, pasta, or even a basic marinara.  We don’t eat a lot of meat in our home so having these two flavor accelerants could make otherwise simple meals rise to something sublime, and they last forever in the fridge.  

. . .

John Stewart

My friend John is a really cool guy. I met John after I had lived in Stuttgart for a few years. I would see him at various things randomly around town. It wasn’t until I had lived in my apartment in downtown Stuttgart for four or five years after the fact, that I found out he lived really close to me. John and his wife have just hit a year of marriage, so you can imagine how it was for them to be living through COVID-19.

John is an American from North Carolina, while his wife is German. There are some, myself included that say how important it is to have someone who is from the country that you are living in, especially in a pandemic. This can be a friend if you are in a relationship, or if you are single, then get into a relationship with a German, or someone in whatever country you are in.

I asked John, “What were you thoughts during all of the lockdown stuff? Were you worried or chill?”

His response was pretty interesting:

Hmmm….well at first I was always Skiing for the first time. So [it] wasn’t in my normal surroundings. And honestly it seemed like the world was crumbling around us and we just decided to keep [on] skiing because you never know. We were there through their close on the last day.

When we came back we were a bit scared because her father got a bad cold and so did I. Tested negative for COVID-19, but before we knew, it was kinda scary.

We never lost our cool though. Time together did wonders for our relationship.

John enjoys cooking and has a lot of wonderful ideas. While going through everything, he and his wife were cooking and gardening. They were gardening, even ended up growing some strawberries, plus getting in touch with his southern roots by frying up a nice looking chicken sandwich. Not to mention making cinnamon rolls, which is pretty awesome in Germany. Finding good American type desserts like that is pretty much impossible unless you are in Berlin or Munich.

. . .

Just a few examples of what some people are doing to get through these crazy times. What have you all been doing? What things have you found yourself always doing or just in need of?

I am baking up a storm and will continue to be baking through all of time. One thing I’m learning about and continuing to experiment with is what can I freeze. Baking stuff and freezing things for later is pretty cool. Just make sure to mark what is you are freezing. Nothing worse than thawing something and realizing it’s totally not the right thing.

Hope you are all are making it through this most interesting time. Thank you for taking the time and stopping by.

The Best Gin Watermelon Basil Smash

Wait, it’s September, which means summer is coming to an end? Even though the summer might be coming to a close, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a great summer cocktail. During the summer I generally have two things around, some watermelon in my frig and some fresh basil that I’m growing on my balcony or somewhere in my apartment. My favorite drink is a Gin Basil Smash, which I was introduced to while I lived in Germany. The Gin Basil smash has of course basil and gin, which when done right, creates a delicious cocktail, where you won’t even know that you are drinking gin. It’s seriously a great introduction to the gin hater. I know, I didn’t like gin years ago after one of those bad gin experiences.

Now how do you turn a signature drink into something more refreshing? Add some amazing watermelon to it. When I decided to make this cocktail, I also decided to add a special touch. To really kick it up a bit and if you are interested in adding it or can find it, add some lychee liqueur. It provides a nice touch and builds onto the flavor of the watermelon quite well. If you want to add it, go ahead, if you don’t, you still will have a great drink. I mean you can’t go wrong with watermelon and basil.

The good thing about a drink like this is even though summer is coming to an end, you can find watermelon for a little while longer, depending on where you are in the world. In America, watermelon is seriously around all the time. For a drink like this, it would be preferable to have a good ripe in season watermelon, but if that’s not in the cards for you, the other ingredients in this drink will definitely make for a great tasty drink.

I hope you enjoy making this, it definitely a very straightforward drink that will get you in a relaxed mood. Cheers!

Gin Watermelon Basil Smash

  • 2 dashes Orange Bitters, optional
  • 6 Basil Leaves
  • 3/4 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 3/4 ounce Simple Syrup
  • 2 ounces Watermelon Puree, see note below
  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 1/4 ounce Kwai Feh Lychee Liqueur, optional
  • Watermelon wedge and/or Sprig of Basil, optional

In a rocks glass add ice and set aside. In a cocktail shaker, add the first 4 ingredients and muddle until fragrant. Add gin and watermelon puree. Fill shaker with ice and put the cap on. Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds, or until the shaker is extremely cold.

Strain cocktail into your prepared rocks glass, pour lychee liqueur on top, if using, and garnish with watermelon wedge, and/or basil if using. Serve immediately.

Note: For watermelon puree, take about 1/2 cup or more of fresh watermelon and blend until smooth. Strain out pulp and use the remaining puree for a cocktail. Any remaining puree can be used for another drink.

Figuring all of this out

Where do we start? How do we start? Do we even bother to start?

What are these questions and what is the point of these things? I’m not really sure what to tell you. The events of the last several months have made a lot of us think and wonder about the world we live in. People are getting fired, they are quitting, you even have brands and companies rethinking various positions that have been widely held for a long time.

For me, I have to say this has all been very interesting. For one it has been interesting because with the various protest, hard feelings, changing of minds, realizations that old ways of doing things aren’t right. It has all been very eye-opening to me.

My dad and I were talking and we each were talking about whether we’ve had run-ins with the police. I told him about the time I got pulled over in 2001. Yes, 2001, I’m very fortunate to be able to actually say I actually haven’t had to deal with a lot of situations where I actually felt profiled. Though in thinking about various moments living in Germany, going to other countries. I have had that feeling of being the black person in a predominantly white place.

With all of that, I have always just moved on and not worried about it. That in all reality is my nature. I can easily admit I’m oblivious to a lot of things. Some of this is on purpose, while at other times I just don’t understand or I’m just not aware of things. Call it my own lack of understanding, or lack of knowledge.

In any case, I’ve consumed so much in the last few months, podcast, articles, etc. If you combine all of the protest and social unrest with the fact of, oh yea, we still have the Coronavirus happening. You kind of know we aren’t in a good place.

With so many companies wanting to remind us that they support black lives, they are against racism, oh, and they think they should have more black people, or people of color (POC) part of their workforce. I really can’t say where all of this is going to go. I just hope the best will come out of this craziness.

As I said I’ve consumed a lot of information in the last few months. I’ve talked to several people about things. Heck, my work had a diversity call. I’ve decided I want to leave everyone with some things I’ve listened to, which really touched me. Our world and our life isn’t OK right now. We all are going to need to work really hard to fix the issues we are all encountering.

Conversations on Race and Wine with Julia Coney

The first thing that I listened to that jumped out to me is a podcast called The Food Blogger Pro. This is an interesting podcast where their main focus is on providing information on how to food blog. Though in this episode, they invited on a lovely lady named Julia Coney, who is pretty awesome in her own right. Julia is a black wine blogger, who has been around in the blogging world for quite some time. Her appearance on this program was very enlightening. Especially as she explained how it is to be a black person in the world of wine.

Code Switch – Why Now, White People?

NPR’s Code Switch has been doing talks about race, issues of racist and really providing interesting background and information for anyone who wants to listen and learn. Pretty much any of their shows in the past month or so is required listening, but this particular episode is a must. Especially as they try to understand, why now.

Marketplace – How does race fit into intro econ courses?

Something I listen to all of the time is Marketplace from American Public Media (APM). It is a daily show about the economy. Kai Rysdal has done some very interesting stories, but the interview he did with Gary Hoover, who is the chair of the economics department at University of Oklahoma, really jumped out at me. To be a black person in various fields isn’t easy, but when you pretty much know the field of work is racist from the start. It can’t be easy. The interview was a fascinating look into what he has learned and is trying to teach to his students.

Planet Money and The Indicator

Last, is a mix of two episodes, both are from Planet Money from NPR. Would you believe that getting a paper published on how ideas have been stunted by racism and life could be such a hard crazy task to accomplish. Well, it was, like to know how long it took? How about 10 years. Planet Money and their sibling podcast The Indicator highlighted the task.

These are some very interesting and what I like to think of as being thoughtful things to listen to. The issues we are dealing with right now aren’t going to be solved overnight. Rather they are going to need to be solved with proper thought, planning, and genuine open dialogue. Not to mention openness to the issues of what we have all had to deal with. I read a wonderful book called Strangers in their own land. The author spent several years in Louisiana and got to know a lot of people, who were very conservative, but they did try to understand some issues.