The following is our (normally) annual end-of-year newsletter. This year's newsletter actually reviews both 2010 and 2011, because I didn't write a review for 2011.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Winter Solstice, Happy New Year, Happy…how about if I just say "Happy Holidays!" so I don't miss anything nor disappoint anyone? So, Happy Holidays from the Macaione-Bilodeau household! It's hard to believe that it's less than a week until Christmas as I write this. While it's a bit chill outside, it's not the December chill I remember from my youth (lo, those many, many, many years ago) and there isn't even a hint of snow on the ground. I, for one, am hoping that doesn't change soon, nor in any great degree.
It's been two years since our last newsletter. I won't cover everything that's happened with us over the past two years, but I will try to hit the highlights. (Largely due to the fact that I'm getting older, and the memory isn't what it used to be. They say something about memory being the first something, but I forget what, exactly…)
Our grandson, Max, who was only a few months over one year old at the writing of the last newsletter is over three years old now, and is a wonder and a joy and very much an individual in his own right. He loves "Nomas" (Thomas the Tank Engine.) He loves being thrown up in the air and caught. He loves doing puzzles and playing with his toy trains and finding snails outside. He loves his trips to myGym. His favorite color is purple, and he thinks it's funny that Grampa has five or six favorite colors.
And on top of all that, Max is now a big brother. His new little brother, Ben (Benicio Victor Jacobson) was born just last month, November 7th. Given that Ben's birthday is 7/11, we figure that he's going to be lucky his entire life. Ben just adds another layer to all the reasons that we continue to spend so much of our free time out in Tarzana. Criss was fortunate enough to be able to make it out to California on the day he was born, and I was able to make it out there myself on Thanksgiving Day.
Criss is still very active in theater. To start off 2010, she was cast in STC's production of "The Mermaid of Edam," an original musical by local playwright Kit Goldstein. In late spring she played Mrs. Barrymore, the housekeeper, in Circle Theater Player's production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles". The production was very well received (more than one audience member was heard to say that it was the best show that CTP has done in several years.)
The late summer and early fall of 2010 were devoted to Classic Theater Guild's production of "The Giant Hoax." (another original musical written by Kit Goldstein) About the Cardiff Giant hoax of the 1860's, this wonderful show boasts memorable music and a very large cast. Criss directed the show and I was the assistant director. While we had a lot of fun with a great cast over the entire production run, I think the most fun we had was during the publicity shoot Criss arranged at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY.
We spent most of a Friday in early September arranging cast members over, around, and near the actual Cardiff Giant while taking scads of photos of them in period costume. While we were officially the director and ass't director, Criss and I both wore many hats during this production. I was the photographer for the Farmer's Museum shoot, and built black-out flats for our performance space. (The show was performed in the Fenimore Gallery, upstairs at Proctor's, in Schenectady.) Criss designed and put together the playbill and helped with publicity. It was a very time consuming show, but well worth every minute, as we sold out every performance, and actually had to turn people away because of the gallery's limited space.
After a brief respite following "Hoax," Criss was back at work with STC for their 2011 production of "It's Raining Tamales." Not only was Criss cast in the show, but she also produced it. As is typical for STC shows, "Tamales" was originally scheduled to be just a spring show, but ended up adding several performances this past fall.
About the same time as "Tamales" went into production, Criss started having pain in her foot/ankle/leg. She ended up with the leg in her walking cast/boot for the rest of the spring and part of the summer, making it nearly impossible for her to perform in the show. It only took three doctors, a set of MRIs, several sets of X-Rays, and three months for them to finally figure out that her difficulty wasn't just due to her usual systemic issues, but was the result of a broken bone in her lower leg. There is a reason they still call it "practicing" medicine…tho' we keep hoping that one day they'll actually get it right.
Fortunately, the boot and broken leg didn't keep her from directing STC's summer camp production of "Pinocchio." The STC summer camp is open to children from 8-14 who want to learn all kinds of theater skills, not just acting, and Criss has been involved with it since its inception.
Recognizing her talent, skills, and dedication, Criss was elected to the Presidency of STC this past September. This has her even more involved with STC than she has been in the past. She even talked me into a board position for STC, by getting me to agree to take care of their website and Facebook page.
The most fun I've had recently with STC was the chance to work with Criss on STC's Hallowe'en Haunt. She was a marvelous wicked Gypsy, and I got to play the Evil Puppet Master (including writing my own lines -- "Would you like to join the puppet troupe? No strings attached…" *crazy cackle".)
The normalcy of doing theater (and who would ever think I'd say _that_?) contrasts with the rest of our lives. The biggest change we've been through in the past two years is related to my job. In April of 2010, after working for them for nearly 15 years, I was laid off from my job at Pitney Bowes Business Insight (formerly known as MapInfo.) The number crunchers at Pitney Bowes corporate headquarters had decided that even tho' we were making money at PBBI, we weren't making _enough_ money, so they laid off about 25% of the engineering staff, including me, to reduce their expenses.
Fortunately, my years of service at MapInfo/PBBI left me with a good severance package, as it wasn't easy for a 51 year old Build Engineer to find a new job. It'd been so long since I'd last had to hunt for a job that I'd nearly forgotten how to go about it. It'd been so long, in fact, that I had to pull the last copy of my resume off a floppy disk! (And it's a wonder I still had access to a computer with a working floppy drive.) My interview skills were rusty, as well, and it took a few interviews before I felt like I was actually coming across properly.
But, by the first week of December, I was back at work at a local gaming software company, Vicarious Visions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard Inc., doing builds of "Guitar Hero." You may know the parent company, as they also publish a couple of games that you may have heard of: "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft." Now, this is where the job hunt story gets odd…
Exactly eight weeks after I started working at Vicarious Visions, the entire staff was called into a meeting. The parent company had decided that there wasn't a future for new releases of Guitar Hero, and that VV needed to be restructured. "Restructured" was corporate speak for laying off over 30% of the staff of VV, including their newest build engineer, me. So, after a brief respite, I was back job hunting again. This time around was easier in a sense, tho', with the previous year's experiences still fresh in my mind. I got not just one, but two jobs offers by the beginning of July.
Unfortunately, neither of them were in Albany. The first (by about a week) was from Neversoft Studios in Chicago, for their Senior Tools Engineer position. Neversoft is another gaming company (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, where Lara works, via Warner Games.) Their main product is "Mortal Kombat." The job sounded extremely interesting, but would have left me living in Chicago and only being able to get back to Albany and Criss about once a month.
The second offer was from TripAdvisor Media Group, the company that produces the tripadvisor.com website. (If you haven't heard of the website, I can highly recommend it. It's a great place to get real reviews, and real photos, of hotels, B&Bs, vacation rentals, restaurants, and things to do all over the world, as well as serving as a portal for booking flights and hotels once you've finished with the reviews and forums.) TA is based in Newton, Massachusetts, about 10 miles west of Boston. I accepted their offer.
So, now I'm the Senior Build Engineer for TripAdvisor, and I have an apartment in Newton. I drive out to my job early Monday morning, and drive back to my home in Albany on Friday afternoon, staying in the apartment Monday through Thursday evenings. It makes for a very odd lifestyle, but leaves me very, very, very happy to be back in Albany with Criss every weekend. I'm enjoying the job a lot, and learning a tremendous amount about building, maintaining, and administering a website (not to mention Linux, Perl, Python, bash shell scripts, and numerous other topics.) And I've gotten very, very good at navigating Boston Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. (Having driven in both, I can honestly say that Boston traffic is much worse than LA traffic. LA traffic is bad, but Boston traffic has a deliberately crazy feel that LA lacks.)
Besides the oddity of my new job, 2011 also brought a couple of big milestones for Criss and I. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year, in September. We celebrated it by attending the marriage of Michelle Kodweis (Michelle is one of Criss' sister Toni's granddaughters) to Christopher Rodd in California's wine country, followed by a few days in San Francisco. We hope that Michelle and Christopher have the same happiness together as we have been fortunate enough to find. We had a good time at the wedding, seeing a lot of family there that we hadn't seen in awhile, and then had a good time in SF, as well.
One of the highlights of our time in SF was our first ever visit to the Exploratorium. Housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, the former heart of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, the Exploratorium is not only beautiful to see from the outside, but one of the most entertaining, exciting, and just plain fun places to spend time that we've ever visited. If you like interactive exhibits, and hands-on learning, then you have to visit the Exploratorium. Every exhibit gives you something to do, as well as something to learn. We spent most of an entire day there, and barely scratched the surface. And new exhibits are rotated in on a regular basis.
The other milestone that 2011 brought us was Criss' 65th birthday. It's hard to believe that my beautiful bride is now 65, but it's true. She's now officially a senior citizen. Not that she's letting that slow her down at all. She's just as busy as ever (if not busier, being STC's President on top of still being a standardized patient at Albany Medical College, and Freddie's nanny, and Max and Ben's Nana, and estate saling, and… I could go on, and frequently do, but this time I'll spare you all my babbling.)
Well, that's about it for this newsletter. I'm sure there's lots I've missed or forgotten, but I think I've managed to share some of the highlights with you, our friends and family. May your holidays be wonderful, and may your 2012 be full of delightful new memories for you and yours.
Criss and Shawn