It has become my custom to spend the last couple of days of each year to write up a review of what happened in the previous year and then to give a brief glance forward.1
Moving to SQPN Full-Time
This was a year of a big job transition and a big leap of faith. As 2018 began, the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), where I had been working as a part-time executive director since 2015, underwent a large transition. The last original founder, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, left SQPN and that left the network at an inflection point. After much consideration, the board of SQPN and I agreed to take a leap of faith and bring me on full-time as CEO to re-launch the network on its original mission with mostly new shows. We started with just two shows that we’d carried over and how have about a dozen shows as we begin 2019. We still have a long way to go to make self-sustaining, but I’m very excited by what we’re doing now and the support we’re receiving.
Of course, moving to SQPN full-time meant leaving Mass. Citizens for Life, where I’d been for two years. While the work they do is important, I do not miss driving into Boston for a commute. Being able to work from home has meant a huge change in lifestyle for our family and we’ve proven that I can do recordings without interruption or negative impact from a small house full of homeschooling kids.
Home Repair and Improvement
Speaking of that house, we’ve been making some improvements even as we struggle with keeping it maintained. The biggest was the installation of solar panels on our roof. These are leased panels through Tesla and it felt like it took forever to get them installed and turned on. That’s because it took forever or nearly so. In fact, it was like 14 months from start to finish, because of difficulties with the electric utility, with scheduling, with the unique situation of our roof, with miscommunication by Tesla, and with weather. But it’s done and I’m loving a smaller electric bill.
We’ve had other unexpected home improvement and repair projects as well, including fixing siding after a crazy Nor’easter in March (more on that in a bit). But in general there hasn’t been as much going on after several years of activity (replacing floors, repointing chimney and repairing roof, putting in patio, replacing furnace). My bank account is happy to put off anything new for a bit, although the dishwasher is acting up as the year ends (again)2.
Power Outages and Surgeries and Bank Fraud
Speaking of Nor’easters, back in March a wicked storm blew through that knocked out our power for four days just as Melanie was dealing with complications from a hernia surgery. That was a rough several days as you can read in my post. That was was followed up a few days later by finding out that someone had drained our bank accounts using a fraudulent Venmo account. I still don’t know how that happened since I don’t have and never had (and never will have) a Venmo account. Luckily, our bank eventually restored the funds, but it was quite distressing and stressful.
Trip to Kentucky and Back
On a happier note, in September we took an amazing road trip through a large portion of the eastern United States. Melanie’s family was having a reunion in western Kentucky and we decided to drive down. Because it was so far, we made a major trip of it, visiting and staying with friends in Pennsylvania and Ohio on the way out, staying at a state park resort for a few days, then staying at an AirBnB, a campground, and a hotel on the way back. We spent almost two weeks on the road, which the kids handled superbly; saw lots of beautiful America; visited friends and family; and learned that we could do long road trips and not only survive, but also have fun.
Visit to Acadia
That wasn’t our only vacation this year. Earlier in the summer, due to popular demand from the kids, we went back to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island in Maine for a week of camping. This trip was nearly as good as the last time we went two years ago. The weather wasn’t as great the entire time and I got a stomach bug that laid me low for a day or so and then laid Isabella out on our last day, but otherwise we managed to have a great time visiting our favorite spots.
While Ben and Anthony had joined Cub Scouts at the end of 2017, this year was our first full year in Scouting with me also being Anthony’s den leader. It was a learning experience for all of us, with the Pinewood Derby and Blue and gold Dinner and Chuckwagon Derby camping trip and more. (We also did a winter camping expedition at Blue Hill Reservation but ended up not staying; baby steps.) We’ve really come to enjoy the Scouting life, although shepherding two boys through it while also trying to lead a den can feel a little overwhelming at times.
A couple of notable accomplishments: Ben won an award for largest fish caught at our fishing derby and Anthony was a sharpshooter at the BB gun range at our winter camping day hitting the bullseye multiple times. We also visited the Coast Guard station in Boston as a pack, which was great until Anthony fell unwell at the end. And the pack went to the planetarium at the high school in the neighboring town one night, which was pretty awesome.
Museums and Field Trips
We had a lot of fun field trips, even though I couldn’t do as many of them with everyone else as I would like. We visited Mystic Seaport in Connecticut twice (and purchased a family membership there), they all did a homeschool program of Shakespeare at the Beach; an M.C. Escher exhibit early in 2018 and then the Winnie the Pooh exhibit later at the Museum of Fine Arts (I missed both of those); World’s End in Hingham (missed that one too); Trailside Museum at Blue Hills Reservation (yet another miss for me); A herring run in Middleboro (ditto); Weir River Farm and hiking trails in Hingham (I did that!); a kite-making workshop at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art; the Longfellow Historic Site and George Washington’s Headquarters in Cambridge (missed that one);
Bella also came with me to work one day, taking the train to the State House in Boston for a pro-life student lobbying day. We had such a great day together, walking in Boston Common, then hanging out in the State House and looking around, then traveling home on the train.
One trip out that didn’t involve kids was seeing Hamilton in Boston in October. I’d purchased the tickets for Melanie for her birthday and I was pretty lucky get them. When it was first announced in 2017 that the touring company would be coming to Boston in 2018, I signed up for the mailing list. Then at the end of 2017, there was an email to get on a lottery list to buy tickets before anyone else. Then in May, I got a notice that I got in on the lottery and that I could go online and get my tickets. I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time because later on, I saw stories of people waiting in line for hours and huge ticket scalper premiums.
Anyway, we go to go the show in October and it was as we’d hoped. Seeing the show in person was so much better than just listening to the soundtrack or even watching bootleg recordings on YouTube. Seeing the actors inhabit the roles on stage, the interpretation by a different set of actors than the Broadway cast, seeing how they all behaved on stage even when not delivering lines are what seeing a play in person is about. I especially enjoyed the King George and the Hamilton performances. I would love to go to more live theatre with Melanie in the future.
We didn’t have a lot of milestones for the kids this year. Isabella turned 12 and has grown into a young woman whose beauty and intelligence (and height!) are turning heads. She’s still devouring books and we recently got her a Chromebook to continue her writing, especially her poetry which is very good. Sophia is also reaching new heights and her sense of humor is incisive and mischievous, like mine. She especially loves a clever turn of phrase.
Benedict is growing into a solid young man. He’s still quiet around other adults, but the opening up continues, especially in Scouts. Anthony made his First Communion and joined Ben in wearing a tie to church every Sunday, so much so that I now wear my suit every Sunday in order to keep up with them. Positive peer pressure runs both ways. Anthony is also very smart, also a voracious reader, but he’s also very clever with his hands and mind. When he’s building LEGO sets, he builds them fast because he can instinctively see the spatial relationship of the pieces and how they go into the whole. He also loves to understand how things work, almost to a fault where wants to take things apart or play with them when he shouldn’t.
Lucia continues to be a wee girl with a wit and intelligence that belies her size. She’s so very clever and funny and says the darndest things sometimes. She’s also very loving and is the first to run to give me a hug or to help do something without being asked.
If anything, 2018 was a year in which health issues reared their head. First, there was Melanie’s surgery I mentioned above, a minor procedure that was much more complicated because of her bad reaction to anesthesia and resistance to painkillers. Around the same time, Anthony ended up in a walking boot. The doctor wasn’t sure if the pain his leg was from either a stress fracture or Lyme disease so she treated them both, which became a burden for the poor guy, who couldn’t do many things for seven weeks. He was a real trooper about it, but I know it was tough to be sidelined.
As for me, right after Melanie’s surgery woes, during Anthony’s problem, and right as I was changing jobs (and insurance), my doctor sent me for a cardiac stress test. I stupidly said something about heart things my Apple Watch was reporting and because of family history, she thought it prudent. Long story, short: I had an arrhythmia during the stress test, got sent for a catheter, and they got as far as talking about burning out misfiring nerves around my heart when I bailed out. The bottom line is that what I have is not life-threatening, but treating it is very expensive and we’d already spent way more on uncovered health costs this year than I could afford.
Thank God, the rest of the year was pretty healthy, but if we could avoid those issues I would be happy. For my part, I took the wake-up call seriously and began exercising more by walking every day and eating less, losing 30 pounds from my peak weight. I still have a lot more to go, but the direction is a good one.
There hasn’t been a lot of new tech this year. I still have the same 2015 MacBook Pro and 2017 iMac from before. I did put both the iMac and the 27” external monitor on swing arms for maximum flexibility. My iPhone is still the X from last year because there just wasn’t a significant enough upgrade this year to justify the change. I wouldn’t mind upgrading my four-year-old iPad Pro to one of the new models, but the cost is an issue. Same with my Apple Watch Series 1. It’s doing the job fine, but I would love to have the features of the new one.
One thing that came up with my MacBook Pro was a battery problem. I noticed one day that the laptop wouldn’t sit flat on the desk. It turns out that the battery was bulging and bending the case outward, which is very, very bad. I ordered a replacement battery from iFixit.com and replaced it myself, which was a significant cost savings from bringing it into Apple.
I didn’t make my Goodreads challenge for 2018, My goal in 2018 was 35 books and I only finished 31. I started doing the challenges in 2015 and had not missed a goal until now. I’m going to do the 2019 challenge at the same 35 books and hope to make it this time.
My favorite books of the year were Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, a fantasy novel with Jewish and Russian roots; Heroism and Genius: How Catholics Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization, by Fr. William J. Slattery, an excellent history book from a different and compelling perspective; and Heading Out: A History of American Camping, by Terence Young, a fascinating look at the uniquely American pastime of going camping in the Great Outdoors starting in the post-Civil War period, looking at both why and how people took the wilderness. Here’s the full list of books I read.
Movies & TV
My TV watching was dictated to some degree by my podcasting needs, but it’s interesting how long the list can be these days given that seasons are now shorter and don’t adhere to the old fall premiere/spring finale schedule any more.
Of course, Doctor Who remains a mainstay. We watched and enjoyed the new season starring Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor. Not thrilled it will be 2020 before we get the next season. Star Trek: Discovery finished up strong in its first season and I continued to enjoy SEAL Team, S.W.A.T., The Good Place, and The Orville. I was happy to see The Expanse get picked up by Amazon after being dropped by SyFy since it’s the best space scifi on TV right now. Amazon’s Jack Ryan was very good with some quibbles about the characterization, but John Krasinski as Ryan is very good. I was sad to see some series end or get cancelled like The Last Ship and The Shooter. New shows I’ve been watching that I think I’ll keep watching include FBI, The Rookie, Counterpart, and Manifest. Other notables includes Travellers and SIX. I can’t forget Netflix’s Lost in Space either.
For movies, of course, there was Solo, which was much better than it was given credit for. The Marvel movies continue to be very good, including Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War. The Incredibles 2 and Mission: Impossible – Fallout were just okay. Ready Player One was as good as an adaptation of such a complex book could be expected to be. Another notable was Dunkirk, which was unsettling and good.
Podcasts and YouTube
My list of personal podcast listening hasn’t changed much. One or two shows have ended and I’ve added a couple new ones, including a fascinating short-run series on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist called Last Seen as well as Proof from America’s Test Kitchen. I especially enjoyed their episode on the Tiki bar phenomenon.
Extended Family and Family Visits
As usual we had some good visits from out-of-town family. Since we’d gone to Texas in December 2017 for Melanie’s parents’ 50th anniversary, they didn’t come up until later in the year. Melanie’s mom came in August. She usually comes in summer when it’s so hot in Texas. When she was here we did the usual farmers market and around town stuff, but we also went to Mystic Seaport.
Then in October, both Melanie’s dad and sister came up to visit. They were here for a few days at the beginning and end of their visit, but they also spent several days in Acadia National Park during the peak of the fall foliage.
One big family change this year was my dad moving closer to us. After his wife died and then he suffered an extended hospitalization due to a leg injury, it became clear he couldn’t stay in his old house far from the rest of his older kids. So he sold the house and moved in with my brother who happens to live just a few minutes away. This meant that he and my mom could start hanging out together, going to daily Mass and other activities, including coming to our hour for visits. It’s been nice spending time with my dad, especially letting the kids get to know him better and hearing (and recording) his old stories of growing up and being in the navy. My dad turned 86 in December so it’s nice to this time with him now.
For 2019, my hope is to continue growing SQPN and doing this work for a long time to come. Health is another big hope, keeping everyone well and avoiding unexpected problems. On the positive side, I’d like to plan another vacation trip, perhaps this time to Montreal or Nova Scotia, where I have some family roots. I’d also like to do more of the field trips with the family than I’ve been able to of late.
- For some reason, every year around Christmas something happens to the dishwasher to require repairs. ↩
- 2019-sand.c97a1659bef74978bd2bcf4e7e8c48a7: Storyblocks | Copyright by owner. Used with permission.