What a difference a year makes. This one wasn't perfect, and probably no year is, but this one was certainly better than the last two. Granted, the bar was pretty low. I've been more thoughtful about everything this year, and while that might sound like too much time living in my head, it really has been quite the opposite.
I'm not even sure if I can keep calling this a business. The ad revenue pendulum swung the other way, hard, down 42%, despite a combined increase in traffic of about 5%. That's especially disappointing in an election year. On a CPM basis, CoasterBuzz was down more than PointBuzz, a reversal of the typical arrangement for the first time in years. I'm a hostage to algorithms and the Google-Facebook duopoly, and I guess there's little I can do other than complain about it. I'm barely covering cost this year, but hey, it's redundant as hell at least.
The CoasterBuzz membership revenue was flat, which I suppose is good since the only benefit now is having the site ad free. You don't need a membership for most events anymore. But I am transitioning to digital membership cards, which is neat. Once I run out of the card stock, that's it. The digital "cards" can be validated with a single-use QR code.
You know, I've decided again that I don't really want to talk about my career out loud anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this. What I will say is that I don't want to work forever. I definitely don't want to wait until I'm in my late 60's to quit. If I'm really being honest, I'd like to retire in 8 to 9 years, which is not impossible if the market swings the other way and I can max out my 401k and IRA contributions. It's hard to really see accurate math with this year's crappy market action, but it seems doable. The other big question is whether or not Social Security survives, because I would prefer to hold off hitting that until we can get as much as possible.
This year was a lot better than 2021 for maker me. I'm sure part of it is the switch that flipped in the mental health department (more later). I went into hyperfocus mode working on forum improvements, leading to a pretty huge release. I did so many of the things that I've been talking about for years, like image uploads, better quoting and a notification system. I even overhauled the private messaging to be more chat-like and real-time. I made 542 contributions to open source on GitHub this year, which is a new record for me. There is still a lot of smelly code in the forum, but I'm still proud of where it is now, regardless of how much it gets used.
I made a word game called Phrazy. The Wordle craze inspired me to do something, so I took a stab at what is essentially a variation on hangman, only you get to see how you did against other players the next day. It has a small but loyal following. What was super fun about it was trying to figure out what the rules were for competition, and I got there by opening it to a small group of people and getting their feedback. It's not at all what it started out to be, and that's cool.
My next coding project, I think, may be a drink-around-the-world app to track your consumption at Epcot. I doubt very much that it will get a ton of use, but it might be fun to make. When I say "app," I of course mean something that's web-based, since I'm all anti-platform.
I made more video this year, but not as much as I would have liked to. I made six LEGO review/time-lapses on the SillyNonsense channel, and one "education" video about gas prices, made entirely of stock video and some scribble graphics I did. I still haven't done any EV videos, as I intended. I've had a few ideas for documentaries but the subjects have been non-responsive. I wanted to start experimenting with drone video, but I live in Disney's no-fly zone. As I said a few weeks ago, the viewership of videos is totally random. I admire some of the folks making quality video for YouTube, but I would be crazy nervous about depending on it for income.
There have been some side endeavors too, this year. I have intermittently been trying to learn to play drums with a used electronic set that I acquired on an impulse buy. I think I could continue to learn and get somewhere if I had some specific direction, but I haven't really committed the brain cycles to it. I also became pretty obsessed with automated lighting, and I can't promise that I won't buy more lights in the future. They're really fun to mess with, and I want to flirt with some opportunity to apply the knowledge to a real scenario. We also became rum enthusiasts this year, and generally started collecting spirits. We don't really drink any of it but one day a week (a college student I'm not), but it's fun to make stuff. More on that in the travel bits.
My physical health is certainly better than it was a year ago. My hypothyroidism is well controlled, as is my cholesterol. My triglycerides are still high-ish, but still better. My weight is down a few pounds, though not as much as I'd like. Later in the year I got a little better about moving around more. The opportunity to make these adjustments, and make them stick, gets smaller as we get older, so now is as good a time as ever.
It hasn't been without its angst, though. To go from zero medications to three in one year is jarring. And not eating as much as I want leads to some level of unhappiness. That's getting better, but it was exhausting chasing the triglyceride number. I'm not showing any risk for pancreatitis yet, and my blood pressure is settling into a more normal place. My overall risk for heart disease is lower than it was.
The real breakthrough this year was in mental health. While last year's autism and ADHD diagnoses were a big deal, I think that opportunity to look constructively at my mental health, past and present, enabled me to see that I wasn't just in a temporary funk at the start of the year. I was dealing with depression. I'm not saying I was sad all of the time, but I definitely was not experiencing joy the way I used to. So my doctor put me on bupropion, and it was a game changer. I generally feel again. The hard parts are harder, but the good parts are better than ever. Along with that life reframing in the context of autism, being able to be moved by a musical or a movie, or even a hug from my darling partner, feels like living with intensity again.
I'm still figuring out how to deal with anxiety, but therapy is helping with that, as I see her once a month. I find that the physical manifestation of panic attacks come more rarely. There's a bigger picture around accepting my mortality and where I am in life, which reminds me not to let unimportant things affect me the way that I used to. It's not easy to remember that. But I'm realistically closing in on my third act, as I like to say, and I ain't got time for nonsense.
Diana's health was better in terms of being on the right combination of medicines for migraines, but her back pain has negatively affected her quality of life. She's moved on to a different doctor, and the treatment results seem more promising so far, but it's hard to say how things will go long term. Simon is a raging pre-teen now, and he's developed a habit of picking the skin on his arms to an extreme degree, while his ADHD meds are working marginally at best. He also was diagnosed with esophoria, a condition with his eyes where they don't quite focus in the same place. This will require home-based therapy that Diana has to learn to administer. We think it may be contributing to his slower reading speed (based on eye tracking tests), so this might be a big deal.
I can say for certain that parenting doesn't get easier. It feels like we are perpetually doomed to work on the same challenges, most of which revolve around nightly routines, homework and not following directions. Simon often feels that I'm not his advocate, because I don't bail him out on things that he asks for help on. He doesn't try very much, if at all, to accomplish simple things like opening a bottle. It's a long game, where I hope that a decade from now I feel validated because this forced him to be more independent. I have to remind myself that I am ever present in his life, and that's one of the most important parts of parenthood.
Last year's time in a private school ended up being counterproductive. The school was a joke, as it did not even attempt to balance accommodation with accountability, so he was mostly credited with showing up. It was clear before the end of the year that we had to get him out of there. It was somewhat validating to see that almost the entire staff at the school turned over. It was a joke.
Fortunately, with the reassignment of Simon's elementary principal to the now-relieved middle school, we were able to petition to get him there instead of the relief school, which would not be able to provide the same level of services or elective options. Half-way through the year, I won't say it's been an easy adjustment for him, but I expected much worse. He's doing OK, he's awkward and he's navigating the social jungle of being a tween. He's not happy all of the time, but it's not always easy to get a read on what he's feeling. We have to dig a lot.
I think my biggest concern hasn't changed much in the last few years. I want him to grow up to be a self-sufficient adult, and make it through adolescence without being too miserable. That might be a low bar given my own experience. He's an emotional kid, a lot like me, only he hasn't developed all of the skills to regulate that emotion.
This was a somewhat epic year for travel. It's not so much the volume of travel as it is the quality of travel. Our first trip was for our anniversary. We dropped Simon off with my in-laws in Punta Gorda, and then we headed down to the hotel on Sanibel Harbor where we got married 13 years prior. It was only two nights, and we had no specific plans at all other than to not be parents for a little while. The hotel was a bit of a mixed bag under Marriott operation (it was independent back in the day), but it was comfortable. It was also kind of boring. For dinner that night we walked down the street to a tiki bar/restaurant called Bimini Bait Shack, and despite being crowded it had a fantastic vibe, live music, and good food and drink.
The restaurant in turn led us to the Wicked Dolphin rum distillery, where we became completely enamored with the product. I like the idea of buying stuff from local businesses, and here was a place making good rum with Florida ingredients. We left with a case, and have since ordered more from a local shop. We've tried all kinds of new combinations of drinks and I think officially became rum enthusiasts. We've even had the opportunity to make drinks for other people, and that's fantastic. We appreciate aged sipping rum, too. It's an expensive hobby to have a variety of spirits on hand, but I suppose it's no different than people who collect wine.
In May, I met up with one of my friends in Cleveland to see the Garbage/Tears For Fears show. This was a make-good on 2020 plans, where we initially thought we would see Garbage with Alanis in DC, but you know how that year went. I didn't even know that Tears For Fears was coming out with a new album, but it turned out to be insanely good. So we went all-in and got seats in the fourth or fifth row at Blossom Music Center. It was possibly one of the best shows I've ever seen. We made it a long weekend by spending a few nights at Cedar Point before the show. The park operations were suboptimal, but we had a great time eating and drinking there, and meeting up with people I had not seen in a few years. I even met my old roommate Jen prior to the concert.
I initially thought I could see the tour in Tampa, but it coincided with what was supposed to be the maiden voyage of the Disney Wish. That ended up getting pushed out into July because the ship wasn't done, but we got half of our money back for our "trouble." While there were some cancellations, they didn't rebook the rooms, presumably because of some lingering concern around Covid, and partly because the ship wasn't really ready. Still, we did the first paid public voyage on the Wish, and it was mostly awesome. The issues with the ship I'm sure will be worked out, but because they booked in order of most previous sailings, everyone had at least 15 and there was a lot of entitlement. There also weren't very many kids, so adult stuff was uncharacteristically busy in the evening for a Disney ship. It's a beautiful ship, and we're looking forward to seeing it again next year.
The fall left us in the typical travel dry spell, but we did visit Epcot quite a bit for the Food & Wine Festival. It's still hard to travel in the fall because of school. It wasn't long before I was feeling it and very much looking for a brain-off cruise. The week before Christmas was surprisingly not overly expensive, so we booked it. We had a great week spending most of our time on the ship.
We saw so many good shows this year. The opening of Steinmetz Hall at our beloved performing arts center was a great way to start the year. There were quite a few social events in the hall, but we also saw several performances of the Orlando Philharmonic, including one for Carmina Burana. I finally got to see Joss Stone after 15 years. Frozen finally made it here, and with its new song was actually an improvement over the Broadway version we saw. Six exceeded expectations, and I got to see Hamilton three times on this pass. It doesn't get old, there's something new to see every time. Hadestown was the big surprise just a few weeks ago, as I managed to avoid learning too much about it since its Tony hype before the pandemic. I also finally got to see a professional production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is probably one of the few things from the 70's I actually like. It was so good.
We're still in a pretty stable place, as we have been more or less since arriving in Florida. Our regular day to day flow hasn't changed much, although we definitely spent more on travel this year because we could actually go places. Our retirement accounts all took a beating, but fortunately we don't need to retire yet.
Our alleged home value seems to have leveled off finally. It was hurtling toward an insane estimate but reversed to a place that's still almost double what we paid at $114/sq. ft., though I'm convinced there will be more normalization downward. But it's hard to say. Two neighbors just sold in the last two weeks, and one settled for 20% less than asking at $193/sq. ft., the other 7% less in what is essentially our house twin, getting $218/sq. ft. after sitting four months. I guess none of it matters, because you don't make anything until you sell, and even then, you gotta buy something else.
When we first moved to Florida, almost ten years ago, I assumed that hurricanes were an annual ritual. That turns out not to be the case. I always knew that they were less of an issue here in the center of the state, but even in new construction, I find the whole thing fairly unnerving because of the constant pounding of wind and rain on the house. Ian made a mess of much of Florida, and it ended up crossing just south of us. We're not in a flood zone, so as long as all the things could roll with the wind, we'd be fine. Nicole fortunately fizzled out by landfall, and was mostly a non-event for us, but it did serious surge damage on the Atlantic coast.
So that's our second and third hurricanes (the first was Irma). Some might count Matthew, but it stayed mostly off-shore and we weren't here for it anyway.
I find myself in a similar place as last year. I keep seeing glimmers of hope that we're turning a corner toward some kind of normalcy, but the world wasn't having it. The war in Ukraine is a total disaster. A vocal minority has managed to continue the restriction of freedoms in the US. Covid is largely a treatable and fairly preventable disease, but we're still swimming in misinformation.
It's not all bad. It appears that Trump may actually be held accountable for potentially breaking the law, which I never thought I would see. There have been serious convictions following the insurrection. The courts have mostly maintained their integrity if you don't count the overturning of Roe (something that could eventually be resolved by law). Sustainable energy and transportation made huge leaps this year, more than anyone expected. Progress is slow, but it does exist.
I've learned to roll with things in a more healthy way this year. I realize that I don't have to be engaged 24/7, and that sentiment doesn't reflect how much I care.
I am enduring a lot of reflection, with the combination of the aforementioned ASD business and the place I'm at in life. Nothing has really gone according to convention in my life, which is probably more common than I realize, but it's also affirmation of my belief that much of what you're sold in childhood is bullshit. There is no ideal path, or boxes to check, to do life "right." I won't be far from retirement age when my kid graduates from high school, when many of my peers are already empty nesters now. I accept that the day that I stop breathing isn't all that far away, I just don't know if it will come next year or in 40 years (or maybe even 50, who knows?). So with that in mind, I don't want to spend my time doing too many things that are not satisfying to me. I'm not saying I need to be busy with things at all times, because doing "nothing" is actually quite satisfying as well.
The only really immediate implication of this is setting some kind of retirement target. Because I saved almost nothing in my 20's and early 30's, I'm behind. I've had several "equity events" in recent years that might help, but only if those stocks make real gains in the next decade or less. This year I'm eligible for catch-up contributions, and I'll do that, but bailing early is still going to require some luck.
I'm also at a point where I just don't want to wait to do things I've talked about for a long time. I see friends 20 years younger moving around the globe constantly, and I have yet to see those places. I'll start by sampling Northern Europe next year, and I'd like to get back to Hawaii the next year. And you bet we'll continue our weekenders in the Bahamas.
Finally, the answer is mostly yes. Maintaining that sentiment is an ongoing process. I have never been more focused on, and more confident that I can find, a way to exist in the world where I feel safe, valued and free to just be my best self without apology. Just being able to define that, I think, is the biggest win. But after several years of turmoil and ridiculousness, I feel better about occupying space on this planet, however temporary it might be.
I'm not even going to attempt to make any predictions about the next year. The trajectory looks solid at the moment, but things change. Accepting some amount of chaos allows for a proportional amount of peace.