Journal Entry 350- Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – Big D’s Retirement Party

Last week my family celebrated my dad’s (Big D) retirement party over the July 4th weekend. He worked at the Post Office for 32 years before retiring. My brother rented a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee that was literally in the middle of the mountains. It was a really nice place with plenty of room for my parents, my brother’s family and Sarah and me. It had a pool table, which I believe I had the best record. 😉 My dad was actually the best skill-wise, but there were a few games I managed to win regardless. We actually ended up cooking in the 3 nights we were there instead of going out. Saved money and we could just chill at night and drink vs worrying about everyone going in the same car and trying to find somewhere to go. The area was actually CROWDED beyond what I was expecting. It is certainly a heavy tourist attraction. The roads around that area were also insanely steep and windy. You couldn’t drive much more than 20 MPH over certain roads.

During our two full days there, we went to Dollywood one day, which is a really massive amusement park there created by Dolly Parton. A quick aside, Dolly Parton is like a hero in this area. Personally, I was looking forward to going but quickly realized there was not a whole lot to do there because I don’t like roller coasters haha. It was a nice place to walk around and there was a ton of food, but it was also about 100 degrees. Appetite just doesn’t really shoot up in those conditions and everyone was sweating A LOT just walking around. Sarah and I did get some dipping dots though which were on point. Abbey, my little niece, was also too small to ride most rides without supervision and she was even turned away from certain rides even with a parent. My brother and sister-in-law (Justin and Rebecca) were nice enough to pay for everyone’s tickets, which were not cheap. That night when we were chilling at the cabin, I saw a black bear walking down the street. My dad also saw it and at the time we were on two different floors. Neither of us got a picture because the woods blocked our view. Really cool to see though. Another quick aside, Black Bears are a BIG DEAL in these parts. Clearly, they are numerous in this area and are seen as somewhat of a mascot in this area.

The second day we were there, Sarah and I went to the Titanic Museum. That I enjoyed. It was a nice place with some really interesting features. Not the cheapest museum though at $30 a piece, but we had fun. Later that day, my brother busted out a surprise for Big D. A Post Office Pinata, that my dad got to smash to let out years of frustration for a poorly run organization, which is sadly only getting worse. Unfortunately, my dad did not really enjoy most of his time there and dealt with a lot of BS during his time there as well as long hours. That’s one reason why we wanted to have a big party for him and then certainly allow him to smash the hell out of pinata representing it!

Sunday we had to clean the house before leaving at the early checkout time of 10 AM. We drove through Downtown Gatlinburg before heading back and it was a cool place. Luckily traffic was not bad so early. We also stopped at a really nice viewpoint of the mountains before officially leaving. The drive back was not fun though. It took about 9 hours to get home for a trip that should have lasted about 6 and a half hours. Traffic was INSANE. Luckily, I took the next day off as a chill day at home.

Overall though, the trip was really fun. I can definitely see doing a trip similar to that each year, where everyone can meet up for a few days being a really a good idea.

 

Journal Entry 344 – SCOTLAND

For the past week, Sarah and I decided to go to Scotland for our First Anniversary Trip. It was really an awesome experience! Scotland looks and feels like “Lord of the Rings.” The landscapes have mountains, rolling hills, green grass, flowers, lakes, rivers, livestock, small houses and huge castles strewn across its land. One of the most picturesque places I have ever been to. That was also my first trip to Europe, so I think we picked a good place.

We were able to see a pretty decent sized piece of Scotland for the time we had, which was about 6 nights. We started in Edinburgh for the first two days and toured the entire city. Edinburgh has a ton of history and very old building structures that are still in use today by several pubs, restaurants, and stores. We walked everywhere in this city and even did a “Harry Potter” tour. Apparently, J.K. Rowling wrote the first 5 books in Edinburgh and also got much of her inspiration from the city. Edinburgh Castle was also massive and nice place to visit.

After Edinburgh, we went to Hertz to rent a car. It was a relatively painless process and for four days with insurance cost us about 364 pounds or $473. Unfortunately, the pound in the United Kingdom is worth much more than the U.S. Dollar. This meant Scotland was not a cheap place to visit, but it was a vacation so I didn’t let it bug my frugal mind too much. I will say though that driving in Scotland (or Europe) is an eye-opening experience at first and not to be taken lightly. You drive on the other side of the road, the signs are different and it can be pretty scary. Driving is largely a subconscious activity once you know how. I consider myself a talented driver and driving over there will take some getting used to. This trip was based on driving though as we wanted to visit several places. It would not have worked without driving, so I mastered it pretty quick.

After we got the car on the third day, we went to Stirling Castle. Stirling Castle was an awesome place with a rich history. A very important Stronghold in Scotland. Later that day we also visited William Wallace Monument. A huge and very steep tower dedicated to the Scottish Hero. It had both his Claymore (two-handed sword) and Robert the Bruce’s Sword. Really cool to see. Once you made the very long and steep climb to the top, you were treated to a pretty awesome view.

The fourth day we went to Loch Lomond and then hiked (or should I say climbed) a mountain that was part of the “Three Sisters” in the Glencoe area. After a 3 hour hike, we drove to Corran and stayed at a hotel that was right on a lake. It was a really nice place, but the restaurant near it was closed so we had to drive about 15 minutes to the next closest town to eat dinner. Scotland has a lot of small towns and windy roads. It is very easy to get lost. I do want to mention that before hiking we stopped at a cafe for food and I got a Smoked Salmon Sandwich with Cream Cheese. Not going to lie, it was one of the best things I ate there.

The following day we left and headed up North to Inverness, which is the city you can reach. Before Inverness, we stopped at Urquhart Castle. A castle that was a ruin, but had a great view. Many castles are positioned on the very edge of a cliff for defense purposes. It also gives a tremendous view of the area. After purchasing a decent amount of gifts from the shop here, we passed by Loch Ness and then finally hit Inverness. A much more moderate city than Edinburgh, but a nice one. It featured some pretty nice shopping centers that we went to and had a more modern castle in the middle of the city. We did visit this place as well. For dinner, we went to “The Castle Tavern” which was built in the 1700s. We tried Haggis for the first time here and I honestly thought it was good. Haggis is made from sheep intestine or stomach (gross I know), but its a local delicacy. It tastes kind of like sausage. We also went to a bar afterward for some drinks.

The next morning we had breakfast at the “Rona’s House”, which was the B&B we were staying at. Funny enough the owner of the house has a daughter that lives 20 minutes away from where we currently live in Virginia. The B&B was very nice and I had a Full Scottish Breakfast here with some of her homemade bread. Sarah had Museli with yogurt and fruit. This started the last day of our Scotland trip.

We drove down to a distillery called Dalwhinnie and did a tour of the Whiskey they made there. Interesting process. We also bought a “Game of Thrones” themed Whiskey there. Apparently, 8 Distilleries in Scotland each have a house from the show. Luckily we got the best House, “House Stark” from this distillery The reason they were House Stark was that it is the coldest Disterlly in Scotland, which is fitting of the North the Stark’s are from. After this, we hit a Chocolatier run by a French couple, which was too expensive and not great, unfortunately. We then hit our final castle tour, which was called “Castle Menzie.” This was referred to as a “Tower House” and was literally in the middle of nowhere. The closest town was Aberfeldy, which we randomly stumbled upon once leaving. The owner gave us a pretty interesting History lesson, about the Clans of Scotland and said most of the Castles in Scotland were actually called Tower Houses. These differ from the more well-known Castles because their location is more centrally located inland, not surrounded by huge walls and were mainly Clan houses that acted as defense from other Clans. Scotland as a long history of warring Clans (different families) that fought over pretty much everything.

After the last Castle, we drove back to Hertz and turned in the keys, which marked the end of the trip. We stayed at a Hotel near the Airport for our last night and paid for some overpriced food from the Hilton Hotel restaurant. It was just far too convenient not to stay there because we could walk to the airport. We had a shuttle flight to Dublin, then the main 7-hour flight from Dublin to Washington DC, then a 3-hour drive home. We got home around 7:00 PM. However, that would have been 12:00PM Scotland time. Scotland is 5 hours ahead of us, so we lost that time on the front of the trip and gained it back at the end. This meant we were pretty hungry when we got back as we had been up for a very long time.

Here are some final points I will end with:

  1. My favorite part about the trip was the scenery and history. It really was an amazing place to see. Some places look better in photos than when you are actually there. Scotland looks better in person. It just has a different “feel” to it than the U.S. probably due to the very old history.
  2. Driving is essential here. If you really want to see the country, then you need to get out of the major cities and not spend too much time there. That being said, driving is NOT FUN at first. You will need some time to adjust and it can be scary. Once you do get the hang of it, driving and seeing the country is a pretty rewarding experience.
  3. The travel there and back was not fun. The 5-hour time gap can mess with you big time and you can expect to lose a full day from travel from the U.S. Unless you are lucky enough to get a direct flight there, which would be IDEAL. It would cut travel time and headache in half.
  4.  The food was good, but not great. Sarah and I both agreed it would be rated 7 out of 10. We stuck to local places and really tried to order local Scottish fare. Haggis was good, but not amazing. The Meat Pies were both of our favorites. I think I had some form of potato every single day. Scotland also has a ton of Oatmeal bars. It has very few “high protein products”, such as protein bars, protein powder and stuff I normally like. This is very different than the U.S. Also, the coffee was horrible. I will come out and admit it. Toward the end of the trip, I just stopped drinking it and I drink A LOT of coffee. You basically had to brew your own and I really didn’t care for it. Also, this country does not have Ranch dressing haha. Dear God what a sin.
  5. The Local Beers were excellent. I had at least two beers a day from the draught menu and I really looked forward to those each day. I drank way more beer than liquor (hardly drank any) and almost no wine. This is mainly because Scotland certainly doesn’t specialize in wine and I was trying to get the “Local Fare.” However, still rare for me as beer is usually the lowest on my totem pole.
  6. Scotland is expensive. There is no getting around this one. The country uses pounds, which are more valuable than the dollar.
  7. The internet is spotty here.
  8. The countryside was my favorite by far.
  9. Some people say Scottish people are really nice. I certainly noticed that in some cases, but nothing out of the ordinary. I think it’s pretty similar to America in that its mainly based on the personality of the person and not a general rule.
  10. Certain peoples accents were so thick, I could barely understand them.
  11. Would I come here again? Absolutely. I would prefer to visit Ireland or England as well though and maybe even first. I would certainly do some things differently the second time around, especially with the travel piece, but would certainly revisit. We had a blast and time FLEW BY.

Sorry for the very long post about I had a lot I wanted to get down in this post!

Journal Entry 328 – 2018 Recap

This was by far the busiest year of my life. Let me try to make this in a list format in chronological order:

  • Shifted departments at work.
  • Traveled to Greensboro for an epic Rehearsal Dinner and Wedding.
  • Marriage!
  • Honeymoon to St. Lucia.
  • Moved out of the apartment of 1.5 years.
  • Bought a house!
  • Moved into that house. (A lot of work)
  • Bought a Shicon (Shih-tzu and Bichon) and named him Luke! (After Luke Skywalker)
  • Became a Wine Club members at Cooper’s Hawk. (Free bottle of wine each month.)
  • Benched 225lbs for the first time in years.
  • My niece Abby was born!
  • Bought a PS4. My first game system in 5 years.
  • Bachelor Party for my friend David.
  • David gets married in October.
  • Washington DC trip.
  • Coming soon this year:
  • Bachelor Party for a good friend of mine.
  • Another very good friend of mine will be married at years end.

This is a long list. I’m really hoping this year is much more laid back. Now that we are in the house and settled, I think it will be a much less chaotic year. I do have a few personal goals I would like to achieve this year. Again not in any particular order:

  • Learn to play the guitar. Aiming for 30 minutes a day.
  • Bench 250lbs by years end and get 225lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps easily.
  • Drop down to 175lbs again.
  • Stress less and relax more. Should be easier this year.
  • Listen to music more often.
  • Read more books. I like books where I feel like I’m learning something.

There is probably more than I am thinking of here, but this is all that is coming to mind. I have always wanted to know how to play the guitar, especially the electric guitar. It is not an easy instrument to learn, but if I do it every day for 30 minutes to maybe an hour I think I’ll make good progress. Sarah has a list of goals as well. She definitely wants to start eating better more consistently, so that is another goal for 2019.

Journal Entry 323 – Finance

The end of the year is approaching very quickly. I can’t believe the Holidays are almost here. Very busy year overall and I have spent more money this year than any year to date. A first house will do that to you. That being said my Net Worth is still looking pretty good. Similar to writing this blog, working out and eating well, personal finance is a huge topic of interest for me. My interest in personal finance is what led me to my current job, to begin with. My current job has taught me a tremendous amount about the financial industry. I’m not an expert compared to some people but consider myself strongly inside of intermediate territory. I could compile all you would need to know into finance in a few simple tips:

  • Get out and stay out of debt. 
    • This one is probably the most important. If you understand this, then you likely have your ducks in a row. Don’t get behind on credit card payments, don’t buy a car you can’t afford and have $3-400 a month payments with interest or any other instrument of debt. Many places offer financing on just about any expensive item and you want to be wary of this. Financing implies you will be paying interest and this means more money you have to pay then the initial cost of the item. BEWARE.
    • A mortgage is somewhat of an exception because paying off a house is unrealistic for most people.
    • I have talked to some very smart people and some of them still haven’t grasped this concept, which is shocking to me. Do you really need a $40000 SUV with huge tires when all you do with it is commute to work or the store? – Probably not.
  • Invest in a 401(k) ESPECIALLY if you have company match (free money)
    • Be a loyal employee. It costs a lot of money to hire people and the longer you work somewhere, show up and do a great job, the more the company likes and invests in you.
  • Invest in a Taxable Account
    • Taxable accounts are the new savings accounts in my opinion. You can withdraw the cost basis (the money you put in the account – after-tax) tax-free and the money will grow far more (investment earnings) than it would sitting in a checking/savings account.
  • Keep 3-6 months of savings in your checking and savings and move the rest to a taxable account or other savings account
    • The value of your money in checking and savings accounts actually loses money each year due to inflation. Keep an amount that feels comfortable to you here, but save the rest.
  • Beware Lifestyle Inflation
    • This is a tough one, because it kind of happens automatically. Lifestyle inflation is basically earning more and spending more to match it. For example, say I got a $25000 annual raise. Most people would go “Hell Yeah” and spend it all by getting a bigger house and a nicer car even though they were fine with what they had before. Some of this is just the way society is set up as it is highly materialistic. Smart people take this money, pay off debt, invest it (which essentially means you will earn more money down the road) and live the same way they were living before. Quality of life is the same before the raise, but their wealth would increase tremendously.
    • Image result for fight club you are not the thing you own
  • Get rid of things you no longer use.
    • This is actually a very underrated tip for saving money. I shudder at the thought of hoarding. I’m possibly the only person in my family that is a minimalist or non-materialist. When your house becomes piled up so high with crap, you don’t even realize what you have any more. We don’t live in a third world country, therefore, we do not need to collect goods as if our life depended on it. Clean out your house and really go through everything you have to see if you truly need that item. Odds are if you don’t use it every day and haven’t seen it in years then you don’t need it. This doesn’t apply to pictures or family heirlooms, but mainly to excessive clothing that you don’t wear or any material goods, decorations that you would be better served getting rid of.
  • Buy Quality over Quantity
    • This may sound like I’m recommending never to buy anything. This is not so. I mainly recommend getting all of your debt paid off and your savings in place (investments or savings should be automatic. There should never be an excuse not save each month. Set up savings like you would an automatic bill payment). When you do buy something, make sure it is a quality item. This is something you would use daily or use for a long time before replacing, but it is also something you can afford. Never use financing to pay for a small item. Obviously, I don’t recommend buying too much quantity of anything, unless you actually need the volume of what you are buying. Buy nice things within your means, not a lot of things.
  • Appreciate Money
    • At an early age, I learned to appreciate food. As a fat child, I learned that it was through food that I was grossly overweight for my age and height. From that day forward, I manipulated food to achieve my desired effect. Which for me was to be slim. I have gone through one hell of a learning curve with food and can honestly tell you that when I eat something I appreciate what it is doing for me. I look at cheat meals as something I have earned and the rest of the time I choose foods that I know are benefiting me. (Protein, healthier fats, low sugar, green vegetables etc..) I only learned to appreciate food after it became scarce, however. The same is true of money for most people. Most kids or people even have no concept of what it means to appreciate money. Personal finance is not even a required class in school. (frightening thought) So when most kids graduate college in mountains of debt, then get a job that can barely pay the bills, money then becomes scarce. THEN they appreciate money. Unfortunately, it takes going through this for most people to “wake up” and truly appreciate it what money is and how to manage it.
    • Other people that don’t follow the rules above are in the same boat. They could make plenty of money and still be broke because they are truly idiotic with their spending habits.
    • You also have people on the other side of the coin that are so rich, money is no longer appreciated. It just becomes what Leonardo Di Caprio coins “Fun Coupons) in Wolf of Wall Street. Something to waste on material goods. This mindset can lead you to ruin down the road if you are not careful.

This actually ended up being a lot longer than I thought haha. I may add this under a new article. Ideas just kept hitting me as I was writing.

My strength is stuck in a plateau. Going to bump up the protein and calories by 2-300 to see if this helps. Other than that been keeping it pretty low carb still and my weight is hovering around the 178lb mark.

Sarah and I went to DC last week, which is why I didn’t post. We met up with my brother and his wife, as it was my sister-in-law Rebecca’s birthday, Sarah’s birthday and little Abby’s birthday on Halloween. She was much bigger than the last time I saw her! It was a fun time though. Sarah and I went to a few museums and then ate out at some local restaurants. On Sunday, we drove back and chilled most of the day and then went to Red Salt Chophouse and Sushi with Sarah’s parents for her Birthday dinner. The Sushi was great. I got Batman roll and Black Russian roll, mainly because I like the names.

 

Journal Entry 275 – Chicago

Life:

Last week Sarah and I went to Chicago to visit my brother Justin and his wife Rebecca. We haven’t been up there since he moved, so we wanted to visit his new house. Awesome city though. I have been to a few big cities and Chicago is one of the cleanest I’ve seen. It has about 3 million people living directly in the city and a lot more on the outskirts. Much less than New York, but way nicer and more affordable. Lake Michigan was Bahama water blue and basically looked like a beach. If this “lake” was in Europe it would be called a sea. It was a massive body of water. There was also a river cutting through the city, which is actually disconnected from the sea due to keeping the lake clean from the river’s toxins. That being said the river looks very nice cutting through the city.We ended up going on a boat tour through the river and a bus tour through the city. Both were nice, but I liked the boat tour better as we didn’t have to weave through traffic. The last day we went to Wrigleyville and saw Wrigley field. Cool town even though I’m not a huge baseball fan.

I recently got a promotion to shift lead, so my schedule is no longer 9-6 Monday through Friday. It is now 1pm-12am Wednesday through Thursday and 9am-8pm Friday and Saturday. I’m looking forward to it though as the job comes with more money and more responsibility.

Food:

Chicago’s eats didn’t disappoint. The first thing I wanted to get there was deep dish pizza. It took about an hour to get, but it was awesome. Reminded me of pizza, lasagne, and pie mixed together. We got cookie dough ice cream, burgers and fries from a place called Shake Shack, carrot cake from Mandy B’s and biscuits from Crosby’s. I was convinced I just didn’t like biscuits, but these were life changing. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Really good. Mandy B’s was a dessert place that pretty much served everything. Sarah is the one that loves sweet’s, so I told her to get whatever she wanted and I would share it with her. It didn’t disappoint.

For my normal diet, I have started to add in some kefir to my diet. After doing research on it, I think it can really help clear up my psoriasis. One of the most potent probiotics on earth, mainly because it has 15-20 billion probiotics per cup and since it’s also a prebiotic, the probiotics don’t get destroyed in your stomach, before they actually reach your intestines. This is supposed to fix a lot of issues with digestive enzymes, leaky gut, skin issues, bloating, energy and mental health. Looking forward to seeing the benefits. My plan is to pound it pretty hard the first month or so and then back off to maintenance dosages.

Macro wise has been much higher in carbs, moderate in fat and somewhat lowish protein for me 90 to 120 grams.

Workouts:

My chin-ups have finally progressed up past 3 sets of 8 reps with 30lbs to 3 sets of 12 reps with 30lbs. My accessories have also increased.

My bench press is sadly still the same, but still feels good when I’m doing it. My dips, however, are way up at almost 3 sets of 20 reps. I’m not adding weight to dips, but instead I’m adding a lot of reps. Really good pump from these.

Barely been doing any cardio recently, mainly because my gym has been packed at 7am when I usually go run. Luckily, I dont have to go at the time anymore, so I will probably pick up running 2-3 times a week again.