Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Year-In-Review at Creatures of Prometheus

Let's just say that my 2011 had its ups and downs. It certainly felt at times like I was having way more than my fair share of frustrations heaped upon me, but there were some really stellar moments as well.

Let's go month by month, Rational Jenn Style, through the year.

  • I remember wanting to write a 2010 Year In Review, but never getting around to it.
  • The year started with my being asked to teach full-time for the Spring Semester, in the Architecture Dept at a local community college, where I had taught in the past.  Things got ironed out with HR in January, in advance of the semester starting off in late February.  
  • I blogged about the railing installation and fireplace/TV cabinet as the finishing touches were put on the Tennessee House.
  • I scheduled my final trip to the Tennessee House, to shoot it for my portfolio and marketing efforts.  I was there for about a week, from the end of January into February.
  • The TV show "The Event" filmed an episode in my neighborhood, just about a block and a half from my house. I never saw the episode in question; maybe I'll look for it on Netflix.
  • Monday the 24th, my dearly departed Todd got into a fight with Caufield, my neighbor's dog, in my living room.  In the process of separating them, I suffered a bite on my left wrist, which left one puncture.  At the time, it didn't seem nearly as bad as it might have been, but it was painful. Later in the week, just when it was starting to feel better, I further injured it at the gym, and that time it really hurt.  That injury was the morning of the day I was to take the redeye to Atlanta, for my Tennessee trip. I iced it, bought a brace at the sporting goods store, and went on my trip.
  • I cleverly arranged my travel through Atlanta so that I could hang out with Jenn, Kelly, and my other ATLOS peeps, which is always a good time.
  • I returned from Tennessee and promptly got some of the new photos posted on the blog.
  • I wrote an additional post on the fireplace, describing how the mantel was crafted from a rejected structural beam that I had had the contractor pull out, over a quality control issue.
  • While in Tennessee I realized that I had partially lost use of my thumb as a result of those wrist injuries from the dog bite.  Before returning to L.A., I set up an appointment to see an orthopedic specialist as soon as I was back.  That week that I returned ended up being one of the most harrowing of my life.  Monday was my appointment.  After a brief examination, the doc. said, "hold on, I'll be right back.  I'm going to go get the hand surgeon."  I was really not expecting to hear those words, and just about passed out while he was gone. He returned with the hand guy, who determined I had severed (ruptured) my EPL tendon (the one that lets you make a 'thumbs up') and should have surgery ASAP if I wanted to have the best shot at getting it back.  He had an opening on Thursday, and I took it.  The next day my regular doctor worked me into her schedule for a complete pre-op physical.  Wednesday I visited the outpatient surgery center and had a tour, then went home and did as much housework as I could.  I figured that since I was about to become more or less incapacitated for some time, I should at least do what I could, to have a clean house in which to lay about incapacitated.  Thursday I went under the knife.
  • 10 days later, school started, and I somehow got through it all and managed my life with my left hand in a cast for several weeks, and a brace for several more weeks after that.  I really don't know how I did it, without being able to play my piano or knit or weld or make things, or do any of the creative things I enjoy that keep me sane.  Or work out at the gym, the other thing that keeps me sane.  That recovery was one of the most difficult things I've ever gone through.  But, I did it! I recovered very well, and now there are just a couple minor scars and a little occasional stiffness.
  • From my recovery bed, I somehow blogged about this little steel and glass shelving unit that I had made and photographed back in December/January before everything fell apart.
  • I learned that for most arm and hand recovery, you do occupational therapy, whereas with the rest of the body it's physical therapy that you do.  I started OT on my thumb at a place that I decided I wasn't completely thrilled with.  I later switched to a different therapy clinic, with a superb hand specialist, with whom I was very pleased.
  • I attended SnowCON in Denver, which was great fun, even though I still had the brace on my wrist.
  • The rest of March was pretty much a long blur of teaching a very full schedule, while keeping up with my exercises and therapy to get my thumb back.
  • April bore a striking resemblance to March. I had made real progress with my thumb however, and around the beginning of the month, I posted my first video blog post, which is a somewhat boring 11-plus minutes of me talking about my thumb and playing exercises at the piano. I'm pretty sure Mom enjoyed it. (Hi, Mom!)
  • At school, they announced that they were going to hire someone to permanently do the job I was currently doing on a full-time, but temporary, basis.  I applied. The application deadline was sometime around the middle of the month, and it required a lot of effort.
  • I took my students to the L.A. Cathedral for a field trip.  I'm fond of that building.  I later blogged about it.
  • The week of the 17th-24th was our Spring Break at school and I developed a cold, which dragged into the following week, but I was mostly better by mid week.  Then it worsened again, and the following weekend I went to the Urgent Care near my house. I was there first thing on Saturday morning, not wanting to wait till Monday to drive all the way across town to my regular doc.  The Urgent Care doc said I had a little "light bronchitis" (exact quote) and gave me antibiotics. He said I should have no problem going back to work/school on Monday.
  • By the Monday, which was now the beginning of May, my condition had worsened, so I called my regular doc. We decided to keep an eye on things, which continued to worsen. It was Wednesday morning before I finally went in.  She listened to my breathing and told me she didn't even need to see an X-ray to tell me I had full-blown pneumonia.  She sent me straight back to bed; do not pass go; do not collect $200.  My recovery was fairly routine, as far as that goes, but it sucked to be back on bed rest just as I was getting out of the woods with my thumb.  Also, let me just say that it's pretty freaky and a little scary to have your lungs feel like big, heavy, wet sponges, which is just what pneumonia feels like.
  • At the end of my pneumonia recovery, I had my final follow-up appointment with my hand surgeon, who declared my thumb tendon to be fully recovered.  WooHoo!!!
  • I was invited to interview for the tenure-track position at school. The interview went well.
  • I blogged a lot in May, compared to what I had been doing.  I wrote a long post, towards the later part of the month, about how I was "Feeling Like My Old Self Again". I still think that was a particularly good bit of writing.
  • I wrote a tribute to my grandpa, on what would have been his 101st birthday.
  • At the end of the month, I spoke at ATLOSCON in Atlanta. That was a real treat. I had gotten to know a lot of the Atlanta Objectivist Society folks in the summer of 2010, while I was in Tennessee, and I always enjoy hanging out with them. And of course, I love standing in front of a group of people and lecturing on architecture, especially when it's a receptive audience (not always the case at school, ha!).  So it was a real win-win-win.
  • I was invited to have a second interview for the position at school. That interview was on the 8th. I spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what I wanted to say, and how I would approach the interview. I thought a lot about what I would want to do with the position, should I be hired, and about my approach to teaching drawing. I also gave a lot of thought to the relationship between hand drawing as a technique of design, versus the digital age, with all its offerings and tools, and the future that all those things promise.  I prepared for that interview like I'd never done for an interview before. The following week, the school year ended, and I found out I didn't get the job. They told me they valued my contribution to the program, and that they still wanted me to teach part time, if I was interested in that.

    As hard as I had tried to get the job, I also knew all along that I was somewhat conflicted about the whole thing. Taking a full-time, tenure-track position in academia would have sent my career in a very specific trajectory, and I was somewhat relieved that I would remain free to build, and pursue my other interests, without being committed to spending quite so much time in the classroom, in division meetings, and in dealing with the necessary (but often unpleasant) internal politics of the California Community College System.
  • I wrote 2 blog posts on the occasion of the birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright. The first is a video of Wright himself, from YouTube. The second was mostly my pictures from Fallingwater, when I visited the house a couple years ago.
  • I spent the afternoon of the Summer Solstice at Echo Park Lake with Paul and Todd.
  • Later on in the month, my buddy Alan asked me if I was still interested in renting my spare bedroom. Apparently I had mentioned it in an offhand kind of way at some point in the past, and he was now in the position of needing a place. Since my teaching income had ended for the summer, I was happy to clear out what had become the de-facto storage room and rent it to him. Also, he's great with the dogs, and was really the only other person besides me who I ever felt like Todd really trusted. He took the room, and it's gone well so far.  We've just passed the 6-month mark, and things have settled into a pretty good routine around here, with him on board.  Cheers, Roomie!
  • The second half of the year started in a really fun way with my friends deb and Seth and their little baby David visiting for a few days. I hosted a BBQ/garden party in their honor, and a good time was had by all.
  • On the heels of that fun visit, Diana and Paul Hsieh were in town for a few days, and we got to hang out at a Starbucks one afternoon.
  • I did some really fun consulting work for interior designer and Hotel Lautner owner Tracy Beckmann.  Tracy is great to work with and I hope we can do more work together in the future.
  • Friday the 22nd I went with my friend Fernando to hear Dolly Parton play the Hollywood Bowl, which was a real treat.  She is an amazing entertainer, and didn't disappoint!
  • The next day, I attended the John Lautner 100th Birthday Home Tour, which was amazing. I blogged about 2 of the 4 houses, the Jacobson House and the Harpel House. There is an unfinished post on the Schwimmer House in my blogger queue, and I never got around to writing up the magnificent Sheats-Goldstein house. I would still like to finish up both of those and get them published on here.
  • The main reason I didn't get back to those posts is that less than a week after the tour, I flew to Chicago to spend a week playing Uncle Nanny to my sister Emily's three kids while she attended Sock Summit in Portland, Oregon. That was a challenging but awesomely fun week.
  • At the end of that week in Chicago, in what was now August, I got to spend a couple of days doing some specially-arranged photography of Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building in downtown Chicago. I had made arrangements to conduct a tour of the building over Labor Day weekend as part of the Chicago Objectivist Society's MiniCON, and this was part of my research. David Maltby from COS met me at the Auditorium and helped out. We had lunch too, and made a fun afternoon of it. I got some great photos, and finally wrapped my head around how this amazing and complex building works.
  • Right after I got back to L.A., Diana was in town again, this time for the Ancestral Health Symposium. She came over on Sunday morning and broadcast her Rationally Selfish Webcast (now called Philosophy in Action) right from my living room!  You can listen to that episode here. Then we drove around L.A. and talked about food.  She bought me a pint of frozen pig brains at the Asian market in Echo Park, which I thawed and cooked later that week. They were kind of weird but not altogether inedible.
  • I signed up a couple of new clients: one who wanted a master plan to completely overhaul and remodel her house, patio, yard, pool, etc. in phases. We're still working on that one, and should have the master plan complete in the coming weeks. The other one was a modest addition to an existing house.
  • My Chicago friend Mariah had a very, very long layover at LAX, en route to Australia. I picked her up and we went for sushi.  S U S H I !  Good times. :)
  • I got to hear Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Choral Fantasy in C minor at the Hollywood Bowl, on the evening of the 18th. Roomie got us free tickets through someone he used to work with. Score! It was a great show.
  • At the end of the month, I started teaching for the fall semester, this time as adjunct faculty, with a lighter schedule. The guy who got the job instead of me turns out to be a really great guy, and we enjoyed teaching together.
  • Labor Day Weekend found me back in Chicago, giving my talk on Viollet-le-Duc, Sullivan, and Wright, and leading my tour of Sullivan's Auditorium Building for about 15 people from the conference. My big sis, Emily, even drove in from the suburbs to join the tour! The whole thing went really well.
  • I wrote up my Amazing Gluten-free, High-fat, Semi-paleo Mac + Cheese for the blog, which continues to be one of my most popular posts.
  • After having such a great time at all these Objectivist conferences in other cities, fellow OBlogger and SoCal resident Jason Stotts and I decided to start our own community group, and perhaps eventually even have our own local mini-conference.  So, the SoCal Objectivists was launched.
  • At our very first meeting of the SoCal O'ists, I happened to meet a tall, handsome fellow, whom I'll call Mr. Handsome, and let's just say he and I have been seeing a fair amount of each other.  I'd even go so far as to say we're rather enjoying getting to know each other. He tends to keep a relatively low profile, so I'm not going to go blathering on about him too very much on the blog here, but I think that at this point, he warrants at least a mention.
  • The biggest solo project of my career thus far almost landed in my lap, but ended up being a near miss. It was a dream project - a successful businessman was interested in building a large, ground-up new house, and wanted something constructed entirely of concrete and glass. He had selected a site on a lovely street in Pasadena.  In the end, it didn't work out, for various reasons. What was exciting about it for me, even though it never materialized as a project, was the size and scope of what I was being seriously considered for.
  • I started consulting at Kelly Wearstler Interior Design. They had a large residential project for which I was doing interior detailing and technical work.  It was a good gig, which ended up lasting through the end of the year.
  • My second cousin Ed and I went to Palm Springs for a weekend. That was a lot of fun.
  • The exhibition Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design opened at the Schindler House on the 29th, and I went to the opening with my friend LouAnne.
  • On the 6th, I took Todd to the vet. He had become increasingly lame in his left hind leg, which the vet had previously attributed to arthritis. Now the whole leg had become fairly inflamed and swollen, and I thought it should be looked at.  He looked at it and got very serious.  He thought it looked more like a growth than inflammation, and wanted to take a biopsy to confirm this.  They also took X-rays, which confirmed that it wasn't something wrong with the bones.  The vet told me that what he removed for the biopsy didn't look good, which caused me much distress.  This was on top of the distress of Steve Jobs' death the day before, and was on the eve of my birthday.
  • Emily came out from Chicago for the weekend of my birthday, and we also had a special celebration of our other sister Allison's 40th birthday.  Her birthday is only a few days before mine, and we usually celebrate together.  That was a really fun weekend, as it was the first time we siblings had all gotten together without any parents, spouses, kids, or significant others in years, probably in decades!
  • Finally, on the 11th, Todd's biopsy results came back: he had a nerve sheath tumor. The next day we went to the veterinary oncologist, who wanted to amputate.  I couldn't put him through that, for a number of reasons I don't feel particularly inclined to reiterate here. I got him pain meds and resolved to make his last days as full and good as I could.  I contacted a hospice vet and discussed having her come out to the house when it was time for the end.
  • Mr. Handsome and I celebrated his birthday, which happens to be just several days following mine, and it turns out that we're born the same year, how about that?!
  • At some point, I renewed my membership (friendship) with the Friends of the Schindler House.
  • SoCal Objectivists had our second meeting, which was held in Riverside, and doubled our attendance from 6 to 12.
  • The rest of October was pretty routine, with teaching and consulting and caring for Todd keeping me busy.
  • The morning of Saturday the 5th, Roomie Alan noticed an open wound on Todd's leg, and called me while I was out running errands.  It was on the inside of the upper thigh, and I hadn't noticed it. I came straight home, and it was as I had feared: the tumor was growing so aggressively, that it had broken through the skin.  Once that happens, there isn't much you can do.  I called the hospice vet and made arrangements for the next day. Paul, Todd and I went for a last walk at the Lower Arroyo Park, below the big concrete bridges.

    Coincidentally, we ran into a dear friend of mine, with whom I teach.  She had never met Todd, but had lost dogs to cancer in the past, and had been a great source of counsel and moral support during my difficult decision making process after Todd was diagnosed.  Of all the times I had walked Paul and Todd at that park, I had never seen her there. She and her husband were walking their two dogs.  It was quite a poignant moment, when she got to finally meet Todd, during his last walk in the park.

    That night I wrote his obituary for the blog, figuring I would be in no condition to do it the next day, and set it to auto-post. In the morning it was raining out, but the clouds parted and the vet ran late, so we got to walk around the block one last time.  Allison came over, and Roomie was there, and their moral support that day was tremendous.

    Then the vet arrived, and it was the end.  It was extremely sad.  Allison stayed all day, fixed me mac + cheese, which was our comfort food, and we all drank heavily.
  • The next week, my friends and former neighbors Brian and Leigh were in town, and we had dinner together.  I miss them, and we had a nice time catching up. 
  • SoCal Oists had our third meeting, this time in O.C.  We had several new faces, as well as some regulars.  After 3 meetings, you can start to tell the regulars from the new faces, which is cool.
  • My school semester ended right before Thanksgiving. I was on a weird 12 week schedule that made my last class the week before Thanksgiving.
  • Thanksgiving was a big deal this year, as Emily and her husband Dave and their kids came and stayed with me the whole week.  They've done that every odd numbered year since '07, making this is the third time.  Mom was here too - she's spent Thanksgiving in L.A. every year since '06, although the last couple times, she's stayed over at Allison's in West L.A.
  • The big highlights of the kids' visit this year were Disneyland, The Getty Center, and the L.A. Zoo, as well as crafting with melty beads.
  • The actual Thanksgiving feast day, which I have dubbed my 'Annual Thanksgiving Extravaganza' was the second largest to date, with about 20 people in attendance.  The largest was '09, when I had 24. I enjoy hosting these massive sit-down dinners, even though it stresses me out a little. Everyone had a great time. There were new faces and regulars; old traditions and new dishes.
  • I had a few conversations and a meeting with a former employer, about joining the firm she is currently with.  They were very good talks and meetings, although nothing has come of it as yet.
  • The end of the year, work-wise, was mostly spent putting a lot of time into the consulting I'd been doing at Kelly Wearstler's office. That assignment wrapped up just before Christmas, and I transitioned out. I enjoyed the work and people there, and would happily go back if asked.
  • We had a massive wind storm that knocked my power out for 2 1/2 days, and uprooted massive trees all around my part of town. A lot of my neighbor's roof shingles blew off and went all over my front yard, but luckily I didn't have any damage to speak of. All the dead fronds got blown off my giant palm tree in the back yard, which was actually good for me, since it's expensive to have someone climb all the way up there and trim them.
  • I decided not to go to Emily's for Christmas, since the kids and everyone had just been here for the whole week of Thanksgiving. That was a difficult decision, but I stuck to it and focused on my work here over the holidays, which was the right thing for me to do.
  • I spent Christmas Eve with Mr. Handsome, which was nice, and we spent Christmas Day together with some other friends. We got really beautiful weather coming in to Christmas Day, and it's been pretty much in the 70s and even low '80s since. It was a lovely holiday all around.
  • The week between Xmas and New Year's Day, Roomie and I went and looked at dogs at the North Central L.A. Animal Shelter, which is the one on Lacy Street, a couple of miles from my casa. They had 2 really great looking dogs that I liked. Actually, there were 3, but only 2 that I asked to play with in the little play yard. One was this very handsome and playful pit bull, Ted. He is young and puppy-like, very nearly full grown, and already neutered. I would never adopt an un-neutered adult male pit bull into a house with other dogs, but Ted is young and already neutered, and just seemed like a really great athletic-type dog with a big spirit. I guess he reminded me of Todd in that way. The other dog was the little black female basset hound x pit bull mix, which is Paul's mix, that I adopted in the end. It was a really hard decision, and it started to feel a little like Sophie's Choice, since they euthanize at that shelter. I left both dogs there that day and came home to think things over.
  • I went back and looked again the next day, which was Thursday, and adopted the little black dog. She went to a nearby clinic to get spayed on Friday, and I picked her up there on Saturday, New Year's Eve, and brought her home.  I didn't bring her directly home - Roomie put Paul on his leash and met us down the street from my house, by the school, and we walked the dogs together to introduce them. That went really well, and the two of them have been getting along great.  She really makes Paul look like an old man!  Todd had come home to live with me on January 1, 2004, so I liked the idea of bringing the new pup home on NYE.
  • Naming the pup was a huge dilemma, which dragged into the new year. At first I liked Ursula, but it didn't really work. I considered Charlene or Denise, but eventually settled on Daisy, which seems to suit her - although the last couple of days, I've found myself somewhat involuntarily calling her Darla. I don't know why it's such a dilemma for me. The intangibles of personality and character come into play in a big way when naming a pet, I think. Todd went by Jimmy for the first week or so, before I changed his name to something that suited his personality better. But, Paul stuck instantly on Paul when I got him. Anyway, she is settling in well, and adopting her was a great way to end the year.

Whew! If you read all the way down to here, you must win some kind of prize.  

This post was really more for myself than for any audience out there. It had become way too easy to just dwell on the difficult things that I endured last year, and it was healthy and cathartic, even if a bit tedious, for me to pick my way through the year, month-by-month, and sort things out for myself. 

A lot of good stuff happened last year, much of which went by so quickly that I lost track of it as soon as I was on to the next thing.

Farewell, 2011.  You were one for the books.  Now let's move on, shall we?

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