Retrospective: 2011

2011 was quite a year, and one I’m glad to put behind me. It was a very stressful year, for both Jenny and I. Fortunately, life didn’t throw a whole lot of curveballs our way during the past twelve months, but things were still certainly interesting.

Health Issues

I entered 2011 dealing with my knee injury, sustained on December 18th, 2010. I had a torn ACL, a fractured tibial plateau, and what was believed to be a torn meniscus in my right knee (later, I would be told there was no tear to the meniscus, of which I’m still not certain). As a result, I was on crutches for quite some time in the beginning of 2011. I was also out of work on Short Term Disability until January 17th, when I finally returned after a four-week absence.

One month after returning to work, I underwent arthroscopic surgery on my knee to reconstruct the ACL, and repair the meniscus. After the surgery, the doctor told me that he couldn’t locate a tear of the meniscus, but that the ACL reconstruction was successful. My recovery was fairly rapid, and I was able to return to work just a few days later on February 23rd, fully mobile (well, sort of.) The very next day I started my physical therapy, which would become a routine part of my life for the next three months.

On May 5th, I had my final followup appointment regarding my knee. I had finished my physical therapy, could walk without a limp, bear weight, and was almost completely back to normal. Though it’s healed, I’m sure my knee will never be completely normal again–as evidenced anytime I try to run, or kick something with my right leg; I just don’t have the hyper-extension that I used to.

In past years, a herniated disc in my neck has caused discomfort and pain when aggravated. In 2011, that particular affliction recurred several times. On July 26th, I felt symptoms, which subsided after only a couple of days. Then on August 9th, it flared up worse than before, convincing me I needed another steroid injection (I had one in 2008) to alleviate the problem. I scheduled an appointment, and took a day off work, but then got the runaround with the physician, who refused to do the injection while I was there. Fortunately, the pain was subsiding, so I didn’t followup immediately. Unfortunately, in late November, just after Thanksgiving, the pain returned. Though not as severe, it was clear that without this procedure, I would continue suffering the same problems. I was able to schedule the injection for December 14th, took the day off, and had it done that day. Since then, the pain has largely disappeared. Here’s hoping it will be another two to three years before I need an injection again.

 

Work

Work was a huge source of frustration, stress, and sense of accomplishment in 2011. Going into the year, I knew that it would be a busy one, but I had no idea how hectic things would eventually get, especially leading into the final weeks of the year. Projects abounded, and we never had enough people to get everything done. That issue would be further compounded later in the year with the promotion of some, and departure of others. One result is that a huge impediment to me, and my primary source of frustration was removed (mostly), but it also led to a higher work-load, with added pressure. Fortunately, I have survived it so far, and even thrived, continuing to make a name for myself within the company.

In April, I received a good review for my 2010 performance, and the merits associated with that review. That said, I was more than happy for my vacation to come around.

 

Travel

Speaking of vacation, 2011 saw us take more trips, and sight-seeing than previous years combined. On May 21st, Jenny convinced me to attend the Pasadena Strawberry Festival with her. We took the considerable drive out to Pasadena, paid our entry fee, and were excited to partake in the festival. Our excitement was short-lived though, and we stayed less than an hour; in the end, there wasn’t much to see or do, unless you were willing to spend significant amounts of money.

July 1st marked the start of our vacation, and a huge road-trip. We left Houston in the wee hours of the morning, and stopped for the day in Memphis, TN to see Graceland–home of Elvis Presley–then enjoyed a wonderful evening in the city. We ate at a spectacular barbecue restaurant called Rendezvous–if you’re ever able to, eat there. Then it was on to Michigan, where we visited with my brother and his wife. I’ve posted a pretty exhaustive account of our trip, which you can read here, so I won’t go into much detail. We returned home from our trip on July 9th, and were eager to travel again soon.

In October, shortly before our anniversary, we took a trip to New Orleans; it was the first time for both of us. We visited the Oak Alley Plantation, and walked around the French Quarter, basking in the history and uniqueness of the city. It was a fairly unplanned trip, and only lasted the weekend, but it was still fun. We definitely enjoy traveling to new places.

We also made our annual visit to the Texas Renaissance Festival on October 29th. We missed going last year, due to budgetary constraints, but enjoyed our visit very much this year. The weather was perfect, and we took our nephew Josh along, for his first (of many, I’m sure) visits.

We capped off our traveling for the year by going to my parents’ house for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We were supposed to go up for Christmas last year, but my knee injury precluded any travel. So we’re using this year to ‘reset’ our holiday rotation.

 

Website Updates

2011 saw some rather large updates to my website, though most of it was on the back-end. Early in January, I combined all my books and movies into a single library, that I can manage from my site’s back-end. Before, it was a separate section, built from scratch, and hosted in different locations. Now, it’s a cohesive structure. What that means for visitors is that I can update more frequently, and the details are easier to access, and more consistent.

Though I’m happy with the solution I have right now, I’m always on the lookout for a better one. To date, nobody has one that does exactly what I want, and I’m not a programmer, so don’t have the ability to create my own solution.

 

Technology

My life typically revolves around technology–after all, it’s my passion. 2011 was no different, and contained a few items of note.

Things started out early in January, when my Xbox 360 took a nosedive, getting the dreaded ‘Red Ring of Death’. There’s really only one solution when that happens: buy a new one–which I did. In March, I got an iPad for work (which was provided by the company); It’s the original one, not the iPad 2, but still, it’s an interesting device that I use pretty regularly.

In June, I bought back into the Apple ecosystem, signing away 2 years of my life to Verizon, and the iPhone 4. I’m very happy with my decision, though I continued to be intrigued by the Windows Phone 7 platform. In December, I ordered an HTC Trophy Windows Phone. It’s not that I was unhappy with my iPhone–quite the contrary–just that my curiosity about the WP7 platform was so strong, I felt I needed to investigate it in more detail; the only way to do that was to own one. Unfortunately, I ran into nothing but problems trying to adopt the Windows Phone platform. My initial order got hung up and never shipped, so I cancelled it. My 2nd order arrived, but was a duplicate of an active device, so that was also returned. It was then I decided to abandon my attempts to test Windows Phone 7 and continue with my iPhone. Jenny also joined the iPhone crowd just a couple weeks later, and seems very happy with her phone. On June 29th, I signed up for Google+, hoping that my network of friends would follow–they did not. As a result, I’m still primarily using Facebook.

For years, I’ve been trying to find the perfect solution for tracking my finances. I’ve always been happy with Microsoft Money, but support for the software was phased out a couple years ago, and recently, Bank of America abandoned support as well, so I was forced to seek another solution. I switched from Money to Quicken; I wasn’t especially pleased with Quicken initially, but got over my qualms and proceeded. In September, I reevaluated Mint.com, and found that it finally met my needs, and switched from Quicken to using Mint, day-to-day. Sadly, I learned that without a running balance, Mint.com makes things too difficult to project into the future, so again switched back to Quicken just a couple months later.

In July, I ordered components for a new home server, and completed setup of Home Server 2011, which has been invaluable. With extra redundancy in storage, I’ve got multiple backups of my data, in case something happens. Already, my backup solution has paid off, as I was able to restore some important files recently.

In total, it was a light year for technology, and I bought no major gadgets, other than my phones. There’s a lot of new things out there–including the recent releases of Android tablets, and the Kindle Fire that have my attention. I’m interested, but holding out for now.

 

Birthdays & Anniversary

On February 6th, our puppy Freckles celebrated her 1st birthday, which coincided with the anniversary of my grandfather’s death; It’s still difficult to accept that he’s gone. I also drove for the first time since my injury; It was a strange experience.

In May, I celebrated my 32nd birthday by going to see “The Hangover – Part II” with Jenny and friends Matt and Christen. It was an enjoyable birthday, if low-key. October rolled around, and Jenny and I had our 4th wedding anniversary. The year wrapped up with Kirby’s 4th birthday on November 24th (which also happened to be Thanksgiving), and Jenny’s 32nd birthday on December 10th, before the holidays.

 

Television / Books

2011 had me hooked on a few television shows, though not so much as in past years. The biggest show to come out this year was HBO’s Game of Thrones, an adaptation of one of my favorite books series by George R.R. Martin. The show started in April, and ended entirely too soon; fortunately, HBO has picked up the show for another season, so fans will have more to look forward to soon. A few other shows caught my interest this year, including the second season of Boardwalk Empire and new show Homeland.

I also got caught up in the aforementioned book series, when I started re-reading the Song of Ice and Fire series after Game of Thrones premiered. I started reading them on April 26th, and finished the series on August 5th, by completing A Dance with Dragons, which was published July 12th. I also got rid of all my physical Star Wars books this year, selling them to Half-Price Books on September 28th. It was a surprise to those who know me, but I really didn’t see the need to hang on to them any longer.

On September 16th, Star Wars fans were rewarded for their patience (or not) with the release of the Star Wars Saga on Blu-ray. I, of course, purchased the saga as a single set. The quality is just as amazing as I would expect.

 

Baseball / Sports

This was an intriguing year for baseball, and both Texas teams were in the news a lot this year. The Texas Rangers unfortunately lost the World Series in 7 games, losing for the 2nd straight year. Though I was rooting for the Rangers to beat the Cardinals, I still felt glad that Lance Berkman was able to revel in a World Series victory in his career–the Astros certainly weren’t going to give him one.

Speaking of the Astros, it was a busy year for them. Not only did they lose a franchise-record 106 games, but used the trade deadline to ship off more of their home-favorite talent. Hunter Pence first, then Michael Bourn were traded to competing teams, with varying degrees of success. Though it was hard to see them go, it’s clear that the Astros are devoting themselves fully to a rebuilding phase. Last year, the Astros were put up for sale, and on November 17th, it was announced that the sale of the team had been approved by the Major League Baseball owners, and that the Astros would be moving to the American League West for the 2013 season. It was a huge shock to Astros fans, and caused a lot of consternation. I’ve written a whole piece about my feelings on the matter, but it was still one of the largest headlines in MLB for the year.

Strangely, I didn’t attend a single Astros game in 2011; my only visit to Minute Maid Park came on September 17th, when I attended a batting practice session at the park. I got to go two rounds in the batting cages, on the field of Minute Maid Park. I actually got a few solid hits, and got a couple out of the infield, though none that would have gone for a hit. Still, it was a really neat experience, and I had a lot of fun. Jenny got some good swings, in too. I also spent time this year learning how to score baseball games, both manually with a scoresheet, and with an iPad app that I bought. I practiced with a few of the games on my PlayStation.

More big news came on December 11th, when the Houston Texans clinched their division, and their first-ever playoff spot. I’m not much of a football fan, but it’s impossible not to feel pride in a Houston team being successful. Much like when the Rockets won their NBA Championship, the entire city has come out in support of the Texans. The fact that Football is the most popular sport in the U.S. doesn’t hurt, either. The team has overcome a lot of adversity and injuries to get to the playoffs, though they have played poorly since, losing their last two games since clinching. The postseason has yet to begin, so hopefully they’ll bounce back.

 

Summer Heat / Drought

It was an abnormally hot summer, with temperatures often in excess of 100 degrees. On many days, it wasn’t unusual to see a temperature of 108. I can’t recall it ever being so hot during the summer in Houston. The heat led to a severe drought, resulting in mandatory water-rationing in August, and widespread wildfires across the state, burning hundreds of thousands of acres. On September 13th, there was a wildfire in George Bush Park, uncomfortably close to where Jenny and I live, and the smoke could be seen from all over the city. It has been the driest year since 1917, with only 7 inches of rain falling since February. Fortunately, the past couple months have brought more frequent rain, but it’s still been a very dry year.

 

Vehicles

The summer heat took its toll on my car, as well. Jenny and I were out running errands on September 10th, when my car battery died, leaving us stranded for a while. Fortunately, I had roadside assistance, who sold me a new battery, and we were up and running with a couple of hours.

In September, we traded in Jenny’s Honda CR-V for another Honda–the Fit. It’s a smaller vehicle, with much better gas mileage, and surprisingly, we didn’t lose a tremendous amount of cargo space. The dogs especially love it, since they can look out the windows easier, and we’ve already taken Jenny’s car on trips to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

 

Home Furnishings

Jenny and I finally found furniture we could agree on, and bought matching night-stands for our bedroom. It’s just the first phase of our bedroom overhaul–we still have a new bed frame and dresser to buy, but we’re trying to get rid of some of our existing furniture first.

 

Miscellaneous

A few other things transpired in 2011 that don’t really fall into any other category. In March, we started researching our family genealogy, turning up some fascinating facts; it appears the Brown family line can be traced back to the 1100’s (and indirectly to a Roman Emperor). King Henry II of England is my 25th great grand-uncle!

I also did not participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. In fact, I haven’t finished the novel I started during that month last year, much to my chagrin. I hope to turn that around soon, but unfortunately, real life gets in the way sometimes–much too often, in fact.

 

World Events

Of course, there were major world events during the course of the year, and 2011 saw some fairly significant ones. On March 11th, Japan suffered a catastrophic 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that caused devastating destruction and loss of life. As if that weren’t bad enough, they had a Chernobyl-level meltdown at one of their nuclear plants as a result of the earthquake and tsunami; it’s a disaster that’s still ongoing, so many months later.

On May 1st, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a U.S. task force. It’s one of those moments I will remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news–similar to 9/11. Of course, September 11th, 2011 marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was unavoidable on the news as every channel seemed to be carrying some kind of media coverage about the event. The 9/11 memorial was officially opened in New York City, and is a fitting one, I think. I hope to visit one day and pay my respects.

On October 5th, technology visionary Steve Jobs passed away, losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but did come as a bit of a shock. People around the world treated his passing with varying degrees of scale, including flowers and notices in front of Apple stores around the world. For myself, it made me pay even closer attention to Apple, to see how the company will be run without the man who led them to such success. Later in October, the authorized biography of Steve Jobs, authored by Walter Isaacson was published (which I read), and the world got to know Steve like never before. It would become Amazon.com’s top-selling book of 2011.

On December 18th, North Korean leader (dictator) Kim Jong Il died of an apparent heart attack, throwing the Korean peninsula into turmoil, and all eyes around the world closely monitoring the situation.

 

Summary

Looking back, 2011 was not the best year I’ve lived through, but it was also far from the worst. I’ll be happy to usher in 2012, and look forward to a promising new year, and the adventures and challenges it will present. Here’s to 2012–may it be a happy one.