2011 Year in Review

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2011 is nearly gone, and I as think back over all that has transpired in the last 12 months, it feels like a whirlwind of so many things that it doesn’t even feel like it happened. So I thought I would take a few moments and look back over some of things that actually did happen, for no other reason than to do so.

So I submit for your viewing and reading pleasure my 2011 Year in Review.

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1 Year Wedding Anniversary

Megan and I celebrated our first year of marriage together on February 6, 2011. Like most February days, it was pretty cold, but we ventured down to the Plaza to eat at Brio’s. One thing we both remembered from the wedding reception was that we didn’t really have time to enjoy all the delicious food, so we essentially recreated the menu and had a chance to take it all in properly. Amazing food with an amazing wife, how could it get any better than that?

Marrying Megan is the best decision I have ever made, and she has been a constant source of strength, encouragement, love, support and so many other things over this last year, and I simply could not imagine a life without her. It has been a blast to get to know her more, to grown in our love together and to enjoy the time we get to spend together.

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5 Year Work Anniversary

It’s hard to believe, but this past June I had my five year anniversary working at Church of the Resurrection. It seems like only a little while ago that I was nervously pulling into the parking lot for the job interview! Working here has been a great experience, and I have been especially grateful for the opportunity to grow and develop my skills over these past five years.

Sometimes I look back at some old videos and graphics and cringe quite a bit, but I’ve (hopefully) come a long way since then. I am looking forward to moving forward and continuing to develop as a designer/motionographer. Below are a few samples of some of my favorite videos and designs that I created at work for 2011.

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Photography

While have I have always enjoyed photography, in 2011 I decided to approach it in a more serious manner, looking to improve my understanding of how it all works, composition, lighting, and putting it all together to create compelling imagery. I started with the Canon T2i and started taking pictures as much as I could, doing photo shoots with people just for fun and trying to develop different styles in post-production. Photography is such a fun thing to do, and I feel like I have progressed quite a ways in my proficiency at it. At least I hope so!

Just a couple weeks ago we upgraded to the Canon 5D Mark II which was really exciting, so 2012 looks to be another year full of photography, which means I’m going to need to buy another hard drive!

Below are just a few of my favorite shots from this past year.

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Food Blog

This is somewhat related to the photography and is perhaps more of a Megan thing, but I am really proud of her and her online home for culinary delights, The Fresh Fridge. All the food she makes is amazing, and over the past year she has been cooking up a delicious storm.

Being the selfless person that I am, I sacrificially give of myself to sample all of the wonderful things she creates. It’s a harsh existence, I know.

I also get to help take the pictures, and so I thought I would share just a few of the drool-inducing offerings from 2011.

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Books

I love to read, and as I was looking back over my orders from Amazon.com over 2011, I realized that I read (and evidently purchased) a lot of books this year. Most of them were really good, as I try to weed out the good from the bad before I get them, but some of them just did not live up to expectations. But I suppose that is the gamble one takes with a book, or anything else for that matter.

Anyway, I decided to compile a short list of the best books of 2011 and the worst.

Best Books of 2011:

The Battle of Salamis by Barry S. Strauss

This book is a riveting account of the Battle of Salamis, where the Grecian navy defeated the invading Persian armada. I enjoyed the narrative flow and the way Strauss gave emphasis to the characters involved.

Scipio Africanus: Greater than Napoleon by B. H. Liddel Hart

Although this book is not a recently published one, the author was a renowned military theorist and brought that to bear upon the historical record to tease out the genius of Scipio Africanus as a general and leader. For anyone interested in ancient warfare and tactics, this is a must-read.

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection by Pope Benedict XVI

After reading the equally well done first part, I was quite excited for this to finally be published. It did not disappoint. Full of insight and depth, Benedict XVI approaches Jesus in a post-critical fashion, not simply trying to discover a historical figure but to lead the reader into a personal encounter with the Jesus who is focus of history.

Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells

An excellent archaeological approach to the ‘Dark Ages’ which calls into question many of the popularized conceptions of the time period.

Most Disappointing Books of 2011:

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological & Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor

You have to admit- the title of this book makes it sound like it is going to be a fascinating read. To be sure, in some places it is. However, the book on a whole becomes bogged down in so much repetition that one is left slogging to the end of a chapter only to arrive at the next where many of the same things are said again. If this book had been condensed by 50% it probably would have been a lot more enjoyable.

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 by Chris Wickham

This may be a case where my expectations were somewhere completely different than what the book promised to deliver. The description speaks of ‘revelations’ and ‘fresh understanding,’ but the majority of this text is names and dates. What made this book a particularly difficult work to trudge through was that the narrative style in which those names and dates were presented was so convoluted as to offer no context to derive what exactly the inheritance of Rome is supposed to entail. I was able to grasp the underlying thesis easily enough, but it is buried under so many numbers and names as to render it less effective than I felt it could have been.

Love Wins by Rob Bell

I didn’t even intend to read this book as I really don’t like Bell’s writing style, but someone gave it to me to read and so I decided to oblige. Honestly, it wasn’t disappointing because of anything that was in it. (I have already done a mini-review of it here) Rather, the disappointing aspect for me was what he didn’t say. By that I don’t mean him clearly coming out and taking a position on something, but rather that the book left the reader with a choice between what seems to amount to polar opposites, (that really only exist within a relatively narrow subset of Christianity) rather than engaging the broader historical understanding of sin and hell that, when properly understood, could mitigate many of the polarities raised.

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Music:

As much as I love music, I don’t seem to ever end up buying all that much of it, so much of my exposure to new music comes through Pandora, Last.fm or recommendations from my brother Jared. Nevertheless, there were a few standout songs that I heard in 2011, so I thought I would share.

Deas Vail: Meeting in Doorways

Lydia: This is Twice Now (ok, this song is from 2008, but I first heard it this year and really like it.)

Sufjan Stevens: From the Mouth of Gabriel (yes, from 2010 but I didn’t get this until right after the New Year.)

Bon Iver: Minnesota, WI

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Songwriting:

I have continued to write songs throughout this year, although my output has dropped off quite precipitously over the last few months for various reasons. I am terrible at keeping track of my songs, writing them down and naming them- Megan always tries to get me to play something and has to say something like, ‘You know, the one that says that one thing in that one part?’

Anyway, one of my favorites from 2011 is a song I wrote over the summer called Everything. I have embedded a rough version below.

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New Niece

Joel, Brooke and Ashlyn welcomed Faye Marie into the world on September 6th. Megan and I got to meet her around the beginning of November, and she is quite the cutie!

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Vacation

Megan and I took our first real vacation together over this past summer. We headed north to Ohio where we made our first stop in Cincinnati to visit Joel, Brooke and Ashlyn. Ashlyn is turning into quite the gymnast, and so she showed off some of her moves in their basement.

While we were there we got to sample some excellent Cincinnati chili, visit an art fair, a very disappointing Berry Festival and stop at one of the most amazing stores in the world: Jungle Jim’s. This place is basically a huge international food store that has practically any food you can imagine, not to mention over 200 different varieties of hot sauce!

Our next stop was Cleveland where we visited Megan’s grandparents. They very generously took us on another mini vacation up to Niagara-on-the-Lake where we had an absolute blast. The weather was beautiful, the scenery sublime, and the food unbelievable.

Once we got back to Cleveland we were able to sample some of the local BBQ, stopped by the Cleveland Art Museum and had a wonderful time just hanging out with Russ and Nancy. Thanks for the great time!

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Design for its Own Sake

Many times I get so caught up in work that I forget to create things just for the sheer fun of doing so. This year I intentionally carved out some time to create art pieces just because I wanted to. It’s kind of funny, because sometimes the pressures of a deadline can help to stir the creative juices, so I was wanting to see if I could create things on my own time without those types of motivations.

Evidently I can and did, so here are a few of my favorites from this past year.

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Stem Cell Transplant

This is of course probably the biggest thing to come out of 2011 for me, and it has been a very long and drawn out process. It all started back in April when my previous oncologist spotted something on a routine follow-up scan. Initially he was hesitant to ascribe any serious significance to it, as it didn’t present itself as much on the scan, but in the end decided to take a more aggressive approach.

What followed was a series of biopsies over the next few months that all came back inconclusive. As my oncologist was transferring to a different location, I wound up with another doctor who favored a really aggressive approach to the whole scenario. Even though the biopsies were inconclusive, he was convinced that the way the symptoms and scans were presenting themselves showed evidence of relapse, and thus the next step would be a stem-cell transplant.

After consulting with the transplant doctors, I had a final biopsy which finally brought back a diagnosis, and thus the entire process began. I started off with 3 rounds of RICE chemo, a particularly potent mixture of chemo since I had already gone through the RCHOP regimen 2 years earlier. That began right around the beginning of September. After RICE was concluded, the next step was a regimen of drugs called BEAM which is meant to eradicate any remaining cancer cells as well as wipe out the body’s immune system to prepare it for the transplant.

It was around the end of the RICE treatment that we found out Joel and I are identical twins, and thus instead of getting the stem cells from myself, we could get them from him. He and the family made the trek down to KC for the donation, and while he was having stem cells extracted I was having chemo dumped into my body.

On November 15 I underwent the transplant, which was a somewhat anti-climactic experience. It is basically like a blood transfusion, and pretty much went off without any complications.

A week later, however, I was back in the hospital. One of the complications of transplants is neutropenic fevers as the body is trying to make sense of all that is going on. I was running continually high fevers, my heart rate was out of control and I even passed out once. I was at KU hospital for a little under a week until the fevers got under control, and it was quite the relief to get out of there.

Unfortunately, only a few days later I was back. The fevers had returned and my heart rate was still racing. This time the culprit was GVHD, which is Graft Vs. Host disease, which is basically when the body’s immune system detects the foreign stem cells and wants to reject them. Although Joel and I share identical DNA, there can be discrepancies there or in the RNA or in the proteins, so GVHD even among identical twins, while rare, (apparently I am the third documented case the doctor knew of…) can still occur. Fortunately, mine was a realtively mild version of it, as some transplant patients suffer in far more terrible ways.

To counteract the rejection I was put on a variety of medications, Prednisone foremost among them. It’s kind of nasty stuff, but it does it’s job and I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I will be glad when I am off it.

I was able to get out of the hospital a little under a week later (we did spend Thanksgiving there, which was kind of a bummer…) and have been on a slow and upward climb ever since. Megan and I have been so incredibly thankful that all of the most recent clinic visits have been extremely uninteresting. The biggest blessing has been that we have been able to only have visit once a week. For about 3 months we were either there or in the hospital every day or every other day, which is kind of taxing in every sort of way. It feels somewhat luxurious to only go once a week and have the rest of the time for a somewhat normal life.

It’s still going to be a long and uphill battle. I am still in isolation mode as my body tries to rebuild itself, and we still have to take lots of precautions and such in our day to day lives, but things are slowly getting better and looking up every day. Megan has been absolutely amazing in every way, and I know I couldn’t do any of this is she wasn’t as tireless and selfless and loving and awesome as she is.

We have also been incredibly blessed by the love and support of so many loved ones, friends and co-workers- honestly, I have been blown away by it all. This has truly been a team effort among so many people and we are grateful for everyone who has come alongside us through this whole process.

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So yeah, 2011 has been a crazy year, and 2012 promises to be more of the same. I have learned and grown a lot in many ways over 2011, even though many times it has not been easy or enjoyable. However, as I take stock of my life and all that has happened and the ways in which I have seen God work in and through my life this year, it with all the honesty I can muster to say that I wouldn’t want to change it for anything.

God is teaching me to be grateful for the life he has given me, and as I come to truly appreciate what that means I can only hope to look back on 2012 and say the same thing.

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By deviantmonk

Jason Watson

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