Saturday, January 28, 2012

When did Liam Neeson get awesome?

Schindler's List was almost 20 years ago.
That's when most of us first saw Liam Neeson in his Oscar nominated role as Oskar Schindler. His acting career began more than 20 years prior and he's been working nearly nonstop the entire time (Neeson's impressive IMDB page).
photo via a Liam Neeson Photoshop Challenge on
Lately, he's been one of the best Hollywood kicking ass badasses. Some may have realized how awesome he is when he was wielding a light saber, or beginning Batman, but for me it was his throat-punching tour de force Taken. It was quickly followed up by a similar role in Unknown and yesterday The Gray opened in theaters.  [I really wish "the" would've been dropped from the title - I wanted the starkly titled single word trilogy to have been completed].

Just when I thought my opinion of Liam Neeson couldn't have gotten any better, I saw the below embedded video. In my mind, he's a triple threat - with the ability to make others cry from an emotional monologue, cry from a painful beating, and now cry in laughter.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Was the past year the best year of my life?

January 24, 2012 is my birthday. As an American, I'm allowed to be totally self absorbed and selfish on this day. Therefore, I'm using this opportunity to write an extremely long brag. Please note that I did not write this for you - it's entirely for me: A document to upload to the Internet that I will be able to look back at for years to follow. This is my birthday present to myself.

Dear Facebook, not everything has to be "like"-able
2006 was the best year of my life. I knew it while the year was ending. It wasn't in the morbid, "well, it's all downhill from here" sense - it was a warm feeling of accomplishment. That year I finally told my parents that they were ready to live on their own when I bought my condo and was also the year I won a free weekend in Vegas thanks to a lavish charity poker tournament held on Northerly Island. In January of that year I started blogging and by the end I had accomplished a resolution of finishing 12 books in 12 months (a feat I have yet to equal again). Life was sweet, life was comfortable, life was happy. The following years were slight builds featuring more sweetness, comfort and happiness - but I knew it was all set in motion by 2006.

2006 was the best year of my life - past tense. 2011 is the new highpoint. Again, I don't feel like 2012 is going to be horrid (Ancient Mayans, I'm looking in your direction). Barring something insanely crazy like getting brainwashed into a marriage or fatherhood - it will probably be more than 5 years when it gets topped, if ever. [Although it might be a slight cheat - I'm going to modify by "best year" to the 365 days between my 32nd birthday and my 33rd. There are a couple events from an already stellar January that I want to include in this post.]

The little things: my sporting year
Obviously, you're not a golfer
Even though I started golfing a few years ago, 2011 was really the year I became a golfer. At the start of the season, I openly worried with friends that it might be the last season for me - that if I wasn't happy with my progress I wasn't going to continue. As much as I don't like to admit it, I don't think I truly took the game seriously when I started - seemingly more interested in wearing stupid straw hats or making a damn fool of myself in outbursts of rage. My first time out in 2011, one of my friends said that he didn't recognize me in my new "golf hat" (a modest white Titleist cap). My last time out I hit my preset goal for the year (and also saw a friend bury an eagle from about 190 yards away). But it's not the quantitative scoring improvement of 2011 that earns its place in this post - it was the network of about 6 different people that was willing to spend a few hours with me nearly every Saturday this summer that made it the best.

My home on Wednesday nights
The first sport I loved, basketball, earns an honorable mention here. I took over the low-maintenance coordination duties of a weekly open gym. Pick up basketball is often young men at their worst: hard fouls, harder personalities, and massive amounts of others' shirtless sweat - however, not when I'm in charge. It's more difficult than you'd think to gather ten people who aren't pricks and can remember the four other people on their team. Another reason that makes my basketball group great: we donate a ton of food to a local food pantry.

We made shirts
And now I bowl. It's not the first bowling league I've been a part of - but it's the first bowling team that has ever found its way to first place. If I am honest with my most egotistical self - it's not the team's success which is making me happy (it should be noted, my average is the worse of the team named StrongMenAlsoCry). I'm getting out of work on a usually boring Tuesday night to roll with a couple friends. We all laugh together and regularly tease each other. The only thing that I love more than the others' toleration of my non stop Lebowski quoting is the creation of the below video. It will keep me smiling for many years:

What was heard: my year in music
Jim James of My Morning Jacket
Arcade Fire winning the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011 was a moment of huge joy for me. Was it my favorite album of theirs? - no. Was it in my opinion the best album of that year? - not even close... But when a band you like - that a lot of people were vocal about never knowing existed - wins an award like that it's like having your small school win the National Championship.

More important for me, 2011 was a record setting year in both concerts attended and people who went to concerts with me. After years of trying to convince friends to check out this band, or having the same friends ask me to check out that band - we finally saw'em all when they came to Chicago. Or, as was the case with my favorite show of the year, go up to Milwaukee (My Morning Jacket at Riverside Theater) to catch a better performance. Even though MMJ was the best show, my strongest memory from the past year might be how I got myself to see Foster the People for free. (and then also, by the same reward, see Girls) Yes, I made a chart to fully detail just how many great shows I saw with many great people:

Other people's joy: my year of being included in something bigger
Doug & Rachel

Not too long ago, if you would tell me that I would not blink twice at missing Fatboy Slim performing in Chicago or a hometown Lebowski Fest I would not have believed you. Those two events seem to be right up my selfish alley, but 2011 presented me with better options that reminded me there are other people I care about more than myself.

The wedding of Rachel & Doug was not the first wedding in which I viewed both halves of the union as a friend. It was also not the first time I was an usher in a ceremony. It felt different because Rachel & Doug are not lifelong friends I've known since childhood. I always knew of them as a couple and they always knew of me as a beaten up romantic cynic.

Me n'Matthew
Then there's Matthew: my Godson. Again, it's not the first instance of a friend having a kid - and not the first instance of watching a child grow before my eyes that I've had a sincere connection and love.  Matthew is my first Godson (his parents = crazy?). The title definitely changes things - and I'm already loving my front seat to the rest of his life. I'm dreaming of living vicariously through his accomplishments and bragging about him without having any of the time and pressure responsibilties his parents have.

The separate incidents of Rachel & Doug's wedding and Matthew's Baptism does not make me want to start a family any sooner - but I'm happy everyone involved in those events felt different.

Passion Affinity Infinity: the year of #mubb (and its role in my Las Vegas success)
Ring out ahoya
There's nothing more I can say about my time in Las Vegas during March 2011 that hasn't already been blogged with an incredible amount of detail. Those five days in Nevada was the greatest time I had [domestically] in 2011 - with a large part courtesy of the NCAA results of my beloved alma mater. Even with the Vegas Geographical piece aside Marquette Basketball deserves its own block in this post. Once again I had purchased a 5 game ticket plan and was able to take a few more people to their first Marquette game. The team is a personal source of pride and I love being able to share it with others - to have them experience just how many students go to the game and to know that a smaller private school can sell out an arena built for an NBA franchise.  For example, I was finally able to take MySister to a game. She had bought a "Beat Syracuse" button in the Spirit Shop before the game after I told her that Syracuse was the only team MU has yet to beat since joining the Big East. The button worked, and more importantly MySister wore that button the next time they played: The 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament - when I literally ran a victory lap around the Sports Book at Treasure Island and bought many people celebratory beers.

With a MU rah-rah
I've already been to 3 games this year - and Marquette has won all three! Keeping the family vibe going, I took my Dad (MU class of 1960) to the game and even though he seems to cheer louder at the Kiss Cam - it always fills my heart when I'm able to take him there. It's a great arrangement / tradition we have: I buy the tickets, he buys the celebratory Culvers meal on ride home.

(FYI: #mubb is the Twitter hashtag that links all "Marquette University Basketball" tweets -it's a fun community and culture that I'm slowly becoming more entrenched)

Sri Lanka: the year I happened to go to the other side of the world
MySister & I in Sri Lanka
Still can't believe I did that. My head may never wrap around my choice to join MySister in Sri Lanka for two full weeks. I didn't  even have a passport when I made the decision.

It's the highlight of my life. Pure and simple the largest endeavor I undertook causing the best result I ever could have imagined. I wrote many posts soon after my return about it. The experience almost killed this blog - for there seemed nothing in my humble life blogworthy anymore.

Negombo Cricket Club: 2011 Fantasy Baseball Champions
Every aspect of my life seemed to be positively influenced by it - from the crazy awesome winning streak I experience at the poker tables (funding my plane ticket) to my appropriately named Fantasy Baseball team winning a Championship.

The group that organized the build, the team I joined, recently created a video I hope you all watch. I'm in it briefly, but MySister is the exclamation point at the end. Thank you Be The Change Volunteers:

Bowling Pin continues - highlighted by a new best effort in St. Louis
Bowling Pin has now been photographed in seven states