So long, 2011. You were pretty awesome.

As the new year approached, I saw more and more of my friends posting status updates about how they were ready to see 2011 go. In many ways, I guess it has been a rough year. But I can’t help but think back on it fondly, despite the bad things that happened–the desperate situation our country is in, the hate and pain and suffering and disasters breaking out across the world. For me, 2011 was a year of growth and change and renewal and family and generosity. It was a year filled with love and hope. I want to take the power of what 2011 ignited in me and go out and share it with everyone.

I feel refreshed. I feel empowered. I feel ready.

We started the year embroiled in change. Sean had accepted a new job, and we were in the middle of a long period in which he commuted to Atlanta from Augusta for a week or two at a time. In February I hit the five-year mark at my own job, and wrote about it here. We moved to the Atlanta area at the beginning of March. I took a week off from work to coordinate the move, then went back to Augusta for a week to wrap up loose ends before beginning an approximately three-month-long period of telecommuting. I got a red velvet See You Soon cake :)

red velvet cake
After that week was over, it was back to the new apartment, which I had spent several weeks towards the end of 2010 selecting from the plethora of choices near Sean’s workplace. I wanted new or renovated apartments, nice facilities, a good location, and access to nature. I found everything I wanted, and we’ve been very happy with our new home this past year. Here’s a little something I wrote about it at the end of March.

We slowly started exploring our side of town and discovering new haunts. One of our first discoveries, Hashiguchi, ended up closing, much to our dismay. There are several other Japanese places in the area, but none have the same feel. We also discovered an Italian place, though, Scalini’s, which quickly became a favorite. And at our friend Will’s recommendation we checked out J. Christopher’s, a breakfast and brunch place, and fell in love. It’s currently my go-to restaurant (assuming I break for lunch early enough), just as the Boll Weevil was my go-to restaurant in Augusta. (They even have a door that creaks the same way!)

There’s a lot of shopping in our area as well, and as time went on I started to explore more and more of Vinings, Smyrna, and Marietta. One of my favorite landmarks is the infamous Big Chicken. Sean loves the Micro Center, which is kind of reminiscent of CompUSA. They pricematch, so he can get his quick technology fix.

Of course, there’s plenty to do in the rest of the Atlanta area. We’ve been to a comic book store in Buckhead; a Japanese restaurant, Korean barbecue, and Fry’s in Duluth; Super H-Mart, which is like Walmart for Asian food, off Peachtree Industrial; charming downtown Decatur; the aquarium and the World of Coke; the Atlanta History Center; and more. One day I drove around looking at all the furniture stores I could find, including IKEA…that was an adventure! And still so much more awaits us.

One great thing about living in Atlanta has been seeing our friends Charles and Heidi so much. I had taken several road trips from Augusta to Atlanta to visit them in the past, but now we’re free to do stuff together whenever we want! We have lots of dinners out, and we love going hiking and to cultural or interesting Atlanta destinations as well.

Heidi and Charles
For the next few months, my life consisted of telecommuting, trying to get the apartment in order, and exploring Atlanta. In May, since I was telecommuting anyway, I headed up to Kentucky and surprised Mom for Mother’s Day.

Then, around the middle of June, the station hired my replacement, so I went back to Augusta for my last two weeks to train her. On my way, I took a detour for a weekend in Savannah and had myself a nice little mini-adventure.

It was wonderful to see everyone in Augusta again. I stayed with Sean’s parents, which was really nice. I tried to get together with as many friends as possible. Brandon even managed to pull together some of the old lunch crew from years and years ago…it was awesome.

the old lunch crew
I spent some time on my last day running around getting pictures with everyone. Then, for my last night in Augusta, I spent the night at Brooke and David’s, and had breakfast with them at Cracker Barrel the next morning before heading home to Marietta.

Brooke and David
It was a wonderful last two weeks of work and a wonderful two weeks in Augusta.

Sean’s friend Adam came to visit while I was still out of town, and when I got back we took him around the neighborhood and out for sushi and frozen custard.

After that, I went back to Kentucky for the 4th of July. The fact that I was able to see my family so much was a big part of why last year was so amazing. On this visit I went swimming; I helped my brother with some sod on an area he’d leveled around a tree for seating; I spent lots of time with my nephews, including an awesome camping trip to Natural Bridge with their family; I ate ribs and fried chicken and corn on the cob and watched fireworks; I took a zillion pictures of my niece; I went shopping and out to eat with Mom; I went up to the farm and took awful pictures of the moon…basically, I had the best time ever.

And then I went to New York!

Sean’s job sent him up to the West Point area, and I got to tag along. I spent a week exploring the towns and villages along the Hudson River, including Highland Falls, Newburgh, Fishkill, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie. In Fishkill, I found a sign for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path, which ends in Augusta. Here’s the sign and its Augusta counterpart:

Fishkill signAugusta sign
I have a few detailed summaries of my adventures around “downstate New York” that I wrote back in July. I will be posting them here shortly. In brief, my first day was spent exploring Highland Falls and Boscobel House; my second day, I went to the West Point Visitors Center and Museum, then Sean and I checked out Washington’s Headquarters. The third day was quite busy. First I went to the Van Wyck Homestead, where the above Warrior Path sign stands, then explored the lovely city of Beacon. After that I headed over to the Samuel Morse house and museum, where I also took in a car show. After that I had the singular moment of the whole New York trip, an unplanned visit to the Eleanor Roosevelt home, Val-Kill. I’ve written much more on that experience in the upcoming post; suffice it to say I’m not the same person I was before I went. I also checked out the FDR Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion grounds, then finished up my day on the Poughkeepsie riverfront. This day might possibly be the best day I spent in New York state; it is rivaled only by the next glorious day, when I took the train down to New York City.

At Grand Central Terminal, I met up with my friend Matt, who I hadn’t seen since our very first (and my last) Governor’s Scholars Program reunion, a zillion years ago. (Here we are on a boat.)

Matt and me
Matt was an amazing tour guide. I got to see so much. Since we only had one day, we concentrated on Manhattan. Matt’s recommended three-hour boat tour showed us many of the sights with views we couldn’t have gotten up close. The angles we saw of the Statue of Liberty (starting here) were spectacular.

Statue of Liberty
After the boat tour, Matt and I walked and rode the subway to a few places I was interested in seeing. This included…the apartment building used as the exterior shot for Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends!

Friends apartment
We also went to Times Square and Central Park, then walked up 5th Avenue to get back to Grand Central Terminal and head off our separate ways.

I hope to write in much more detail about this part of the trip later. It was a long, wonderful day, and an excellent endcap to my time in New York state. I spent the next day relaxing and recovering from two whirlwind days of awesome, then had one more mini-adventure in Cornwall-on-Hudson before Sean and I headed home.

After we got back from New York, Sean’s parents came to visit us for the first time in our new apartment. It was great to show them our place and give them a feel for our neighborhood. We took them around to our favorite haunts, and the next day we did some touristy things. It was a good visit.

Finally, there was a lull in the whirlwind of travel and visits, and I took that time to resume looking into weight loss surgery. The original plan had been to do the surgery once we lived in Atlanta, after all, and various health issues were making it obvious that the time to act was now (if it hadn’t already passed). Unfortunately, just as I started doing the paperwork for a local surgeon, we ran into some difficulties that meant it was impossible to have the surgery done here. This culminated in a trip to San Francisco as soon as I got all my medical clearances out of the way, which ended up being the end of September.

I was blessed to stay with family and thrilled to get to see much of San Francisco before my surgery date. I had never been there before–until then, the furthest west I’d traveled in the United States had been Texas–and I was excited to see everything I could. I was awed by the natural beauty of the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods and the sculpted elegance of Golden Gate Park. My uncle even took Mom and me on a drive down the famous Lombard Street on our way to an open-top bus tour which later offered us an excellent view of same.

One great thing about being in San Francisco was that I got to see my friend Hai again.

Me and Hai
We hadn’t seen each other since our first in-person meeting in Cincinnati back in April of 2008, though we’ve known each other for far longer than that thanks to the AMRN. We met up at Hog Island Oyster Company for lunch, and it was awesome. Hai is a fellow foodie, so he and Mom and I tried oysters, lobster, and a grilled cheese sandwich–an excellent last big meal before weight loss surgery ;)

The next few days were taken up with surgery prep, the surgery itself, and in-hospital recovery. I was eager to go back to my relatives’ house, so I pushed myself to walk as much as I could as soon as possible. The surgery was September 26, and I was released on the 29th.

I wrote a little about what I expected the surgery to be like here. I may write what it was actually like someday, or I may not. I never really have been one to dwell on that sort of thing. I don’t care to write about all my experiences when I had leukemia, either. Frankly, I don’t fully remember them, and I don’t really want to. Yes, I’ve had cancer, heart problems, sleep apnea, obesity, weight loss surgery–but these things don’t define me. They’re just things I’ve gone through. They are a part of what has made me what I am, but what I am has also been a part of what defeated them. Their role in my life is (or will soon be) over.

However, I will probably write about how weight loss surgery has changed me, because my approach to food is completely different now. I have a tiny stomach. I don’t absorb nutrients well, so I need to focus on getting as much protein as possible. Sugar and carbohydrates can shoot my weight loss in the foot. And white bread, white rice, and artificial sweeteners other than sucralose cause unpleasant gastic side effects for me.

These factors mean I don’t eat at all like I did before. Now I go for the meat first. I don’t eat much bread, and when I do it’s whole wheat. I don’t typically have, or even want, dessert, because by the time I’m done eating my few bites of dinner, I’m full. But I’ll get hungry again in a few hours, so I’ve started trying to keep higher-protein snacks around, like nuts and edamame. I also rely on Atkins shakes and bars for the times when I need protein fast. Since an all-protein diet can cause hard stools, I’m working to incorporate fiber when I can. I also have to make sure to drink a lot of water, not only because my new gastrointestinal configuration leeches it away, but because I’m taking a diuretic to treat my pseudotumor cerebri until I’ve lost enough weight to “cure” it permanently.

I also take a lot of supplements to get vitamins and minerals. I have to take a particular kind that my intestines are able to absorb. This will continue for the rest of my life.

Despite these constraints, you have no idea how freeing it is to not be a slave to food. I had no idea how much control food had over me. I thought I did…but I didn’t. I knew I was miserable. I knew I felt trapped. I knew I ate emotionally, or out of habit, or whenever someone else was eating, or because something looked delicious. But it never sank in just how addicted I was to food until, suddenly, I wasn’t anymore.

I told Sean, “I wish there was a surgery to help people stop smoking.”

This is not to say that going through weight loss surgery and recovery is easy. It is not. It is a lot of work, and you have to have the right attitude going in–the attitude that you are going to kick ass and take names because you are awesome. You have to know your stuff. And there will be times, many times, when you don’t want to eat, and you will have to force yourself to do so.

This concept is so alien to the former me that I don’t think I could even begin to explain it to her.

No, it’s not easy, but it works. If you know what you’re doing, if you have the right attitude, if you follow the steps you need to follow…you will lose weight. And you’ll keep losing weight. You’ll feel better than you have in years. The fact that it actually works will keep you positive, and you’ll keep going, and you’ll keep losing weight, until you hit your healthy balance and stop. I’m not there yet, but as of today I’ve lost 64 pounds…more than I’ve ever been able to lose trying to diet on my own. On my own, I had to battle my food addiction every day. Now, with this surgery, that enormous factor is simply gone. I still enjoy food…but I don’t have to have it, and I often don’t even want it.

I’m free.

Immediately after my surgery, I had to rest and recover, but also keep myself moving so I wouldn’t lose muscle strength. I felt good the majority of the time and it wasn’t long before I was off painkillers–a benefit of laparoscopic surgery is that fewer nerves get distressed. Of course, this can also be a con, if you feel so “normal” that you try to do too much too soon and end up injuring yourself. Since I’m the go-getter type, I was in danger of just that. The day after I was released from surgery, I went on a shopping trip with my mom and aunt! It was brief enough, but I tired out extremely quickly. Thankfully I hadn’t messed anything up, but looking back on it now, I’m sort of surprised at myself. I took a weekend off and relaxed with family, but then I went crazy again and accompanied my mom and aunt to Costco! Actually, I did far better than you might expect, and only felt like falling over and dying towards the end of the excursion. We sat down at the little cafe to give me time to recover, then headed back to the house.

After a checkup the next morning, my mom and aunt and I finally got the weather we were after for some Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline shots.

Golden Gate Bridge
After that we sort of just drove around looking at things. We had lunch in Sausalito, which is awesome because I’ve always wanted to say I’ve been to Sausalito (the name is cool!), and then we did a tiny bit of grocery shopping. I was getting stronger and stronger. Still, the next two days were spent relaxing and recovering from all that wandering around. Then my aunt’s dear friend came up for a visit–I’d previously met her on my first trip to Savannah–and we had a lot of fun going around the area with her. (Enjoy this nasty picture of my lunch from our day shopping in Mill Valley…I was still getting the hang of ordering protein-rich food.)

Thus ended my first-ever visit to San Francisco. So much more happened, and there was so much more that I wanted to see. Hopefully someday I will write in more detail about the trip, and I definitely plan to go back!

Obviously, after having surgery, I wasn’t really up to my usual sort of self-reliant behavior. I had to lean on Sean a lot for help with the most simple of tasks, like getting the laundry out of the washer and dryer, putting away the dishes, bringing in the groceries, moving things, etc. It was a little frustrating not being able to just do everything myself, but I persevered. While I wasn’t supposed to carry much weight or reach over my head, I was allowed and encouraged to go up and down stairs, which was good, since we live on the “garden level” (below the first floor). While I recovered I focused on walking for exercise. I did a lot of reading, breaking into the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin for the first time. I also did a little more writing in November than usual.

I did leave the apartment for one event while I was still in the recovery and adjustment period, and that was A Web Afternoon on October 22. I saw my friends Chris and Will, and organizer J. Cornelius apparently recognized me from when I attended the Webmaster Jam Session back in 2008, which is pretty cool of him. The event was really inspiring and interesting; the speakers had somewhat diverse messages and delivery methods, but they were all very enthusiastic about the web.

The end of November heralded a weeks-long flurry of travel for Sean and me. First, on November 22, we headed to Augusta for an early Thanksgiving with Cheryl and Reid, plus Cheryl’s brother Michael and his girlfriend Michelle. I made corn casserole, and I swear Michael ate about half the pan! Michelle is from China, and I got to hear a lot of interesting stories from her past–how she was sent to work on a farm by the government as a child, and how she worked hard to help her family. It was a nice visit, and the food was great. Cheryl really pulled out all the stops.

Sean, me, Reid, Cheryl, and Michael
After a brief stop in Brooke and David’s driveway to say hello, we headed back to the ATL. But I turned around the very next day and drove to Kentucky!

One of the highlights of the visit was seeing my beautiful niece, who turned 1 on November 5. She’s grown so much!

Daphne and Ben

Daphne and Ben

Given my new post-weight loss surgery reality, I wasn’t able to eat much at Thanksgiving dinner–here’s my plate. I ate all the turkey, and maybe half of everything else. It was great to just be there with my family though…I love seeing everyone!

Uncle Steve stopped by during my Thanksgiving visit home, which was great; he’s always a trip.

The day after I got back from Kentucky, I jumped into the car again for a quick weekend in Augusta. I’d been wanting to visit Brooke and hang out with people for awhile, and this was the only weekend left in the year that would work for both of us. It may have been a mistake to try to squeeze it in there–I ended up exhausted and unable to do nearly as much with Brooke as I’d hoped–but I was at least glad to see her, and to visit my friends at the station and have Teresa’s with Brandon, Ed, and Arturo. Brooke and I had dinner with Mari at Kinja, too, which was great.

Mari and Brooke

Mari and Brooke

I squeezed in a quick breakfast with Chris and Kenny and a stopover at the in-laws’ before heading back to Atlanta on Saturday. My biggest regret from the trip is not spending more time with Brooke…that will be rectified next time.

After the Augusta trip, I mercifully had two weeks in which to relax…theoretically. In reality, I had to decorate the apartment, wrap Christmas presents and prepare holiday cards. Yes, even though we were going out of town for Christmas, I still put up our tree. It was beautiful, so I think it was totally worth it! (Technically it still is beautiful…I need to take it down…) These activities brought me much more joy than annoyance. I was thrilled that I could finally give decent Christmas presents to family members; it had really been too long. I had a lot of fun selecting everyone’s gifts.

Sean and I also went to his work Christmas party the weekend of December 10. It was held at Stone Mountain Park, and we decided to spend the night at the hotel and go see the sights the next day. It was an utterly romantic weekend. I’d lost enough weight that I needed to buy a new dress, which I did. I also wore a new perfume, Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Nude, which is now my fragrance–we both love it. The party was elegant enough, and the hotel common areas were beautifully appointed, but my favorite times were when Sean and I were alone–in our room, or out exploring the park. We went down to the village after the party and wandered around looking at all the Christmas lights. The next morning we had room service in bed and a bath in our in-suite jacuzzi. We rode the skyride to the top of Stone Mountain and I got amazing views of the huge carving in the face of the rock. After we’d explored to our hearts’ content, we descended and found hot cocoa for Sean inside an exhibit hall and way too much lunch for us to ever eat at Miss Katie’s.

A particular highlight of our trip was watching a glassblowing demonstration. We saw an artisan create a decorative flower and a very unique vase. We’d already explored the shop, and nothing had quite struck our fancy there. The vase we’d just seen created was unlike anything in the store. Sean asked if we could buy it then and there. It was finished and delivered to us three days later!

After that, we had a snack and then got onto the little train that circles the mountain, watching the lights come on and listening to Christmas carols as the sun went down. When we got back, it was dark and Christmas-y in the village once again. Sean pulled me under a huge ball of mistletoe for a kiss–the perfect end to our romantic weekend away.

The week before Christmas, we headed off to Kentucky. I guess my crazy holiday running around, plus the fact that I was still recovering from surgery, caught up to me, because I felt like I got worn out pretty quickly. Still, I was able to do a lot with my nephews, including getting some one-on-one time with each of them, which I think is important. I also spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad. I didn’t get a chance to go to the farm, but fortunately Ben and Manda and Daphne came down twice while we were there.

I had a wonderful Christmas. I loved seeing everyone open their presents. I think I did well with what I picked for everyone. I had trouble coming up with ideas for a couple of people, but it all seemed to work out in the end.

I love gift-giving. I love how personal it is, how it shows what you feel for the other person. I’m so glad we were able to give gifts this year.

Before everyone dispersed on Christmas Eve, Dan was kind enough to snap some photos of the family for us. It’s hard to get this many people into a picture, but I think it worked out okay :)

my family
Would you believe even that isn’t the end of 2011? After we got home from Kentucky, Sean had his friend William over for a few days of gaming and fun.

William and Sean
William is a charming guest and a funny guy, and it was great to have him around. We’re looking forward to meeting his fiancĂ©e when they both come to visit us sometime this year.

After William headed home on the afternoon of December 31, Sean and I quietly rang in the New Year watching Smallville season 10. (I belatedly noticed the clock had ticked over and mentioned something on Twitter; I have no idea if Sean was even paying attention. Similarly, I just realized we both forgot our ninth wedding anniversary, which was yesterday.)

And that was 2011. It was a big year in so many ways, full of friends, fun, travel, and change. I loved it.

Here’s to more of the same in 2012!

Why Twitter’s new link structure doesn’t work for me

On March 31, Twitter once again changed its look and feel for a select group of users. I posted a screenshot here. Here’s Twitter’s explanation behind the change. Now, whenever you search or click, the content you’re going for is pulled right into the white content area. It feels simpler, and in some cases faster, though I have noticed some lag on @mentions (formerly @replies) and DMs.

Slow loading times aside, the idea makes sense. It gives the information available on Twitter a more immediate feel and focus. However…it’s just not working for me.

I’m something of a curmudgeon. I have certain browsing habits, and I don’t like having to adapt them. I tend to keep certain websites open in certain tabs in a certain order. It annoys me if those websites aren’t the first sites in each tab’s history. In other words, the tab I generally keep open begins on the page I want; there’s no “back” available. That way, if I do happen to browse forward, I can hit the back drop-down and select the very first page to get back to my standard view.

In Twitter’s case, I like for http://twitter.com/home to be one page forward from my blog, so I can hit back to get to my blog quickly when nothing’s really happening on Twitter. And after clicking on my DMs or mentions, I click the back button on my mouse to get to Twitter home.

Unfortunately, that no longer works! When I hit back, the browser URL changes, but the page’s content stays on whatever I clicked last. I end up having to hit refresh to get the home screen back while keeping Twitter home as my second history item.

This causes me no small amount of consternation.

I’m accustomed to CMSes and other web apps working like this. If I had one tab that was just for Twitter, I suppose I could get used to clicking “Home” instead of hitting back. If I really make the effort, I could adjust to this.

But I don’t want to! I’m set in my ways. I like how I’ve been using Twitter since 2007. And who’s to say they won’t just change it again later, forcing me to adjust again?

Damn kids…get off my lawn.