It’s the end of another year and time for my ninth blog post looking back at the good, the bad, and ugly of how it’s been. I know it’s fashionable to declare 2020 the worst year and 2021 even worse, but there’s good and bad in every year. But this year was especially challenging.
This was our first year at StarQuest where we’ve had the donations to sustain operations with me as full-time leader of the organization. While we continue to expand, it was also a time for a bit of consolidation. We added two new shows mid-year, The Secrets of Stargate and Let’s Science!. I really wish I had the time to do Stargate as it’s one of my favorite franchises, but it’s in good hands with Jack, Fr. Cory, Lisa, and Victor and I enjoy listening to it every week. And Let’s Science! is fun because essentially what we’ve done is take the science segment by Caroline Knight out of Catholics of Oz and given it it’s own show. So in about 20 minutes every two weeks, there is a new episode on something to do with science imbued with a Catholic perspective. Those shows have been well-received and our other shows continue to grow in number of downloads and in there responses from those listen.
I had hoped to begin planning a Catholic New Media Celebration in 2021 and while we’ve made initial steps, both COVID and my own situation conspired to delay any progress. But let’s hope we move forward in 2022.
Our biggest event of 2020 in the Bettinelli household was the flood. In late August, I’d noticed that the back lawn outside our bathroom was especially wet all the time, but I chalked out up to the unusually rainy summer and the presence of the air conditioner drain. But around mid-September, I came out of my bedroom one morning and noticed that the floating wood floor in the hallway was squishy. At first it seemed like it was due to a leak under the bathtub and that’s what the first plumber guessed, but it was much more than that.
Our house sits on a slab and the post-war homes of this design had all their water pipes run through the concrete. Over time, the pipes feeding our bathroom sink had corroded and begun to leak up. So in fact, we had two leaks in the sink pipes and in the bathtub drain pipe.
The result was that all of our floors in the bedrooms, hallway, dining room, and living room were damaged, as were all the walls two feet up. All of that was torn out and found to be moldy underneath.
Long story, short: Insurance would pay to repair the damage in the affected spaces, but not to do plumbing repair. When I finally found a plumber who was available and willing to return my calls1, I got a quote from a plumber for $12,000 to reroute all the water pipes along the interior walls at the tops. This was necessary because the alternative was to jackhammer all the floors. And when it was done, our contractor would have to build soffits to cover them exposed pipes.
And so our exodus from our home began. For one week, we stayed in a local Holiday Inn Express as we moved all of our possessions from our house into a rental storage POD in our driveway with the help of some friends. Then a friend had offered to let us stay for a week at their home on Cape Cod, which was beautiful and gave us the chance to visit the Cape Cod National Seashore in early fall while it was still relatively warm. After that, insurance paid for us to move in a VRBO rental home in Plymouth, near Manomet Beach for six weeks. This was a beautiful place and a wonderful chance for Melanie and the kids to walk along the beach every day. On the other hand, I had to make long commutes to my home studio a couple of times per week to record shows in a house without any plumbing. But overall, it was welcome because we had not been able to get a family vacation this year.
Eventually, there was no time left available at that house and our house was not yet done so we got an AirBnB in Brockton, the next city over from ours, which had the virtue of being close to home, but was not really set up for a family situation, but more for a group of guys to hang out. That was Thanksgiving week and we managed to make a Thanksgiving dinner there. Our contractor told us he needed one more week to finish things up, so I got the insurance company to give us one final week of living arrangements and we got another AirBnB, this time in the seaside town of Hull, where we stayed even closer to the ocean. And even when that time was up, we needed to stay a couple of nights in a hotel before the bathroom was finally done and we could get home.
The house itself is half brand-new. All the bedrooms and living room and dining room and bathroom have new walls, new floors, and all new paint. The bathroom was completely gutted and we have a new shower and new sink and vanity. Because of the mold we had to get rid of the kids’ mattresses, but we also needed new beds for Lucy and the boys. The boys’ bunk beds had broken, which we didn’t notice until I started taking it apart to move it to the POD and Lucy had still be in a toddler bed. A friend gave us some very sturdy barn-door bunk beds for the boys and we bought a loft bed from Ikea for Lucy. We also had to replace our recliner and couch which were not only covered in filth from the demolition and construction but were 14 years old and falling apart. As the year ends, we’re still unpacking and trying to get rid of a bunch of stuff it turns out we don’t need.
The best part of the whole ordeal is that a friend set up a GoFundMe to help us cover the extra costs not covered by insurance and we were astounded by the outpouring of assistance we received. We literally used every penny and more so it was a great blessing and a lifesaver.
Other Home Improvements
In other home improvement and repair news this year from before the disaster, we replaced our old chest freezer with a new stand-up freezer.2 This has been a huge improvement in food storage for us as it has more room, but everything in it is more accessible. It was a big boon for us when we had to evacuate our house because it was stocked full of food when it was a hassle to go shopping when we were moving about a lot and when we got home.
Another home repair project will have to happen in 2022 as we discovered in the course of repairs that the solar panels are leaking through the rood. When Tesla installed them, they didn’t properly seal the mounting holes and those have been leaking for several years now causing mold in the attic and in the walls. While they’ve inspected the damage and acknowledged their need to repair, at the moment I can’t get them to respond to do the repair work. We’ll see if I have to get a lawyer involved.
In our appliance repair follies, in August, we had our dishwasher repaired yet again. This time it was the pump. But we were also told that it broke because water was backing up into it because of a clogged drain. So it required I hire a drain cleaner to come and clean out the drain pipes. Now, I know you’re thinking that timing seems coincidental, but it would be exceedingly difficult for the drain cleaning tool to have reached to where the tub drain broke. But I admit the timing is strange.
But this wasn’t the only dishwasher repair either. Back in May, they had to come out to replace the door gasket. This is so perplexing to me because this was a very well reviewed dishwasher and yet we’ve had so many problems. On the other hand, we are a family of seven and do at least two and sometimes three loads of dishes per day.
We also bought a dehumidifier for the girls’ room (see mold problem above), but eventually it died. Was it worked too hard? I don’t know, but it happened right before the flood and I never got a chance to figure it out. I hope to do that soon as it’s still under warranty.
In 2020, we had to say goodbye to yet another beloved pastor. Fr. Michael Adebote was reassigned from the Brockton Tri-Parishes (of which our parish St. Edit Stein is one of the three). He is a Nigerian priest and member of the order of the Missionaries of Africa and had been pastor for about five years. He was great as a pastor and was well-loved and the going-away Mass and picnic for him was a huge celebration.
Fr. Michael was replaced by a friend of mine, Fr. Matt Wescott. I’ve known Fr. Matt for a number of years through our mutual friend Fr. Chip and I was excited he’d been assigned. Unfortunately, he came just as we were forced out of our house and so I didn’t get to see him at Mass until December. Fr. Matt is a former Marine officer before he went to seminary and is now a Navy Reserve chaplain who serves Marines.
A nice part of our wandering travels was the opportunity to go to Mass in several different places. That week on Cape Cod, we went to Mass twice at Holy Trinity parish in West Harwich, and then in Plymouth we attended several difference parishes, including St. Bonaventure and St. Kateri. At the latter, we saw our previous pastor, Fr. Joe Raeke, because he is pastor there now. It was fun to see him and catch up briefly after Mass.
In May, we celebrated Lucia’s First Communion, which was a joy to have our youngest finally able to partake of the table of the Lord and to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament. Sadly, we couldn’t have a big family celebration (COVID), but at least Melanie’s sister Theresa was in town and staying with us for that. But it was nice for Fr. Michael to accommodate us and allow her to receive her First Communion at our regular Sunday Mass.
With all five children in BSA Scouts, we were able to continue with Scouting this year. After 2020 being a bust for scout activities, we were able to get back in the swing of things, especially in the second half of the year. Once the weather got warm, the Webelos den I lead was able to start meeting outdoors, often in our backyard. We even had a fire in the fire pit and made s’mores. Plus we were able to do the Pinewood Derby, which I have become the technical controller for, maintaining the software that runs the track and records the times.
In July, the girls’ Troop 13 and Ben’s Troop 56 went on a join canoe camping trip in New Hampshire. They prepared for this in advance by spending at a day at a nearby lake learning how to maneuver a canoe properly. The campaign trip in July was on an island in a state park. We had to park in a designated spot where we put the canoes in the water and loaded them up with our gear, then paddled down the lake and then across a small bit of open water to the island where we were to setup. Once on the water, a summer storm began to sweep up on us. I was mainly scared of capsizing the canoe and having all our gear go to the bottom of the lake, but I was among the first canoes in the water and so Ben and I and Sophia and Bella got to the island ahead of the rain. Everyone else was not so lucky. The deluge was intense and soon we were soaked to the bone, shivering, as we hauled gear up from the landing and brought other boats in. After that exciting start, the rest of the stay was fun and mostly sunny and warm, although we did cut the trip short by a night because of more rain forecast for the last night and morning.
Another fun trip was with Pack 56 around the July 4th weekend. We got free tickets for the ferry out to Georges Island in Boston Harbor, part of the Harbor Islands National Park. It’s an old fort dating back to colonial days and we had a lot of fun exploring the spooky, dark interiors and looking out over the amazing vistas. It was fun, but like a lot of this past summer, it was a rainy day which dampened things a bit. After the ferry ride back to the city, we did stop at Faneuil Hall Marketplace and bought a bunch of clam chowder at one of the stalls to warm us up.
This summer was also the first opportunity for the three big kids to go to summer camp. This was a summer camp organized and run by a large troop from a neighboring town at a Scout camp on Cape Cod for a week. There was a lot of trepidation among some of the kids at being away from home and me and Melanie for a week for the first time, but in the end they had a blast. They loved it so much and made many friends. It was strange not having them around all week, but it was great to see how much fun they had. Next year, Anthony will be in Troop 56 so the four of them will go. I may go as an adult helper as well and they do have a program for younger siblings so Lucy might go too.
As 2021 ends, Anthony is on the cusp of crossing over to BSA Scouts from Webelos Arrow of Light. Lucy is continuing on as a Bear Cub. Isabella appears to be the most motivated of the older three for advancement toward Eagle, whereas both Ben and Sophia seem most interested in just enjoying the Scouting experience, which is fine by me.
It’s been an interesting health year. At Easter, I had to make yet another trip to urgent care for yet another cooking-related knife injury. This time I was trying to chop a squash with a cleaver and didn’t move my forefinger fast enough. I shaved it rather than chopped it, thankfully, but this one hurt so bad. It took a while to heal up properly, but Melanie has declared no more cleavers for me.
Of course, the big news this year was the COVID vaccines. Melanie and I got our first shots at a local health drive-through clinic in April, which was slightly earlier than the general population because we have underlying health conditions. Once it became available for older kids, Isabella and Sophia got theirs and when Benedict turned 12 in July, he was able to get his in time for Scout camp. Lucy and Anthony finally got their vaccines while we were out of our home this fall with their second shots just before Christmas. And then Melanie and I got boosters as well. Thankfully, none of us got sick from COVID nor did we get any other serious ailments this year apart from seasonal allergies and a cold here or there. I guess wearing masks and washing hands a lot helps with other diseases as well.
One big win for the year was that Lucy finally grew out of most of her food allergies. For years now, we’ve had to avoid corn, wheat, dairy, nuts, and other staples because she allergies and sensitivities to them. (A few years ago she ended up in the hospital because of a reaction.) But she was tested again this spring in a series of (expensive) exposure tests and she came out clear, which not only let her begin to eat a lot of foods she was denied before, but also let her receive First Communion under the form of bread and wine. Ironically, she spent so long eating alternatives, she actually doesn’t much like the taste of regular bread and other stuff she missed so we still have to buy the expensive alternate grain versions. D’oh!
My cardiac health has been good. I worry about it probably more than I need to because of the history of heart disease and heart attack in my family. At the end of the year, the cardiologist decided I should undergo another stress test. My first one was in 2018 and during the treadmill test my heart showed an arrhythmia which sent me down the rabbit hole of more tests and procedures and medications. But this time, I got through it with flying colors. No arrhythmia and I completed the test without too much effort. I also had to wear a 48-hour heart monitor (which was much smaller and compact than last time). I do wonder how much I will have to pay out of pocket for this, i.e. what insurance won’t cover. But God willing, things look good.
We didn’t have much in the way of family visits this year as COVID kept most of Texas family away again. We did get a visit from Melanie’s sister Theresa for a couple weeks in May, which included both Isabella’s 15th birthday and Lucia’s First Communion, which was a joy for everyone. The kids and Melanie do miss their extended family. It is nice that the kids have taken to talking regularly with Auntie Tree via FaceTime on their own, nearly every day.
I hope that with everyone vaccinated and a renovated house, we can have Melanie’s parents come visit this year for the first time in two years.
The children continue to grow physically, intellectually, spiritually, and socially. The year was not without its challenges for them, especially dealing with mental health and stress issues (which a lot of kids are experiencing these days), but it is clear that they are getting better all the time.
Sophia was finally able to get her braces off, delayed for months by the pandemic. Isabella has found a wonderful group of friends in an online homeschool community that Sophia has also joined and they’re both now taking online science classes. Benedict is enjoying Scouts and loves any hands-on work he gets to do with me. Anthony is a knowledge sponge, soaking up any book he can get his hands on. I really do want to get him a Raspberry Pi project computer of his own for him to experiment and learn with.
Lucy is small, but fierce and bright. This year, at 8 years old, she read not only the whole Chronicles of Narnia, but also the Lord of the Rings. In fact, she read LOTR in the space of a couple of weeks!
One bit of fun we had was while the older kids were off at summer camp, I took Anthony and Lucy camping on our own at a fun campground nearby. We brought a couple of tents, went swimming in the campground’s pond, took a drive by the Cape Cod Canal and saw the sights, stopped at a roadside seafood shack for lunch, and generally had a good time. I really ought to do that with the kids more often.
This year, Lucia and all the kids really became very attached to a Grogu doll she got last year. It was a small hard plastic doll of the “baby Yoda” character from The Mandalorian and it became almost a part of the family. The way they all treat it, it’s like it’s real. Honestly, I’ve caught myself a couple of times unconsciously falling into the game. Well, while I was away Scout canoe camping with the older three kids, Melanie took Anthony and Lucy out for a day and somewhere along the way, they lost the doll. Lucy was so distraught and inconsolable that we bought a new Grogu right away. This one was larger and and softer with a head of plastic, but a soft fabric body, and it has quickly become the canonical Grogu. Whew! But now we all make sure this one is always safe and accounted for.
This was an interesting tech year for me. In the fan, I upgraded my iPhone 11 Pro Max to a new iPhone 13 Pro. I opted for the regular size, not the Max this time because, apart from size, there was no feature difference this time. And the 13 Pro is slightly bigger than the 11 Pro was. I don’t find I especially miss the larger Max size, and certainly not with the several hundred dollar savings. The new Magsafe lifestyle is fun. I’ve got several new Magsafe accessories, including a charger beside my bed. Eventually I’d like to get Magsafe chargers for the cars too, but I haven’t found ones I especially like.
On the computer side of things, I’ve been waiting for Apple to release larger versions of their iMacs with the new Apple Silicon chips in them to replace my 2017 iMac, but I didn’t want the smaller 24” they released in the spring. The iMac had been showing its age to the point where I had to quit many apps while doing podcast recordings and carefully avoid opening any browser windows which would cause the Google Meet or Zoom session to freeze up. When we were forced from our home, I couldn’t exactly take the iMac with us so I was relying on the pre-Silicon MacBook Pro I got in 2020 to do all my non-recording work and a 27” LG monitor I purchased. This worked for a little while, but the MacBook struggled to drive the monitor and render video and audio files, which was inconvenient since we were moving to do more video with Mysterious World at the same time. Eventually I bit the bullet and purchased an M1 Mac mini that I could use at the various rental properties and then swap in for my iMac when we moved home until such time as the new 27” or larger iMacs with Apple Silicon chips came out, perhaps in the spring of 2022. The M1 Mac has delivered the promised speed improvements and using it has been a joy, once I was able to get everything transferred and running properly. I only got a 1TB SSD in it, so I repurposed the old 2TB external SSD I’d had on the iMac as my Photos library storage, which has worked out well.
Melanie destroyed another MacBook Air by spilling liquid in it. She has done this several times over the years despite my best precautions of keyboard covers and cases. I am now resigned to having to go through this every so often. At least this time I had purchased AppleCare+, which includes coverage for spills, but still cost $300 to repair. At least I didn’t have to spend $1000 on a new computer, I guess.
Isabella continues to use a Chromebook we got for free three years ago, but that will need to be upgraded in 2022 as updates will end for it. Sophia is using my old iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and a keyboard case for all her schoolwork and that may need an upgrade, but hopefully not next year. Isabella has Melanie’s old iPhone 8 but without a phone plan, but that may need to change this year as she turns 16. Ben and Anthony also have old iPhones without phone service as well, but Anthony managed to kill his with a drop in the ocean. We replaced it, but had to take it away for improper use. This has been an issue for both boys and we’ve had to keep a closer eye on them. It’s a dangerous world out there on the internet and I want them to learn how to use it properly without us having to hover over them.
Books and Hobbies
Every year since 2015, I have participated in the Goodreads challenge. I’ve gradually increased my goal from 30 books read to 35 and was able to meet my goals in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2020.3 But in 2021, I had my worst reading year in a long time, only getting in 22 books. Part of the reasons is I started the year with a huge Brandon Sanderson book, which set me back, but all the upset and stress of the home disaster also held me back.
Among my favorite books this year were latest Dresden Files books “Battle Ground” and “Peace Talks”; that Sanderson novel “Rhythm of War”, the fourth in his Stormlight Archive series; “The Last Graduate,” by Naomi Novik, part of a grittier and wittier than Potter magic school series of books; Andy Weir’s “Project Hail Mary,” which reach the heights of his “The Martian” novel; and “The Indispensables,” by Patrick O’Donnell about the contributions of John Glover’s Marblehead Regiment to the American Revolution.
I also started building some LEGO sets this year, larger ones designed for more advanced users, including an Apollo Lunar Lander set and a huge Saturn V rocket. I also have an International Space Station set I haven’t started yet, but I will need a place to put it when it’s done before I start.
We also did a vegetable garden again this year, which wasn’t as successful in the past. We did get tomatoes, but not a bumper crop and the green beans didn’t come up very well. We got a few radishes, but I didn’t do a good job of thinning them. I look forward to trying again in the spring.
Movies and TV
TV shows and movies started to come back in a big way in 2021 after COVID pretty much shut everything down in 2020. I still haven’t been back in a movie theater yet, but did take advantage of several direct-to-streaming and simultaneous release opportunities to watch new movies.
Because of my podcasts on them, I watched plenty of Star Trek and Doctor Who, including the new 6-episode season of Doctor Who, Star Trek: Lower Decks’ second season; the start of the animated Star Trek: Prodigy series; and the beginning of Star Trek: Discovery’s 4th season (which continues the series’ downward slide).
On the Star Wars side, we all watched together the new Bad Batch series, Visions, and Book of Boba Fett. For Marvel, Melanie and I watched all the new streaming series, including WandaVision, Falcon and Winter Soldier, What If, Loki, and Hawkeye, which were all really good. We had a lot of fun with WandaVision being the best and most original. We also watched the movies Black Widow and Shang Chi and the kids have started watching the Marvel movies from the beginning, making it through the first Avengers movie so far.
Other new shows I’ve watched and am watching include Amazon’s Wheel of Time series, which has potential, but I feel like I’m missing something by not reading the books; the AppleTV+ series Invasion which was okay, but not great given the slow pacing and weird season ending; as well as other AppleTV+ far likeTed Lasso season 2 (not quite as good as the first season, but Roy Kent saved it); the very funny Schmigadoon parody of musicals; and Mythic Quest.On Netflix, Shadow and Bone is another magic and fantasy series that’s interesting, but I didn’t finish Sweet Tooth (post apocalyptic) or Jupiter’s Legacy (superhero) because I lost interest.
I did start a re-watch of Stargate because SQPN is now doing a Stargate podcast and it’s still a lot of fun to watch. And based on all the recommendations, I started watching the Montana cop series Longmire, which is also quite good.
Other movies, I’ve watched including the last Daniel Craig Bond movie No Time To Die, which was good, especially in the themes of family, but lacked some oomph. Something was missing I can’t put my finger on; Finch on AppleTV+ which was a good science fantasy tale; Wonder Woman ’84; Free Guy; Red Notice; the Jason Statham/Guy Ritchie action flick Wrath of Man that had an original plot; the cowboy film The Harder They Fall, which laughably recreates the famous Stagecoach Mary as a femme fatale; the epic Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which made more sense than the original version, but was so long; the forgettable Godzilla vs. Kong; and the really good sequel A Quiet Place Part II. I’m sure there are others I’m missing, especially that were first on streaming, but that’s the gist.
There are a lot of movies I’ve missed like Dune, Spider-Man: No Way Home; Ghostbusters: Afterlife and more, but I hope to catch those on streaming soon.
Podcasts and YouTube
I continue to produce a bunch of podcasts at StarQuest, including Raising the Betts with Melanie, although that got very intermittent during our months out of the house.
As for shows I’m listening to, the list remains relatively the same. Sadly last year’s best new podcast How Music Does That went on hiatus and I don’t know if it’s coming back. I’ve added The Pillar Podcast from the guys who run the Catholic news site The Pillar, which started in 2021 and has done an excellent job of covering the news.
I forget when I started watching Simon: A Bloke in the Woods, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only does he have good information about outdoors skills, but his videos of him camping and hiking in Great Britain are so calming and restorative.
I’ve given up trying to predict the future. I couldn’t have imagined that in 2021 we’d be essentially homeless for nearly three months. I do hope the worst is behind us now. Isabella turns 16 this year and I suspect she’ll be getting a driver’s permit and maybe even a part-time job. I hope we’ll be able to welcome our Texas family back to our home for visits. And I hope we can get in a family vacation on top of Scout summer camp next summer.
In specific categories, I’m looking forward to whatever Apple does with the new iMacs, but I should be set with my iPhone and iPad for at least another year. There are a number of new and returning shows I’m looking forward to, especially in Star Wars and Star Trek. I definitely want to get out hiking and camping more and do more reading.
Overall, my hope is that we stay healthy; we continue to enjoy life together; and praise God, we emerge from the pandemic fear that has gripped us all.
- One plumber I started working with eventually stopped returning my calls and texts rather than have the courage to tell me he didn’t want my business. ↩
- The stimulus checks helped with this. ↩
- In 2020, I read 43 books helped along by my devouring the Dresden Files series. ↩
- dreamstime_l_229357675: Pavel Lipskiy | Dreamstime | Copyright by owner. Used with permission.