Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Best of 2014

This is the fourth year of publishing a list of my best experiences of the year.  The full list had a record thirty-three items and reducing it down to the top ten was tough, with many memorable and worthy events not making the final cut.  For this truly remarkable year, here are the best of the best.

10. Having a Heart Calcium Test Score of Zero

My doctor put me in a statin to lower my cholesterol, which it did very drastically, but with a side effect of a nasty rash, so I had to stop.  However, there’s now a new test that measures the calcium buildup around the heart, an indicator of how much plaque has formed in the arteries around the heart.  My test result was zero, meaning no buildup and no need for further meds.  

9.  Taking the Tullamore D.E.W. Tour

This year’s top ten list contains four experiences from Ireland, leaving out at least that many others.  Tullamore D.E.W. is my wife’s favorite Irish Whiskey and learning their history and the distilling process was fascinating.  Getting to taste three separate samples was pretty nice too.  Finally, we all learned that “D.E.W”, not Dew as we all thought, stands for Daniel Edmund Williams, who worked for nearly sixty years at the distillery.

8.  A Sunset Sail Cruise in Key West

A trip to Key West wasn’t on the list of planned vacations for 2014, but was won at a conference as one of their big prizes.  I’ve seen the sunset from Mallory Square a dozen times, but no way does that compare to experiencing it on a boat.  

7.  Watching Alan Jackson Perform at The Fraze

There is an experience missing here that I’m sure would have made the list, but due to moving the Ireland trip up a week, we had to sell our tickets to see Darius Rucker at the Fraze.  However, the Alan Jackson concert rocked to It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere and weeped to Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning).   

6.  Attending the TEDxDayton Conference

This was the second year for the independently organized, sold-out TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference at the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton and it didn’t disappoint.  A little more than twenty interesting talks on a wide variety of subjects sprinkled with a few singing and dancing acts.  Hard to pick out a favorite presentation, but I’ll give it to the final one of the day, by Toniya Singh, relating her experiences growing up in India and coming to the USA.

5.  Dinner and Music at McGann’s in Doolin, Ireland

The last full day in Ireland was spent traveling to Doolin, a small seaside town near the Cliffs of Moher.  The cliffs were awesome, albeit on a foggy day, but having dinner and listening to real Irish music at McGann’s, a small locals tavern, that night was even better.  The music was performed in exchange for drinks and was top notch.  And when we asked for four shots of Irish Whiskey as our final toast our trip, they pulled out four tumblers.  When we asked the bartender to use shot glasses, he complied while stating “that’s a novel idea!”.

4.  Dinner at the Blue Heaven in Key West

My hat’s off to Duane who suggested this quintessential Key West restaurant.  Great food, drinks and music.  Tables are inside the restaurant walls but out in the open with chickens clucking and flying around.  The bass player’s instrument was made out of a old wash tub and he explained its history as we chatted at the bar during a break.

3.  Touring the Aran Islands

Starting in Galway City, we took a 45-minute bus ride and a 45-minute ferry ride to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.  The roads, property lines, grazing fields and about everything else on the islands are lined with rock walls, busted out of the ground to provide land for food and housing.  Most impressive were the cliffs, with no barriers to keep you safe, and braving the high winds to take some memorable pictures.

2.  Seeing Jeff Dunham Perform in Las Vegas

I’ve seen all of Jeff Dunham’s Comedy Central performances and when luck, lots of luck, came together, I was able to watch him perform live in Las Vegas with his sidekicks Walter, Little Jeff, Achmed The Dead Terrorist, Peanut and Jose Jalapeno.  The act is part planned, part ad lib, a little picking on the audience and a very funny couple hours.  The second best live comedy I’ve ever seen, just behind The Producers, on Broadway, starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, many years ago.

1.  Taking the Guinness Storehouse Tour in Dublin

Guinness is my favorite beer, so I guess it's no wonder that the holy grail of 2014  would be visiting where it all began.  The highlight of the tour was learning to pour a perfect Guinness, tilting the glass at a 45 degree angle while pulling the tap forward, letting it settle for 119.5 seconds, and topping it off while pushing the tap forward.  Then enjoying the beer in the GRAVITY bar on the top floor of the Storehouse with its gorgeous view of Dublin.

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