Now that 2009 has come to a close and 2010 has begun, I can safely say that it’s a year that has been very challenging and although I am not the least bit sad to see 2009 go, it certainly was not without some really incredible experiences for me that I would like to highlight before wipe the slate clean and start fresh with 2010.
This list was especially difficult to narrow down since 2009 was the year I kicked my blogging into high gear. I had started Ryan’s Incredible World in 2007 didn’t actually start blogging until 2008 and I would maybe make no more than five entries a month. So picking my highlights of 2008 was relatively easy since there wasn’t so many blog entries to go through to pick out the defining moments.
I had joined a couple of 30-Day blogging challenges which requires 30 blog entries in 30 days and it essentially got me into the habit of making almost daily blog entries. Now it’s pretty safe to say that each month sees about 25 new blog entries. The constant blogging has actually helped bring a bigger audience to my blog, so if your first time reading any of my writing has been in 2009, then no doubt something I wrote in 2009 caught your eye and is why you’re here reading this entry now. I am grateful for the many folks who’ve read my blog and left me comments, it’s been a pleasure to hear your feedback throughout the year. In any case, I looked through every post of 2009 to select what I feel were the 10 Most Incredible Things about 2009 that happened for me. You’ll note I combined a few complimentary things to narrow it down to 10.
I do hope you enjoy my reflection on 2009 and continue to join me on my quest to find the most incredible things of 2010. Without further ado, in no particular order.
The Belly Fat Cure
When 2009 started, I was 74 pounds heavier. But thanks to reading about Jorge Cruise in the Costco Connection magazine, I had applied to be in his group of Costco members to test the program before it officially launched right after Christmas, 2009. I was selected and the program taught me how cutting sugar down to 15 grams a day or less and getting six good carb servings a day can easily make weight fall right off of you.
Once I got the routine down for the program I couldn’t believe how quickly my appetite dropped, and how simple and easy it really is to drop weight. It was very easy to incorporate into my on the go lifestyle and even though I’m not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, I was able to smartly incorporate fast foods and other restaurant foods, simply by learning to customize and avoid the ingredients that contain sugar.
As far as meals were concerned, the program was very easy to do on the go and wouldn’t require a whole lot of change to my life. Desserts on the other hand were not so easily “off the shelf” as much of the so called sugar free desserts on the market contain bad artificial sweeteners that should be avoided. Since there wasn’t much I could buy, it meant I had to learn to make it. It started out with a Brownie recipe that came from Jorge Cruise, then I progressed on to sugar free Chocolate Chip Cookies, and ultimately raiding my mother’s dessert recipes for some different options, one of which is the next item on my Incredible Things of 2009 list.
Sugar Free Nanaimo Bars
One of the dessert recipes I got from my mother was for a Canadian dessert called “Nanaimo Bars.” The triple layered squares according to legend were developed by a housewife in Nanaimo, British Columbia who named her dessert after her town and entered the bars into a dessert recipe contest. Whether or not that legend is true, that is the name by which they go by now in Canada and are quite amazingly good.
I sought out to try and make a sugar free version of them, but wasn’t sure I was knowledgeable enough about cooking to accomplish the task. (Keep in mind, I’m no cook and my idea of cooking is following the directions off a box or what I can get through a drive-thru.) The challenge wasn’t so much swapping out good natural sugar substitutes for the sugar, it was that I had to also replace ingredients that themselves contained sugar. And the recipe calls for three different kinds of sugar, regular, brown sugar, and powdered sugar and I had to figure out how to replace all of that with a natural sugar substitute that only comes in granular form. With a little creativity, some imported ingredients, and a willingness to experiment, I created an amazing tasting Sugar Free Nanaimo bar that no one believes is sugar free and in effect has become my signature dessert. It’s so signature that I’m often asked to bring some when I get invited to some social events.
Zevia – All Natural Sugar Free Sodas
One of the key products I was introduced to on the Belly Fat Cure was Zevia. Zevia is an all natural soda that’s sweetened with a combination of Stevia (a South American herb who’s name means “Sweet Leaf”) and Erythritol (a sugar alcohol which counteracts the bitterness associated with Stevia.) Zevia sodas are so flavorful they actually compare more to the full sugar versions of other soda brands than they do to the diet versions on the market.
Zevia was founded on the principle that only all natural ingredients were going to go into the sodas. Additionally, the sodas weren’t going to be allowed to have any calories, or any glycemic index effect. The makers of Zevia have truly created an amazing product. I’m a little more partial to the Root Beer and Ginger Ale flavors, as those just taste so good I think they are way better than the full sugar versions of their major brand equivalents, like A&W and Canada Dry. All their flavors are good and ones I’m more than happy to buy. Towards the end of the year they’ve launched a new flavor, Dr. Zevia which is their version of Dr. Pepper, I have placed an order for a case of it, but haven’t received it yet, so there’s a good chance it might pop up on my best of 2010 list as that’s when I’ll finally get to try it.
One of the complimentary products I was introduced to that goes perfectly with Zevia is Clemmy’s Sugar Free Ice Cream. I’ve never been much of a fan of Vanilla flavored ice cream (afterall, when you’ve got hundreds of flavor combinations, why settle for plain vanilla?). But the Vanilla Flavor of Clemmy’s is incredibly amazing and it helps turn Zevia sodas into the perfect soda floats. I’ve tried it with all six of Zevia’s readily available flavors and you can’t go wrong with a completely guilt free floats when combined with Clemmy’s Vanilla Bean ice cream.
In 2009, I became a member of the Apple iPhone Generation, but I did not sell my soul over to AT&T, the exclusive “official” carrier of the iPhone here in the United States. I had gotten an iPod Touch at the end of 2008 and had surprisingly became quite hooked on using it for applications, and was finding that I really wanted an iPhone, but did not want any part of being on AT&T as I’m quite happy being a T-Mobile customer.
How I ended up with an iPhone originally was because one of my roommates was upgrading their phone to an iPhone 3G. The reason they were upgrading was the ear piece on the iPhone was no longer working which meant the phone could only be used as a phone if calls were made either with a headset or using the speakerphone. Since my roommate needed a phone with the earpiece working, I was given the opportunity to try and hack the phone and if I got it to work,I could just have it.
I managed to jailbreak and unlock the first generation iPhone and it ended up becoming my primary phone despite the fact the ear piece didn’t work properly and it was one of the ultra small 4 GB hard drives. With such a small hard drive I decided I wasn’t going to bother putting any music on there because I knew there simply wouldn’t be enough room. My iPod Touch is four times as big at 16 GB and I cant even fit all my 5 Star songs on it. The newer iPhone 3G I swapped a Blu-Ray player to get has an 8 GB hard drive which is still pretty small but with it I feel like I’ve got enough room to maybe add my top 10 “Desert Island Discs” (the 10 albums I would pick if I were to be permanently stuck on a desert island and could only have those 10 albums to keep me company.) and still leave a lot of space available for applications and photos.
Probably one of the biggest surprises to me is how handy the iPhone has become for me as having an instant camera available for me. The evidence of that can easily be seen here on my blog as I like to lead off the blog entries with a photo for all my blog entries except these annual best of emails. The phone takes reasonably decent quality pictures, certainly well enough for my needs here on my blog, and because I have to plug it into the computer to charge it, it’s already handy to download the photos off of the iPhone.
The applications are really the heart of the iPhone in the ability of a person to customize their phone into the various tricks that a phone can do. I’ve downloaded a bunch of them over the course of the year and some of my favorite ones are ones that allow me access to my social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, music applications like Shazam which is an invaluable tool for identifying songs playing around you, Pandora which builds a perfect radio station for your every mood by telling it a song or artist you want to hear and it plays similar songs and artists, and the Sirius/XM iPhone app with allows me to turn my iPhone into a spare satellite radio. And I have downloaded a handful of games to keep me entertained, like board game classics to recreations of favorite game shows. If nothing else the iPhone certainly made me wonder how I ever got by without one.
I was introduced to Twitter in January and who knew how much it’s concept of microblogging would take off. If you haven’t been living under a rock in the last year, then you’re probably already familiar with the concept that you’re limited to 140 characters to say what you want to say in each “tweet” as they are known. You can share them publicly or just among approved friends, you can even reply to specific people or if who you’re contacting is following you, contact them privately. So many other social applications have created connections to Twitter that literally it’s possible to post something to Twitter and have it update all your social media information.
Part of the way I use Twitter is through more than one Twitter account. I use one where the only updates I do it are to announce new blog entries here on Ryan’s Incredible World. I have a secondary account which I use more frequently designed for me to keep up with just the people i want to read the tweets of, and a third which I use to participate in a live discussion with a few other Belly Fat Cure members during the live coaching sessions that Jorge Cruise does on Mondays as part of his coaching program.
And of course, Twitter ties into the iPhone as there are several applications out there that let you manage how connect with others via Twitter. Everything from ways to share photos and links, to ones that let you tag your location and post it as a “I’ve been here” kind of thing. I’m personally amazed at how ingrained Twitter has become in the course of the last year and that I was just learning what it was a year ago.
In 2009, I made a concerted effort to expand my circle of friends, especially local friends. By the time 2009 had started, I had lived here in San Diego a total of 22 and 1/2 years and really had only a handful of local friends to show for it. I have a vast network of international friends that literally it feels like I could hop on a plane to just about anywhere in the world and I would already know at least one person there. While that’s great when it comes to travelling that there’s always a familiar person to meet up with for a meal or a drink, it was just feeling very disproportionate that I should have so many friends in places I spend so little time in and so few friends in the one place I spend the bulk of my time.
When I took a serious evaluation of where I stood, most of my local friends were all co-workers. And considering I can still count all the companies I’ve ever worked for on one hand and still have a spare finger left over, that’s not a very large sphere of friends. I decided it was time to start branching out and finding people with similar interests and it was time to start getting over being shy and start showing up at local events and places and saying hello and striking up a conversation.
At first it was a little rough because I just didn’t quite have the confidence to boldly strike up the conversation, but I got myself out there initially by saying hello to a few people online who in turn said to say hello in person when I happened to be out and saw them. One of the first ones I did this with is my friend Brian Hill, he said just come up and say hello when I saw him out and he did warn me I might have to remind him that he said to do so, and the next time I happened to be out I did see Brian. I was still very shy and probably battled the should I say hello or not for about half an hour before I finally just said to myself that I’m not helping myself by not saying hello when I’ve been given the invitation to do so. And so nervously I said hello and had a nice conversation with Brian. I felt relieved and drained from all the nervousness I had worked myself into but I took the first step and lived to tell about it.
I would love to stand here today and say that all my new friendships from this year stemmed from this just getting the courage to say hello, but it simply wouldn’t be true. I showed up to a few more places and said hello to more people and started having conversations, but what really turbo charged it was meeting and saying hello to my friend Mike Yada. While my method was much like standing at the edge of the pool and dipping my toes in, meeting Mike Yada was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’s the social organizer for our circle of friends and as soon as I met him, he was introducing me to everyone and in no time, I was the new guy in the group and welcomed with open arms.
As a result of this, I’ve met a lot of great people this year that I try to spend time with as much as possible. My middle of the night work schedule isn’t always the most convenient for being able to attend every function, but I try to go when I can and I have really gotten to know so many great local people that I really feel a part of San Diego in a way I’ve never really have in the twenty-three years I’ve been here now. I am just extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to get to know and become friends with so many really awesome people in 2009 and I’m sure it’s only going to be getting bigger and better in 2010.
One of the great discoveries of 2009 came from my friend Brian Hill, who found this new sandwich shop in San Diego called “Which Wich?” and raved about it. The location Brian tried was the first location in all of California to open, and it’s a franchise of a concept that started in Texas. Essentially Which Wich? starts with the principle that all the sandwiches they offer are the same size and the same price. They do charge an extra dollar for their Signature Sandwich called “The Wicked” but it’s considerably more loaded than the other sandwiches.
Which Wich? divides the types of sandwiches they offer into ten main categories and to order one, you grab a brown bag from a special bin for the category of sandwich you want, grab a red Sharpie pen and start checking off little circles to tell the sandwich artist how you want your sandwich made. You get all your options right there on the bag on how to customize your sandwich and there’s no need to peer over a sneeze guard and have to yell and point at things to get the person behind the counter to make your sandwich the way you want. And the kicker is at the bottom of the bag you write in your name, so that when your sandwich is done, they call you by name when your sandwich is finished.
It’s a really fun concept and the sandwiches have actually been amazingly good. Another two locations in San Diego and one in Santa Ana have opened and I’ve been to them all. When Brian Hill raved about Which Wich? I had to try it for myself and I got hooked just as much as Brian did and I’ve been raving about them ever since to. Probably the most telling sign that I’m a fan is that when I took a trip to New York, I stopped at the closest Which Wich? to the airport and not only had a sandwich, I bought a second one to take with me on the plane for my cross country flight.
Kristina Debuts At Carnegie Hall In New York
Admittedly I haven’t yet written about my experience at Carnegie Hall attending the premiere of Kristina because I haven’t felt like I’ve had the chance to sit down and give it the proper justice this monumental show deserves. Kristina is the “new” musical by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. I say “new” in quotes because the show actually made it’s world debut in 1995. The show was originally written in and performed in Swedish and tells the tale of Swedish immigrants coming to America in the mid 1800′s. The show get’s its story from the Swedish classic series of novels known in English as “The Emmigrants” written by Vilhelm Morberg.
The show has been in the process of being converted to English for many years now, and finally Benny and Björn were ready to present it to its first public audience in English, albeit in a concert version as opposed to a fully staged version. I imagine the English version of Kristina might have come about a lot sooner if it wasn’t for a little show that’s taken the world by storm called, “Mamma Mia!” Perhaps you’ve heard of that show? In any case, Kristina has finally taken the journey across the Atlantic and left a mark in the new world. The two concerts at Carnegie Hall were recorded for the purposes of being released as an album, and that will undoubtedly surface in sometime in 2010. I’m predicting that it’ll be released in April, but that’s just a guess on my part.
In a way it’s probably perfect that Kristina is hitting the English speaking world after the success of Mamma Mia! Benny and Björn’s first musical Chess has had a very mixed history, it was a relative hit in London, but certainly not a massive hit. When the show was brought over to Broadway, it bombed completely literally opening and closing in eight weeks time. Chess developed a cult status in the subsequent years as the show had incredibly good songs, but a story that just never seemed to be as strong as the songs. Mamma Mia! was a surprise hit as it transformed the back catalog of ABBA songs into a lighthearted show that’s connected with audiences everywhere it’s played. The London production of Mamma Mia! hit its 10th year on the West End in 2009 and there still seems to be no sign of it stopping anytime soon. And unlike Mamma Mia!’s predecessor Chess, it’s had remarkable success on Broadway, with 2009 being its 8th year on Broadway. It seems Mamma Mia! has finally given Benny and Björn success to match the credibility that Chess helped them earn in theater circles. Had Kristina have come before Mamma Mia! in English the concert version probably would have been lacking the presence of Louise Pitre. Louise came to the attention of Benny and Björn when she was cast as Donna in the original Toronto cast of Mamma Mia! and was later given the opportunity to be the first Donna on Broadway when Mamma Mia! opened in 2001. Look to be amazed by Louise as well as the original Kristina, Helen Sjöholm, when the Kristina album from Carnegie Hall hits stores in 2010.
While it remains to be seen how theater audiences in general respond to Kristina as a fully realized stage show. It’s not going to be staged fully for a while to come as Benny and Björn don’t really want to present as a fully realized stage show in English until they see signs that theater goers are ready for heavy drama pieces as opposed to the light hearted musical comedies that seem to be dominating the success of the theater world at the moment. Kristina has more in common with shows like Les Miserables than it does Mamma Mia! So for the time being, Kristina gets presented in English as a concert style show to help dip its toe in the water and see if its the right time to jump into the pool. In any case, Kristina was a long awaited event and I’m delighted to select it as one of the most incredible moments of 2009 for me.
Live Performance and Concerts
One of the selections for my Most Incredible list that I felt was best to combine was the live performances and concerts I saw this year. Because funds were a little tight this year, outside of the Kristina shows at Carnegie Hall, I did every live performance and concert and I saw this year “on the cheap” and generally opting for the lowest priced tickets I could get just to enjoy the experience of going. In the past I was more concerned with getting great seats, but ultimately this year, I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and I was going to get just as much enjoyment out of the show from the back as I would from closer.
In terms of live performances, I saw one of my favorite shows, Rent on tour, this time it was being headlined by Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, the original Mark and Roger from the original Broadway show and the movie version as well. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the first tour since the close of the Broadway production, but the cast was able to bring amazing energy to the show that hasn’t been present in the touring casts for some time. I also saw Wicked, which presented me with an interesting quandary, it was the very first musical I’ve ever seen where I liked the show, but didn’t really care for the songs. I still can’t figure out how that’s even possible. And the end of 2009 ended much like the end of 2008, with Xanadu on the brain. The stage show knocked my socks off in the last two months of 2008 that I found myself constantly playing the original movie soundtrack throughout the entire year and it only seemed fitting to end 2009 with one more time to the stage musical since it was playing close by in Costa Mesa for two weeks during Christmas time.
In the realm of concerts, I took advantage of opportunities to enjoy both the B-52′s and my favorite ABBA Tribute Band, Arrival when they both played at the San Diego County Fair at Del Mar. I’d never seen the B-52s live before and they were such fun. I saw them with a big group of my new friends and had the best time. Arrival played a week later at the fair bringing two shows to the Fair and I caught both. The afternoon show I caught on my own and the other I was joined by my friend Tyler Blair. Additionally for concerts, I got to see one of my favorite Canadian performers, Chantal Kreviazuk play at a very small and intimate club in Los Angeles. She’s a big star in Canada and plays arena tours there, but not quite as big a star here in the US, but it does afford the opportunity to say hello to her after the show and get a picture which would not likely happen in Canada. I could have seen her a couple more times at the same venue but downtown Los Angeles is a bit far to go for a short one hour set, so I was thrilled to make it once though. And last but not least, I never in a million years thought I’d ever have the chance to see a Kylie Minogue concert on American soil, but I got to witness a Kylie show at the Hollywood Bowl. Granted it was a second row seat….from the back but I can say I was there. It was an amazing show.
Star Trek exploded back on the scene in a big way. It was pretty much left for dead a few years ago when they cancelled “Enterprise” and the last big movie, “Star Trek: Nemesis” just really felt like a tired retread of a road that’s been traveled many times before. Star Trek did the smart thing and went dormant for a while and when J.J. Abrams released the new Star Trek movie, not only did it serve to reboot the entire franchise, it brought with it a sense of coolness that Star Trek hasn’t really had since the heyday of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some might be so bold as to say Star Trek never had this level of coolness.
The movie connected with audiences in a huge way and set a new franchise record for tickets sold. It seems the movie was connecting well beyond the core Star Trek fan base, and no doubt part of that success is that J.J. Abrams went into the movie with the goal of making a movie that his wife would want to see too, so the writers were directed to make the story as acceptable to a wide audience as possible and they also brilliantly crafted in enough nods to the core Star Trek fans that it really kept Star Trek fans and non-fans very happy.
Part of the credit goes to the amazing cast that was assembled to play the original Star Trek cast. Each one nailed their character and gave solid performances that evoked the spirit of the original actors without being a parody of them. And they were still able to make the characters their own. Star Trek fans in particular are known as some of the most knit picky of any group of fans on Earth so these actors had their work cut out for them. And with the success of the movie, it seems that a sequel is undoubtedly going to be coming soon. And I personally can’t wait. If nothing else I’m already pleased the renewed interest in Star Trek has resulted in all 10 of the previous Star Trek movies and all three seasons of the Original Series have been released on Blu-Ray, all of them looking better than they ever did before.
Now that 2009 is over and done with, let’s bring on all the incredible things to come of 2010.