Friends of mine know that I’m all about “FIRE” – Financial Independence Retire Early. When I switched over to software engineering I finally made much more money than what I tend to naturally spend per year. FIRE became a goal that I’ve been working toward quietly in the background (I mean there’s only so many times you can say ‘oh yeah I just throw everything in index funds and wait’).
I’m not sure when… maybe in the past year or two, my friends started to talk about the future as well. The reality of life without children means that we’ll have to be more strategic about what our old age will look like. It was proposed that we basically pull a Golden Girls and try to live nearby so we could help each other out. This would ideally be on a large plot of land where we would have plenty of space for hobbies and animals. Somehow it got the name “The No Kids Roundup Ranch.”
I’d been curious about Asheville for a while now, but this particular visit became a little bit of a scouting mission to see if the city would be a nice place to retire.
Things one can do in Asheville:
Join a drum circle – every Friday night in downtown Asheville, quite a scene!
Birdwatch – Not really my thing but a few of my friends really enjoy identifying birds.
Visit a brewery – A few months ago Ryan and I were at our neighborhood brewery and happened to sit next to a friendly man who raved about Asheville’s beer scene. We promised the man that we would drink lots of beer on our trip. Regretfully over the course of a whole week in town, we only made it out once – and it was a cidery too.
Sunbathe on top of a mountain – We met a retired couple from Wisconsin on this hike. They said retired life is great, which was a relief to hear.
Do nature – Blue Ridge Mountains, nuff said.
Cocktails – If I lived in Asheville I would definitely be a regular at Antidote. It’s in a former pharmacy, and while I didn’t want to get my hopes up, I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and tasty their drinks were. The staff were super friendly too! A++
Hunt for ghosts in the graveyard – I skipped this one, but my friends went out to see the lunar eclipse.
I’m happy to report that the food scene is poppin’ in AVL. Most everything we ate was tasty, and thankfully there were many options outside the usual Southern fare. Even the hot chicken place we went to had veg options.
Trendy tacos and queso at The White Duck Taco Shop. They have taco fillings like banh mi and Thai peanut chicken, lamb gyro, jerk chicken. You get the idea. Quirky!
This could be a nice place to retire (we saw so many people of retirement age having a great time). It’s a little bit sleepier than I’d like, would require driving, and I had forgotten how it felt to be the only minority in a room. Also, houses are surprisingly expensive near the city. No place is untouched by the housing rush it seems…
2022! Here we are! Due to the pandemic 2020 and 2021 have melted together into one great big fuzzy blob of time in my mind. But I wanted to think back and appreciateÂ all the great things from last year. 2021 > 2020, and I can only hope that 2022 is even better…
Highlights from 2021…
Seeing Live Shows Again
Our first show since the start of the pandemic was in October with Big Freedia – an auspicious start! Since then we’ve been able to see Rufus Wainwright, the Magnetic Fields, Talib Kweli, Bob Dylan and John Waters.
Ryan got a car! He had his sights set on a Prius, and when we went to the Toyota dealership everything we saw was sold out. So Ryan bought the single car that was available on a boat coming over from Japan. We named it Yoshi.
The lovely fall weather got me in the mood to pick up the needles again. I spent an afternoon inputting my yarn inventory into my Ravelry account, and I can’t say that it’s any better than having an excel spreadsheet, but I’m glad I did it.
I decided to knit some of my holiday gifts this year, and stumbled across this hat pattern which is definitely a holy grail for holiday presents – fun to knit, fast, low yardage, and very cute.
I had to block the hat in order to get the lace to pop. I don’t have a mannequin head, so I tried using a kettle bell. Worked out ok, lol.
I kept running after my 10k, and ended up running the Rocky 10 mile race in November. Now that I’m running decent distances (up to 12 miles), I’ve been able to take more interesting routes. I’ve been running down by the historical stuff, all the way across the bridge to Camden, but usually down to Fairmount Park, where all the races are normally held.
I’m done! But nobody told me I have to wear retainers at night for the rest of my life. Oh well.
New Restaurants in the neighborhood
In the fall the floodgates burst and a slew of restaurants that I’ve been excited about finally opened. Mostly I’m excited about having more lunch options.
Goldie Falafel – Vegan falafel place. The falafel has been solid, but the tehina shakes have all been divine. I’ve got to get one every time.
Middle Child Clubhouse – A local outpost of a popular sandwich shop. They’ve got a vegan sandwich called the Phoagie that tastes like pho in a bun. Very satisfying.
LMNO – Baja cuisine. Really sexy spot with delicious food that tastes clean. Unfortunately it’s pretty expensive, so more of a special occasion place?
Hook and Master -It’s a seafood/pizza place with 3 different styles of pizza. But more importantly, there are tiki drinks on the cocktail menu! While I don’t think it truly qualifies as a tiki bar, I’ll take it. As people have heard me complain before, wtf with the lack of tiki in this city. There are no tiki bars here.
Primary Plant Based – I was sad when Cadence closed, but this is a replacement that I’m much more likely to frequent. Cadence was delicious but also more of a special occasion spot.
Making new friends
In Austin we made a friend. We were only there for a long weekend!! It was then that I knew that we had to up our friend making game in Philadelphia, Covid awkwardness be damned. One strategy that we’ve been implementing has been to become “regulars” at a local bar. We looked at the bars in the neighborhood and picked one that felt like somewhere that locals would go to during the week. Then we just kept going, at least once a week. We’ve met some interesting people, and nothing exactly has panned out from that, but the bartenders now recognize us and we aren’t carded anymore, so we’re becoming regulars. With the latest wave of Omicron we’ve tamped this back, but we’re going to keep trying.
We’ve also met nice folks at the dog parks, and have even gone so far as to exchange numbers. But it’s really taking that next step where it can fall apart…
We got to know our neighbors when Ryan wrote a post on the NextDoor app complaining about illegal dumping in our neighborhood. Our neighbor responded, and next thing I knew we were out having dinner with them.
We’ve had much better luck meeting people through other people we know. Cool people know likeminded people, I suppose. Best of all is that a few of these people live only a few blocks away from us, making it much more likely that we can bump into each other in the neighborhood and make casual hang out suggestions.
I have gotten better at putting myself out there when I feel like someone might be receptive to friendship. It doesn’t feel so awkward anymore to just say “Hey I think you’re cool, let me give you my number. We should hang out sometime.” But like I said the next step of scheduling something… well that’s been trickier to navigate. I am trying not to take it personally when a potential connection peters out/doesn’t take.
Spooky season was back in full force this year. We went with our new friends to the newly revamped “Halloween Nights” at the Penitentiary. Ryan went on a bit of a spree buying museum memberships, and we’re now members of the penitentiary. Love that place.
We also went to a terrible karaoke bar full of college kids in order to meet another friend, but the manager of the neighboring bar came up to us and whisked us all away to a Squid Game themed bar! I felt like a celebrity.
Last but not least – Travel / Family Friend Time
In March Pravi came and visited during her holiday leave. Restaurants and bars were still not open at the time so we didn’t do anything crazy. Just hung around and drank and watched silly movies. It was just nice to have her around. Oh, actually I guess we did sensory deprivation tanks for her birthday. That was wild and kind of messed with my brain.
In April we popped over to NYC for Ryan’s birthday. I can’t believe that I live so close to New York and never go.
Then in May we went down to Austin to visit Pravi since she’s at Fort Hood. Austin was magical as usual, but this time I did feel sad for the locals. Their city is ruined by partiers. I’m sorry Austin!
In June we visited Jill and Brett in Georgia. Jill always seems to find the good in where she lives. Hyper local stuff, historic spots and such. Makes me feel like I should try harder with Philly.
In September my mom visited. I was worried about Delta mucking up her visit, but the stars aligned. Everything was open, the weather was beautiful, and Philly was on its best behavior. I felt a small sense of pride being able to show her around, and the trip definitely left me feeling a little more positively about the city. One of my favorite things about my mom is that she will roll with most situations. Now I will never forget taking her to the local burlesque and seeing Flintstones striptease. And Ryan will never forget either, no matter how hard he tries… 🙂
For Thanksgiving Jill and I visited San Francisco together. Amazingly everyone I hit up was around and available to hang out. Miss my friends there, but San Francisco was still pretty much the same. I ended up making a vegan Wellington for Thanksgiving, which turned out really nicely.
For Christmas I went to Los Angeles. Finally got to see my mom’s new house, and it’s really nice! I also came home with a suitcase full of classic video games, Pokemon cards, and beanie babies to sell on ebay.
Jill and Brett visited Philadelphia again. More things were open than when they visited last year, and we had a small cocktail party. Then we drove up to Maine for a few days to celebrate the New Year.
I don’t have any travel pinned down yet for 2022, but I’m hoping to be more intentional about it, and really make an effort to see people this year.
My birthday is at the end of November. It’s kind of a melancholy time, surrounded by the stress of Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season. A few years ago I started to go on birthday trips. Game-changer. Going out of town gets me out of my head and while of course I can’t avoid taking stock of my life, usually the trip reinforces my choices, helping me feel ready to deal with my family’s criticisms come Christmas.
Last year I went to Mexico City. In years past, Vancouver, New Orleans. Sometimes I have a particular place in mind, sometimes not. This year Budapest came up as an option on Google Flight’s Explore feature. With a flight price of about 600 from SF, and AirBNB prices of 30/night, it was a no-brainer. After a little googling, I also decided to tack on a trip to Vienna, since it was only a few hours away by train.
Only downside? A long flight, but of course that can’t be avoided. I packed 5 beauty masks from my Allure Beauty Box. I used the first one on the flight from San Francisco to Zurich. This one is to depuff your eyes!
A couple of weeks ago I headed up to the Seattle area with my friend Alyssa to visit Jill and see what her new PNW life is all about. She asked me to bring a little taste of the SF coffee scene as her present for her boyfriend Brett’s birthday. Four pounds of coffee ended up getting me stopped and screened at SFO security. The TSA agent was SO confused. Oh it’s coffee? And another one… and more coffee…. and.. more? 😀
Got in Friday evening and had to drive back the hour and half to the island where they live. Stopped off at a distillery for a yummy dinner. As a tourist, I felt like I HAD to get the local liqueur flight.
The Bonfire Toffee Liqueur was THE BEST. Sweet and ridiculous. Great poured over vanilla ice cream. Probably also good in your coffee.
On Saturday we went whale watching. Basically it all looked like this for three hours. Iphones galore.
The whales were out and about, thanks to Jill’s A+ work summoning the whales with her super powerful whale tank top.Â
We saw some good breaches and some whale tail action, but the real star of the day was this massive Stellar sea lion reigning over his harem. He was taking a nap at first, but as we rode by, he staggered up, looked around, and started showing off for us. Good job Mr. Sea Lion! Rock that girth!
Pooped out after all that hard work whale watchingÂ 🙂
Later we got to visit the naval base where Brett works. I learned about the controversial “Sky Penis“, which has its own patch and Christmas ornament, apparently. I really wanted a photo with the patch.
We went out for mussels at this local dive that had some amazing taxidermy.
Then a romantic walk on the beach for sunset (it was like 9pm). Well, not so romantic… we were kicked out by a grumpy park ranger.Â
I slept on the couch in the living room and woke up to this serene scene every morning.
On Sunday we went to a local park for a cookout celebrating Brett’s birthday. The morning started misty, but things cleared up by the afternoon. We explored the park a bit before and after.
Deception pass bridge
The same bridge from a distance
Top of our little trek. Awesome view, right?
Ran into a log that looked like a bear head.
We headed back home on Monday, and got to take the ferry back as part of the shuttle ride. The ride was only 15, 20 minutes max, but they had so many puzzles out on the tables for riders to work on. Alyssa went nuts working on a puzzle at Jill & Brett’s house, so of course she was pretty psyched to find them out in the wild.
On the shuttle ride back to the airport we saw a guy drinking matcha from a rubber cup.Â He carried around a thermos of hot water and kept topping up. It seemed like a precarious situation, but kudos to him for doing what he wanted?
I hadÂ a few hours to burn at the airport, but luckily I get Priority Pass membership with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which gives me access to a bunch of airport lounges. Spent the time drinking free manhattans and eating a fantastic tuna melt. Great end to a great trip.
It’s been five trips, so it’s time to finally talk about the Aer Travel Pack.Â Bags are already pretty personal, but my time with this backpack has really driven home how silly all these ‘The ULTIMATE Bag for Travel’ posts are.
This bag is almost perfect… for me. It may be terrible for you. It just depends on your priorities, and how you like to travel. Here are the things that I consider when purchasing a bag, more or less in order of importance to me.
Style / Quality
Comfort / Weight
I would say that it’s like dating. You have all these grand ideas about what you want, but you have to try lots of things (people? bags? hmm that just sounds wrong…) to see what’s really important to you. And you never really find ‘the one.’ But you find ‘good enough’ and you decide if you can live happily with the tradeoffs.
I can’t say that I drool over the look of the bag. It’s big and black and burly, kind of handsome in a utilitarian way. But at least it’s not hideous like some bags out there *cough cough*. Some people may be drawn to this look. Ryan in fact has bought quite a few bags that fit the ‘black cordura utilitarian urban man bag’ description. So of course he likes Aer a lot. I think he has like 5 of their bags.
I may be on the fence about the style, but the quality is top-notch, no doubt. This bag is so well thought out for my particular style of travel (one bag/backpack/usually air travel/using under the seat space only). They’ve made this bag tough, with foam padding everywhere, which really gives the bag some structure, along with protecting the goods. OMG no more floppiness!!! And there are compression straps too! And a zipaway water bottle holder! But with all these rugged materials and padding comes weight…
Time with other travel packs has made me realize that organization is the most important thing to me. I fucking love this bag’s pockets. Man, there are a lot of pockets. There’s so many that at the beginning I forgot where I put stuff, which sounds bad for traveling. But once I had used the bag for a bit and had mentally established a place for every item I normally pack, ooooh it feels so good. Here’s how I use my pockets:
Bottom shoe section -This section is lost on me. I wrap it up and totally ignore it. If I did use it, I would complain about the positioning, because it makes it awkward to use packing cubes. Maybe this would be a good place to put dirty clothes or swimsuits, like a built in laundry bag? Only caveat here is that there are two holes in the bottom to let stinky shoes air out so things can get wet if you put this bag down in a puddle.
Front bottom pocket – My computer charger brick goes here, along with various charging cords. It’s a tight fit.
Front top pocket – This pocket goes all the way down to the front bottom pocket. My clutch size wallet goes here. I also stuff teabags in here.
Top stash pocket- My cell phone and headphones, passport.
Organizer panel – This is the droolworthy section. Keys, magazines, pens, snacks, NintendoDS… This section is large and deep, going all the way to the bottom of the bag. Aer’s official photo of this panel really shows its potential, so here. Look at those pockets.
Computer panel – Just my laptop, occasionally a magazine. I forget if this area is off the ground, but it’s definitely cushy.
Inside – I throw my packing cubes and toiletries here.Â On the panel zipper you see to the left – I usually throw my Nintendo DS game cartridges or my contacts there. No particular reason why, they just seem to fit well.
This is the only bit to give me pause, and it’s a biggie. This bag is heavy at 3.7 pounds just for 33L of space. And it’s bulky AF. I’m five two, and according to Aer’s website photos, this bag is for tall super hip tech bros going about their urban lives. And even on them the bag looks a bit much*.
There are so many ways they could lighten this bag up without sacrificing features. Mostly by removing a lot of the cushion. I don’t need this thing to be bombproof. Maybe the laptop section, but everything else can go. Like the top grab handle is just overengineered. I don’t need all that. The sides of the backpack don’t need foam padding all the way around. The entire organizer panel does not need to be foam padded. My clothes will be fine.
Fitwise, the only thing that I really noticed was that the straps are about a half inch too wide for me. It bugged me at first, then I forgot about it. Oh, also the top adjuster straps are basically useless. They kept coming undone. This bag would be golden if it had some sort of hip belt to distribute the weight, but alas… Let’s just say that you will feel the weight of this bag. It’s not terrible, but it will slow you down.
Okay I got this as a birthday present, but I think the price of $220 is totally reasonable for a bag like this. I have no idea whether or not this is an ‘ethically made’ bag like Cotopaxi, but it is a San Francisco company, so yay?
What it’s like to use
The travel pack doesn’t hide away its straps like many travel bags do, so it makes it not ideal for checking. But I don’t check bags anyways.
Most important to me – it fits underneath the airplane seat!! The computer panel and stash pocket are accessible from the top, which is important when stuck on a plane. When I took my Cotopaxi bag, the computer zipper was on the side, and it was a nightmare getting things in and out, which I do like every 20 minutes.
Whenever I got to my destination, I would take my items out of the front organizer panel and pockets, then leave the bag unzipped like it was my own dresser drawer. That was nice.
It’s not perfect, but I think I can deal with a little weight for all the organization happiness that this bag gives me. Maybe in the future Aer will make a lighter, possibly smaller version with a hip belt.
*An aside: Aer you need some more women on your site. With these super masculine brands (DSPTCH also comes to mind), not seeing any women modeling the bag is unwelcoming and made me question whether or not the bag would fit my body. I honestly would have bought this bag a long time ago if I had a better idea of fit.Â