Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adios, 2011

First of all, I think 2011 was the fastest year ever. Seems like it was only yesterday when I was writing my retrospectives of last year in The Last Word on 2010. And now here I am writing about yet another year that's passed.

So here's what I can tell you about 2011. The first of the year found me involved in a major project at work. The month of January is a blur now, because I was working so hard -- even working sixteen-hour weekends. One of the reasons I was pushing my limits was because we had a trip planned in February and I knew that couldn't be changed. We went to El Salvador with a group from Habitat Charlotte, staying in Santa Ana and commuting everyday to the worksite in Candelaria de la Frontera, near the Guatemalan border. It was a most amazing experience. If you haven't already, you can read my blog entries by clicking 2011 and February over on the right side of this page and locating the El Salvador links there. (Or you can click here and begin with the first El Salvador entry.)

Although I didn't realize it at the time, this would be our only trip outside the USA in 2011. Part of the reason for this is that my company only provides 10 days of vacation per year (you get more the longer you stay, of course). So going to El Salvador took up more than half of my vacation for the year. But it was worth it.

Not long after I returned to work from vacation, we had a slight reorganization in our department. I was assigned to a new team, with a new boss, new co-workers, and a new client. Although I missed working with my old team, my new team pulled me right in, and in no time we were rockin' it. As the year went by, I began to get more comfortable in my new role and I have to say that I really like the type of work I'm doing now . . . developing leadership training and talent management programs.

The other big thing happening during the first part of the year was that we were spending a LOT of time at the farm. In late February we planted our spring garden, from which we were harvesting by April. We planted a summer garden in the spring, and continued to harvest all the way until July or August. I learned that farming is HARD WORK, and you really need to be there more often than just every other weekend if you want to keep the garden free of weeds, bugs, and other pests. Let's just say the weeds in North Carolina grow almost as fast as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.

We've done quite a bit of work on the farmhouse. The first project was to build a deck in the back. It looks great! We installed some fencing for the dogs, so they have a place to hang out and watch us when we're working outdoors. Most recently, we started renovating the hallway. We removed paneling and put up drywall. This is a work in progress - when it's finished, I'll post some before & after pictures.

In May, we learned that our rent in the nice city apartment was going up by something like $300 a month. Although I liked the apartment a lot (and loved the location), I wasn't willing to pay an extra $300 per month. So the search for a new home in the suburbs (closer to the office) was on. In June, we moved just across the county line to Union County. Here, we're just four miles from work and a half-hour's drive closer to the farm. We're renting, so we don't know yet if we'll get to stay here beyond next June, but we do like the house and the area.

Two major things happened in July. First of all, S started working at my company, which was great because we could carpool. At about the same time as she started working, we moved her Mom up here to an assisted living facility. There was a lot of drama around that, and it was a very stressful time. About a month or so after we'd moved her, a series of events necessitated another move - this time to a memory care facility. I've been learning a lot about things like dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and memory care this year.

Sometime in August, I decided to make some major changes in my life. I changed my diet and started exercising regularly. I began entering some local walking/running events, and completed five 5Ks and a 7.5 mile walk over a three-month period. In October, I decided to start running, and have been slowly but surely working my way to being able to run a 5K. Unfortunately, this has resulted in zero weight loss. However, I feel better. And my massage therapist says I've gained a lot of muscle, which is probably the reason the needle on the scales isn't moving. I just need to keep it up. Maybe 2012 will (finally) be the year I shrink.

The holiday season has been amazing. Last weekend, we celebrated Christmas on the farm. It was probably the best Christmas ever.

2011 has been a pretty good year for us. We've enjoyed our time on the farm, hanging with my parents, growing veggies, and working on home improvement projects. We managed to get a couple more passport stamps. We're taking better care of ourselves.  There's a lot to be said for simple living!

Welcome, 2012. Hopefully, you'll be kind to all of us. And if you're reading this, I hope that 2012 will bring you lots of joy and happiness. Happy New Year!!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011

Here it is . . . my list of favorite things of 2011.

Books that I read

General fiction . . . Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Historical fiction . . . (tie) The Traitor's Emblem by Juan Gómez-Jurado and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Crime thriller . . .  (tie) The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

Cozy mystery . . .  Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle

Paranormal . . . Hounded by Kevin Hearne

New author . . . Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Nonfiction . . . Happier Than a Billionaire by Nadine Hays Pisani

Music that I listened to

Band . . . Florence + The Machine

Artist . . . Lady Gaga

Album . . . Born This Way by Lady Gaga

Song . . .  Rolling in the Deep by Adele

Artist Discovery . . . Nero

Note: I don't think that 2011 was a "great" year for music.

Things I watched

TV Show . . . Homeland

TV Movie . . . The Kennedys (miniseries)

Theater Movie . . . J. Edgar

Note: We didn't see a lot of movies this year. There are some things that came out at the end of the year that we're interested in, but haven't gotten around to seeing yet. 

Food I enjoyed

Restaurant . . . Passion8, Fort Mill, SC

Food Rediscovery . . . collard greens :-)

New-to-Me Food Discovery . . . raw kale salads

Dessert . . . The Sacred Chocolate Cake

Coffee . . . Caribou's Guatemala beans

Coffee Shop . . . Caribou Galleria

Farmers' Market . . . (tie) Matthews Farmers' Market and OUR OWN GARDEN!!!

Miscellaneous things I liked or enjoyed

Facebook Game . . . Baking Life

Social Network . . . (tie) Twitter and Pinterest

Web site . . . Goodreads (

Vacation . . . El Salvador (Habitat for Humanity trip)

Weekend Getaway . . . St. Augustine, Florida

What were your favorite things of 2011? Did you discover anything new that you really liked? Or re-discover something you hadn't had in a while?

A new world record

One of my things is reading books, then writing about them. I've been doing this at Mariandy's Book Blog since the summer of 2008, when I was living in Vienna. I read all kinds of books -- mostly mysteries (both hardcore crime & cozy) and thrillers, but I also enjoy general fiction, historical fiction, books by new writers, and the occasional random work of non-fiction. Instead of a formal review or plot summary, the blog entries reflect my personal thoughts on the book or characters or settings.

This year I read and reviewed 54 books, which is a record for me. Earlier in December, I wasn't sure if I'd beat last year's record of 51 books. At 52, I could have stopped for the year, but I enjoy reading so much that I simply can't imagine taking time off!

Anyway, just wanted to share this new world record of mine. I guess I've raised the bar for myself. Now I'll have to "strive for 55" in 2012. :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hello again, world!

Back in September, I shared some interesting data about where people were visiting this blog from (see Hello, world!) A whole quarter has passed since then, so I thought it would be interesting to re-examine the topic.

Top 10 Countries

1. USA (no change)
2. El Salvador (no change)
3. United Kingdom (previously #5)
4. Canada (previously #3)
5. Austria (previously #4)
6. India (no change)
7. Belgium (no change)
8. Germany (previously #9)
9. Philippines (not previously listed)
10. Australia (not previously listed)

Welcome to the Philippines & Australia. I'm pretty sure the Philippines made the list because my friend Q goes there on business quite a bit . . . she's probably the one checking in. (But then again, who knows? Perhaps a total stranger found me by accident or something.) As to Australia, I'm thrilled to see you here, because, well, everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE YOU and have loved you since I was maybe 8 years old.

Now, let's check out the US states:

Top 10 US States

1. North Carolina (no change)
2. Indiana (no change)
3. California (no change)
4. Georgia (no change)
5. New York (previously #7)
6. Virginia (previously #4)
7. Texas (not previously listed)
8. Illinois (previously #6)
9. South Carolina (not previously listed)
10. Alabama/Pennsylvania/Colorado (tie; Alabama no change, Pennsylvania & Colorado not previously listed)

Well. What can I tell from this? First of all, Florida fell off. So that means my friend Karen hasn't been visiting much lately.  (Hmm.) As for Texas, South Carolina, and Colorado . . . presumably the latter two are family / friends. But even if you're not, it's good to see you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A day at the speedway

Here are some photos from the 5K event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday. The facility is HUGE!!! -- with the NASCAR track, a couple of dragstrips, a dirt track, and facilities for various events happening throughout the year. Up above is the entrance to the "ZMax" dragstrip area and below, a view of what's on the inside.

Our 5K started here, so we got to walk/run on one of the actual dragstrips, then we walked around the back of the building, went through a tunnel, over a pedestrian bridge, and another larger tunnel to the inside of Super Speedway. Here's what it looks like:

We all successfully finished the 5K even though it was very cold that day. Fortunately, as part of our 5K entry fee, we got to see the Christmas lights show for free that evening. I'm glad we went, but since I'm not into auto racing it's probably not a place I'll visit often. Unless it's for the Richard Petty Driving Experience -- heheh. After all, you never know with me. :-)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Florida getaway

We headed down to the St. Augustine area last weekend, just in time for the Grande Illumination re-enactment of the 1763 British takeover of Florida from Spain.

Old Town was all lit up for the holidays, and everyone was feeling festive. Our friend Karen came up from South Florida, and we had a great time riding around in her convertible car. :)

The weather was perfect and the food was delicious. We ate a lot of really great food! I particularly enjoyed the Columbia Restaurant (excellent "white" sangria made with cava, and the paella is amazing). "The Columbia" has been in operation since 1905, so it's probably the oldest restaurant I've ever been to . . . in this country, at least.

Of course, we checked out some of the historical stuff, like the Castillo San Marcos.

Saint Augustine is the "oldest continuously occupied European-established city in the USA" with that establishment occurring in 1565.

The first Europeans were from Spain, and it was the Spanish who established a city here and built the Castillo San Marcos.

Ponce de Leon discovered the Fountain of Youth here.

OK, so that last statement was stretching it a bit.

The Spanish controlled this area for some two hundred years. Then the British took over. (Hence, the aforementioned Grande Illumination.) But about forty years later, the Spanish took over again. St. Augustine (and Florida) was part of Spain again -- until it became a territory of the United States.

Anyway, historically speaking it's all a little bit confusing, especially since the Union Jack was flying over the fort when we were there.

Boats in Matanzas Bay.

It takes about seven hours to drive to St. Augustine from Charlotte (less time if Sandy's driving - haha!) If you've never been, I highly recommend it -- especially if you stay in Old Town. There are lots of restaurants and shops, plenty of stuff to do, and there's lots of interesting people-watching.

I'm thinking we need to do more weekend getaways. Maybe next time, we'll head in a different direction. To the mountains, perhaps?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fire in the sky

We had an amazing sunset at the farm last Saturday night. It looked just like the sky was on fire. This "fiery sunset" lasted somewhere between seven and ten minutes.

It really looks like there's a fire in the woods! Thankfully, it was just the way the sun was filtering through the clouds as a front approached from the west. Here's what it looked like the next morning: