Monday, April 27, 2015

Catching up on nearly a year in review of blogging

Well, once again I've been a slacker of a blogger over the past few months. Not only have I not posted any personal/family updates for 10 months but I haven't even kept up on my semi-regular book/movie reviews. I can't promise any long term changes towards posting regularity but at the very least there will potentially be an influx of posts over the next days or weeks. *grin*

So my last "personal" blog post was from last summer and basically summarized the events of the spring of 2014...which means I basically have one full year to catch up on. Away we go....not entirely in chronological order but combined in a way that makes sense to me. :-)

First, here's the "year in review" slideshow that Google automatically made based on some of the photos I've uploaded. I figured I'd start out with that and then drill into some of the events specifically (not sure how well or whether the Google slideshow thing will work, but it's worth a try).

First round of events to catch up on...Conventions.  Salt Lake is apparently making a bid for convention / festival capital of the Mountain West.

Just prior to my previous post we had "FanX" (in April) which is a secondary convention put on by the same group that did the Salt Lake Comic Con the previous fall. Sadly I was sick for it, but the fam went and had fun meeting celebs and just enjoying the craziness.

In August we had our first "Fantasy Con" which was slightly smaller in scope than the Comic Con and FanX conventions but similar in craziness. Rather than being wide-open in terms of genre/topic, this convention focused on the Fantasy genre and the fandom that goes with it. They had tons of great entertainment ranging from Fire Dancers to Swordsmanship training to Battle Events to Magic Shows. They also had lots of great actors, authors, artists and panels. Many of the Hobbits were there from Peter Jackson's various movies. In terms of atmosphere and tone, we came away generally liking Fantasy Con better than the Comic Con and FanX. It just felt more personable and friendly and less money-grubbing and frantic. We had a ton of fun.

Then in September we had the second official Salt Lake Comic Con...bigger, better and crazier than the first Comic Con and the subsequent FanX. They had fixed some of the problems from their first conventions but at the same time they had tried to grow bigger and better which brought additional problems to deal with. As such, the general "positive" increase was sort of a wash and it came off about "as good" as the previous convention once you factor out the disgruntled feelings from the various problems and add back in the excitement from some of the things they fixed. It was certainly just as crazy and frantic as the previous convention and tried to fill every cubic foot with some way to pile in money-spending people. Still, there were a lot of great artists, authors, performers and celebrities that made it a great experience.

Most recently we attended the second FanX over the final weekend of January. The Salt Lake Comic Con people seemed to have learned a LOT of lessons from their previous conventions and this one ran a LOT smoother with fewer considerable problems. Our family did still have a number of complaints but generally it was much better. Most exciting to many of my family members was that the convention was a sort of Doctor Who Extravaganza as they brought together 3 of the core actors from recent seasons of the show: Billie Piper (who plays Rose Tyler), Karen Gillan (who plays Amy Pond), and Matt Smith (who plays The Doctor, #11). Both the biggest joys and the biggest complaints from family members were around our interactions with these 3 stars.

From a money-grubbing aspect, it was dismaying to know that even though we had already paid for tickets to the convention we would have to purchase ADDITIONAL tickets to attend a panel in which all 3 of the celebrities would be speaking together. We choked down the cost and bought the tickets...along with TONS of other people. And then we stood in line inside the convention for over an hour to then show our special ticket and get to sit down in the auditorium to watch and hear the three talk about their experiences. The extra cost and the waiting wore on the family...especially some of the kids. Similar complaints came as we worked our way to get our photos with the celebs.

 Once again, we had to pay more money (which was to be expected, although the actual cost would make non-fans cringe...and even casual fans would shriek). After that, we stood in the photo-op line for nearly two hours to be whisked through for a 5 second "stand, pose, smile, move on" experience. A couple of the family members were especially preturbed by the result of the photo op as the picture didn't turn out nearly as good as they would have hoped especially considering the substantial cost both in terms of money and time investment. C'est la vie and all that.

I had a similar experience trying to get an autograph and picture with Felicia Day. Either I had awful luck or the convention planners simply did not plan for her to have as much of a line as she did because I ended up spending 5 hours between the two lines (one for an autograph and one for the 5 second photo op). My daughter had a non-winning line experience as she hoped to get an autograph from the Studio C cast (a local "sketch comedy" show) but the line grew so fast that even though she made it to the line well before the cast showed up to sign, she was told that the line had been cut off and she wouldn't be able to get a signature. We still got to go in and watch them talk and perform in a panel discussion, but she was sad to have missed talking with them and getting signatures at their tables. Overall, this FanX was generally better than the previous Comic Cons and FanX so they are improving, but the long wait and money spent for less than great photos left sort of a bad taste in the family's mouth such that we might be "conventioned-out" for a little while...the next Salt Lake Comic Con is scheduled for September and as of right now, we have no plans in trying to get tickets. Granted, that may change if they announce some "must see" celebrity. Who knows? *grin*

Not a "comic" convention but in March I attended SaltCon, our local Board Game convention. Three days of fun filled board gaming on all the new hotness and some old goodies. I learned a lot of new (to me) games and helped teach a couple as well. There were lots of fun vendors and demos and prototypes to be seen. My oldest son came with me for the final day and we had some great time playing games together.

Last summer we did a lot of "local" traveling for some fabulous quick vacations and staycation opportunities:

We drove down to Vernal (Utah's Dinosaurland) for a family reunion with some extended family I haven't seen for years. The kids loved the quirky fun around downtown Vernal and we had fun out in Utah's wilderness. We took a day rafting trip down the Green River which everybody thoroughly enjoyed. We wandered through Brown's Park and let some of the remaining "older siblings" of the family relate some family history from back in the days when family members owned a lot of ranch property and had dealings with some of the notorious outlaws of the area like the Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and others.

There were a ton of very fun hand-me-down stories that brought the area to life. It was a fun, adventurous and relaxing getaway....until the drive home when we got a flat tire in the middle of nowwhere in the middle of the night and had to drive halfway across Utah on a "donut" of a spare tire at 40 mph. Oh well.

For another family reunion, we drove up to a little pinpoint of a town named Declo to meet extended family members we've never met before and hear fun family stories. On the way back we took a detour to stop in Twin Falls and let the kids enjoy the view and run around the grassy park.

For our "big" family vacation, we spent a few days in Yellowstone. When my wife and I were first married (and even before then), we had gone to Yellowstone pretty much every summer. When we had kids, that slowed down to about every 4-5 we were overdue for a trip back.

In a place like that, not much ever changes (though West Yellowstone had a few businesses close or change) but it's always a fresh and wonderful experience. We had a great time enjoying the beauty and majesty of the park and just unwinding and disconnecting from "real life" to truly relax. It was so peaceful and calm. It's such an awesome place to be.

Last September marked a "big adventure" for me. In an effort to try and save costs and still meet the workload that my team faces, the company decided to experiment with "offshore" staffing for some of the resource requests I'd submitted. As a result, I had the opportunity to fly over to the Philippines and spend a week training and onboarding remote employees. I don't recall the flight time right now but I basically blocked out a full day and a half for travel each way and I didn't even have super lengthy layovers anywhere (I think my longest layover was 3 hours). In the Philippines I did "go to work" every day and spent it in a cubicle farm. But after those ~8 hours were done each day, I was off like a rocket to try and see as much as I could.

I spent time seeing old forts, museums, churches and other cool points of interest. I did what I could to try some wild and crazy food each day. I didn't try the balut (I'd had some of that years before in Salt Lake and it didn't really appeal to me...maybe it's better fresh in the Philippines but I didn't want to chance it). Had some great seafood and some interestingly prepared pork. :)

The weather wasn't great most of the time I was there (no typhoons, but overcast and rainy) but finally on Saturday the sun broke through and it was a gorgeous day...which was perfect because that was the day I planned to go to the beach. Tourism being what it is, the closest sandy beaches to me were part of a hotel/resort. Which meant I could either take a taxi or bus all the way across the island (about 3-6 hours depending on the beach) or I could pay one of the close hotels for a pass to use their beach.

To make the most of my time, I opted to go to the close hotel. The beach was sandy and beautiful. The water was warm and wonderful. It was an awesome and relaxing day and a perfect way to end the business trip. The only downside was that I failed to properly apply suntan lotion and ended up with a sunburn. Let me just tell do NOT want to have a sunburn when you have to spend ~30 hours in airplanes and airports traveling halfway around the world. My skin was burning and itchy and I could not find anything in the airplane or airport shops to ease the pain. A Korean pharmacist shop gave me some kind of ointment but it didn't really help. So yeah, the flight home was a little miserable...but the beach time was worth it. *grin*

In November I got to take another business trip, this time to a conference/training in Orlando...yes, right on the edge of the Walt Disney World resort. I spent my days from 8AM to 5PM learning about ways to do software development better and then from ~5:01PM until 1 or 2 or 3 AM I was bouncing around the various Disney Parks, hobnobbing with Mickey and the gang, eating awesome exotic food in EPCOT, watching great shows and riding awesome rides.

My wife flew down the day the conference ended and we spent the next two days bouncing between Disney World and Universal Parks (she was dying to see the Harry Potter lands in Universal). It was tons of fun (and yes, I learned some good stuff too)

Of course a year full of missed posts means a year full of birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. My middle child made the leap to middle school. My youngest is 11 going on full-blown teenager. I hit the "over the hill" mark of 40 (some days I feel like I'm definitely over the hill while other days I'm still climbing youthfully up the mountain). My wife and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. We had some family members and friends get married. We had some new babies born into the extended family. We had a bunch of fun get togethers for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and other random events.

All in all it's been a fabulous, fun filled year. I can't promise that I'll blog more regularly (life just keeps getting in the way), but I'll try to put up posts when I can...both "personal" and back to some of the "reviewing" and "writing" fun of days past.

Thanks to those who patiently continue to read this blog.  Here's hoping for a more productive year.

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