As the end of each year approaches, I like to look back at the past twelve months, and reflect on the events that transpired that year, and identify the trends that the year held. Each year seemingly has a theme, and 2018 was no different.

The past year certainly had its series of memorable events, and they vary quite widely across the spectrum. Fortunately, there was little pure tragedy, though the year had its difficult moments, as most years do.

That said, here are the themes that permeated our lives in 2018:

Home Improvements

Island pendant lighting

This year saw more changes and home improvements to the house since we first built it. In March, we upgraded our kitchen lighting by adding an additional recessed can light over the sink, and adding pendant lighting above the island. This was a significant change to our current setup, and has made our kitchen feel much more as we intended. We also installed a chandelier in our dining area, which makes it feel a little bit more homey.

Later in March, we had gutters installed on the front and back of our house. While for most this may seem like a trivial addition, it really has been significant. Guests no longer have to walk through the ‘waterfall’ to our front door when it’s raining. It will also allow us to have real landscaping installed next year, without concerns that it will wash away whenever it rains, as it did in the past.

Also in March, we replaced our sliding glass patio door with French doors, with over-the-door blinds. This also made a huge difference to our home, and provides a much more elegant appearance. We’re very happy with how these changes turned out, and the investment that we made to have them installed.

A few days after the French doors were installed, I borrowed a pressure washer and cleaned our front porch, sidewalk, and driveway. This also made a big difference, visually, since the aforementioned lack of gutters had caused severe staining of the concrete out front.

New toilet!

In June, with the help of my friend Matt, we installed a new toilet in our downstairs powder room. The old toilet still worked fine, but had grown difficult to clean, and was a round, low toilet. We replaced it with an elongated bowl, with a higher seat height, which is far more comfortable to use. It’s also far easier to clean.

The largest change to our home, however, came in August, after we purchased new flooring in late July. Installation actually happened from August 9th to the 11th, when we had the floors throughout the entire house replaced. We went from carpet to luxury vinyl plank that looks like a brownish-grey wood. This was the most disruptive change to our home beyond moving in, as we had to prep all of our furniture to be moved, and many fragile items had to be packed away and relocated.

Damaged LEGOs!

During the prep, some of my LEGOs got damaged, as a result of my cabinet tipping, and spilling them onto the floor. Some were so badly damaged, I had no choice but to completely disassemble them, and re-build them entirely (good thing LEGOs can be re-built.)

As part of the flooring upgrades, we bought rugs for our master bedroom, living room, and dining room. It took a while for Jenny and I to agree on rugs for them, but we did manage to agree on them, and we think they look nice in our home.

Now that’s a hole in the wall!

In October, we had to deal with a water leak that manifested in water collecting on our front porch, as it appeared to be coming out of the weep holes. After trying to figure out where the leak could be coming from, we finally located it in the wall of the powder room, near where our water main comes into the house. It turned out to be a tiny crack in an elbow joint, but still cost a pretty penny to repair. We still need to get the drywall hole patched, as a result.

A real tool cabinet

In late October, I finally bought a rolling toolbox for my tools. I had been working out of a small toolbox with a handle, but never really had enough room in it. I bought a nice Craftsman toolbox to store all my tools, which can now actually be organized. I also now have plenty more room for tools that I obtain in the future.

Lastly, in November, before Thanksgiving, Jenny relented and allowed me to hire a cleaning service to come in and clean our home. Our first cleaning was on November 16th, and they did a great job! They came back again on December 22nd, and cleaned for the 2nd time, and did an even better job. We now have them scheduled to come back every 4th week to help us keep our home nice and tidy.

Smart Home Upgrades

In some ways, this ties in closely with our home improvements, but our home got a lot smarter in 2018 as well.

I bought our first ‘smart outlet’ on January 2nd, which kicked off the whole Smart Home Upgrade Project. This was actually an unintentional project, as I didn’t purposely decide I was going to make these changes. Nevertheless, I’m very happy with how things have turned out.

In February, I bought the Lutron lighting kit, so I could retrofit our kitchen lights to have smart controls. We have 8 lights in our kitchen, and I didn’t want to buy separate internet-controllable light bulbs for the room, since that would be extremely cost-prohibitive. Instead, the Lutron Caseta wireless kit allowed me to control the entire switch via voice- or app-control, as well as a physical switch on the wall, while being cost-effective. Two of these switches allow us to control either the island lighting, the overhead kitchen lighting, or both, simultaneously. Suffice it to say, we’re very happy with the results. This coincided with our March kitchen lighting upgrade, and worked out very nicely.

$20 Wyze Cam

In April, I got the first of our five Wyze Cams. This inexpensive video camera piqued by interest, and I bought one first to test out. The features, quality, and usefulness of these cameras cannot be overstated. Perhaps their only disadvantage is that they don’t make an outdoor model (yet), so they’re all indoors at the moment. Still, they provide us with a nice way to monitor our home while away, for very little cost, overall.

Ring Alarm and Video Doorbell

In July, I bought into the Ring ecosystem, with the Ring Alarm home security system, and the Ring Video Doorbell Pro. I did a lot of research of the various systems before buying, and the Ring was the least expensive overall—not just to buy, but also to maintain. I’m really happy and impressed by the quality of the system, the ease of use, and I have professional monitoring of our system for only $10/month, which also includes my Ring video doorbell, any additional Ring cameras I might add, and an extended warranty for all my Ring products! Nobody else offers a value anywhere close to that. The consideration that Ring is also now owned by Amazon, and should tie in very closely with Amazon Echo devices (of which we own several) was a big additional incentive to their system. After using it for nearly six months, I’m still very happy with it, and have already saved money over our previous Vivint security system, which cost us significantly more (both in initial costs, and overall ownership.)

Yale Assure SL

Since we got our initial home security system, we have always had a keypad lock for our front door. As a result, we’ve never really needed a physical key to get into our home. The battery life of that lock, however, left a lot to be desired; I was having to replace the four AA batteries nearly every week (fortunately, I was using rechargeable batteries.) Weary of this, I opted to buy a new lock. After a lot of careful research, I opted for the Yale Assure SL lock, which works with Apple Homekit, so I can now ask Siri to unlock or lock my front door. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with both Siri and Alexa, without some additional hardware. Still, the battery life of this lock has been incredible, with over four months having seen the battery only drop to 91%. I’m very happy with this lock, overall.

Floor2D2

With the change to our flooring, it was finally time to buy a robot vacuum. I’ve read countless horror stories about these things running over dog poop, and creating a massive mess, so ours is not on a schedule, but only run manually, when we can confirm there are no messes for it to run through. I found one of the best reviewed, but inexpensive models on Amazon, The Ecovacs Deebot N79s, at a fantastic price, so ordered it in August. We wasted little time in naming it Floor2D2. After using it for a couple of months, I saw an even better deal on it again, so bought a 2nd one, which we named CFloorPO. So now we have a robot vacuum both upstairs and downstairs. They do an excellent job of picking up pet hair, dog food, and most other items that find their way into the floor.

I also found some good deals this year on more smart outlets, which I purchased for the purpose of using them with our Christmas lights. This allowed me to not only schedule our lights to come on and go off, but to let us turn them on/off with voice commands. There’s nothing quite so satisfying in lying in bed, and being able to say “Alexa, turn off the Christmas lights” and having them all turn off, without having to unplug 10 different outlets. It’s a game-changer, and one that I’ll not want to give up anytime soon, that’s for sure.

Amazon Echo Show (1st gen)

Our final smart home upgrades of 2018 were the purchase of the Amazon Echo Show (which I got Jenny for Christmas) and the Fire TV Stick 4K.. The Show replaced our Echo in the kitchen, and allowed us to see our timers visually, look at recipes, and even check our front doorbell or Wyze cameras via voice command. It has been a useful upgrade as well. The Fire TV has been an interesting upgrade as well, since we can now launch the latest episode of our favorite shows, or something like Hulu or Netflix directly, via voice. It feels like living in the future.

Now our home is much smarter than it has been previously, though still has a way to go before it’s as smart as I’d like. I still want to set our bathroom lights to be motion-activated, with dimming in the late hours, etc. but that’s a project for another time. Perhaps 2019 will see this desire come to fruition; perhaps not.

Photography

I got much more into photography in 2018. Much of that was a result of our trip to Ireland in 2017, but also by my friend Matt’s passion for the subject. Talking to him about it increased by knowledge and desire to practice it a lot more. As a result, I not only invested in more camera equipment in 2018, but participated in a few photography-related events with him.

The Galleria

In February, I bought some tiny little lenses for my camera, so I’d have something to play around with. The quality of them wasn’t the best, but they were fun to use. I ended up buying a couple more lenses later in the year: a 50mm prime lens for my primary Sony camera, and a Moment Superfish lens for my iPhone, which resulted in an amazing shot I got at the Galleria, which has been my most-liked photo on Instagram this year.

In March, my friend Matt and I went to photograph a place we’d been wanting to visit for some time: the water Cistern at Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston. We had booked a photography tour, and got to spend about an hour there, taking long exposures, and getting some amazing photos. Both of us got great shots, and learned a lot about how our particular cameras worked for those long exposures as a result. While out, we also flew our drones at Buffalo Bayou Park, and got some other really good photos—in fact, one of Matt’s ended up being printed and on display in an Athens, Greece photography event.

In June, I bought an intervalometer for my camera, which is basically a tool for automating long exposures and time lapses. This was purchased specifically for some astrophotography that Matt and I did on June 9th, in Columbus, Texas. It also resulted in some spectacular photos I got of the Milky Way, as well as a very nice time-lapse of the same. This capped off an awesome where I shot behind-the-scenes video of a photoshoot Matt did for a book cover.

In July, I bought some more camera gear, including a portable hard drive with the capability to backup directly from my memory cards, or USB devices (like my phone, or drone.) I also bought a shotgun microphone for my Sony camera, specifically for recording video with that camera.

Later in July, Matt and I went for another photo shoot, this time to the Tree Tunnel in Houston, which turned out well, but not as nicely as we’d hoped. We didn’t exactly go at the correct time of day, but that was in part due to our other scheduled event that day: the Fred Hartman Bridge near Baytown, Texas. We wanted to get sunset and nighttime photos of the bridge, so got there a couple hours before sunset, and setup on a jetty and took countless photos as the sun went down. In all, we got some really good photos there, and really enjoyed ourselves.

On August 29th, Matt had a booth at RAW Houston, which is an event to showcase local artists. He had his photography on display and for sale (many photos of which I was present for.) It was great to see him network, and see others enjoy his work in a public setting.

In December, Jenny and I went to Las Vegas (more on this later) which I used as an opportunity to record a vlog. I edited and put it on YouTube, and it’s definitely the best video I’ve yet produced, though I’m always learning and striving to do better for the next one. Hopefully they’ll get better, since I bought a DJI Osmo Pocket in December, with the purpose of getting better video in the future. More on that later, too.

Gym Membership

At the end of January, Jenny and I decided it was time to get more fit, so we visited LA Fitness and ended up buying a membership there. We went for our first workout on February 2nd. Mom ended up joining as well, and we signed for a personal trainer, so we could get personalized workouts to help us achieve our goals. I ended up going to the gym a total of 22 times between February 2nd, and June 14th, which was my last time there. We ended up cancelling our membership after that, primarily because of lack of results. It really is true that it’s diet and exercise that provides results, and the diet part was too difficult to achieve.

Health

With every year that passes, it seems that more health-related items arise. This year wasn’t really an exception, though nothing too serious occurred. Still, there were things that happened.

On January 12th, Jenny had an emergency root canal performed. She later went back for a couple fillings, and needs more, but we maxed out the dental coverage for the year, so some of those needed to wait for 2019.

I finally got around to getting an eye exam in February, and was told I have presbyopia, which basically means I need reading glasses. I’ve worn glasses for the past 10 years or so for nearsighted vision, where things in the distance are blurred, but my close-up vision has always been fine. Now it’s not. I ended up getting bifocal glasses, though the prescription I was given wasn’t right, so I ended up going back to get another prescription, and got one that’s better (but still not right.) I’ll have to go through this again in 2019, but I’ll be going to a different eye doctor, that’s for sure.

Dad was in and out of the emergency room this year, first on April 4th, though this was for a fall he had taken at his memory care facility. His shoulder had been hurting him for a few days, so we took him to the ER for x-rays. It turned out to be only a contusion. He was back in the ER on his birthday, April 16th for a UTI. It had been nearly a year since his last UTI, which was a huge improvement over a couple years ago, where he had one every other month. This one was a doozy though. He was back in the ER on April 23rd, then again on May 3rd, all for the same UTI.

Mom had her bouts with the ER this year, too. On January 24th, we took her in where she was diagnosed with severe anemia, and blood loss. The source of this was never discovered, but it resulted in several iron infusions throughout the year. She was also back in the ER on July 10th, this time for chest pain. She was admitted, but no source was really ever identified, and she was released from the hospital a couple days later on the 12th.

Pet Health

RIP Frankie

2018 was by far the worst year for our pets since we’ve had them. On January 30th, Mom had to put our longtime favorite-ever cat Frankie to sleep. She was nearly 20 years old, and had kind of given up. Her fur was matted, she wouldn’t use the litterbox anymore, and she only ever slept and ate. It was time. That didn’t make it any easier though. I stayed with her through the very end, and it was difficult returning home without her. She is greatly missed.

We also had to start facing the fact that our Boston Terrier puppies aren’t really puppies anymore. Kirby turned 11, and Freckles is nearing 9, and both are starting to show their age. In March, Kirby started on anti-inflammatories, as her leg seemed to be bothering her. It got worse in June, which resulted in multiple vet visit, and a trip to an emergency animal clinic. Eventually, our world-class veterinarian clinic, My Family Vet identified that her shoulder had partially dislocated. Since then, she’s been significantly better since then, but still limps from time to time, and is having a harder time getting up and down from furniture, and refuses to use the pet stairs that we bought her.

Freckles also had her health issues this year, as we had to take her in for an eye problem just before Halloween. It turned out to be an ulcer in her eye, which has since healed. Still, it’s just a sad reminder that our dogs will not be around forever, which is sad.

New Cars & Insurance

The year saw a big change to our vehicle situation, too. My Kia got paid off in June, so of course, we rushed out to buy a new car for Jenny. We actually had a very practical reason for doing so. Her car’s mileage had gotten quite high for its age, and the transmission had had some problems for a while, having to be rebuilt once. With the expiration of the extended warranty, I was concerned that more issues would crop up, and we’d be paying for repairs in addition to the monthly car payments. So it was that we traveled to Pearland, to Big Star Ford, where my friend Matt works for the owner’s IT department. He helped us get a great deal on not one, but TWO new cars: a 2019 Ford Mustang Convertible, and a 2018 Ford Escape. We splurged quite a bit on a not-very-practical car in the Mustang, but it’s incredibly fun to drive.

The Mustang became Jenny’s new car, and the Escape became mine. The main reason behind getting the new Escape was that we got it with 0% interest, and the payments were actually lower than what we were already paying. Considering I rarely drive it, the mileage will remain very low, and should provide us great resale value, should we decide to sell it, or buy a different car.

Tech Purchases & Changes

As is common, I made numerous tech purchases over the course of the year. 2018 saw a slightly higher-than-normal set of purchases, but I’m very happy with them.

In February, I got a new laptop for work, which dramatically changed how I operate on a daily basis. As a result, my iMac didn’t really work with the new workflow, so I sold it and bought a new MacBook Pro. I replaced my laser printer with one that works far better, and got a new chair for my office to coincide with the new floors in the house.

Sticking with the theme of Apple products, I upgraded to the iPhone Xs Max, the Series 4 Apple Watch, and the new iPad Pro 11”.

I was extremely surprised in April when my friend Matt finally bought his first Apple product, an iMac. He had been an Apple-basher for years, but at last came to his senses, and joined the Apple ecosystem. He later bought an iPad as well, and now wants to get an iPhone to replace his Android phone.

DJI Osmo Pocket

In December, I bought the latest DJI product, the Osmo Pocket, which is a very small, handheld gimbal, which I plan to use to record more videos, vlogs, which should hopefully be far better with the quality of this tiny camera.

As for other changes, I started using trakt.tv full-time to track my TV and movie watching. It’s been interesting to see the statistics involved. The fact that I was able to integrate it with my media server was key also. You can see my 2018 statistics here.

Home Office change

Another massive change involved my home office layout. Shortly before Christmas, I went and bought new shelves to display my LEGO modular buildings on. Considering the new set comes out January 1st, and I’m out of room, it was either begin decommissioning previous buildings and putting them into storage, or coming up with a new solution. I chose the latter. With this new set of shelves, I should be able to expand my buildings for another decade, at least. As a result of this change, I ended up changing the location and orientation of my desk, but I think it worked out nicely. I finished it just before Christmas Eve, so was able to enjoy the holidays without too much disruption. It’ll be interesting to see how the new layout functions when I’m back to work on the 26th, and throughout the new year.

Work, Travel & Vacations

I didn’t travel for work in 2017, but did so twice this year. In March, I bought my first new suit in decades, in preparation for being on-site at a project. That happened from March 29th to the 31st, which was local to Houston.

In September, I traveled to Dallas, Texas for a work project, which was a large-scale project that I was very glad to be on-site for. That project could have easily gone sideways (and tried to,) but ultimately, things smoothed out, and it was very successful.

As for personal travel, Jenny and I went to San Antonio in May, where we stayed at a hotel on the Riverwalk, and visited Fiesta Texas. It was there we learned that we’re growing too old for roller coasters. Jenny had issues with sciatica afterward, which put her out of commission for nearly a week.

In December, Jenny and I went to Las Vegas for her birthday. This was our first trip to Sin City since our honeymoon in 2007. I decided it was a perfect opportunity to record a vlog, so had my camera on us a lot during the trip. We enjoyed it very much, though the amount of walking necessary wore us out pretty quickly. Upon returning home, I edited together the footage into a vlog, which I put on YouTube for the world to see.

2018 Houston Astros

2017 World Series Champions

In 2017, the Astros won the World Series for the first time in franchise history. They were heavily favored to be the first team to win back-to-back World Series since the 90’s when the Yankees did it. It was an exciting season to be an Astros fan, too.

On April 8th, we went to our first game of the year, with Jenny, Mom and myself attending, and getting a replica Championship Ring, which at the time was a huge accomplishment. There ended up being several more giveaways of the rings, but we were among the first.

Replica World Champions Ring

Shortly after the first game, I went to another game on April 13th, then again in September with my brother, Don, when he came to visit our dad for a week.

Unfortunately, injuries took their toll on the Astros, and they lost in the ALCS, to stop their bid for back-to-back World Series championships. It was still an amazing season, and makes me look forward all the more to the 2019 season, and how this team performs.

Misc. & Day-to-Day

Of course, there are things that happen throughout the course of a year that don’t necessarily fall into a theme. These items are among those.

  • 1/16 & 17 – Snow days in Houston! We saw upwards of 3 inches of snow in Houston, which resulted in much of the city shutting down. Jenny stayed home from work and I got some incredible photos of the snow, which is exceedingly rare in Houston.
  • 2/6 – SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster into space on their new rocket. While totally a publicity stunt, it was so interesting to see this car floating in space. The views from the cameras were outstanding, and it was endlessly captivating, to me at least.
  • 3/24 – We went to the Toys R Us closing sale, where I bought a replica lightsaber. I had been wanting this particular one for years, and while the price on it was still high, it was the lowest I’d ever seen on it. This was our final trip to Toys R Us before they shut down all their stores. The end of an era.
  • 4/16 – Dad’s 77th birthday, which he unfortunately spent in the hospital. We ended up celebrating his birthday with him the next day, taking him pizza and a cupcake. He seemed to enjoy both.
  • 5/16 – My ‘LEGO Coney Island’ was completed with the purchase of the LEGO Roller Coaster, which is by far one of my favorite sets. It’s not only enormous, but fun to actually play with.
  • 5/26 – Celebrated my 39th birthday by doing absolutely nothing.
  • 5/30 – Moved Dad to his new assisted-living facility.
  • 6/13 – Had a puppy houseguest for a week. We hosted Jenny’s cousin’s dog Alfie for the week while Jordan was traveling.
  • 6/27 – Jenny’s aunt Beth passed away, and we attended her funeral.
  • 7/15 – Tried seeing comedian Gabriel Iglesias at his public birthday party at Toyota Center. The crowds were immense, and after waiting for 3 hours and barely moving, we left. Jenny was really upset.
  • 7/25 – Jordan’s moving-away party. She moved to Kansas, and it was kind of bittersweet, since we don’t know how often we’ll get to see her anymore. Seeing these kids grow up and into their own people has been both fun, but difficult. It’s a reminder of how I’m growing older, too.
  • 9/16 – Don came to town to visit Dad. At the time, he was doing very poorly, and it looked like he might not be around much longer. He has since improved a bit with changes to his medications, but it’s still just a matter of time until his illness takes him.
  • 10/20 – Our 11th wedding anniversary. We spent the day at LEGO BrickFest with Josh and Bev. It was something I’d been looking forward to for a couple of years, since it had been cancelled the year before. It was a bit underwhelming though.
  • 10/26 – Voted early in the midterm elections. I won’t go into my political beliefs or who I voted for, but suffice it to say that it was important to vote.
  • 11/20 – My neck issues started returning a bit. I have three herniated disks in my neck, and occasionally hav etc get steroid injections into the disks to prevent pain. They’ve flared up a couple times since, but fortunately, it’s not disabling—yet.
  • 12/20 – Our next door neighbors moved to a new house on the opposite side of town. We were very sad to see them go, since they have been absolutely amazing neighbors (which are hard to find!) We understand their reasons for moving, but we will still miss them terribly. I’m hoping that our new neighbors will be at least half as awesome.

Movies Attended

There were far more movies this year than I wanted to see than I ended up getting to the theater to actually watch. Nevertheless, here are the ones I went to the theater to see this year, and my rating of them:

  1. 1/6 – Molly’s Game (8/10)
  2. 1/26 – The Post (7/10)
  3. 2/17 – Fifty Shades Freed (4/10)
  4. 3/10 – Death Wish (7/10)
  5. 4/29 – Avengers: Infinity War (8/10)
  6. 5/18 – Deadpool 2 (7/10)
  7. 5/24 – Solo: A Star Wars Story (7/10)
  8. 6/24 – Tag (7/10)
  9. 7/27 – Mission Impossible: Fallout (7/10)
  10. 10/13 – First Man (7/10)

In Store for 2019?

So what’s in store for 2019? I have a few plans, but nothing set in stone yet.

I plan to do more photography, both with Matt, and on my own with Jenny. Matt and I are planning a trip to Galveston the first weekend of January to visit a couple locations to shoot. That will also be a good opportunity to use my new Osmo Pocket to try capturing a vlog.

For our 2019 trip, we’re planning to go back to NYC to visit some of the areas that we missed the first time. We’re considering the May timeframe, but are still looking at options, and scheduling, but look very much forward to this trip. We had originally planned a trip to Disneyworld in Florida, but we’re waiting for the Star Wars park and hotel to open, which isn’t set until late 2019, and there has been no news on the Star Wars hotel opening date, so it’s looking like that trip will end up happening sometime in 2020.

On the home front, we plan to replace our fence with our tax return this year. Our current fence is in pretty dire shape, and it’s time to get replaced. Considering our neighbors just moved, and they’re selling their house, I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to get the new owners to pay for their portion, but we’ll see, I suppose. I’d also like to get our landscaping completely re-done, and maybe install a backsplash in the kitchen. I’m not sure how many of these things we’ll get done, but it’s still nice to have plans.

Here’s to 2019, and whatever it has in store.

Retrospective: 2018

time to read (approx.): 22 min
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