As has become my custom, I take a look back at the previous year, the good and the bad, the surprising and the obvious, and reflect on the year as a whole. Many would agree with me that 2016 was not a great year. It saw turbulence across the globe, in all aspects of daily life. From the unfortunate events leading to Black Lives Matter, to the impossible-to-predict effects of the Brexit vote, the huge political upset in the United States where a TV reality star and business mogul won the Presidency, and technology became not just an effect on everyday life, but became responsible for affecting actual change. It has been a year for the record books, and not necessarily in a good way.
As for myself, I’ll be happy to put 2016 in the past, and move forward into the future.
This year, looking back, it was clearly about one thing for Jenny and I: my parents. By the end of this year, I was feeling the effects of the stress and weariness of the pressure of dealing with my father’s deteriorating health, and my mother’s need for assistance with the same. It’s never easy to see your parents getting older and dealing with their age; I’m learning how difficult that is first-hand.
Still, I’m gratified by the fact that Jenny and I are in a position to provide the assistance they need; things would only be more stressful if we weren’t.
So breaking down this year falls into a few distinct categories: Mom and Dad; Mom’s Health; Dad’s Health; and Jenny and I. I’ll also throw in the Things That Changed category, where I detail all the things that changed in our lives (other than the clearly obvious ones).
Mom and Dad
By the end of 2015, it was clear that Mom and Dad needed to move closer to family, whether that be myself, my brother Don, or Dad’s family in San Antonio. Their secluded property in East Texas was not healthy for them, and they could no longer rely entirely on each other for their daily needs.
On January 8th, we paid the deposit on an apartment for them in Houston, and the move was officially on. Over the next few weeks, I would make nearly weekly trips up to the property to help pack, and prepare things for the move.
On January 24th, during one of those trips, we nearly lost Freckles (one of our two dogs) when she got loose during a bathroom run. There was an enormous open field that she could have run for miles and miles, and she was not at all interested in returning to us. Fortunately, there was another man walking his dog nearby, and she decided to run and bark (and torment) that dog, rather than run off, or run the other direction into traffic. The man helped us capture Freckles, and we were able to get her back into the car, and ultimately, home. We were upset with her for several days afterward, but she wormed her way back into our good graces with her cuteness. Hopefully we never experience that again—it was frightening.
On February 5th, Mom and Dad officially put the property up for sale, as it was clear that they would no longer need it, and would need the money at some point in the future.
On March 5th, the movers arrived at the property, and loaded up the majority of what Mom and Dad needed for the apartment in Houston. We got everything into the apartment, and settled enough for them to spend their first night back in Houston that evening. Of course, the next few days (and weeks) were spent getting them all settled into their new home.
On April 16th, I was able to take Dad out for lunch for his 75th birthday. While we were out, we drove over to the old neighborhood and looked at the house we lived in for so many years.
On May 7th, I took my mother out for lunch for her birthday, and just kind of enjoyed an afternoon with her. The very next day, on May 8th, Mom, Dad, Jenny and I all went to an Astros game at Minute Maid Park, where we had fantastic seats in the Crawford boxes. The game was played on Mother’s Day, so the Astros were decked out in pink. Sadly though, I was not able to get a ball.
In July, Dad took a trip to Michigan to stay with Don and Saundra for a couple of weeks. He left on July 16th, and returned on the 31st. It was kind of a miracle that he was able to go at all, as he was in the hospital up until the day he left—more on that in the Dad’s Health section.
While Dad was in Michigan, Mom adopted a new dog named Honey. Though he’s got his issues, he has helped fill a void in Mom’s life, since the passing of her dear dog Buddy, in late 2015. Honey has become a full member of the family, for sure.
On August 19th, Mom and Dad were having some issues, and Mom moved in temporarily with Jenny and I, giving her some time to have space from Dad. She didn’t intend on staying that long, but surgeries, and other issues prevented her moving back until October 22nd.
On August 29th, Dad decided to take the Mini out for a drive, just to see if he could still drive. He couldn’t. He hit a tree and got lost, and ended up calling the police, who took him home. Mom and I retrieved the car the next day and returned it to the apartment.
As a result of many factors, Mom and I broached the topic of assisted living with Dad on September 7th. He wasn’t completely against the idea, which surprised both Mom and I, and so we began a search for a place for him in earnest.
The very next day, September 8th, my grandmother, and Dad’s mother passed away, at age 94. She had been suffering from dementia for years, and had been on her deathbed for quite some time, so it was not surprising to anybody, really. Still, it was a sad day. All four of us traveled to San Antonio on September 12th to attend her funeral. We let Dad stay for a few days to visit with family afterward, and I returned to pick him up later in the week.
Later in September, on the 24th, Mom and I toured a place named Brookdale Shadowlake for the first time. It was immediately obvious it was at the top of the list for assisted living for Dad. We would look at some other places, but none of them were as nice or helpful as Brookdale.
While trying to make plans to get Dad into Brookdale, Mom’s wallet was stolen on October 3rd, while she was shopping at Walmart. Then, on October 6th, when trying to get the Mini fixed, we found out the car was totaled, since the repairs would cost more than the car was worth. This would lead to an actually positive result, but at the time, was less than ideal.
As a result of Grandma’s passing, the inheritance allowed Mom to afford a brand-new car, which she purchased on October 15th. It was her first-ever brand-new car, and she absolutely loves it. She purchased a Kia Sportage, which is large enough to fit Dad’s wheelchair, and easy enough for him to get in and out of. It also happens to have some very nice features, like an enormous sunroof, and leather seating.
On October 30th, we moved Dad’s belongings into Brookdale (he was still in a physical rehab facility during this time). His new home was settled, and all of us eagerly awaited his arrival there. We were excited for him, as he would get the help he needed, as well as some social interaction with people other than Mom and I. He officially moved in on November 7th, when he was released from physical rehab, and was much stronger and more alert than when he arrived there. The very next day, on November 8th, we brought over a replacement TV stand for him, as he fell and destroyed the existing one after less than 24 hours in his new place.
Mom moved in with Jenny and I officially on November 4th, and we spent the new few weeks cleaning up and removing items from the apartment, before turning in the keys by the end of November.
In all, it had been a whirlwind year, but finally, things have begun to settle down to a new normality, which we all need desperately.
Mom was really quite healthy all year, but had several surgeries, and a couple of mishaps during the year.
On May 20th, she had a tooth removed, which required some minor surgery.
On July 7th, she had surgery for carpal tunnel in her right hand.
On August 18th, she was admitted to the hospital for observation, after I took her to the ER for chest and neck pains. She was discharged the next day, but it was never clear what the cause was, other than low magnesium.
On September 15th, Mom had a major surgery for a hysterectomy, which required quite a bit of recovery, and limitations to physical activity. This was one of the main reasons she stayed with Jenny and I, rather than returning to the apartment.
On September 20th, Mom and I returned to the ER believing she had internal bleeding, as a result of the surgery. Fortunately, this turned out not to be true, and she was sent home without being admitted.
On October 7th, the day we were clearing out the Mini, Mom fell and hurt her knee rather badly. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but the swelling and bruising was quite considerable, and took several weeks to clear up.
Lastly, on December 8th, Mom had her other carpal tunnel surgery, this time on her left hand, which will hopefully allow her to live pain-free in both hands.
Over the past couple of years, Dad has suffered from numerous UTI’s, leading to hospitalization several times. 2016 was no different, and like clockwork, he suffered from the same conditions.
On March 12th, less than a week after moving to Houston, he was admitted to the hospital with a UTI.
He was back in the ER almost exactly 2 months later on May 13th with another UTI. He was not admitted this time, but sent home with antibiotics.
Almost exactly two months later (again), he was admitted to the hospital on July 14th with a UTI. This was just a couple of days before his scheduled trip to Michigan, and we feared he wasn’t going to be able to go. Fortunately, he was given a good bill of health, and released on the 16th, just in time to get to the airport and make his flight.
On October 3rd, Dad had his first visit with the VA doctor, who is his Primary Physician now. It was a great visit, and something that we should have done sooner. The VA has been great.
Unfortunately, on October 15th, Dad was admitted to the hospital once again for a UTI. This one was nearly 3 months to the day since his last hospitalization for the same. This also happened to be the same day we were out with Mom buying her a new car. We had to go straight from the dealership to the hospital, as his condition noticeably worsened over the course of a couple of hours. This was the worst UTI he’s had in quite some time, and resulted in his being sent to a physical rehab facility to help him get his strength back.
On November 1st, Dad had an appointment with the VA hospital in the Houston medical center for a mental evaluation. It was a chaotic and stressful day, and not one of Dad’s finest. He was officially diagnosed with Dementia, which Mom and I had suspected for some time, but was finally confirmed.
Now that he’s been in Brookdale for over a month, he’s doing much better, though the cost of the facility (which is increasing January 1st) will prevent us from keeping him there indefinitely. Already, Mom and I are having to look at alternatives.
On November 8th, the check for the property arrived, closing the door on that chapter of their lives. The trailer was (literally) buried and gone, and the next chapter for Mom and Dad has begun.
Jenny and I
Though 2016 was a rough year, it wasn’t without its moments. As is usually the case, Jenny and I had our own things we wanted to do this year, and were able to accomplish some of them.
On January 16th, I hosted my first LAN party at the house. This is a party where my friends and I get together and play computer games. It takes over the whole house, as it’s filled with men, their computers, and lots of swearing and yelling, but it was a lot of fun, even if I’m getting too old to play games for hours on end without sleep.
On March 1st, I flew to Dallas, TX to receive my performance review. It was nice to get to meet some of my co-workers in person for the first time there. I got a good review, which I’ve come to be proud of, and overall, it was a nice day-trip.
On March 8th, Jenny got into a tiny car accident, causing minimal damage to her car, and none to the other, so no insurance claim was filed by either party.
On March 12th, Jenny and I went to the Livestock Show to visit with some friends of Jenny’s, who were in town.
Later, on March 19th, I was the ‘official’ photographer for Jenny’s Aunt Beth’s 90th birthday party. I got some excellent photos, and the family was very appreciative of my efforts.
April 7th through the 10th, Jenny and I traveled to Memphis, TN for a trip we had been looking forward to for quite some time. We rented an Airbnb for the first time for the trip, which worked out pretty nicely. Unfortunately, Jenny had a severe migraine for most of the trip, so it wasn’t as enjoyable of a trip as we’re used to taking, but we still had a good time. We visited the Lorraine Motel, and the Civil Rights museum, as well as walked along Beale Street, and ate once again at Rendezvous, which was just as good as I’d remembered.
On May 31st, I headed out for a trip to Chicago for work, where I got to meet several of my colleagues from Canada, who were in town for their annual meetings. We had a large group that went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, which was very fun. The Cubs won the game, too, which was nice.
On June 26th, my brother Don and his wife Saundra came to town to visit Dad. They stayed with Jenny and I and were around through July 4th, so got to take part in our first fireworks display at our house. It wasn’t much, but was still fun.
While here, we went for a road trip with Don and Saundra to Waco, TX, where we visited the Magnolia Silos, made famous by the TV show Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. Neither Jenny or I had seen the show before going there, so it didn’t mean all that much to us, but Don & Saundra were excited.
Later in July, on the 24th, we got a group together to go see the new Star Trek Beyond film, but shortly before the movie started, the power at the theater went out, so we ended up having to take a rain-check. We would end up seeing the film the following week.
On September 23rd, I began an epic teardown of all my LEGO modular buildings, in preparation for putting my my annual LEGO Christmas village. The only place we had to put it up this year was in my office, and so I had to make room somehow.
Jenny went back to Waco on October 7th, along with her dad, hoping to get copies of a book written by a family member decades ago. Unfortunately, it’s still under copyright, so only 30 pages or so could be photocopied. There are only two known existing copies of the book—one of which is in Waco, and the other is in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
On October 22nd, history was made when the Chicago Cubs won the NLCS and advanced to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and went on to win the World Series on November 2nd, in an epic Game 7, giving the Cubs their first championship since 1908 – a 108 year wait. Needless to say, the city of Chicago, and all Cubs fans across the country went nuts. The fact that I was able to attend a game at Wrigley during their winning season helps me feel a part of it.
On November 8th, the country took to the polls, and Mom and I watched the returns closely for most of the night. When it was all over and counted, Donald Trump had won the electoral college (though not the popular vote) to become the next president of the United States. It was one of the biggest upsets in modern history.
November brought other things to our home, like a baby shower for Jenny’s cousin, Tamara on the 12th. We spent a lot of time preparing the house, cleaning, and getting things ready. Once that day arrived, I left the house to avoid all the ladies, and went and visited my dad at Brookdale.
On November 13th, I finally convinced Jenny to let me get a drone. I’ve been wanting one for a long time, but since my ‘helicopter’ accident back in 2010, Jenny wouldn’t let me near anything that flies. I got an insanely good deal on a DJI Phantom 3 Standard, which I couldn’t pass up, and so we bought it. I was immediately hooked by how awesome drones are, and am a huge drone enthusiast now. I’m always on the lookout now for places to fly it. I even used it at Thanksgiving for a family portrait. Speaking of which…
Later in November, we celebrated Thanksgiving at home, with many family members, including Mom and Dad. We had about 19 people at our house for the holiday, and it worked out pretty successfully. It wouldn’t be the last holiday we hosted this year though.
Moving into the final month of the year, there was still a lot on the agenda. On December 7th, Jenny got her early birthday present, the Cozmo robot, which is a nifty little piece of technology. We went out for her birthday on the 10th, eating at The Melting Pot for the first time. It was quite the experience.
On December 17th, Mom, Jenny, Grandma Phyllis, Zach and myself went to see “Star Wars: Rogue One” on IMAX 3D. It was an amazing film, and I would go on to see it a couple more times in theaters.
On the 22nd, Don and Saundra flew in to Houston for Christmas. I picked them up at the airport.
On the 23rd, I had an eye exam, and I ordered a new pair of prescription glasses, as well as a pair of prescription sunglasses (my first ever.) I haven’t really had a pair at all since September, when my existing pair got destroyed by one of the dogs.
On the 24th, we brought Dad to the house to have Christmas with us, and we opened our gifts, ate some fantastic food, and just enjoyed the holiday. Everyone really enjoyed their gifts, including myself.
Don & Saundra’s visit came to an end on December 27th, when I took them to the airport. They were headed back to Michigan to enjoy a few more days off, before having to return to work.
Jenny and I also took a much-needed vacation to Austin, leaving on the 28th, and staying at the Lakeside Resort Spa, where we relaxed, and enjoyed a top-notch hotel. We tried eating at Franklin Barbecue, but long lines prevented us from doing so, so we went to our old standby for great Austin BBQ, The Salt Lick. On the way home on the 30th, we hit up Round Rock Donuts.
Finally, we capped off the year with a New Year’s Eve get-together at our house, where we played Cards Against Humanity, drank alcohol, and I took my drone up before Midnight to capture the fireworks from up high.
Things That Changed
On February 6th, we ordered all-new living room furniture, including a couch, love-seat, recliner, coffee table, and entertainment center with piers and bridge. Most of it got delivered on February 11th, but some of it didn’t arrive until March. Overall, it’s a very nice addition to our home, and feels a lot more ‘grown-up’ than our other furniture.
On February 24th, I once again started using Mint for my financial software. I’ve had problems with Quicken, and was never all that crazy about YNAB. Mint has always had its roadblocks for me too, but I finally gave it another shot. It seems like I am constantly looking for a decent financial software.
On May 5th, I made a big change to my daily to-do lists, abandoning Todoist, and switching to using Outlook (for work) and the Apple Reminders app on my iPhone/iPad/Mac. The ability to add tasks hands-free by voice was the main reason for this, and I’ve been very happy with it since making the switch.
On June 21st, I found out I was getting a new boss at work. This was mostly an organizational change, as one of my colleagues was getting promoted, whom I got along with very well. This didn’t really change much from a day-to-day basis.
On July 12th, I bought a set of Philips Hue light-bulbs for home. These were the color-changing bulbs, which are actually pretty unnecessary. Still, being able to automate lights, and voice-control them is pretty nice.
In August, I finished a project I had been working on for some time, getting all our movies digitized, so we could watch any of our films without having to dig through boxes of DVD’s.
On September 9th, I pre-ordered the new iPhone 7 for Jenny and I. I chose to go with the larger model this year, the iPhone 7 Plus. It took some getting used to the larger size though.
On September 28th, I got my new LEGO Christmas set, and our new iPhones arrived the same day.
On October 22nd, I painted Mom’s room (what used to be our guest room). She picked a nice purple color, and the room turned out quite nice.
Jenny had a lot of problems with her new iPhone 7, and so we took it into the Apple store on November 13th, where they exchanged it for another unit. Unfortunately, the problems would reoccur later in December.
And lastly, with the new data limits ISP’s have been placing on home internet connections, we were entering our 3rd month of going over the limit. As a result, I upgraded us to Gigabit internet through AT&T, which comes with unlimited data, so bandwidth isn’t a concern any more. Unfortunately, the 1Gbps speeds are a bit underwhelming. I get about 500Mbps (at most) through a hardwired connection, and only about 90Mbps via WiFi. Still, it’s a lot faster than the previous connection of 24Mbps I was getting, so streaming 4K video is an actual option now.
All in all, 2016 was a stressful and event-filled year, where I was going full-tilt for most of the year. I was glad for things to finally stabilize a bit in December, though. 2017 looks to be interesting for any number of factors, including the inauguration of a new president; our 10th wedding anniversary, Dad’s continued health deterioration, and settling into our new normal, with another member of the household.
Still, I can’t help but feel immensely grateful. Grateful for my wife, who is understanding, supportive, and puts up with my and my quirks. Grateful that my parents are close-by now, and regularly able to be a part of my life. Grateful that I have a great job that allows me to afford both the type of lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to, and presents me with the challenges to keep my engaged and occupied by my profession. Grateful that my health is still reasonably good (even though I could afford to lose some weight, and learn to eat healthier).
Here’s to putting 2016 behind us, and moving into the new year. Here’s to 2017.
As has become my habit, at the end of each year I look back at the previous 365 days, and reflect on events–good and bad–to see just how my year has gone. 2014 had its challenges, and 2015 certainly looks like it’s going to be full of change, one way or another. So let’s take a look back at my 2014…
In World Events:
- February 2nd – Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away.
- On March 8th, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. Worldwide search begins.
- June – ISIS situation in the middle east escalates, leading to worldwide tensions.
- August 11th – Robin Williams passed away. It was later revealed he was suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and depression, and had committed suicide.
- September 30th – The first case of an Ebola infection in the United States (in history) is diagnosed in Dallas, Texas.
- November 12th – The Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae probe lands on Comet 67P. This is the first time humanity has soft-landed a probe on a comet.
There were, of course, many more events of note in 2014, but those above are those that stand out to me, personally.
On September 1st, Jenny and I went to the Katy Mills mall to ride Segways through an off-road obstacle course. Neither of us had ridden one before, and we both had incidents with our ride. Unfortunately, Jenny’s occurred early on, resulting in her falling, and the Segway falling on her ankle. At first appearance, it didn’t look too severe, but when the pain and swelling got worse, she had an MRI taken on 9/26, and eventually was diagnosed with a deep bone contusion. Fortunately no surgery or anything was needed, but it took several months for her ankle to return to normal.
On October 27th, a most bizarre situation occurred to me. While at work, my left elbow started hurting, and very quickly swelled up to nearly the size of a golf ball. Jenny and I went to an urgent care clinic, where I was diagnosed with Bursitis. They drained the fluid which reduced the swelling a little, and referred me to my orthopedist (the same one I used for my knee when I tore my ACL). A week later, I learned that I had a staph infection in my elbow, which is what caused the Bursitis; I still have no idea how I contracted the infection, since I had no cuts or open wounds at the time. I was put on a strong oral antibiotic and had to go back to the doctor every couple days to monitor the progress.
This was a scary situation, because staph infections are quite serious, and can be potentially fatal. By November 7th, my doctor wasn’t pleased with the progress of the antibiotics, and recommended surgery. On Monday, November 10th, I went in for a Bursectomy, and was put under general anesthetic, while the doctor performed the surgery. He took another culture during the procedure, and a week later, I was deemed infection-free and healing nicely. Two weeks after surgery, I had the suture removed, and my elbow was on its way to being back to normal again.
On November 29th, Jenny grew sick, and was home from work for an entire week. This was highly unusual for her, as she rarely gets sick like that (though it happened at Christmas last year). A doctor’s visit proved that she had a severe sinus infection. Fortunately, the medications seemed to help, and by the time she returned to work, she felt much better. She still has a bad cough that’s taking it’s time going away, though.
Lastly, on December 20th, I underwent a sleep study (at last). I’ve been wanting to have one done for some time, but they’re fairly expensive, and until I’d met my deductible (due to the surgery on my elbow), I had postponed having one done. It seems that no matter how much I sleep, I rarely feel well-rested in the morning. I’ve grown worried that I might doze off while driving, so felt it was necessary to get a study done to see what’s happening with my sleep.
The sleep study itself was an interesting experience. There’s about 25 wires that get hooked up to you, all over your body, but most of them on your head. It’s difficult to sleep normally with so many wires attached, but I did my best. I won’t know the results for a while still, but I’m curious to see what the doctor can determine about my sleep, to see if anything can be done to improve on it.
So 2014 wasn’t a great year for our health, though I suppose it could have been much worse.
A ‘Switching’ Year
Of any word that could encapsulate 2014, ‘switching’ would probably be the most appropriate. I did a lot of switching this year, from the way I use technology every day, to the technology itself. For example:
- 2/20 – I switched from using Any.do to Todoist for my daily to-do tracking.
- 3/17 – I switched from Evernote to Microsoft OneNote.
- 3/20 – I switched to a trackball, rather than a regular mouse (at home and at work.)
- 3/27 – I switched to LastPass from 1Password for keeping all my passwords secure.
- 5/15 – I switched from HostGator to StableHost for my website hosting.
- 6/21 – Jenny switched cars, when we bought her a 2014 Ford Escape.
- 6/23 – I switched back to using a physical journal, rather than on the computer.
- 7/14 – I switched to a paperless life by buying a scanner, and getting rid of my paper files.
- 7/24 – I switched to the beta of OS X Yosemite, which was a big change to my daily computing.
- 9/19 – I switched from Android to iPhone, with the purchase of my iPhone 6.
- 9/30 – I switched to using Windows 10 at work, with the release of the preview.
- 10/24 – Jenny and I both switched to new computers, with our purchase of new iMacs.
Most of the changes I made in 2014 were technology-related (no surprise there), but looking back now, it’s clear to me how many things I changed, and how useful those changes have become. In fact, the past few years have seen many changes to how I use my technology, and it’s really simplified things for me. I’ve found it’s easier for me to get things done, and I believe these changes have a truly important impact on my future. More on that in a little bit.
A Possible New Career
On December 2nd, I learned that my job is changing at work. It’s never good to hear things like this, but in my case, this is actually a huge opportunity. Since starting this job, I’ve always had a goal of handling projects of bigger and bigger scale. Fortunately, I’ve had great opportunities to apply my skills to projects at work, and have been pretty successful. Recently, I’ve begun studying to take the CAPM exam, which is kind of an entry-level Project Manager certification. Eventually, I hope to earn my PMP (Project Management Professional), but it requires more experience that I currently have in order to obtain it.
My position at work will be phased out at the end of March, but there are other jobs within the company that I can apply for. One of those is Project Manager. I’m excited by the idea of the job (even though change is always scary) and feel I will do excellent at it. Within a few months, I likely would have been looking for this role regardless. I like the company I work for, and didn’t really want to leave, but I was ready for something new, and this opportunity feels like perfect timing. Plus, it would let me work from home!
There’s still a lot that has to happen before I get the job, but I’m on the right track, and feel confident that I can land it. If I do, 2015 could be an excellent year. If I don’t, 2015 could be a rough one. So for now, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
- 4/7 to 4/11 – Took a week’s vacation, and stayed home.
- 5/20 – Bought my first-ever audiobook. Wasn’t particularly impressed by the experience.
- 5/26 to 5/30 – Took another week off from work, but stayed home once again.
- 6/21 – Bought Jenny her 2014 Ford Escape. Got a great deal on it, and it has all the bells and whistles that Jenny wanted.
- 6/23 – Restarted my physical journal. I had slacked off on keeping a journal for far too long, and this was designed to get me back into the habit; I think it’s been successful.
- 9/1 – The Astros fired their manager Bo Porter, due to conflicts between him and the General Manager. It was kind of surprising, since Porter was only in his 2nd year.
- 9/20 – I finally got to see comedian Louis C.K. live, when I attended the Oddball Comedy Festival in The Woodlands. Lots of good comedians, and I had a good time.
- 9/29 – The Astros find their new manager, in A.J. Hinch. He was pretty much an unknown to most people, though apparently pretty respected in the baseball world.
- 10/2 – I found Ruby Red Squirt in Houston! Those who know me know that I love this soda, but that it hasn’t been available here for decades. This usually is only found in the northern states, but our local Walmart has been carrying it recently. It was quite the find, though I credit Jenny for spotting it before I did.
- 10/7 – My best friend welcomed his 2nd daughter into the world as Avery Elizabeth Specht was born.
- 11/21 to 11/28 – Took another vacation at work, this time for Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad came down for the week while I was off, so we got to enjoy the time together.
- 11/27 – Jenny and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. This was the 2nd time we had done so, though previously it was at our rental house, so this was the first in our home. It was also the first time Mom and Dad were here for Thanksgiving at our house, so it was extra special. We’re taking over Thanksgiving duties from Jenny’s grandmother, so we’ll be hosting it every other year, when we’re home for Thanksgiving.
- 12/24 to 12/27 – Spent Christmas with Mom and Dad at their house. We took the dogs with us, as has become the norm, and everyone had a great time. Mom & Dad especially liked their gifts, and Jenny was surprised by her new iPad mini. As for me, most of my gifts came early, so I didn’t have a whole lot of surprises, except for one from Jenny, which was a great gift.
Looking back, I’d have to consider 2014 a good year. With the exception of our injuries, 2014 was pretty uneventful. We plan to go to New York in July this year for my cousin Rene’s wedding. We’re both very excited to go, and if I do get this new job at work, it will mean some necessary changes at home to accommodate the new job, so this could be a very eventful year. Here’s looking forward to 2015, and whatever it might bring.
With each new year comes the inevitable look back at the past one. Was it a good year? Did we get everything accomplished that we set out to do? Am I a better person than I was last January 1st? 2013 was an interesting year for Jenny and I–a big one, sure–and we have much to be proud of, and happy about. Looking forward to 2014, we have a few things planned that will hopefully give us fond memories of the twelve months that will mark the year. But let’s take a look back at the past twelve months, and what 2013 entailed.
While 2013 had many memorable events, some tragic, others merely noteworthy, here are a few that stuck out in my mind:
- On January 21st, President Barack Obama was inaugurated to his second term. Whether you like him or not, agree with his policies or not, he’s still the president, and an historic one.
- On February 15th, the world experienced a very close call with an asteroid, when an approximately 17-foot diameter meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, injuring over 1,500 people, and causing widespread damage to buildings. The object was completely undetected, and so came as a complete shock to the entire world–including the scientific community charged with monitoring near-Earth asteroids, in order to warn of events such as this. The event heightened global awareness of the threat these asteroids pose to Earth, as well as how much work is still needed to protect us from further such close-calls.
- On April 16th, domestic terrorism struck the United States once again during the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and over 200 others injured when two bombs exploded during the race. The story immediately captured the nation’s attention, and over the ensuing days, a manhunt like no other was carried out in Boston, resulting in the city effectively shutting down while authorities tracked down the perpetrators.
- In the weeks leading up to October 1st, the news could only talk about one thing: a government shutdown. Sadly, the government did shutdown on the 1st, and did not re-open until October 16th, when a short-term deal was made that would see funding available until January 15th, 2014. Fortunately, a new deal was struck (without much argument) that should see the government continue to function for the time being.
- On December 5th, South African leader and visionary Nelson Mandela succumbed to a prolonged respiratory infection. He was 95 years old.
Of course there were many other global events of significance, including possible chemical weapons use in Syria, a new Pope being elected, mother nature unleashing her fury in the form of earthquakes, tornadoes and typhoons, but none of these stuck in my mind like those listed above.
Our New Home
We got the keys!
When 2012 came to a close, we were watching construction of our new home closely, hoping that everything would come together. On February 22nd, the house was completed, and we signed off on the construction. On February 25th, we closed on the house, after some last-minute hand-wringing, then moved into the house fully on March 3rd. Jenny and I both took time off work to settle into the house, though on alternating weeks. I was off March 4th through the 8th, while Jenny took the following week, March 11th through the 15th off. During this time, we were able to get a lot of unpacking done, and worked on getting things in our new home settled.
On May 15th, we had our home security system installed, and have been quite happy with it. If nothing else, we feel much more secure, and feel that our home is well-protected. Shortly after that, my mom & dad came to visit for my 34th birthday over the long Memorial Day weekend, and saw our house for the first time. It was a nice visit though, if all too brief.
In preparation for hosting Christmas at our house this year for the Brown family, I finished painting the living room on November 23rd, which led to us changing the furniture orientation, but resulted in something we like very much. It really feels like home now.
I also hosted a poker party on December 7th at our house. Everyone that attended seemed to have a lot of fun, and we ended the night playing some Rock Band in the living room. It’s been fun reuniting with friends this year, some of whom I haven’t really seen in years.
Considering this was our first Christmas in our new home, I wanted to host the holiday in our home with my family. My brother and sister-in-law flew in from Michigan, Mom and Dad came down from Hawkins, and we spent a full week together. We began with a short trip to San Antonio to visit family, including my 93-year-old grandmother, then spent the rest of the time back in Houston, eating, eating, and eating (Houston really has amazing restaurants). Sadly, Jenny was ill for most of the week, so didn’t get to spend as much time as she wanted with everyone. It seems like at the holidays someone’s always sick. In all though, it was a busy, fun-filled week, and I’m so thankful that I got to spend quality time with my entire family.
Progress at Work
Work in 2013 was more than interesting, but also extremely challenging in many ways. On January 10th, my best friend and co-worker Matt was let go. In the end it’s the best thing that could have happened to him, since he was immensely unhappy there, but at the time, it felt pretty terrible. Of course, we both moved on, and have done exceptionally well for ourselves. On March 27th, I got my best-ever performance review, and on June 2nd, celebrated my 5-year anniversary with the company. Not only do I still enjoy my job, but I’ve been here longer than at any other job in my life.
Things became quite interesting in August, as the company consolidated two of our offices into a single building, which entailed LOTS of planning, preparation, and hard work. Due to various circumstances, I essentially took over the project from my boss, and took on the responsibilities myself. This turned out to be a huge boon, not only for myself and my Project Management aspirations, but also in helping the other team members of the project. By the end, I had building management people, outside vendors, and countless others relying on my opinion and responses to get the project done. My career and status within the company took a huge step forward because of it. This project also made me realize even more how much I appreciate new challenges, and that project management is definitely something I want to explore further. I believe it’s a talent I’m uniquely suited for.
Unfortunately, work took a lot of time, especially in August. One particular week saw me work nearly 100 hours, and as a result, I got sick, then better, then sick again, so it was early September before I felt truly normal again. Fortunately, things at work have slowed down quite a bit since, and for the first time in a long time, we’re actually in a proactive mode, rather than fighting lingering problems. Of course, 2014 already appears to have some challenges ahead, but that’s the nature of life.
My Writing, Or Lack Thereof
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything worth sharing. Even my website has been strangely quiet most of the year. I just haven’t been able to concentrate long enough to get anything written. On October 28th, I revamped the outline for the novel I started back in 2010, during National Novel Writing Month. I had every intention of participating again this year during November, and was even rather excited about it. But when November 1st arrived, I couldn’t get down more than a few words, and I was already stuck, and I quickly abandoned the entire effort. I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I’m likely through writing–at least anything of significance. I still enjoy putting together the occasional book review, or some rant about things that bother me, but essentially, I think I’m through. Few people bother reading the things I write anyway, so it’s not like I’m abandoning a huge audience.
These items are those that don’t really fit into any particular category; they just kind of happened:
- February 15th – I finally finished paying off my knee surgery, from when I injured it over 2 years ago. It was nice to have it completely paid off, and to be able to put the whole affair completely behind me–not that Jenny will ever let me forget that it happened.
- July – We decided to try getting healthier.
Our new treadmill
We bought new bikes and a treadmill, and then sort of abandoned both of them for a while. With the new year, we’ll try to get back to using these regularly, and to get into better shape.
- March 23rd – I managed to talk Jenny into going with me to College Station, TX to attend AggieCon 44, a small science-fiction/fantasy convention. I’d actually never been to a SF convention, so it was interesting; the whole premise for me going was that George R.R. Martin would be there, and he’s rarely in Texas for anything, let alone just a couple hours from us. I took my copy of A Game of Thrones and got it autographed. I have to say though, while I’m admittedly a nerd, the people there made me look absolutely normal
Signed by the author, George R.R. Martin
- November 28-30th – We went to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving this year, and enjoyed some time with them. We watched movies, and went to Tyler to watch the latest Hunger Games movie with Mom & Dad. On the way home, however, I was pulled over, and received a speeding ticket. Ironically, I’d been watching my speed the entire trip, but for some reason, this was a brief moment where I was actually speeding, and got busted for it. Oh well, live and learn. I’ll take my defensive driving, and all should be well.
- December 6-10th – Jenny took time off work for her 34th birthday, as well as dentist’s appointments, and just to relax, in general. It was a well-deserved vacation from work for her.
In any given year, movies, television, and even video games occasionally rise to the top as some notable entertainment. 2013 was no exception, and there were some intriguing titles this year:
- “Gravity” was a film I’d been waiting a long time for, and it didn’t disappoint. A film best experienced in IMAX and 3D, this was a movie I really need to watch again.
- “Elysium” was another film I’d been eagerly anticipating, but failed to live up to expectations. A solid film, it just didn’t have the same ‘blown-away’ feeling I got from the director’s previous film, “District 9”. Still one worth watching, but I probably could have waited for DVD.
- “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, the 2nd film in the Hunger Games series was even better than the (already excellent) first movie. I ended up seeing this one twice in theaters, which is rather unusual for me.
- “Star Trek Into Darkness”, the sequel to 2009’s reboot of the franchise, left lots of fans disappointed, but I was not one of them. I thought it was a good movie that countered the first, and flipped things just enough to be fun to watch. Definitely darker than the first movie, the ending has me intrigued by the possibilities that a third movie could explore.
- Dexter‘s final season aired this year, and it was a huge disappointment to practically everyone. A lackluster plot, not particularly good acting by seasoned regulars, and a terrible and un-fulfilling series finale led to lots of people yelling at their TV’s. For a show that started out so fantastic, it really just went downhill. The show lasted 8 seasons, but Season 5 was probably the last good one.
- A newcomer to my favorites, Almost Human is a brand-new J.J. Abrams-involved show, which is about a future cop and his android partner. It’s only a few episodes old, but already I’m completely hooked, and I hope that the show succeeds, and thrives. I’d like to continue watching it for a long time.
- The Last of Us – This game, exclusively for the Playstation 3, was one of the most amazing games I’ve played in a long time. Not only was the story immensely engrossing, but the characters were worthy of their own television show or film (in fact, recent reports indicate that a movie is already in development). I’m not usually one for “zombie” games, but this was a title that transcended the genre, and really gives an experience like no other. I cannot recommend this game more highly.
- Grand Theft Auto V – This, of course, was the biggest game release of the year, and it did not disappoint. An immense game world, fantastic new gameplay mechanics, and a truly good story made this game one that I enjoy going back to again and again.
- Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – A big departure for AC games, AC4 actually moved backward in time from the previous game, and changed up the direction of the series significantly. While not exactly negating the previous AC games, it definitely charts a new approach to how this series will continue; I suppose that’s due to the fact that this has become an annual franchise now. The game isn’t bad, and is actually a nice step up from AC3, but I can’t help missing the protagonist from the AC2-series games, Ezio.
- NBA 2k14 (for PlayStation 4) – After getting a PS4 for Christmas, I downloaded NBA 2k14, and have to say that it’s the most realistic-looking video game I’ve ever played. It truly shows what the next-gen consoles are going to be capable of, and I’m very excited about it. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but this game is enjoyable, and challenging enough to make it well worth playing. It’s made me even more excited for the new MLB: The Show game to come out.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a retrospective for myself if I didn’t discuss the technology I used or discovered during the year. I’ve purposely put it toward the bottom of the list, since most people will find it boring, or uninteresting.
- January 5th – I consolidated my e-book library, including Jenny’s, and converted all of our books to .epub and .mobi format. Essentially, I wanted to ensure that our libraries are safe for the future, and that regardless of device we use to read them (though I can’t really see us abandoning the Kindle anytime soon), that we’d have the ability to take our books with us. This was a pretty massive undertaking, as between the two of us, we have over 1,000 e-books.
- January 20th – I decided to try YNAB (a personal finance application) once again, continuing my attempt to abandon Quicken entirely. It didn’t take me very long to realize it just wasn’t going to work out though, and on January 25th, I switched back to Quicken. I made other attempts throughout the year to find a new solution, but none of them have met my requirements. As of now, I’m still stuck with Quicken.
- April 6th – In need of a computer upgrade, I broke down and bought a new Mac Mini to replace my 2010 MacBook Pro. The new Mini has so far been an absolutely perfect computer, offering powerful performance, along with the stability that I’ve come to expect from Apple computers. I sold my MacBook Pro almost immediately, and it pretty much paid for my new computer alone.
- June 1st – Jenny finally upgraded from the iPhone 4, which was growing long-in-the-tooth, to the iPhone 5, and has been pretty much entirely happy with it. The only downside to this is that we had to change to a shared data plan, which means we have to monitor our usage much more closely.
- July 30th – Google released the Chromecast device, and mine finally arrived. Read my review of the device here.
- August 28th – I conceived of an app that I felt might truly be useful, and started the path to learning to code, in order to program an app. I lost steam a little bit, and haven’t really returned to this just yet, but plan to do so again.
- September 24th – Upgraded my cellphone (once again) and got the Moto X, which is hands-down one of my favorites phones to date. It’s billed as the “iPhone of Android phones” and it delivers entirely on that promise. It’s easy to use, not filled with all the bloatware that other phones come with, and is genuinely useful. I can’t praise the phone enough, really, though I’m sure that’ll change as the next great phones come out and grab my interest.
- Christmas – Jenny got me a PlayStation 4 for Christmas. I had debated which next-gen console to buy, but knowing that the only next-gen baseball game would be on the PS4, and almost every game I am interested in for 2014 will be out for both new consoles, the choice was easier. Jenny was very lucky to track one down, considering it was one of the hottest gifts this year, and extraordinarily difficult to find in stock anywhere.
- All year long – My website went through several different layouts and looks, but the content essentially remained the same. The latest layout went live on November 25th, and will hopefully keep me satisfied for quite some time. I did nothing to change my book or movie library resources from the previous year, and am still happy with the tools I’m using currently.
In the past, I kept a paper journal, and used various methods to keep track of things that were important to me. 2013 saw some huge and major changes to my daily workflows.
- January 1st – No longer entering journal entries into a paper journal, I now keep my entries 100% digital. This has helped me be a little more fluid with my writing, as well as affording me more flexibility for when I’m not at home. Along with my journal entry, I take a self-portrait every day (or mostly every day) to keep with the journal. My goal is to eventually put together a “video” of all these pictures, to see my age progression. It’s one of those projects that takes a really long time to see the results of.
- January 30th – Wrote my 2,000th journal entry.
- March 13th – Finally started using Evernote on a day-to-day basis. I’d tried the application a couple times before, but never found its usefulness. Thanks to an article on Lifehacker which did a great job of explaining why Evernote was so useful, I’ve used it every single day since, and never looked back. It’s truly a digital notebook, and has resulted in my going almost 100% paperless, everywhere in life. It’s really a life-changing tool.
- July 25th – 29th – I’ve been using the Kindle for a long time to read my e-books, and have been mostly happy. I generally listen to Kindle books in the car to and from work, but have always been irked by some of the quirks of the way it reads back the books. Google’s read aloud feature is much better by comparison, but until Google made their Play Books app allow books not bought through Google Play, it wasn’t something I could use. They finally allowed other e-books to work with their software, so I was ready to give it a try. Unfortunately, after just a few days, it was clear that the Google Play implementation just doesn’t work as well for my particular scenario, and I switched back to using the Kindle as my daily reader. Until I’m forced to get a new Kindle that doesn’t do the audio-playback of the book, I’m staying put.
- August 20th – I discovered and immediately fell in love with a system for organization called Bullet Journal. I rushed out and bought a Moleskine notebook, and started using this system right away. It immediately made an impact in the way I get things done. Sadly, after just a couple of months, the downfalls to this system also appeared: it’s easy to leave behind your Bullet Journal (which becomes a panic-inducing event), and it’s rather inconvenient to have to carry it around with you all the time. This led me to seek out alternatives, which led to:
- October 17th – I started using the Any.do app. After trying a few similar apps, like Wunderlist, and even Google Tasks, this app appealed to me for its simplicity, while remaining quite powerful. Among my favorite features are the “Planning” features, and the way it handles snoozing events, and organizing your day. It’s a really useful app, and has replaced nearly everything that I was doing with Bullet Journal. Between Evernote and Any.do, my organization is much better than it was in the past, and has made a huge difference.
- October 19th – I resumed my (mostly) daily journal entries, after tailing off almost entirely at the end of August. This of course means there’s also a gap in my daily self-portraits as well. Another gap near the end of the year has re-thinking the whole journal idea, but I’m not sure I want to abandon it entirely, considering how long I’ve been keeping one.
In reality, 2013 wasn’t a particularly busy year, though it certainly felt busy enough. Between work, home, hanging out with friends, and just enjoying life in general, there wasn’t a lot of spare time for hobbies, but that gives us something to do this year, I suppose.
We’ve got some home improvements we hope to make, and some vacations we’d like to go on, but ultimately, that all depends on factors out of our control right now; hopefully we’ll have more answers to those questions in the near future. If everything works out as we hope that it does, however, 2014 looks to be a very memorable year, and I look forward to recounting its events again in twelve months.
Happy New Year!