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 year and then to give a brief glance forward.
The growth of StarQuest (SQPN)
Last year I made the switch to working at SQPN full-time. I had been part-time executive director since 2015, but when Fr. Roderick split off with Trideo at the beginning of 2018, we had to make a decision about what to do with SQPN, either to go all-in or shut it down. And we went all-in.
As 2019 began, we’d had eight months to rebuild the network’s programming with a bunch of new shows, including our most popular one, Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. We added even more new shows in 2019, including American Catholic History, Secrets of Technology, Secrets of Star Wars, Catholics of Oz, Secrets of Disney, and Raising the Betts. That last one is a show I do with Melanie where we talk about what’s going on in our family, the fun stuff we do, what we’re cooking and so on. It’s different from my other shows because it’s more personal and because it has brought Melanie into my working world. I always said I’d get her on a podcast.
My hope is that in 2020, we can finally get the network back to a financially secure footing, close our budget deficit, and be confident for the long-term future. It won’t take a lot to close that gap, but it seems to be the hardest gap to cross.
Home repair and improvement
It seems to have been a better year for home maintenance. We did have to replace our refrigerator this year. It was over 10 years old and held together by duct tape and replacement parts had become rare and expensive. We bought the new fridge on the Mass. sales tax holiday, saving a nice chunk of cash, and I’ve been pleased with how it’s worked out. While it’s not larger in exterior dimensions, there seems to be more usable space inside and replacing the swinging freezer door with a drawer has meant it is much easier to get things in and out of the freezer.
But other than that, it’s been a good year for the house. Which probably means that 2020 will be see a bunch of stuff needing to be done. It’s like there’s a cycle.
Trip to Gettysburg
Our big family vacation this year took us to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I wrote about that at length previously, but the short version is that we’d intended to go at the end of our big Kentucky trip in 2018, but Ben got sick and we had to go straight home. This time we got a full week at the end of July. The battlefield was awesome, as was the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton shrine nearby, but the weather was brutally hot and we left a day earlier than planned because we couldn’t take another night of sleeping in the oppressive heat. From now on, mid-summer camping is in the mountains or by the sea, where it’s cooler.
We had a big Scouting year in 2019. The boys and I went on an overnight camping trip to Clark’s Trading Post in New Hampshire, which was a lot of fun, including the trained bear show and the boys becoming junior US Forest Rangers. I continued to lead the Bear Den that Anthony is in. Ben entered his second year of Webelos in September, but the other boy his age had dropped out of Scouts as did the boy’s father who was the den leader. Then Ben had some health issues in September that have lingered through the rest of the year that have prevented him from making nearly any progress.
However, the other big development in Scouts was that Lucy has become a Tiger Scout and Isabella and Sophia have become BSA Scouts1 Lucy is adorable in her Cub Scout uniform and seems to be having fun with all the other kids her age (who are also slightly bigger than she is).
Isabella and Sophia are founding members of their new troop along with two other girls and they seem to be thriving in it. The Boy Scouts of America have re-christened Boy Scouts as Scouts BSA with separate troops for boys and girls (unlike the mixed packs for cubs). So far, they’ve already been on a camping trip (which I went on so they’d feel comfortable) and that was a big success. They’ve blossomed socially with the other girls and are excited to be learning new skills and having their horizons expanded. It’s a much better fit for them than Girls Scouts would have been as they’re both much more of the outdoor adventure types, which GSA doesn’t really provide. So now we’re a complete Scouting family, which is a big commitment of both time and money. Scouting can be expensive, especially with five kids, because of all the uniforms and gear and outings of various kinds. I hope we can keep up with it.
Friend and family visits
In addition to the usual visits by family from Texas, we also welcomed the Arlinghauses for a day visit, friends from the internet we hadn’t met before in person. They were vacationing in Boston from Minnesota so they came to hang out for the day. They were a delight to get to know, the children were intelligent and well-mannered, and it was great to talk to their parents, Erin and Mark. Whether it’s us meeting online friends on the road or online friends coming by when they’re in the area, we’ve always had such great experiences.
Meanwhile, this autumn has been what I called the Fall of the House of Scotts, a little pun on the fact that between September and November, we had three of Melanie’s family visiting successively, first her mom, then her dad, and then her sister. Our small house can’t really accommodate everyone at once, so they come separately over time. The kids, especially, love having their grandparents and aunt here with us and while they’re here it’s nice to take them to our favorite places to share them with them.
Museums and field trips
We haven’t had as many different outing experiences as in past years, but we’ve had a few. Early in the year, we went up to Salem to visit the Peabody Essex Museum for the excellent Chinese Empresses exhibit and to see the Yin Yu Tan house, a real Chinese house that generations of family lived in before it was deconstructed and shipped to be reassembled as before in the museum. It’s actually quite spectacular.
Melanie and the kids also got at least one trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, our perennial favorite. And we got a couple of visits in to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, which has real sailing ships and a replica seaside village with all the usual trades, including the popular blacksmith. Everyone also got to go to the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Mansfield for some prime birdwatching.
On the homeschool side, Melanie also took the kids on some nature walk outings organized by some homeschool groups and at least one offered by the Audubon society.
Of course, Gettysburg National Military Park also counts as a kind of museum.
One of the highlights of the year has been Isabella and Ben stepping forward to become altar servers at church this fall. I could tell they were nervous at first and early on Ben’s sickness this fall kept him from serving, but it’s so great to see how confident they have become over the months. I hope to convince both Sophia and Anthony to volunteer this year. And for Lucy, we’re very close to the time for her to have First Confession and First Communion, which of course is made trickier because of her allergy to wheat.
Otherwise, the kids continue to blossom. Isabella is an intelligent and pleasant teen and it’s fun to see her discover the world and experience it again through her eyes. Sophia is also maturing into a fine young lady with a very clever sense of humor. While Isabella continues to work with her Chromebook, I’ve handed on my old iPad to Sophia as her own computer.
Ben has had some struggles this year, but he’s also discovered the wonder of reading books, partly with the aid of audiobooks. The audiobooks have helped him catch up to his siblings in reading some book series that they’ve all read. Anthony is an energetic and intelligent 8-year-old who loves Star Wars to the point that he is my go-to guy on any point of information related to people, places, or things in that world.
And Lucia continues to grow, no longer a wee child, but growing into a young lady despite her short stature. She is a delightful ray of sunshine.
While last year didn’t see a lot of tech, this year I updated a lot of my outdated technology. I still have my old 2015 MacBook Pro and 2017 iMac. But I did upgrade my iPhone to the 11 Pro Max, which is amazing. The photography and video quality are off the charts good. As it was time to get Sophia her own PC, we decided to hand off my four-year-old iPad Pro to her and I upgraded to one of the new iPad Pro 10.5”, which has a bigger screen, is faster, and has the much better FaceID. The 2nd generation Apple Pencil is a much bigger upgrade than I’d expected, including recharging by magnetic attachment on the side. I’ve been using this iPad for more and more tasks now.
My Apple Watch was a very old series 1 and so that got upgraded this year as well to a series 5, which is a massive upgrade. The responsiveness to touches and the speed of launching apps is amazing and I love the new Infograph watch faces.
I didn’t make my Goodreads challenge of 35 books again this year, finishing only 30 books. Last year, I read 31. However, I’m not as disappointed because some of those 30 were some very large books. In fact, Goodreads tells me that I’ve read more pages than last year or the year before– 11,861 compared to 11,156– so it’s not like I read less.2
Some of my favorite books this year were Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books (whose many pages were a big chunk of my reading); Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick; and Red Metal by Mark Greaney. I do have to notice that I read a lot less non-fiction this year and I read a lot of books as part of ongoing series, like Tom Clancy’s books or Star Wars. I’d like to expand my reading again in 2020. Here’s the full list of books I read.
Movies & TV
We didn’t get a new season of Doctor Who in 2019, but we did get new seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, SEAL Team, S.W.A.T., Jack Ryan, FBI, The Rookie (which Melanie and I watch together), the final season of Mr. Robot, and the first half of the final season of The Good Place. New on streaming, there was Amazon’s Carnival Row, which was new and interesting as was AppleTV’s For All Mankind. At the end of the year, it was a veritable treasure trove of good shows, including the return of The Expanse on Amazon, the 2nd season of Lost in Space, and my favorite new show of the year, The Mandalorian.
Sadly, shows that I watched that ended either before the year began or during the year include Counterpart, Travellers, and SIX. I started but haven’t finished a few series, due to losing interest, including Wu Assassins, Jessica Jones season 3, Dead to Me, and Yellowstone. I tried watching AppleTV’s See, which was interesting at first but included a very offensive scene of blasphemy in the first episode that turned me off.
Most of my movie-going was with Fr. Chip for our podcast Coffee and Cinema, and included Shazam, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Men in Black: International, Hobbs & Shaw, Midway, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Of course, the high point was Star Wars, which I thought was very good. But Midway was also unexpectedly very good and highly recommended.
Podcasts and YouTube
For podcasts, the excellent short-run series Last Seen about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist ended and most of my others have stayed the same. I haven’t added many new ones, but the ones I did (aside from my SQPN podcasts) are Just A Catholic Dad by Sean McCarney, The Automators, and The Vergecast.
I’ve increased the amount of my content consumption that happens on YouTube, including subscribing to a few new channels like It’s a Southern Thing, James Hoffman (dedicated to all things coffee), JoergSprave (the German slingshot guy with the awesome laugh), Alex French Guy cooking, and Christopher Lawley (all things iPad).
For 2020, the first goal is getting SQPN to the break even point so we can keep doing this. Another goal is getting and keeping everyone healthy3. (One low water mark was me cutting off the tip of my thumb on the day after Thanksgiving, necessitating a visit to urgent care.) We’re planning another summer vacation at the lake house in Maine we’ve been to a couple of times, this time with Melanie’s parents coming with us. We’d also like to do more camping, even for just some long weekends. Last year, we acquired a big, modular family tent that we used at Gettysburg and should get more use.
I’m also expecting that given our lack of repairs this year that in 2020 we’ll have some house work to do. The oldest appliance right now is the dryer at more than a decade and it’s already showing signs of decline with a warped drum that is tearing zippers off clothes.
On a personal level, I’d like to continue my journey to getting to a healthier weight, perhaps through intermittent fasting, and to improving my spiritual life through regular prayer of the Rosary and/or the Divine Office.
As I get older, I realize that it’s better to keep your annual plans simple and to just plan to adapt to whatever comes along because whatever happens, you just have to deal with it.