Monday, December 28, 2015

My Own 2015 "Best Of"

With 2015 now coming to a close, I'm taking inventory of some of the best parts of the year for me. I think looking forward is more interesting, of course, but I also believe in not taking for granted the wonderful things - and recognizing the challenging things - that make up our lives every year.

At the highest and most important level, both Diane and I exit 2015 in good health, and having just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary in October. Life is good when you have a loving partner who is also your best friend.

In terms of work, I continue to enjoy working as a contractor, focusing on marketing and communication work. It's not the expected path I thought I'd be on, but one that I am pleasantly surprised by.

With work, health and relationship all in great shape, below are some lesser-important but also entertaining "best of's" for 2015 for me...

New Rock and Roll Music
2015 was a good year for rock. Not excellent, but good. Here are the best new rock albums for me this year. Some are from new bands, some from more established acts. All were new in 2015.
  • Blur - The Magic Whip
  • Born Cages - I'm Glad I'm Not Me
  • Catfish & the Bottlemen - The Balcony
  • The Libertines - Anthems for Doomed Youth
  • The Montecristos - Born to Rock 'n' Roll
  • Peach Kelli Pop - Peach Kelli Pop III
  • The Sonics - This Is the Sonics
Check 'em out.

Meanwhile, I went to a number of concerts this year - virtually all by bands who became famous in the 80s. To be fair to myself, there were several new bands I really wanted to see when they came to Seattle, but I was not here when they did. Oh well.

Here are the best three shows I did see this year:
  • Psychedelic Furs - Yep, the Furs. They were AWESOME live at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle. You'd think maybe this 80s act would just trot out warmed over hits, but no...these guys were into it and on fire. Fire! Great, sold out show. Loved it.
  • Mark Knofler. I like Knofler and all. Dire Straights were pretty good. And, he put on a nice show at the St. Michele winery. However, the reason I rate this one highly is the ambiance and warm summer night performance. It was fun to relax, have some wine and enjoy the show with my wife. 
  • Violet Femmes - OK, so the Femmes were not the featured band at this outdoor show at Marimore Park this summer. But, they were the best band of the triple bill that also included opener Colin Hay (singer from Men at Work) and headliner Bare Naked Ladies. Great energy, quirky sing-along classic songs a major bonus...I went to the show with my high school buddy Lou Lucarelli. Great to catch up with him.
Honorable mention: Matt Pond PA, B-52s, Public Image Limited, Joe Jackson

2015 was not a prolific year for my photography. I will strive to re-engage more in 2016. With trips to Mexico and Portugal on the agenda, I think I'll be back in the swing.

At any rate, here are a few of the best shots I did take in 2015. You can see a larger selection of photos I took this year in my 2015: The Year in Pictures album.

We took a few very fun, very pleasant domestic trips this year.
  • Palm Springs. Along with some friends, we rented a house for a few days in February and had a blast sitting at the pool, going out to eat and relaxing. Highly recommended.
  • Hawaii. In May we went to the Big Island. We'd never been their before. We saw the active volcano, explored some little hill towns, went to the beach, hung at the hotel and sampled some very good cuisine. Loved it!
  • Cannon Beach, Oregon. One week this year, we hosted a French student at our house. She wasn't here to attended classes, but rather work on her English and see the sights. Among the things we did was shoot down to Cannon Beach for a great couple nights down there. Beautiful. 
It was a very good year in sports for me - both for activities I participated in, as well as the teams I follow.
  • I completed the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride for the second year in a row. 206 miles people.
  • I also completed the 100 mile Tour de Cure ride and the 80-mile Perimeter Ride of Seattle (PROS) this year. Throw in a lot of training rides, and I estimate I rode more than 1,000 miles in 2015.
  • My Oregon Ducks football team won the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 by defeating Florida State.
  • The UO football team then went on to post a 9-3 season during ensuing 2015 in the fall that included wins against rivals UW (for the 12th year in a row), OS (for the 8th year in a row) and Stanford. 
  • My Seattle Seahawks won the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers in a epic comeback for the ages. Seriously, if you've not seen how the Hawks won, check it out on YouTube. This put them into the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Unfortunately, that game ended "oddly" to say the least.
  • The Oregon Men's Track Team won the Pac-12 and National Championships, again.
  • The Oregon Men's Basketball team made the NCAA tourney and got to the second round...a very good result considering expectations for the season.
2015 was a whopper of a year in politics. I'm primarily talking about the U.S. presidential election cycle. And more specifically the array of Republican party candidates, the "debates" they participated in and the fact that Donald Trump is their front-runner.

Most Over-Rated Presidential Candidate - Ben Carson. Seriously, how did this guy even get in the mix? He's way off in Luny Toons land on many issues, incoherent and has no charisma.

Most Under-Rated Presidential Candidate - easy, Bernie Sanders. This guy believes in what most Americans want, regardless of labels or party affiliation.

Most Irrelevant Presidential Candidate - it's a tie between Jeb Bush and whomever that third Democrat is who is running. Bush has all the expectations, money and campaign infrastructure needed to win the Republican nomination. The one thing he doesn't have is a personality. Bye bye Jeb! Meanwhile, Martin O'Malley is, well, who?

Scariest Presidential Candidate - Trump. If he were to be our president our economy would begin to crash again as it did the last time the Rs ran all branches. Trump has no realistic ideas on the economy, and therefore a Republican-controlled Congress will will run the show by enacting the tax cuts and deregulation that led to our problems last time. If Trump followed through on his ideas around deporting millions of people out of the country, banning Muslims from entering and building a wall across our southern border...not only will that break the economy, it will institute a police state the likes of which we have not seen here before.

Meanwhile, and I truly believe this, we would be thrust into a major war somewhere and/or see a sharp increase in terror attacks here in the US. Trump is a bully, a chest thumper and not only would over-react to real or perceived threats, I think would actually go out looking for opportunities to bomb or invade countries.

Most Likely to Win Presidential Candidate - while it is NOT a slam dunk, I think Hillary Clinton has the best shot at winning the whole thing in 2016. She has broad appeal, stands for more common ground issues than certainly any of the Republicans, and has a lot of experience. Yes, she is polarizing to many, but not a majority of voters. And, by comparison to, say, a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, she's relatively easy to like.

2015 did not deliver many excellent movies in my opinion. I know Star Wars is out now, but I have not seen it yet. My strategy is to wait for a week or two and then go mid-week during the day when crowds are smaller. In the meantime, these three are the only ones I saw that I thought rose above the mediocrity.
  • Brooklyn - the story of an immigrant Irish girl coming to the USA. Sounds boring. It is not. Great drama.
  • Ex Machina - an interesting sci-fi flick about what technology could become...and what it could be capable of. Lots of interesting questions raised in this one.
  • No Escape - a big wind up that has you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
  • Montage of Heck - a documentary about Kurt Cobain. I thought it was very well done considering his story is so well known. 
Star Wars, Bridge of Spies and Black Mass may make this list at some point, once I see them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pac-12 Bowls

So now we know: Stanford is the 2015 Pac-12 champion and 10 of the league's 12 teams will play in a bowl game. Only Oregon State and Colorado had losing seasons and did not make it to a post season game.

And, we know that no team from the Pac-12 will be in the four team playoff to determine the national champion - primarily due to Stanford losing twice during the regular season.

Here's who is playing who during bowl season and what I think will happen:

New Mexico Bowl - Dec. 19, 2015
Albuquerque, NM

Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5). Yawn. This is squarely in the territory of "consolation game." It will come and go and nobody outside Albuquerque and Tucson will notice or care. Why? These are two 6-6 teams playing for the right to say they had a winning season. Ironically, it might be a fun game to watch. I'll take Arizona by a couple TDs.
Prediction: UA 31-UNM 17

Las Vegas Bowl - Dec. 19, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

#22 Utah (9-3) vs. BYU (9-3). An in-state rivalry played out during a bowl game. And for that, it'll be a good one to watch I think. Utah started the season hot, then cooled off as the injuries piled up at key positions. BYU beat the 9 teams on its schedule that are typically on par with them, but lost all three to "the big boys" - UCLA, Nebraska and Michigan. Their coach is also leaving after this game. I think this will be a close one. I'll take Utah as the slightly better squad. 
Prediction: UU 27-BYU 24

Sun Bowl - Dec. 26, 2015
El Paso, TX

WSU (8-4) vs. Miami (8-4). Miami has pedigree and history of much bigger bowls than this - although not recently. They also have a new coach. WSU has the pluck and desire to use this Sun Bowl as a building block to future 8-plus win seasons. Who wants it most? That's what it'll come down to. I think that team will be WSU. If their star QB plays, they'll win. If he does not, it's a crap shoot. I'll take the Cougs.
Prediction: WSU 31-Miami 17

Heart of Dallas Bowl - Dec. 26, 2015
Dallas, TX

Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (9-4). Yes, UW is 6-6, but they've steadily played better over the past several weeks - sporting a very good defense and a quickly improving QB. Southern Miss has 9 wins, but against what type of competition? This is a game UW should win - by a lot. I think that's what will happen.
Prediction: UW 49-Southern Miss 23

Foster Farms Bow - Dec. 26, 2015
Santa Clara, CA

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7). Huh? How did a 5-7 team get into a bowl game? UCLA will dominate the Cornhuskers in this one. Too bad...the day after Christmas is usually a good day to hang out and watch football. But not this one.
Prediction: UCLA 44-Nebraska 20

Armed Forces Bowl - Dec. 29, 2015
Ft. Worth, TX

Cal (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-5). Yawn number two. Not much of a matchup here. Cal's QB is very good - and this is likely is last college game before going pro - but the rest of the team is underwhelming. Air Force? Not much to say either. Decent team as usual, but nothing special. I'll take Air Force in a close one because I think they'll be much more motivated to win against a Cal squad that faded big down the stretch.
Prediction: Air Force 27-Cal 23

Holiday Bowl - Dec. 30, 2015
San Diego, CA

#25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3). Two middle of the pack teams who expected more out of their 2015 season meet in this one. That's the downside. The upside is that the talent on both squads is good to great and the game may turn out to be quite entertaining. Can USC exit its tumultuous season with a bowl win and a national ranking for its new coach? Can Wisconsin validate its status once again as a power with a 10 win season? USC has lost two in a row - badly. Wisconsin is coming off a stretch of games it went 6-1 in. I'll go with Wisconsin.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31-USC 23

Rose Bowl - Jan. 1, 2016
Pasadena, CA

#6 Stanford (11-2) vs. #5 Iowa (12-1). Now this is an interesting one. Iowa is virtually a mirror image of Stanford. Big O and D lines, a commitment to running the ball and burning clock, a timely pass game by a smart QB and a stingy defense. Of all of those things, Iowa has the advantage on defense. They've got more depth and consistency across the board. Stanford's advantages are: 1) experience in big games, and 2) Heisman finalist RB McCaffery. If Iowa can stop the Stanford run game, I think they will win - probably a close one. If not, this game could get out of hand in favor of the Cardinal. I'm going to pick Iowa to win a close, hard fought and relatively low scoring game.
Prediction: Iowa 20-Stanford 17 

Cactus Bowl - Jan. 2, 2016
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona State (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5). The third "Yawn" bowl of the Pac-12 slate. In short, who cares? Sure, the faithful students and alumni of both schools will tune in for this Saturday game, played on the day after New Years day. But anyone else? Beyond gambling addicts, doubtful. ASU played very well in stretches, but ultimately proved to be flawed. That and one gets the impression the players do not like their coach. WV went 7-5 in the Big 12, so not great either. Based more on what I saw out of ASU in the games I watched this season, I'll take West Virginia.
Prediction: WV 33-ASU 28

Alamo Bowl - Jan. 2, 2016
San Antonio, TX

#15 Oregon (9-3) vs. #11 TCU (10-2). This is easily the best non-New Year's Six bowl. Both Oregon and TCU were highly ranked early in the season, only to lose games when their starting QBs went out with injuries...and then returning to their winning ways when they came back. Each has a suspect defense capable of giving up loads of yards and tons of points, but who have also played well in stretches. So, this could be a barn burner shoot out with a 66-60 type score. Seriously, it could. Truly, either team could win this one. But I think the Ducks are the overall deeper, better team (O, D, Special Teams) and they are on a hotter win streak. Yes, they gave up 42 points to a poor Oregon State team in their last game, but they also beat Stanford and USC in the previous two. And Vernon Adams is playing QB as well as anyone in the country. I'll take the Ducks in a high scoring affair.
Prediction: UO 56-TCU 42

If I am correct, the Pac-12 will go 6-3 in bowls with five teams likely in the final Top 25. We shall see.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"You Should Get To Know Your Town"

"You should get to know your town..." So goes on passage from a song by The Clash sung by the late great Joe Strummer.

And it's true.

Knowing your own city, where you live, its merits, its faults, its beauty and its underbelly, meeting the people who live where you do...all are well worth doing. Otherwise, you live an isolated bubble and are disconnected from your community.

One way you can connect (or re-connect) with "your town" is to be a tourist in your own city. How many times has someone come to visit you and they end up seeing more in your area that you have? Or, conversely, how many times to you go somewhere and someone there says "you've seen more of this area that I have...and I've lived here for years."

Well. Go out and see your city, your area and your state.

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of hosting a friend from France for about 10 days. To show her a good time, we took her out to a lot of the Seattle's and the Northwest's attractions.

So for those of you living around Seattle or who will visit soon, I'll make things easy for you. Here are the great things we did that you can do too:

  • Visited the Pike Place Market - shopped, gum wall, lunch, views
  • Had dinner at the Space Needle - expensive, but good food and you can't beat the view
  • Walked the campus of the University of Washington - beautiful
  • Went to the Golden Gardens beach park - sun, sand, dead on view of the Olympic mountains
  • Took a ferry to Bainbridge Island for the day - so nice. Water sports, great restaurants, great views of the city
  • Went to the Oregon coast - yeah, a bit if a drive, but still worth it if you can get there
  • Went on a day hike in the Cascade mountains
  • Went shopping downtown
  • Went out to dinner in Ballard - so many places to choose from in old Ballard
  • Took in a Broadway production at the 5th Ave Theater
  • Dinner downtown
  • Had brunch at the Snoqualmie Falls Lodge and hiked down to the falls
  • Went to a Seattle Sounders FC soccer match

We have done mostof these things before, but it had been while for many of them. Having the opportunity to re-engage with the greater area to show a guest the highlights of our city was a delight.

So yeah...we got to "know our town" even better.

Do the same wherever you are!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2015

I just watched the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction event. 

Setting aside the weirdness of a "hall of fame" for something so subjective as rock, a few thoughts:

  • Joan Jett is THE REAL DEAL! Love her spirit and dedication to true rock and roll. I loved her acceptance speech and I think what she has to say about the power of music is missed by 99.9% of people today...or at least people in the USA. Rock can change the world. It can.
  • While I do like Green Day and think we need more bands like them, when you 100% rip off the Clash, you need to at least name check them in your acceptance speech. Respect to GD for what they've done, but come on. No Joe Strummer, no Mick Jones, no Paul Green Day. It's that obvious. Show some respect.
  • Bill Withers people...check him out. You know more of his stuff than you think. He. Is. Good. 
  • Ringo Starr...enough said. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Beatles and I think Ringo deserves his own place in the HOF just like John, Paul and George. 
  • It is a God damn shame Jimmie Ray Vaughn is no longer with us, but God bless him for what he did.
  • Lou Reed, Lou Reed, Lou Reed! You talk about authentic, influential, innovative and a real rock artist...he is it. 2015 USA has no idea. No, seriously. Despite technology and all, a guy like LR in 2015 would just be a homeless bum never to be heard. His genius (and THAT IS WHAT IT WAS) was only able to be heard because of who he was and when he was. That kind of artistic approach to rock today would be a niche deal most people would never, ever hear. In the 1970s though, there were just enough record labels and radio stations that would play it. LOU REED.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Giving Golf A Chance as a Spectator Sport

Those of you who know me understand that I have always contended that golf is not a sport. Yes, it is a very, very difficult game (and I am certainly horrible at it) and it does require you to swing a club precisely to get accurate shots. But that's it folks. It is not an athletic activity.

Indeed, golfers need very little athletic ability to play - even at a high level. I know some pros like Tiger Woods are very physically fit, but the point is they don't have to be. Other great, great golfers old and new are or were not athletic like those who play tradition sports like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, tennis, cycling, track, etc.

Hey...anything you can do (well) while smoking a cigar and wearing a pinky ring is not a sport.


This past Thanksgiving a relative convinced me to give golf a chance. His reasoning was that I was able to get him into soccer enough to appreciate the game and even watch some World Cup and Sounders FC matches, so I should open my mind up to watch a big of golf and see if I liked it. It is competitive, can be dramatic and has a cast of characters. He had a point and I get ticked off when someone disparages a sport I like out of, what I consider to be, ignorance. So, at minimum I need to walk the talk.

His recommendations were: watch the Masters on TV in April and then if I liked it he would take me along to one of the days of the US Open which will be played in the Seattle area later in 2015.

Now, I have watched golf on TV in the past, and this is a primary reason why I don't like it. Boring.

None the less, I've taken up my relative's challenge and I WILL be tuning into The Masters this weekend. My goal will be to try and appreciate the strategy, competition and unpredictable nature of the event. I will not be watching the whole thing, but on Sunday I will make a point to watch all or most of the broadcast of the final round.

Live events are a whole different story. I completely believe a person could have a great time at, say, a major golf tournament in person...walking around, enjoying the views, eating, drinking, hanging out. So, that would not be a stretch for me.

We'll see.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Macefield House in Ballard

OK. It has been a while since I posted anything. Work is work, right? Busy gets busy.

Over the past eight weeks since my series of sports-related posts, a lot has happened.

But sometimes life's pleasure is not big scope stuff...but rather the little moments we experience, string together and enjoy.

One such moment occurred the other day.

Indeed, the gym I go to in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle is known much more for what is outside of it than what is inside. What am I talking about?

The Edith Macefield House. You may recall seeing pictures of this home because the owner - Edith - refused to sell her life-long home to the big developers who came into her neighborhood, tore down all other previous structures and build a big shopping center. Nope. Edith decided NOT to sell.

So the developers built AROUND her house. This is inspirational. Her refusal exhibited - and continues to illustrate - true "values" in the face of easy money. The house is also said to be the inspiration for the story depicted in the animated movie "Up." Sadly, Edith died a few few years ago, and now the house is up for sale.

Because my gym is in that big building surrounding Edith's home, I go by her house daily on my way in and out of my workouts. I've always appreciated the symbolism of the house. But for whatever reason, yesterday I took my camera with me to get a few shots. Maybe because the house may not be there for much longer.

Anyway, below are some pictures I took of the site on April 2.

Oh, and one other thing about the property. Directly across the street currently sits a vacant lot, an area dozed down 10 years ago on which used to sit a large one story building called The Music Bank...essentially a warehouse, but in reality a place where many now famous Seattle-based rock bands practiced, hung out, took drugs...and whatever else. Below is how it looks today. Note the Macefield house in the upper left part of the photo...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Peaks and Valleys: Jan. 1-Feb. 1 for a Seahawks and Oregon Duck Football Fan

OK. It's been a few days since the Seahawks shocking end-of-the-game loss in the Super Bowl.

As a Seahawks and Oregon Ducks fan, the Super Bowl caps what was, for me, a roller coaster football experience over the past few weeks filled with peaks and valleys.

PEAK: Jan. 1, my alma matter, the University of Oregon, wins the Rose Bowl in impressive fashion beating Florida State - last year's #1 team, at the time #3 team and a team that hadn't lost a game in two full seasons. Hey, winning the Rose Bowl is a BIG DEAL to any school and for Oregon, it's truly special. The team has only ever been in the game seven times and only won it three times...and one of those was nearly 100 years ago. So, this was the best peak for me in the Ducks season.

With the win, the UO advanced to the National Championship game as a favorite against #4 Ohio State.

PEAK: Jan. 10, my hometown Seattle Seahawks defeat the Carolina Panthers 31-17 in the NFL playoffs, sending the team to the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.

VALLEY: Jan. 12, the Ducks lay an egg in the title game. A lot of it had to do with the fact that, as it turned out, the #4 Buckeyes were actually the best team in college football. They were physically dominating on the line - producing a 200+ yard running back and effective QB on offense and bottling up Oregon's run game on defense. The saving grace for me is, my Ducks just got beat by a better team. There was no heartbreak ending or controversy. They just got beat. No difficult to accept.

PEAK: Jan. 18, the Seahawks defeat the Green Bay Packers in overtime in a miracle comeback for the ages. The final score was 29-22. With the win, the Seahawks earned a trip to their second straight Super Bowl. I cannot underscore how euphoric this win was for Seahawks fans. Of all the peaks I've mentioned, this was the best.

VALLEY: Feb. 1 in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks - possessing the ball at the Patriots' one yard line with less than a minute to play and for all the world looking like they are going to win the game with a power run by all-everyting RB Marshawn Lynch - instead decide to pass the ball over the middle into traffic. The ball intercepted. Game over. BIG VALLEY. Not necessarily because they lost, but HOW they lost. They had them. They had the win. They blew it.

My reaction in the moment was similar to about 99% of people on the planet..."WHAT THE F! RUN THE F-ING BALL TO WIN THE GAME. YOU HAVE THE BEST RB IN THE NFL RIGHT HERE ON THE FIELD. YOU ONLY HAVE ONE YARD TO GAIN!" Then over the past few days, one of the people in that other 1%, the Seahawks coach, explained why they did what they did and why. I understand what he said about not wanting to give NE any time after a score and how NE had their goal line D in so were susceptible to a pass. OK. I get it, but to me...that's not good enough.

My perspective is, its the last minute of the Super Bowl. You are behind. You get the lead NOW and play to your strengths - running the ball and defense. That would mean a power running play by Lynch. Give him the ball a couple times, he scores. And then if you have to play D for a few plays against Tom Brady, least you have the lead.

And hey, if the Hawks don't sore, OK...they lose anyway, but you don't go down the way they did.

All that said, it's great to have my college and pro football teams at or very near the top of their respective games. If I'm lucky, I'll be rooting for one or both again come next January.