This year has been somewhat of an epic journey because of my entry into the realm of parenthood. That story has its own post. This is about everything else. Except the business, which also has its own post.
We started the year much as we ended the previous one, trying to figure out where the hell the good pizza places are. Moving has been hard, especially for me, seeing as how I've lived in Northeast Ohio my entire life. I haven't had the benefit of living in places like NYC or a semester in England, like Diana has. Prior to Simon's birth, I felt like I was always strung out, trying to feel like I wasn't a transient. Driving anywhere did nothing but cause anger. Having a GPS in the car was only helpful to get home, most of time.
But it slowly got better. We did our fair share of touristy junk in those two months prior to Simon, which helped a great deal. We still haven't been up in the Space Needle (which is kind of a rip-off), but we've been to the various museums and what not. We managed to find a number of restaurants that we like, and even found a couple of franchise locations that are fun to go to now and then. If we could just score a Buffalo Wild Wings in town, life would be nearly perfect.
These days, we have no problems getting around. We feel like we live here, and don't need a GPS. Even when we have to go into Seattle, we know just enough to look up an I-5 exit and roll from there.
The hardest thing about living here has been the total change in our social life. It's not because of Simon, and in fact, it's probably because of him that we have any social life at all. Joining a PEPS group made a huge difference. Nearly all of our friends outside of people I met at work and my brother-in-law's family came into our life via that group. What a life saver it has been for Diana in particular, since she doesn't get the chance to see other grown-ups every day the way I do. They're a great bunch of new families and beautiful playmates for Simon.
Work has been incredibly social for me, almost to the extent it was when I worked at Penton. This is one of the side effects of having on-premise cafeterias, that you tend to have lunch with the folks that you work with. We have a "dev lunch committee" e-mail DL that people are free to use to call out where lunch will be (usually between two locations, 9 or 37, and sometimes across campus at the Commons). I can honestly say that every guy (and one woman) in our little clique is interesting and fun to hang out with. My office-mate is also an Ohio boy, who happens to have older kids despite being 7+ years younger, so it's nice to have someone you can relate to.
I still had a very difficult time being so withdrawn from the friends and routine that I had become accustomed to. It was little things like meeting a friend for dinner once a week at the Winking Lizard, or meet-ups at Cedar Point. God did I miss Cedar Point. We got to spend some time with the Walsh's on our trip out there, but it was entirely too short. I also found myself reconnecting with all kinds of people, even from high school, and that kind of ended when we loaded up that rented mini-van and headed west.
One thing that materialized, and was awesome, was our opportunities to see my extended circle of friends. It's still a strange phenomenon that I have so many people I consider close friends that I only get to see once or twice a year, but this year, these encounters were the best of the year. Our event at Holiday World in particular was too awesome for words. We got to see "Aunt Carrie" (and again, weeks later at CP), the Jandes clan and their adorable little girls, the Grahams and their baby girl, and of course the Nashville Neu unit, where we could share in the excitement of their own family-forming. I think that weekend was the highlight of my year outside of Simon-related stuff.
Then the event at Cedar Point came the next month, and we got to see the Family Gonchar, the Walsh-folk, countless CP people. That trip also included Diana's Toledo family and Cleveland friends. It was good to see people on that trip, but it was so much running around.
The funny thing is that just being on Pacific Time has made it harder to keep in touch with people. By the time I fire up my chat client at work, it's probably 9 or later, so folks back east are at lunch. It's really frustrating.
Having a comfortable place to call home certainly could have eased the transition out here, and our apartment never quite got us there. I was thrilled when we originally found the place, because on a cost-per-square-foot basis, it was a good deal, the location was good and it was generally adequate space. What we didn't really grasp at the time was how dark the place was much of the time (a symptom of apartment shopping in November, the wettest month of the year). The retaining wall should have given that away.
The month I was home on leave for Simon was the point at which I started to really hate the place. It was like living in a fishbowl. I got so tired of the neighborhood kids staring in our windows. I hated that at best you got an hour or two of sun coming in any window at all. The space wasn't bad, but these negatives made it suck. The biggest redeeming quality was that its position meant it would stay cool inside, even when the outside temperature got up to the 80's, however rare. It was also nice to be 20 minutes to work on an easy commute.
Despite the expense, we agreed we should move. A part of me still wished we got the beautiful place up in Kenmore, but that commute would've been tragic. Being that far from Joe and his family also would have sucked. Diana started shopping around in September. She found a nice house for rent, half of a duplex, actually, and it was a pretty obvious choice. It had some compromises, like adding 10 minutes to my commute, no gas stove and a strange upstairs floor plan, but the views and location more than made up for it. The large windows make for epic sun most of the day. It also, coincidentally, is just five minutes from Joe's, which made it more likely that Simon would get to spend more time with his cousins. In fact, Diana even watches one of them on a regular basis. The move has been a huge win all around. I even have a mancave/office!
The crushing part of my existence has been real estate we don't live in. We started the year with some assholes breaking into Diana's house and stealing whatever copper pipe they could get their hands on. Not a great start to the year. That was a grand we had to piss away. We had to endlessly fuck with Wells Fargo over a short sale, and it took me sending a nastygram to every Wells Fargo e-mail address I could before we could get any satisfaction that they were going to follow through on it.
We finally ditched that house at the end of June, the bank taking something like a $48k loss on it. It was a completely ridiculous experience, but it felt good to see those papers signed. The down side of this is that we have to pay income tax on the bank's loss, and best case, that's looking like $10k. That's like another year of mortgage payments, due all at once.
But the money suck isn't done. My house has been on the market for about a year, and it's not going anywhere. Looking at what stuff has been selling for around there, it's clear that I need to bank more cash so I can drop the price and make up for the negative equity. These houses have been something of an ongoing financial burden since we got here, and it sucks. I try not to let it keep me up at night, but we've spent nearly $30k in the last year on places we don't live in. That money could have been a future down payment on a place out here, the start of Simon's college fund, five or six hot tubs... you name it.
On the up side, I weigh five pounds less than I did at the start of the year. I did the number screening thing at work, and my cholesterol is just barely in the normal range. I had some reasonably successful attempts at eating better, even with the free soda thing at work.
However, I'm not at all satisfied with that. I didn't do shit in terms of physical activity. I did not get on my bike even once. That's ridiculous. I did do a fair bit of walking around and hoop shooting at work, but not consistently. I can do better, and especially at the new place, there are plenty of place to get out and move around. I'm still about six pounds over my 2005 weight, which I view as kind of the gold standard of my adult life. I want to get back there, and even lower.
I thought I had it made, because I thought I would be coaching volleyball again this year. But as it turned out, I had no team. It still makes me angry and bitter to think about it. The club director was a schmuck, who sold me on the club's reputation (which in fact sucks), and unlike the kids who bailed after the tryout, I can't just go to another club.
We did quite a bit of traveling this year. My first trip was to Virginia, for the opening of Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion. I'm not sure if that was the best use of business dollars, but I'm really glad that I went. I met up with a friend there, photographed the ride extensively, and had a good time. I was gone for a total of 30 hours. It was hard to be away from Simon in that time, but Diana had backup from her aunt.
There aren't a lot of driving trip options from Seattle, but we did do a long weekend to the Oregon coast and in to Portland. The weather wasn't great, but we enjoyed ourselves at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and we had some excellent food in downtown Portland (not just BWW). Vancouver, and maybe Idaho (to go to Silverwood) might be on the 2011 agenda.
Both of us made our first trip to California this year (not counting layovers, which I've had in SF). Diana's cousin got married in LA, so we saw Hollyweird for the first time. We partied on the beach in Malibu, which was quite beautiful, but LA proper really didn't do anything for either one of us. Granted, we didn't do any tourist stuff, but the traffic alone made me never want to come back. I'm sure we will, however, if for no other reason than to see Disneyland.
We also had the trips to Holiday World and the Northern Ohio tour (covered those already). Originally we intended to work Orlando into the mix before the end of the year, because the theme parks around Christmas are awesome, but by the time we got back from Ohio, we were exhausted from traveling. We pushed that into 2011.
I've admired Microsoft for a long time, even when it has been mostly not fashionable to do so. That I work in DevDiv, which makes all of the products I'm most fond of, has been pretty cool. It has been really neat to see the current crop of products launch, and see the next generation coming up. I love that I've been able to chat with the guys who actually make the stuff I'm using.
Seeing the company from the inside gives me a great appreciation for its success, its failures and its future. I think that it certainly has a lot of challenges ahead of it, but there's clearly a wave of people and change all over the company that are driving its future. I definitely want to be a part of that.
For me, the challenge is finding what my niche is. In the long term, I don't think my success will be wrapped in heads-down code writing. That really wasn't where my career was headed prior to joining the company, so it makes sense that I look for jobs that are more in the program management realm. The PM title means a million different things at the company, depending on the division, and I've been networking a bit to find what might be the best fit. My current boss is fairly supportive in figuring this out, so hopefully there's a change not too far in my future.
Oh, and the perks have been nice. I beta tested Kinect, so I got that for free, and we got free phones too. Not bad.
One of the things I've tried really hard to do is find my zen place. That's hard without a hot tub. :) Seriously though, while I felt centered and generally comfortable in my life the summer before, despite the non-employment, I feel like I've been a mess since moving here. Stuff that I used to blow off would make me angry, I found myself being easily frustrated and I just couldn't be my normal chill self.
The first part of getting there was Diana and Simon. As I mentioned in the parenthood post, there's a lot of love in the house, and that went a long way toward grounding me and keeping me in the zone. It's funny how having a baby gives you non-stop perspective about the quality of life, what's worth getting upset about, etc. The things that got on my nerves after moving aren't as big of a deal as they were.
The other part was spring. Around the time Simon was born, the worst of the winter weather was behind us. When you're surrounded with mountains and sun, and not the oppressive SAD-inducing darkness of the Midwest, it makes a huge difference in your overall mood.
So while I still would like a hot tub, I've generally been happier in the last year than I have in a long time, on a more consistent basis. I never thought I was particularly unhappy before, I just didn't realize how happy I could be if I allowed myself to be. Who knew?
It wasn't all giggles and puppies of course. I kick myself a lot for not tuning in as much as I could have in terms of career. Ditto for the stuff in the business. It ranks up there with the lack of physical activity. I make a lot of excuses, but I know they're bullshit.
But on the whole, I can't say it was a bad year at all. It was life changing. I can't tell you how many times Diana and I would be sitting around and thinking, "Is this really our life?" And that's a good thing. I can't even imagine how this year will work out.