It’s my custom to start the new year with a personal review of the year just ended1. While many people claim 2016 to be the worst year ever, it was far from that for us, although we did have quite a bit more upheaval than in past years, including a job change, new cars, and quite a few unexpected expenses.
Here’s what happened.
Old Job, New Job
In March, I was informed that I would be laid off from my job as Communications Director at the Catholic collaborative in Walpole, Mass. After the collaborative was pared down from three parishes to two, expenses were too high compared to income. I’m also sure that some people questioned why parishes need a communications director. Part of the problem is that communications director is a title you find in corporations and government. A more accurate and palatable title would have been evangelization director, which would have encompassed all the same duties and responsibilities.
I didn’t stay unemployed for long. In fact, within a few days I was in contact with my current employer at Massachusetts Citizens for Life, where I started immediately as Director of Community Engagement, where I’m working on reaching out to new demographics, primarily through online means. It’s been interesting and educational so far, and you might imagine that in Massachusetts, it’s quite a challenge.
While I started with SQPN as Executive Director in 2015, we really got started on our work in 2016. In fact, in January, Fr. Roderick and Inge flew over from the Netherlands and Capt. Jeff and Linda Nielsen flew up from Atlanta for several days of strategy sessions and planning here in the Boston area. It was great having them here and in addition to the meetings, we had a listener meet up and saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens together. Plus Father and Inge spent several days visiting the city, which resulted in fun videos and podcasts.
The rest of the year saw us implementing those plans and adjusting as we went. We’ve been working on rebuilding the foundation of the organization, starting new podcasts, creating new video series, and asking for enough funding from listeners and viewers to support our current work and to grow a bit. A piece of that rebuilding included recruiting a new board of directors, mainly folks from the Boston area to make it easier for us to work together. We also acquired a new name, Trideo, for our branding, since it’s much easier to convey, especially in many different language. 2017 looks promising for SQPN too, including more new shows and a pilgrimage to Rome in September.
We started 2016 with two very old cars. Melanie was driving the kids in a 2006 Buick Terraza, while I was commuting in an even older 2000 Honda Civic. In May, we took the Terraza to our mechanic who gave us the litany of troubles, including the need for new brakes and an overhaul of the air conditioning. That doesn’t even include the broken sliding door and the intermittent electrical problems. Just getting it safe to drive was $1,000, but it would need another $2,000 to fix the necessaries.
Happily, and with the help of Melanie’s parents, we found and purchased a 2015 Ford Transit van that we all love. For one thing, it’s big enough to hold everyone comfortably with room to spare and even extra gear too. Plus it’s new with all kinds of nice features like backup camera and auxiliary ports for connecting our iPhones to the sound system.
Then in August, we got the bad news about the Honda I was driving, primarily that it was rotting out from underneath. It was 17 years old and had been driven up from Texas by Melanie when she was in grad school and its time was up. So off to the dealerships I went again. This time I got another Honda Civic, a used 2013, for a decent price, I think. (I hate buying cars, but who doesn’t?) I do really like the new car, which is comfortable and has enough technological gadgets to keep me satisfied, even if as I told the salesman, it’s main purpose is to bring me from home to work and back. Other than that, it doesn’t get a lot of driving.
In August, we took our new van on a family vacation to Acadia National Park in Maine. Now that we had a new, larger van, we could fit all our camping gear in it and the kids would not have to be squished in for a long trip of about 10 hours total, including stops. We stayed in a campground on the other side of Mount Desert Island, the island that holds most of the National Park. You can see my summary of our trip here, but in looking back, I’m sill very happy with the trip. The kids definitely want to go back and they loved the low-key ability to just hang out and spend time exploring the coast and forests. Next time, I will look for a campground closer to the park entrance, even though I liked the campground we were at, because the distance meant we ended up eating dinner out each night. Otherwise, we’d have to eat very late or cut short our day in the park.
As for camping out and in tents and eating our other meals outside, it was a great time. I was able to augment our camping equipment to help it be more comfortable for everyone, which was great. The last time we went camping, we had my mom’s camper to supplement for whatever gear we didn’t have, but this time we did just fine.
While Melanie discovered the Broadway play “Hamilton” in late 2015, last year the whole family became obsessed with it. Even I got into it, reading blog posts about it, listening to a podcast series examining each song (see below), listening to it on my own. The kids have incorporated lines from the play into their games and certain phrases-“Rise up!”—have become part of our family jargon. We eagerly awaited the PBS documentary in October and watched enviously as friends got hard-to-find tickets for the show in New York. We were very excited when we learned that the traveling company would be coming to Boston in 2017, even though we know tickets for that will be hard to come by as well.
Unfortunately, as the year ended, we were less thrilled. It seems that the shifting political winds have moved Hamilton’s creators from their former pan-political, non-partisan appeal to both sides of the spectrum to the hyper-liberal position you normally expect from Broadway. From lecturing Vice President-Elect Mike Pence from the stage to flacking tickets in exchange for donations to Planned Parenthood, Hamilton ended 2016 with its luster tarnished.
We had several trips to the hospital in 2015, between Lucia and Ben, but in 2016 we had just one hospital visit. Melanie required some day surgery to clear up some lingering issues following her five C-sections. Everything went as expected and she got a clean bill of health. Other than that, we’re still dealing with Lucy’s allergies to corn, wheat, dairy and egg. She got a go-ahead to let her eat foods baked with dairy and egg, but corn and wheat are still no good. Do you know how many foods have some bit of corn in them? A lot.
Speaking of allergies, Melanie got tested for a bunch of possible allergies and it turns out she’s allergic to fragrances, Balsam of Peru, gold, and cobalt, of all things. The fragrance allergy is why I don’t wear cologne and she doesn’t wear perfume, incidentally.
The other big medical scare was Anthony’s diagnosis of Lyme disease. He must have got bit sometime in the early fall and had been complaining of his knees and legs hurting during one of our day trips. So Melanie took him to the doctor the very next day and she diagnosed him. Thankfully, we caught it early enough that we could give him antibiotics, but otherwise he should be okay, although it’s possible some symptoms will linger.
2016 was the year we started turning our home into a smart home. I’ve documented our new Ring Video Doorbell and its attendant Stick-Up Video Camera. But we also added Amazon Echo, Phillips Hue bulbs and iDevices electrical outlets to the mix. I’d include Amazon Dash buttons on that list too. What’s nice is that we can use voice commands to the Echo to control lights in rooms that we previously could only control individually. I can turn all the lights in several rooms on or off at once. I’ve also used automation to set up a rule that turns off all lights, if they’re still on at a certain time of night. I plan to write up a more extensive post on our home automation efforts, but the most pleasant surprise so far has been how Melanie and the kids have taken to using the automation and voice control.
More New Tech
I got a new MacBook Pro at the end of 2015 so all my new tech was portable. The first upgrade was from an older iPad 4 that had started to act wonky, turning off unexpectedly, to a new iPad Pro 9.7”. The old iPad had felt increasingly slow, with my iPhone 6s running some apps faster than the iPad. The iPad Pro is great and the best feature is the TouchID. Not having to enter copy and paste passwords from 1Password has completely changed how I use the iPad. I also added the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil as accessories. The keyboard has been nice, letting me do some writing on the iPad when I didn’t want to lug my MacBook Pro along, but I have to admit I’ve had less use of my Apple Pencil. I’m not an artist and people who regularly engage in the graphic arts of whatever sort are going to get the most use of it.
I also upgraded three phones this year. We keep my mom’s phone on our carrier account, but my sister had bought the phone for her years ago. Unfortunately, it was a cheap Android and I was always unable to troubleshoot problems for her. But the time had come for an upgrade and I moved her up to an iPhone SE, which has been much better for her. Likewise, Melanie’s iPhone 5c had reached the end of its useful life and I moved her to an SE as well. Neither needed a bigger phone so this was perfect.
I’m on AT&T’s annual phone replacement plan so I upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus in Jet Black in November. This has been a great upgrade. I love the new depth effect and wide-angle/zoom lens, which almost replaces our increasingly marginalized Lumix micro-4/3rds camera.
What I didn’t buy was an Apple Watch. I’d written before that I didn’t find it compelling enough for me yet. However, the upgrades this past summer make it interesting again. I don’t need the more capable Watch Series 2, with its onboard GPS and swimming abilities, but I’d happily take a lower-cost Series 1 at this point.
And while I didn’t upgrade my computer, I had to once again upgrade Melanie’s MacBook unexpectedly. She—again—spilled water into it, killing it quite definitively. I found another refurbished MacBook online, this time at Best Buy, and bought it, along with a nice keyboard cover and case cover to provide some additional protection. I’ve half-joking warned her that if she toasts a third laptop, she’ll have to make do with her phone.
Books and More Books
I really enjoy the Goodreads.com annual challenge. You set a number of books you want to read this year and then it keeps track for you, automatically if you read with a Kindle. In 2015, I set my challenge to 30 books and read 32. In 2016, I upped it to 32 and still read 32. I’ve set my 2017 goal to 35 books. This is pretty good since I’d really dropped off from reading before 2015. But the incentive of the goal and the use of my Kindle have been game-changers. My complete list is here, but here are my top books of 2016:
- Lord of Emperors, by Guy Gavriel Kay
- McIlhenny’s Gold: How a Louisiana Family Built the Tabasco Empire, by Jeffrey Rothfeder
- Rise to Rebellion: A Novel of the American Revolution, by Jeff Shaara
- League of Dragons, by Naomi Novik
- Bloodline, by Claudia Gray
I also read a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars books and caught up on the novels and novellas in the blockbuster Expanse series.
Lots of Podcasts
Podcasts are obviously an important part of my life. I listen to them every morning while getting ready for work, during my commute, and sometimes while working (usually during mundane manual tasks that don’t require a lot of thinking). I have wide-ranging interests, but here’s what I listen to these days.
First there are the SQPN podcasts:
- The Break
- The Walk
- Everything I Learned From Disney
- How to Live Like a Hobbit
- Let’s Talk
- Secrets of Star Wars
- Secrets of Doctor Who
- Secrets of Movie, Games, and Television Shows
I’d listen to these shows even if I wasn’t executive director. In fact, one of the reasons I’m executive director is because I’m an avid listener of all these podcasts. Now here’s all the others:
- Adventures in Imperfect Living with Greg and Jennifer Willits
- The Alton Browncast
- America’s Test Kitchen Radio
- Catholic in a Small Town with Mac and Katherine Barron
- Milk Street Radio
- The Incomparable
- Mac Geek Gab
- Planet Money
- This American Life
- The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe
- The Word on Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron and Brandon Vogt
- The Incomparable Game Show
- Mac Power Users
- The Rebound
Because our extended family is so far-flung, especially Melanie’s family in Texas, every year we get visits at least from Melanie’s mom, dad, and sister. But we also had a visit from Melanie’s college roommate Stephanie who came with her new baby from Seattle.
Melanie’s mom came in June, which was timed to allow her to help Melanie after her surgery. Melanie’s dad came later in the summer and he was very helpful, taking care of some tasks like installing the new bathroom light and vent. Theresa came in October and November for a couple of weeks, coinciding with Halloween and All Saints Day.
My mom also moved back to the Boston area from Virginia and so we’ve been happy to have her around more often, including having her over for dinner a few times.
While there were no new kids for Melanie and me, there were for my niece and my nephew. My step-nephew Sam had a baby and my niece Mary got married and had a baby. Of course, these are wonderful events, but they do tend to remind me I’m getting old.
Museums and Field Trips
Much to my dismay, I realize now that I have only gone on a single museum or other field trip with the family in 2016, to Minuteman National Historical Park in Lexington the day after Thanksgiving. Normally I would have done more, but starting the new job in March meant I couldn’t take days off like that for several months after. I’m really going to have to fix that in 2017.
Without me, Melanie and the kids went to: the Fuller Craft Museum in February; the Museum of Fine Arts in May and July and August (for the Dellarobbia exhibit) and December (for the Make Way for Ducklings and William Merritt Chase exhibits); Borderland State Park in May; the local homeschool Eco Science Club following animal tracks in February and hunting insects in June; the Adams National Historic Park in July; Gore Place in September; the Peabody Essex Museum in October; Archeology Day at the Museum of Science in October and then the museum again in December; and an illuminated manuscript exhibit at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art in October. Whew!
Looking back on it, you see how much they really did.
Looking Back and Ahead
This past year was an expensive one and a little high on the upheaval scale. It would be nice if 2017 is a little less expensive and if life is a little quieter. I am looking forward to spending more time with the family in some fun pursuits. May 2017 see us healthy and continuing to live in a home full of faith and joy and love.