I’ve used my money in many ways during my adult life. Some things were a waste of money. Others were worth the money. This article is not about those things. This article is about the things I bought that were worth much more than what I paid for them.
Some things you buy just overdeliver in every aspect. You can’t help but rave about them to anyone who will listen. These are my favorite purchases from 2012 through 2016.
I’m not afraid to admit that I was a huge fan of Ace of Base when I was in high school. It was the first music CD I ever bought. If Ace of Base became a metal band, I think it would sound a lot like Amaranthe. They are a Swedish metal band featuring three vocalists, each singing in a different style: one with female clean vocals, one with male clean vocals, and one with male death growls.
Liv Kristine was the lead singer for Leaves’ Eyes until 2016 when a divorce shook up the band. I’ve been a fan of Liv Kristine for almost 20 years now, since her days with the band Theatre of Tragedy. Out of all six Leaves’ Eyes albums, King of Kings might be the best one yet.
It’s easy to like music from Within Temptation. It’s symphonic rock with a metal edge, but also bordering on pop music. The latest album Hydra features guest vocals from metalcore singer Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage), rapper Xzibit, symphonic metal vocalist Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), and alternative rock singer Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum). There are also bonus covers of Imagine Dragons, Lana Del Rey, Passenger, and Enrique Iglesias.
Týr is viking metal the way it should be. The band is from the Faroe Islands and sing many of the songs in Faroese. I am a new fan of Týr, but I have read opinions from many fans that Valkyrja is their best album yet. I believe them.
Nightwish is a Finnish symphonic metal band. Their latest album Imaginaerum is one of those few albums where almost every song could be a hit single. Robust with a wide range of different styles of songs, I’ve been listening to this album for years and it still hasn’t gotten old.
I don’t read a lot of fiction books, but I was excited to read this one. It’s a story of a father and son trying to survive several years after an apocalyptic event that destroyed all life on Earth. Only a few humans are left alive, subsisting off of a dwindling supply of canned goods and cannibalism. It’s a bleak tale of survival in the darkest of times. And it won a Pulitzer Prize.
Influence, by Robert Cialdini
This book will change how you see the world. After reading the book, you will see all the marketing tricks corporations use to get your money, all the techniques sales people use to make the sale, and all the ways other people try to influence your behavior. It is effectively a book on mind control.
A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
I first heard about the Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel series from the popularity of the Game of Thrones HBO television series. When I watched the pilot episode of the television series, I knew I had to read the books. In 2014, I read all five of the published books of the series–all 4,000+ pages. Now I’m still waiting for the next one.
The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs
This is a humorous write-up documenting author A.J. Jacobs’ year spent trying to live as closely and literally as possible to the teachings of the Bible. Interesting for religious and atheist alike, the results of his experiment are hilarious and thought-provoking.
The 4-Hour Chef, by Timothy Ferriss
Okay, I have to admit that I’m a total Tim Ferriss fanboy, but seriously, each one of his books packs enough information to change your life several times over.
Smooth and pleasant with an earthy dark-roasted aroma.
Balanced and aromatic, this is probably the single coffee that I’ve purchased the most over the years.
Bulletproof Coffee is not so much a type of coffee as it is a way of taking your coffee. The idea is that when you wake up in the morning, you drink black coffee with MCT oil and butter added, and you feel wonderful and clear-headed for the rest of the day. I’ve doing this for the past several weeks, and I think they’re on to something.
I’ve had truly great coffee before, but never of the Geisha variety. Geisha coffees are the most sought-after variety by coffee connoisseurs. If you ever get to try it, taste it black with no cream or sugar at first. Chances are, the coffee itself would be so pleasant that you wouldn’t want to add anything to it.
Blue Mountain Dark Hollow (Arrington, VA)
Like syrupy sweet dark molasses. Oak aged imperial stout.
Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu (Milton, DE)
This is an ancient brew recreated from ingredients found in clay jars at an archeological dig in China. It tastes like Belgian ale with strong grape aroma.
Founders Breakfast Stout (Grand Rapids, MI)
I love stout beers. The darker the better. Founders Breakfast Stout is a winter ale that’s so good that I even bought the T-shirt for it when I visited their brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It stands as one of my all-time favorite stout beers.
Epic Brewing Smoked and Oaked (Salt Lake City, UT)
Once in a rare while I drink a beer and just have to go out and buy more of the same thing. Smoked & Oaked was so impressive that I went back to the store the next week looking for it, but it was sold out. I never did find it again, but will buy more than one bottle if I ever do see it again.
Samuel Adams Norse Legend (Jamaica Plain, MA)
This is not the type of beer I normally prefer, as I tend to like really dark stouts, but this Sahti beer is really growing on me. In fact, I already drank about 5 bottles of the stuff (and I’m someone who rarely buys the same beer twice).
What do I do now? Put all your habits into the Balanced App. Each time you complete a task, just check the app to see what your next task is.
After acquiring digital photo organizing software Picasa in 2004, Google went to work integrating its features into its web platform. The integration is finally complete, and it is impressive. Google Photos allows you to upload your entire photo library to the cloud free of charge. It provides full image search capabilities, and will even analyze your photos and videos to automatically create collages, videos, and stylized photos.
I take a lot of notes and do a lot of brainstorming on various documents and spreadsheets. Google Drive enables me to take all my notes everywhere I go, and also not be bound to Microsoft’s proprietary office formats. Moving all of my documents to Google Drive also made investing in a Chromebook a much easier decision to make.
I own a Kindle e-book reader. I own a Kindle Fire HD. However, I’ve come to realize that I need neither, as long as I have my iPhone. An iPhone with the Kindle app installed does everything that my Kindle Fire HD can do, and more.
This is the one program that can digitize all of your paper. It works with PC and Mac, iPhone and Android, and others. All your information is stored on a cloud so it can be accessible from anywhere and from almost any device.
Yen’s Cafe (Ashburn, VA)
Traditional Taiwanese cuisine served in a gourmet American style.
Kukai Ramen & Izakaya (Portland, OR)
One great thing about the Pacific Northwest is all the wonderful ramen shops. Kukai is one of the best ones I’ve tried. They serve beautiful and tasty ramen noodles that are unmatched on the East Coast.
Texas de Brazil (Fairfax, VA)
When I feel like steak, and lots of it, my first choice is always Texas de Brazil. It is a Brazilian style churrascaria, serving all you can eat grilled meats along with a gourmet salad bar.
A Taste of Burma (Sterling, VA)
Everything about this little restaurant impressed me, from the friendly service and simple decor to the delicious dishes and immaculate presentation. A Taste of Burma serves up traditional Burmese food in a way Western folk will find very appealing. Every dish is worthy of trying and will not disappoint. The one dish that I ordered more than once was the Fermented Tea Leaf Salad, which I think is a very special dish.
Phil’s Bar and Grille (Saugatuck, MI)
We were still talking about how good the Broasted Chicken was even weeks after our vacation to Michigan. And this is also a good place to try the famed Michigan Lake Perch if you’re a visiting tourist.
Cupcake Black Forest (2014 California)
It really is decadent. Big, bold, and luscious. Lots of flavor.
Marquis Philips Shiraz (2008 Australia)
It tastes of juicy cherry and blackberries and finishes with a bold mahogany tang.
14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon (2012 Washington)
I was gifted the 2012 edition of 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon, and was blown away by how big, bold, and sweet it was.
Reggiano lambrusco le grotte (Italy)
Imagine mildly sweet Champagne made from red grapes. Lambrusco is my new favorite entertainment and entertaining wine.
Chromebooks are not for everyone. They don’t run Windows or Mac software. But I love my Acer Chromebook. It’s small, lightweight, and boots in seconds. If you’re like me and do most of your work on the Internet and Google Drive, you might also love a Chromebook.
This has got to be my most useful gadget ever. It’s a computer, a camera, a notebook, a flashlight, and a myriad of other tools. A Swiss army knife of electronics.
The FitBit Charge HR is a low-profile wrist band that I use mainly to track sleep quality and water intake. It also tracks how many steps you take in a day and estimates calories burned. I don’t use it to track steps anymore, but I use it every night to monitor the quality of my sleep.
So simple to use and easy to clean that I blend things a whole lot more in the kitchen now. It sure beats the Cuisinart food processor we have that is so hard to clean and so unwieldy to use that we never use it. Blending food is fun again.
As far as blenders go, this one is the lightest, simplest, and easiest to clean that I’ve ever used. It made close to a hundred smoothies for me with ninja-like precision and ease. Now I’m considering getting rid of my Cuisinart ice-crushing blender and Cuisinart food processor. The Ninja does both functions.
I have been to Taiwan numerous times, and one of my favorite foods has always been the Taiwanese Fried Chicken. Searching online, I was able to find this recipe, which I simplified and adapted for my busy family:
Marinate 1-2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs in a mixture of ½ cup soy sauce, 2 tbsp rice wine, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp 5-spice powder, 1 tbsp white pepper, 1 tbsp garlic powder. Add peanut oil to a big wok, about 1-inch depth, and heat it up. Get a big bowl and dump a mound of potato starch into it. Crack an egg into the chicken and stir it up good. With tongs in one hand and a spoon in the other, cover each piece of chicken in potato starch, then carefully place it in the hot oil (if it splatters, lower the heat a tad). After all the chicken is in the wok, fry about 5 minutes, flip over with the tongs, and fry another 5 minutes on the other side. Line a big bowl with paper towels, place the cooked chicken in with the tongs, sprinkle with more white pepper and garlic salt, serve.
Jude’s Chuck Roast recipe
A recipe from The 4-Hour Chef (featured above), this is so simple and foolproof to cook, and so delicious. Here’s the shorthand recipe exactly as from the book: “350F 2½-3 hr: Cook 2½lb chuck, 1 can beef broth, 1 can French onion soup, 1 can consommé”.
Societe Roquefort Blue Cheese (France)
I didn’t know cheese can be so strong, yet creamy and smooth.
I bought a big bottle of Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum to share with family for Christmas and it was a massive hit! We were adding it to eggnog, adding it to Coke, and drinking it straight, and couldn’t get enough of it. We don’t have any heavy drinkers in the family, but nonetheless, the bottle now sits half empty.
I love chocolate of all types, but Nói Síríus Traditional Icelandic Chocolate was especially impressive. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it just seems richer and more flavorful than other chocolates.
Last summer I took the family on a vacation to Pennsylvania. This time we tried something different. Instead of going on a standard road-trip and staying at a different hotel every night, we booked a cottage all to ourselves at Sweetwater Farm. This was our home base for excursions throughout the region, and the kids really loved it and want to go back! Our stay at Sweetwater Farm will be a model for all future vacations we take.
My first cruise ever, and a whole lot of fun. We brought the kids (ages 6 months and 2), and it turned out to be a life-changing experience for the 2-year-old.
These are small individually wrapped sweet pu-erh tea bricks. The tea is very drinkable and aromatic. Adding some Chrysanthemum flowers to the pot enhances the taste.
Disclosure: Links to Amazon.com are affiliate links