At the start of the year I made it a goal to publish on this blog at least every other month - I want to maintain the practice of writing, revising, and publishing my thoughts no matter the topic. I benefit from the process and would like to think that at least one person out there also reads what I write and gets something out of their time. As the year wraps up I was searching for something worth writing about, thinking over the professional/technical accomplishments that I’d achieved recently and realized that I wasn’t ready to compose a complete story around any of those topics; still I wanted to get something up to close the year; I settled on riffing off an idea that I’d read on other people’s blogs: a simple and lighthearted list containing the items that I’d bought or used this past year that have brought me some level of joy or made my life a little better. I recognize that all the items I mention here are luxuries and are in no way necessary; still they have upped my happiness level this year. I’d be curious to hear what others would cite as their “favorites” - what were the purchases you made (small or large) that you’ve gotten good use out of in the past 12 months?
I bought a Vitamix on a whim thanks to a Cyber Monday sale this year; since I’m a person who already had a habit of drinking a protein shake once a day this has already made my life better than it was before. Prior to owning the Vitamix I used an Oster Versa blender that served perfectly well, but nothing crushes ice quite like the Vitamix manages to. The few minutes per day that I save fighting with the inferior blender will add up over time; with that said I’m comfortable giving an honorable mention to the Oster if you are a less-frequent user of a blender.
Lodge cast iron cookware
Cast iron cookware is known for having life spans across multiple generations of people, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get that kind of longevity. Lodge makes cast iron of all shapes and sizes, I’ve used my 10” skillet for years now and it’s been as reliable this past year as it has in years previous. From morning eggs to searing off steaks for dinner to baking cakes or breads or pizzas I have made this pan a near-daily companion.
Darn Tough socks
I’ve been told to invest in the items that separate a person from the ground: a good bed, chair, and shoes are important. We all spend a fair amount of time being supported (literally) by these things. One that I don’t hear spoken about as often are socks, in my opinion it’s just as important as shoes. I personally swear by the Darn Tough brand socks. Made in Vermont, they have a lifetime warranty that I can personally vouch for and are comfortable as anything else I’ve ever worn. Whenever I have an old pair of socks wear out I replace them with a new pair from Darn Tough.
Duluth Trading Company underwear
For years now my family has had a tradition of buying each other underwear for Christmas, at one point we all started on the Duluth Trading Company train and haven’t looked back since. Aside from having a great advertising scheme, their product is reliable and comfortable and has my recommendation.
Cuisinart Chef’s convection toaster oven
After hearing everyone and their grandmother sing the praises of their air fryers I researched these appliances and, at the recommendation of Wirecutter, I picked up this countertop oven instead of a dedicated air fryer. I use it in place of the larger oven that my apartment came with most of the time since it heats up faster, uses less energy, doesn’t increase the ambient temperature of the apartment by 10 degrees, and can hold a full meal’s worth of food across its two racks.
For just $10 my Blender Bottle was one of those small purchases that has made a big difference. It mixes pre-workout, water-flavoring, and other drinks with ease; I’ve even used it to make scrambled eggs to respectable results. I’ve heard of others using Blender Bottles to make pancake batter when camping (or just to save a dish), proving that the uses are only really limited by your creativity.
Vacuuming has never been my favorite chore, so when I moved into my new (larger) apartment earlier this year and promised I’d keep it clean I knew that I’d need to recruit some help: enter the roomba. I’ll be the first to say that I still need to do some manual cleaning in the corners and edges no matter how many times I run it, but the majority of the surface area of the apartment (consisting of hard tile and soft carpet) is cleaned to my satisfaction. I pull a good bit of grime out of the filter after each cycle, so it’s clearly doing something!
Wrist pain and repetitive strain injuries are common in the software engineering world, I sought to head off that issue when I was a college student by using an ergonomic split keyboard that I built myself, this Ergodox re-entered my life when I moved this year and I am happy to say that it has been a welcome reunion. I’m back to typing full-speed on it and have noticed that any strain that I was feeling from working for nearly a year on a standard MacBook Pro keyboard has dissipated.
Chromecast with Google TV
I picked up a Chromecast with Google TV this year, it’s slowly taken over my home media setup as the centerpiece. Integrating smoothly with every streaming service I use, allowing me to cast from all my devices to my TV, and doing all this while integrating with my basic smart-home systems makes my media diet a little easier to consume. It’s a luxury for sure, but one that I’d miss if I didn’t have it.
Jabra Elite 65t
These wireless earbuds have been my companions since 2018, to this day they spend upwards of an hour in my ears every day. I detest wires getting tangled and tugging on my ears, these solve that problem since they have no wires at all. From music at the gym to podcasts on runs and walks to meetings around the office I consume a large amount of audio content and haven’t been disappointed with these. I’ve replaced the eartips with foam ones from Comply, but aside from that upgrade I consider these to be one of the best purchases I’ve made since I first bought them and would feel lost without them. I haven’t had any complaints when using them for phone calls either, despite often taking calls while outside near busy streets. If I had one small nitpick about them it would be that they’re not USB-C compatible, forcing me to travel with a micro USB cable.
My 2021 iPad Air was a splurge purchase that I made early in 2021 as a means of improving my ability to disconnect from work. Since I moved from my solo apartment in California back to my hometown in the course of 2020 to ride out the pandemic I was left with only my work laptop as a means of accessing the internet. I needed a device divorced from my nine to five responsibilities to mentally give me the space to detach. I found that despite my love of Android I couldn’t beat the value proposition offered by the iPad Air, it really is the perfect device for content consumption. I watch TV, movies, YouTube videos, Twitch livestreams, and even instructional content on it. It is perfect for reading (ebooks are so affordable!), has a good library of games on offer, and can even serve as a reasonable writing instrument when I’m on-the-go. Getting work done from the back of a moving car or airplane or train is so much more comfortable on the iPad, especially with the keyboard cover. I know that the platform is capable of much more than I use it for too, so I’ll likely discover new ways to use it in the coming year.
Extra-long charging cables
Generic charging cables work just fine for nearly all purposes, I picked up a bunch of 6+’ cables for all my devices a while back and haven’t been disappointed with this small upgrade: I can lay in any position on my bed while charging my phone, can reach my charger across my couch, and don’t have to sit on the floor of an airport just to snag a little more power before boarding a long flight.
I initially thought of the Google Home ecosystem as being a maximum-lazy option, only really useful for saving a click of a remote here and a flick of a lightswitch there; it does all that well, especially when combined with cheap smart plugs, those enable all kinds of devices (lights, fans, heaters, kitchen appliances, and more) to be integrated with the ecosystem. The most useful features for me, however, have been it’s integration with Google Keep, which I use as my primary note-taking surface. I can edit my shopping lists, add a to-do item, or even dictate part of my journal on-the-fly from anywhere in my apartment. These little conveniences add up over time, preventing me from needing to pick up my phone (often keeping me from getting distracted in the course of doing that and ending up wasting time on social media or a video game).