Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016

Wow, here it is, New Year’s Eve 2015! Overall it has been a fun and productive year. I didn’t get to do as much diving as I’d like, but then again, do we ever? That being said, though, I’d argue that 2015’s dives were definitely the “quality over quantity” variety. I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

January, as is usually the case, was an uneventful month. I have an extended “winter holiday” at work, so depending upon the timing, I get about a week off over the Christmas/New Year holiday. The first part of January is just getting back into the groove at work, and already looking forward to the next holiday. Hey, I’m not gonna lie about that. Yes, I do love my job, and find it most interesting and rewarding. I also love my time off, too.

February saw the return of Cirque du Soleil to Houston with their show Amaluna. The timing for this was perfect, as Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday. I decided to make a romantic weekend of it, so I purchased some good seats for Amaluna and made reservations for dinner at the nearby Steamboat House. Dinner was, to say the least, exquisite, and just a short drive took us to the entrance to the Sam Houston Race Park, where the Grand Chapiteau was set up. I also had reservations at a hotel close to the venue so we could enjoy a romantic Valentine’s Day and not have to make the long drive back home at evening’s end.

March arrived with a rare treat for me. Most of y’all know that I work in infectious disease research. Back in 1996 or so, I was working as a clinical paramedic and read Richard Preston’s book The Hot Zone. This book was both chilling and intriguing, and was what really sparked my interest in infectious diseases. Most paramedics, not all, but most generally gravitate towards an emphasis in trauma, as depending on where the medic works constitutes a large portion of their calls. Anyway, I remember discussing this book with a fellow paramedic and recall saying something like “It would be really cool to work in one of those ‘space suit labs. I’ll never get a chance to do this, but it would be cool.” Fast forward about a decade and where do I find myself working? Yes, in one of “those” labs! Even now, I still find myself wondering how I happened to fall into such a position. Several names in that book are on my phone’s contact list, and I’ve either worked for them in the past or work for them now.

Yeah, annnnd???

Well, Mr. Preston gave a presentation at work in early March and graciously allowed time for autographs and photos. As I stood in line to have my book signed, I remarked to one of the researchers how cool this opportunity was, and he remarked back that The Hot Zone was what got him started in that line of work. Sound familiar? What really impressed me was Mr. Preston actually taking the time to listen to what we had to say to him and pose for multiple photographs. He seemed quite surprised to hear how many of us were inspired to do what we do just by reading his book.

Richard Preston signs my book!
photo courtesy of UTMB

Just over two weeks later, Cindy and I were on the way to the DC area to visit her sister Connie and Jeff over a long weekend. While there, we were treated to a late snowfall. This wasn’t the light, dusty snow I typically encountered while living in Colorado. This was the heavy, wet stuff. We were dressed for it, though, as part of my pre-travel routine is a thorough review of the local weather forecast. While there for four days, we packed in enough activities to make it feel like a week. We ate at several new restaurants (new for us, anyway), including Ted's Bulletin in DC proper. This had a 1950's malt shoppe feel, and their bakery was exceptional. They even made their own versions of the Pop-Tart, which were excellent. I had one of their salted caramel "Pop-Tarts" and thought it divine!

I’ve been to several of the Smithsonian Museums a number of times, with the National Air & Space Museum being my favorite. This time, though, we also visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center next to IAD. For those of y’all who have even a shred of interest in aviation, I urge you to visit this jewel! It is an experience not to be missed. You can see many photos I uploaded from both campuses here and I think you’ll see why I’m so insistent on promoting these awesome venues.

As if March wasn’t packed with enough activities, April came charging in with a blast of a ship’s horn. That horn would belong to the Carnival Freedom, which took us to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Montego Bay in Jamaica. We’ve done this itinerary several times, but chose it for the diving in Cozumel and Grand Cayman, as well as to experience the Freedom. She’s a Conquest Class ship, so we were already familiar with her layout, having been on the Conquest and Liberty previously. Our CD for this trip was Jen Baxter, a marvelous CD and wonderful person. Jen was gracious with her time, and always seemed to be delighted to see you any time she passed you on the ship. This was also my first time to see one of Carnival’s new shows, Getaway Island. This is now one of my favorite Carnival production shows, and I encourage anyone sailing on a Carnival ship that has this show to see it. Another bonus was getting to see my friend Caroline Picard perform. She makes the rounds on Carnival’s ships, and is a fantastic comedian. She does land based shows as well, so by all means take the time and attend one of her shows. You’ll thank me for it, I promise.

My, oh my, here it is May! Cindy and I took a road trip to the Beaumont area to attend our first of three weddings for the year. Our friends (and fellow BAD members) Keith and Barbara got married and naturally we were there to help them celebrate. I’m glad to see them as husband and wife. They make a nice couple! Now that the water was finally getting warmer, it was time to improve our skills. Cindy and I took the PADI Rescue Diver course taught by Dave Romano. As part of this course, I got re-certified in both CPR and Emergency First Responder. Much of this reminded me of my paramedic days. The practical portion of the class coincided with a BAD group dive at Mammoth Lake. Although we were busy doing scenarios while our fellow BADdies were doing “fun dives,” at the end of the day we were tired but happy rescue divers. We had a nice lunch with our fellow club members (fried chicken with LOTS of sides and desserts…..a quasi-tradition when BAD does a group dive at Mammoth) but we were all ready for dinner at Asiel’s afterwards. Asiel’s is located right at the entrance to Mammoth Lake, so not only was it convenient, but tasty as well.

June came around and several of us BADdies took a tour of the tall ship Elissa and enjoyed a nice after party at a club member’s house. Once again, there was food and drink in abundance, and all of us had a fantastic time. The following weekend a handful of us BADdies headed to Corpus Christi to dive the Kinta S, a newly sunk ship to become an artificial reef. Unfortunately, the sea state (ripping surface and subsurface currents and poor visibility) forced us to cancel the dive. We definitely want to go back, though, and dive this wreck.

July showed up and we BADdies headed west this time, to Canyon Lake. A group of us did a two tank boat dive with Canyon Lake Divers and had fun diving a deep lake from a boat. Due to all the recent rains, the viz was suboptimal at best, but at least the lake was at normal levels. We rented a house for the group and got to hang out and enjoy being amongst friends.

In a previous blog, I wrote about a three tank dive I did in August, so there’s no reason to rehash it here. If you haven’t read that blog yet, I encourage you to do so. I describe a romantic and unique marriage proposal that you probably won’t see in most blogs. I’m still glad I got to be a part of that. Thanks again, Jim!

Annnnd now it’s September! Here we are nine months into 2015 and it feels like I was just putting away Christmas decorations. Of course September means not only another birthday for me (and NO, I still haven’t done anything with that AARP “invitation” yet) but our wedding anniversary. This year I made reservations at Murder by Chocolate for dinner and a mystery show. We did this before and loved it. I’m already looking at their calendar to see what I can set up for another special day. A couple of weeks later and we are off to the valley to dive the Texas Clipper with American Diving. This is another purpose-sunk wreck to become an artificial reef. Visibility wasn’t great, but good enough to enjoy the dive. As with other fun dives, we will definitely want to re-visit the Clipper again. Starting with that weekend, pretty much all of our weekends were busy through the rest of the year.

October means fall weather, football, Fearshire Farms, and of course Halloween. Starting with Halloween, through the rest of the year, I feel like it’s one long “holiday season.” Please let me elaborate here. With Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s all so close together, we go from one holiday to another almost non-stop. Lots of cookies, fudge, and other treats are made for each and while the shapes and decorations of the cookie may change, the pleasure of eating them doesn’t. I really enjoy this extended holiday season, and look forward to this time of year as much as any other time. October also gave us our second wedding to attend this year. This time around, it was Cindy’s sister Connie getting married to Jeff. The wedding was held in a large lake house in Bumpass, Virginia. This allowed essentially all of the family to be together.

This trip also gave me an opportunity to have a long overdue reunion with a good friend of mine and his family. After calling John, and letting him know I’d be in the area, we decided to meet halfway between Bumpass and Virginia Beach. We picked a brewpub in Richmond for lunch. I’ve known John Myers since our college days and have stayed in touch with him through all these years. It was my first opportunity to meet his wife and kids, though. Having been “friends” on Facebook with his wife for several years, it was especially nice to actually meet her. Our next trip to the DC area will definitely include a stop in their part of Virginia.

A fun reunion!

With November’s arrival, it was finally time for our long awaited BAD cruise. Our club set this up over a year ago, as part of the club’s 40th anniversary celebration. About 32 club members booked this cruise on the Carnival Magic, going to Cozumel, Belize, and Roatan (Honduras). We picked this specific itinerary so we could dive in all three ports. Hey, we are divers, on a cruise celebrating a dive club’s anniversary…..of course we were gonna dive as much as we could! Our non-diving members had their own fun, exploring the different ports. Our cruise was a spectacular success, and several cruise newbies got to see why Cindy and I keep raving about cruising. I think we made some converts here, and am glad to see so many happy memories from so many being made.

With December coming up on the calendar, it was time for our third wedding of the year. This wedding united Tiffanie and David in another beautiful, outdoor service in San Antonio. Luckily, Cindy was done with her finals for the semester, so she didn’t have to worry about studying during all the fun. Not even two weeks after the wedding and I’m starting my “winter holiday” at work that I mentioned earlier. This holiday is a paid holiday at work, and this year officially began on Christmas Eve. I took the day before off as a vacation day, so I’ve been off work since the 23rd, and won’t go back until Monday the 4th. Gotta love working for the state, right? I sure do!

So, in just a few hours, Cindy and I will be at my sister’s house for New Year’s festivities. We don’t go out with all the drunk/crazy/stupid people. No, of course I don’t mean that all people who go out are drunk or crazy or stupid, but enough of them are that we prefer to stay close to home. We’ll watch movies and play Pandemic, a really cool game I got for Christmas. I also got the expansion sets On The Brink and In The Lab to go with it.  We’ll play a game or two of the base set, then will try our hands at On The Brink. It reminds me a LOT of what I do at work, but at least in the game I can enjoy some chips and queso while fighting pathogens and not have to wear any special protective gear.

So, what will 2016 bring? I’m looking forward to another good year. We are booked on the Carnival Breeze in May, again going to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Montego Bay. We really want to dive the USS Kittiwake in Cayman, so that’s why we picked this itinerary. Keith and Barbara are also booked with us (remember me mentioning their wedding in May?) and will be celebrating their first anniversary while on the cruise.

For those going out tonight, have fun and stay safe.

Happy New Year to all!

carpe cerevisi