Monday, December 22, 2014

My Own 2014 "Year in Review"

Well, 2014 was quite a year. The world saw many wonderful and terrible things happen over the past 12 months. I have my opinions on those events of course, but - as with everyone - how a person experiences and feels about a year comes down to their own personal situation and experiences.

As I sat recently and thought about this past year, I initially felt that it was a tough stretch (as in, "wow, that was not a fun year"), but then I quickly realized that, you know, we did a LOT of great things during 2014 despite some challenges. And, if the hurdles we faced this year are the worst thing we ever have to go through, then we're doing just fine.

And that got me thinking that as 2014 comes to and end, I wanted to list out some of the highlights and most important things that occurred for us over the year. It's good to remember these things, and for me...writing about them further cements them in my mind and heart.

So, below is a personal "2014: A Year In Review." Before delving into it though, I need to say that none of what happened in 2014 - or any year - would mean damn thing without my beautiful, smart and wonderful wife - Diane. She means the world to me.

OK, here's the scoop on 2014...

My job situation was one of two developments that were central to our 2014. It's a long story, but I'll try to tell it in a shortened way...

The first thing to know is that the company for which I had worked at for nearly eight years decided to consolidate all its offices to Dayton, OH, Raleigh, NC and New York City. This meant closing the Bellevue office I worked in and "offering" employees either the "opportunity" to move or just letting them go. In what I took as a vote of confidence, I was offered the option of continuing to work for the company so long as we moved to the New York area. In one of the easiest decisions of my work life, I said "no thanks." For those of you who know me, we've discussed the many reasons for this. However, I can summarize it as such: Life is short, my wife and I are in our 40s, we love living in the Northwest, this is where our friends and family are, we want to control where we live and why, NYC - while awesome to visit - is not nearly as nice an area as Seattle and the pay/job security of the company I worked for was not worth risking a cross country move. I will say this though, this company did treat me well on the way out the door with severance and bonuses.

The next thing to know is that as a result of all that, on the first week of January 2014 I no longer worked for that company as an employee. However, I'd made some great friends and allies there over the years and at least one came to me and wanted my services as a contractor. So guess what? I was quickly back in action working with this company - albeit in just a couple of their businesses rather than across most or all of them. Fine by me. And, hey, I was able to do business trips to NYC and SF early in the year. Both were productive and fun ventures.

By the fall I learned that the company had enacted layoffs and big budget cuts...both of which hit the group I had been part of, including my former boss and one of my former employees. At this point I had my own private "I knew glad we did not move" moment. While I cannot say for sure I would have been let go, I think it's likely. And even if I hadn't, what a mess to be stuck with.

One thing these reductions did affect was my clients there could no longer work with me...budget reductions.

The last thing to know is that about the time the above came to pass, I hooked up with a great consultancy called Prime8 and have been doing work for Microsoft through them since November. This is good, solid work for good people and I like it.

While I cannot say how 2015 will go, I can say 2014 proved to be quite the ride. It's frustrating to be thrust into that situation, but on the other hand I'm proud of myself for keeping employment up and running all year long at the levels I am accustomed to being paid.

This was the second big thing in our year. My health was fine. However, my wife had a ruptured disc in her neck in February that required surgery in April. This was a big deal - both in terms of the physical recovery and financial outlay. The surgery instantly fixed the immediate problem, but other pain emerged and to make a long story short...while slowly and steadily getting better, she is not pain free as of yet. Suffice it to say though, I am glad she had the surgery and that the immediate threat of long term nerve and muscle damage is gone. And of course I'm proud of her for toughing through it.

Because of the old job situation and my wife's health issue, vacations to far-flung places around the world were not on the docket for 2014. However, did have some great times visiting some local and domestic locations.

New Orleans in May - we went there for a few days in May. We stayed in a boutique hotel just off the wonderful Frenchman Street. From there we were able to easily strike into the French Quarter or get a cab to anywhere we wanted to go.

Highlights included brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, a bayou tour, dinner and music on Frenchman Street, prowling the Quarter's streets to shop, eat and drink and seeing the historical sites. At left is a shot I took of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. You can see some pictures I took on this trip HERE.

Northern California in July - for the Fourth of July weekend, we visited my uncle and his wife in Amador County, California. This is a rural area about 1.5 hour drive north and east of Sacramento. It's also an region with wonderful views, an exciting and developing wine culture (lots of wineries) and nice little towns...such as Sutter Creek. Oh, and it was HOT. I'm talking 100 degrees. Anyway, we had a wonderful time away for a few days visiting relatives, tasting wines (Amador is know for their Zins and Barbaras) and relaxing.

Lummi Island in August - this summer we had a one-night getaway to nearby Lummi Island. This is not technically one of the San Juan Islands, but it might as well be. It's right there with them and offers wonderful outdoor experiences and beautiful vistas. The island is quite rural with only one formal hotel and two restaurants...all owned by the same group. The place we stayed is known for their gourmet dinner, sourced from organic and local ingredients from the island and Sound.  Apparently people fly in from around the country to go to The Willows Inn. Luckily, all we had
Hike Payoff: View of the San Juan Islands from Lummi, (C) Marc Osborn
to do is drive a couple hours and we were there. Transported across the water by a small ferry, we landed and instantly felt disconnected from urban and suburban surroundings...a good thing! Our fist adventure was to take a hike to an overlook point to get a view. Next, on this warm summer day, we stopped at one of the two restaurants to have a chilly beer (or two) and take in more of the view. Finally, we went to the hotel, checked into our room...actually house...for the night, retiring for said gourmet dinner in the evening. The next morning we biked the circumference of the island and then headed home. What a great little, local escape!

Music is important to me. I find that it provides a major release, an emotional outlet that helps me have fun, squeeze out frustrations, engage in conversations with friends and so much more. Mostly I'm interested in rock music - not heavy metal (although some of that is fine), but music that embodies the spirit of "Rock And Roll." 2014 ended up yielding some pretty dang good music on that score - some by acts already known and famous, some by up and coming bands doing interesting things.

Here are the bands I thought put out quality new music over the past 12 months:
  • Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways
  • Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
  • The Horrors - Luminous
  • Courteeners - Concrete Love
  • Manic Street Preachers - Futurology
  • The Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt
  • The Strypes - Snapshot
Speaking of music, live music - to me - takes everything I just said about why I like music to the next level. Sadly, I did not attend many gigs this year. This was, in part, due to the fact that...well...not that many "must see" bands I'm interested in came to Seattle. And, I can't be bothered to buy super expensive tickets for "big" shows like the Foo Fighters and still end up sitting a million miles away from the stage in a big venue.However, there were a few excellent exceptions in 2014...
Glasvegas Live in Seattle, (C) Marc Osborn
  • Glasvegas. Over the past several years, this compelling Scottish rock band has become one of my favorites. Are they huge the world over? No. Do they play catchy, compelling and moving songs that are different than what you hear on the radio? Yes indeed. For the fourth time in five years they came to Seattle on tour. This time at the Columbia City Theater. You can read my review of the show HERE
  • The Strypes. This is a young band out of Ireland who bring a fresh perspective on old time blues rock and roll. I'm not talking about "slow hand" style blues here. I'm talking about revved up, amped up, fast paced rockin' blues. Think a cross between the Rolling Stones and The Hives, think a marriage between The Yardbirds and the Ramones. That's what I'm talking about. Hitting the stage at the Crocodile in downtown Seattle, this was a hot, sweaty, great gig. A great time!
Brian Ferry Live in Seattle, (C) Marc Osborn
  • Brian Ferry. You may remember Brian from his solo work in the 1980s or, more famously, as the lead singer for Roxy Music. When we heard he was coming to play Benaroya Hall in Seattle, we jumped all over it. Scoring tickets right down front center, we really enjoyed hearing all his old hits and some new material too. You can read my short review of the show HERE.
It was a really good sports year for me. Hey, any time your hometown football team wins the Super Bowl...and in particular its's automatically a banner year. But, there was much more. Here's how my personal "year in sports" went...
  • Seahawks 12K. I ran it and clocked a 7 min, 24 second per mile pace. That's great for me!
  • STP Bike Ride. Another personal athletic accomplishment of 2014 was participating in and completing the annual Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride. This is a 200+ mile ride starting at the UW campus in Seattle and finishing in downtown Portland. Some people rock it down to Portland in one day, but most do it in two. That's how my buddy Sean and I did it...two days. This was relatively easier (and I use that term loosely), but it also allowed us to take advantage of my in-laws living in Chehalis - a town exactly half way between Seattle and Portland. So, we had a nice place to eat and sleep for our one night on the road. I loved the entire experience. I expected I would be able to do it, and was not surprised that I completed the ride. However, I was sufficiently impressed with the endurance needed. I'll be doing this one again in 2015.
  • Seahawks. What can I say that you don't already know? They won the Super Bowl in February by destroying the Denver Broncos to capture their first NFL title. Wow! I could go on and on, but I'll just leave it at...I never thought I'd see that happen and I could not be more pleased for my city and for the pro team I've followed since the 1970s.
  • Oregon Ducks. My alma matter had an impressive year in sports I follow. First, its mens basketball team made the NCAA "Big Dance" and advanced to the second round. That's really good for UO and made watching basketball a priority for me in some time. Next, the Oregon's mens track and field team won the outdoor national title, and BOTH mens and women's teams won national titles for indoor track and field. Track Town USA! The women's softball team won the Pac-12 championship. And of course, the Oregon football team rolled up a 12-1 record, #2 ranking, beat Washington for the 11th year in a row and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl playoff game on Jan. 1, 2015. Oh, and the Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota, won the Heisman Award for the best player in the country.
  • Sounders. My hometown squad had their best year ever. They racked up the best record in MLS for the season (which in virtually all leagues around the world would have made them champion...the end), they won the US Open Cup, had two players on the US World Cup team, beat rival Portland twice (and had one draw with them), reached the divisional finals of the MLS playoffs...all the while playing entertaining soccer. The only downer was that despite all of that, they could not make the final MLS Cup game. Their old nemesis LA Galaxy saw to that. Oh well...on to next season!
  • World Cup. Loved it. Great performances, first class soccer on display, a biting scandal, Team USA did well and the exotic locale of Brazil to see and learn about. For someone not into baseball, this was a great summertime sports focus.
  • Tour de France. I watch this competition every year, and every year I like it more and more. This year saw many top contenders crash out of the race, inclement weather, new and interesting stages and French riders for the first in a long time challenging for top three finishes. Additionally, the 2014 edition of the tour served as a daily inspiration and excitement builder for my own bike riding - training up for and then riding the STP.
  • Winter Olympics. Held in Russia, a lot of the entertainment value of the Games was the scandal and background on how Russia put on the competition. Seriously, how did they do it? Read the Vanity Fair article about it. Pretty much all the perceptions you have about Russia being corrupt and producing shoddy infrastructure are true. On the fields of competition, there were engrossing match ups in hockey, downhill skiing, bobsled and cross-country that I enjoyed watching.
Candidly, this was not my most prolific or artistic year for taking pictures. I still enjoy it greatly, but so many things just took my attention away from doing it more frequently in 2014. None the less, I did get some good shots and you can see my "2014: The Year in Pictures" on my Photostream HERE.

Diane and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary this year and I turned 45...I'm closer to 50 now than 40! Our cat Josie had a thyroid issue that would have killed her, but we spent the dough and cured her (for now)...and we have a healthy 14 year old cat again. We enjoyed visiting with friends we had not seen in a while - including Kurt and Heather from Vancouver, WA and Marcus from Portland. We took some nice hikes - Rainer National Park and Mount Pilchuck were memorable. We attended the Greenwood Car Show...always a big party and really near where we live. I went skiing with a buddy at Crystal on a beautiful day in the middle of the week - no crowds! I attended a few Mariners baseball games with some good buddies. I took countless training rides around King County on my new Cannondale road bike to get ready for the STP. I fellow Oregon alumni and I did a road trip to Eugene to see an Oregon basketball game in the brand new, state-of-the-art arena there. We enjoyed may a fun dinner with friends around Seattle and in our own, close-to-home Ballard neighborhood...not to mention enjoying our fire pit in the back yard. I celebrated St. Patrick's Day in SF with work friends by attending a big outdoor bash and then a nice dinner.

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