I've been writing these annual end-of-year retrospective posts for a decade now and it's interesting to go back and see how far we've come. Last year's post included some real stinkers for 2021, but 2022--while it had some real challenges and some very dear personal losses--it also was better in many ways.
We continued to go gangbusters at StarQuest. We added one new show, The Secrets of Middle Earth, (technically a returning show, but with an all-new panel and format), which was hugely successful, coming as it did as Amazon launched its new series, The Rings of Power. I think this show is different from others of its type because (1) our approach is definitely from Tolkien's Catholic worldview and (2) as Tolkien fans who aren't fundamentalist about the books vs. visual media and (3) as Tolkien loremasters who have a strong and deep command of the writings. I enjoy listening to this show. While I hosted the first episodes, I handed off the reins to the capable hands of both Thomas Sanjurjo and Thomas Salerno who switched off hosting duties.
I'm also gratified at the improvements we continue to make in our productions. I upgraded my video setup with studio lighting and a 4K camera, which are handy now that we're producing videos of our podcasts Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World, The Secrets of Star Trek, and The Secrets of Doctor Who. (We're also doing video for The Secrets of Stargate).
We got pretty far along in our planning for a Catholic New Media Celebration in October 2023 in San Diego before we stopped. I'm not sure that a single conference is a model that works for us any more, or at least right now. Instead, I'd like to lean toward a series of meetups around the country, located so as to bring our various panelists together with listeners in different places, starting here in Boston. It would involve me flying lots of places, but could also be a way to reach more people.
Aftermath of the Flood and Additional House Repairs
Last year was the year of the Great Flood and at the end of the year we were moving back in. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of our house woes. One of the finishing pieces was soffits to cover up all the plumbing running along the tops of the walls. The carpenters has been promising to do them for a whole year and I keep getting promises and then reasons for delay. It's now been 12 months and my patience is running out.
However, he has turned out to help me with other problems. In the midst of demolition due to the plumbing leak, we discovered that the Tesla solar panels on our roof had been installed improperly and those had been leaking for years as well, causing a mold problem in the attic and in some of the other walls. After long negotiations with them, we finally had to have the roof replaced, which Tesla paid for. So during the two biggest production months of the year, we had our solar panels taken off the roof so the roof could be replaced by our contractor. We have a new roof, which we didn't have to pay for, but we ended up taking a hit on our electrical bills.
The hits kept coming: In May, our oil tank that sits on the side of our house in a little attached shed started leaking. It was a 20-year-old tank and needed to be replaced. So we had to tear down the shed, replace the tank, and then rebuild the shed. All told, it was about $7,500.
In August, our air conditioner stopped working, basically for the whole month. We had three different technicians from the same company come out. Each one got it working for a bit and then it would quit again. Long story short: Despite the techs refusing to consider it, it was a bad blower motor in the air handler, which I suspected all along. That cost about $1,000.
The dishwasher, which we purchased new in 2020, has had 5 repairs since then, two of them this year including replacing the door seals and two visits to determine that the drain hose had been clogged. A clogged drain was also the cause of the drain pump failure last year apparently. I've spent as much in repairs as I did on the dishwasher to buy it.
Meanwhile, the washing machine is making an awful noise, which is a sure sign that it will need to be replaced. This was purchased in 2014 or 2015. If I'm making predictions, this will feature in next year's look back.
We also ended up buying a replacement dehumidifier for the girls' room. It just took too long to get to the warranty replacement. This one, though it's the same model, seems to be lasting longer, probably because it's not trying to keep up with the constantly leaking roof and water and drain pipes everywhere.
Two Weddings and a Funeral
My family had both joyful occasions and a very sad one. I had not one, but two nephews get married this year. Joseph was married in August and JohnPaul in November. They were grand occasions, the first of my brother John's children to get married and Melanie and I attended both. We were nearly late to JohnPaul's wedding because I must have misread the invitation at thought it started at half hour later than it did. Luckily the bride was later than us! We also had a niece get engaged and set the wedding date for 2023 and then Melanie's brother and his wife are expecting their first child. More on that in a bit.
All of this joy was tempered by the death of my father, Domenico Sr. Dad was going to turn 90 at the end of December and we were planning a big party for him. Sadly, he died suddenly at the end of September. He had been feeling ill, my brother took him to the hospital, and as he went to sit down in the hospital room, he just fell over and died. To say it is shocking to lose your parent is an understatement, no matter the age. He had a well-attended, beautiful funeral on a bright, warm September day and he was buried at the Bourne National Military Cemetery on Cape Cod, in a military ceremony in which my Army officer nephew was able to take part.
Meanwhile, my mom, Virginia, also continues to have health challenges. We thought we were going to lose her in the week after Christmas, but so far she's rallied back, although she remains in the hospital. She's an incredibly strong person.
We continue to be parishioners of St. Edit Stein parish in Brockton and this year, the big sacrament was Isabella's Confirmation. Confirmation prep for her was complicated by COVID and she didn't really do any of the usual classes or service hours or any of the rest. There were some Zoom classes and some writing, not all of which she completed, but in the end, she was ready for the sacrament and received it. Melanie's sister, Theresa, was able to fly up from Texas to be her sponsor. Meanwhile Sophia started Confirmation prep this fall, but it's once per month and it always seems to happen either when she's sick or we're gone so we'll need to figure out how to get her Confirmed when it's time.
We continue as a Scouting family. I ended my tenure as a Den leader when Anthony crossed over the Cubs to BSA Scouts and is now in the same Troop as Ben. Now it's just Lucy as a Cub for about the next year when she'll move up with her sisters. We had one unfortunate incident at a camping trip in March where Ben was bullied by some other kids and then in the course of Ben and Anthony defending, were themselves accused of bullying. There was some tension until we had a meeting to air things out and, of course there was misunderstandings on several sides and really both sets of parents (us and the others) realized it was the troop leaders who really dropped the ball.
After that, things got better. We had several campaing trips, some of which I attended and others I did not so as to give the kids their space to grow. Often the boy and girl troops go together since it's mostly the same leaders and families involved in both. In fact, by the end of the year both troops starting meeting together to pool resources with the boys and girls splitting off into the troops for specific activities.
We had a number of camping trips, including one in the spring that was so cold, we cut it short by a night. It was more like a winter campout and I wasn't prepared for that. In the fall, we camped at the base of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, which was just beautiful.
In August, the four older kids went to summer camp at Camp Greenough on the Cape and for two days Melanie and Lucy joined them for Webelos camping and I stayed home alone to work. That was different (and quiet!) They apparently had a great time and are looking forward to next year. I always want to be one of the parents who spends at least a couple of days there helping out, but I can never manage to get the time.
Also in the fall, the five Scouts all went on a Scout-O, a daylong orienteering event, and then in December, both troops went for Campsgiving, where they camp and make a big Thanksgiving dinner.
The troops are now planning a big trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in the Southwest next year, but I don't think we could go. It's going to be expensive and I don't think I could afford to do one child, never mind four.
On the health front, we had a few issues. We all finally caught COVID in January, thankfully a milder variant, although I did lose my sense of taste and smell for a few days. My first clue was when I was tasting a dish and complained that it was too bland and Melanie said if anything it was too spicy and salty. There seemed to be no lingering after effects of the ailment.
In the spring, we had to get Isabella's wisdom teeth out. Besides the stress of the actual operation, we had massive problems with our insurance with the family dental plan and the pediatric dental coverage of our regular health plan causing conflicts. They kept saying it wasn't covered even though their paperwork clearly said it would be. At one point we were told to just pay the $5000 up front and get reimbursed. Yeah, like that would ever happen. In the end, we finally got it sorted out, albeit after so many phone calls and hours spent with so many different customer service reps.
Over the summer, I developed a problem with my right hand, a sharp pain coming off my thumb and any use of the thumb or twisting motion of the wrist would cause great pain. You can imagine how that could cause problems for working on my computer. It took forever to get an appointment with an orthopedic specialist and despite all the tests and talk of expensive orthotics, in the end it was a simple cortisone injection that cleared up weeks and weeks of pain (which I had diagnosed in my lay ignorance as the solution right from the start, go figure.)
We had another round of family illness after summer camp, although this time it wasn't COVID, given the negative tests we all took. Just some kind of gross coughing, sneezing, and all the unpleasant rest of it. I think some of us suffered symptoms for months after; I picked up a new cough in November that just kept going and going. And Sophia likely got a sinus infection that never went away until their trip to Texas in December (see below) where it flared into a several days long 104° fever, which only got knocked back by antibiotics.
My mother continues her health decline as I mentioned above. She's been suffering from the onset of severe dementia and in early 2022, we moved her into Marian Manor, a Carmelite nursing home in Boston. She mostly seems to recognize us, but she also sees things that aren't there; or gets very emotional; or forgets when and where she is. It's so hard to see your Mother, the woman who provided for you for so long to become so debilitated.
After going two years without Melanie being able to see her parents in person, they were finally able to come up from Texas and visit individually. I know the kids had grown so much since the last time they saw them and the kids were so happy to see their grandparents. Likewise, Melanie's sister Theresa was able to come up for Isabella's Confirmation and be her sponsor, while also being with us for Easter.
In December, Melanie, Isabella, and Sophia flew down to Texas for my sister-in-law Amber's baby shower. Amber is Melanie's brother Tim's wife. The girls were so excited to go, although poor Sophia didn't get to enjoy much of her time there. The trip was only supposed to be four days, but ended up being eight days while they kept rescheduling their return until Sophia didn't have a fever. That meant an unexpected run of time single-parenting three kids for me. Trying to work and keep them out of trouble and fed and clothed and medicated for a week was a challenge. We ate out a lot more than I wanted, that's for sure. We were so happy just to have them home.
Our big vacation this year was a camping trip in Brewster on Cape Cod this June. We took our big tent and the older girls had their own small tent and we went to Sweetwater Campground. It was a pretty campground with lots of birds, including some we never see at home. There was plenty of places to walk and it was clean and the people were very helpful. At one point, I got the van stuck trying to turn around and they had to use a tow cable to get me out, but not before I burned a groove in one of the tire. And then I killed the van's battery, which needed replacing after we got home. Apart from that, we had a good time visiting various beaches and hanging out at the camp site. I did manage to pick up some useful new camping gear, incuoding a new camp stove that should allow me to adjust the flame to something other than the two extemes of off and afterburner. I also got a propane adapter so now I can bring a propane tank and attach it to a lantern and my stove for the whole week rather than use all those little green bottles.
Another addition to my camping gear is a set of GMRS radios, small, powerful walkie talkies that we can use whenever we go out in case we get separated or do separate things.
In 2021, while I was forced out of the home, I got an M1 Mac mini to do my editing, and then I set it up in place of my 2015 27" iMac, but it just didn't have enough power. And it looks like Apple isn't going to do a silicon iMac 27" any time soon, so instead I got a Mac Studio. This is a very powerful machine although I've had so many problems with it crashing. For months under macOS Monterey, I had to reinstall the operating system every so many days. Once macOS Ventura was out, it seemed to be better although on New Years morning, it happened again. I really dread the idea of doing a nuke and pave reinstall.
This fall, I got a new Apple Watch series 8. My previous watch was a series 5 and the battery had really gone down. I couldn't get a full day of use from it. the new Watch can go all day and overnight without needing to recharge. Meanwhile, Melanie has an Apple Watch series 1 that is in serious need of replacement. I did end up letting Anthony take my old Watch and he's having a blast using to track his movement and the weather and all the rest.
With the Mac mini freed up, I ended up using it to replace Isabella's old Chromebook which was falling apart and was also so old it wasn't going to get any more updates. (It was a free Chromebook when I got it for review.) She seems to love the Mac mini and it's got plenty of power for everything they do, which includes Minecraft, which all the kids discovered this year. Originally, Anthony was going to take an online programming class that included programming Minecraft. So we let him start using Minecraft to get familiar with it and then he never took the class.
Now that Isabella is 16 and with Melanie and I wanting to be able to go out just the two of us and leave her home to watch the others, we knew it was time for her to have a phone. She's had Melanie's old iPhone without a service plan for a while but it was time to make it work like a phone. I'd been an AT&T customer for 20 years, but it was just so expensive to have three phones on it, like $150 a month. I'd been hearing about Mint Mobile for so long and how much cheaper it was. I did all kinds of research, but I kept putting off the switch because it just seemed to good to be true. What's the catch? But I eventually switched and, wow, is it less expensive. Three lines, two of them getting 4GB per month and mine getting 10GB, is just $50 per month! The big savings comes because you can prepay and I prepaid for the whole year. I'm saving $1,200 per year and getting that third line! Plus, I can get a couple bars of signal at my house that I couldn't get with AT&T.
Incidentally, if you decide to check out Mint Mobile, use my referral link and we'll both save some extra money.
One wrinkle in the money saving plan was that it turned out Isabella's phone was too old to use so I ended up having to buy her a new one. The old one had a shattered-glass back anyway, so it was time. I ended up getting her an iPhone 12.
Oh, and if you're keeping track: Melanie's MacBook did need repairs again this year. We can't remember if she spilled a drink on it yet again, but the work order from last February says "Customer says the deviced powered off and will not power back on", which is what a MacBook does when you spill liquid on it. At least, this time we had the extended warranty and it didn't cost any to fix it.
Of course, Melanie wasn't the only one to suffer liquid damage this year. This past fall, Anthony asked to be able to vacuum the office as a chore while I was having lunch. In the middle of lunch, he came running out to grab paper towels and run back, without saying anything, and then I heard the beeping. Concerned, I followed and saw what was a nearly full cup of iced tea pouring off the back of my desk onto all my power strips and my Uniterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which was what was beeping. Long story, short: He'd knocked over the cup, which destroyed the UPS. Luckily, my computer is mounted to the bottom of my desk, safe from water damage, but I did replace several power strips along with the UPS. L
Books and Hobbies
Once again, I failed to meet my Goodreads challenge of 35 books this year, only reading 21. That is very disappointing and I think it shows I've spent too much time on social media. I continue to read a lot of series books in science fiction, fantasy, and espionage thrillers. I really very much enjoyed The Golden Enclaves, the third book in Naomi Novik's Scholomance series. I also started reading the first three book of the the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells, which I'd been hearing people rave about and it was really very good. I don't know if I will read the most recent two installments at some point. Surprisingly, I only read one history book this year, Travels with George, by Nathaniel Philbrick, which is a kind of travelogue and history that sees the author trace George Washington's travels though the country during his presidency. It wasn't Philbrick's best, but it was an interesting insight into Washington and how he really formed the nascent nation and the idea of the presidency.
We also had another attemnpt at a vegetable garden this year, but it was only mildly successful. Nothing has measured up to that first garden we had. I wonder what I'm doing different or wrong.
I also ended up retiring my old Weber Performer grill that I'd had for 15 years, because it was starting to rot through the bottom. I ended up getting a hybrid grill//smoker, the Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn. It has a gas grill on one side and an offset smoker on the other than can also do charcoal. Figuring out how to get good results from an offset smoker has been harder than I thought it would be, despite the many Youtube videos I've watched and the multiple attempts. I've made steak picanha, a pork shoulder, pork ribs, and some other stuff. Some of it came out okay, others were too smoky, unpleasantly so. I also find the hybrid means the grill part is a bit small for what I'm used to. I may end up getting a basic Weber charcoal grill just to do regular grilling.
Movies and TV
There was a lot of good TV this year. There were a number of very good ones on AppleTV+, including Severance, Mythic Quest, Tehran, and For All Mankind. Severance was amazing, like a cross between LOST and Office Space.
On Disney+, there were all the Star Wars series-- Jedi: Lost Tales; Andor; and Kenobi-- and Marvel series--Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Moon Knight. On Amazon Prime, I enjoyed Wheel of Time, The Rings of Power, Reacher, Jack Ryan, The Terminal List, and The Peripheral. On Netflix, I watched The Witcher, Stranger Things, and the whole run of Longmire, which was excellent. On Paramount+, all of the Star Trek, but I especially enjoyed Strange New Worlds, which is the best new Trek. Lower Decks and Prodigy are animated series, the former aimed at adults and the latter at kids and the latter has been surprisingly good. Also on Paramount+: SEAL Team, SWAT, and Halo. Melanie and I continue to watch and enjoy The Rookie together.
We've continued to work our way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the kids, both movies and TV series, skipping Eternals, Moon Knight, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,and hor: Love and Thunder none of which seemed appropriate for all the kids. After Ms. Marvel, we've run out of MCU so it's on to some other series of movies perhaps.
I didn't get out to the movies much at all this year, although I did see Father Stu in the theater with Fr. Chip Hines for our "Coffee and Cinema" podcast. That was an excellent movie. At home, I watched the aforementioned Marvel movies, plus Top Gun: Maverick (best movie of the year for me?), Jungle Cruise, Dune, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Glass Onion.
Podcasts and YouTube
In addition to the podcasts I produce at StarQuest, my listening line-up of podcasts hasn't really changed. I'm about maxed on the amount of hours I can spend listening to them. I have expanded my YouTube subscriptions a bit, including Cowboy Kent Rollins (cooking), Shane Watley (smarthome tech), Smokin' and Grillin with AB (cooking), Jeff Geerling (tech), How to Make Everything (history and tech). It's tough to find time for it all and I don't watch every video they upload.
I don't intend to prognosticate the unknowable in this section, but just anticipate some stuff I know is coming, like replacing the washing machine. We're thinking of a lake vacation this summer, which we last did in 2020. If that doesn't work out, maybe we should go back to Acadia, which we were at last in 2018. I know the kids are looking forward to another summer camp, although Isabella is talking about maybe being a camp counselor at a different camp for the whole summer. Having her gone that long would be a big adjustment for all of us.
There's another wedding coming up this summer for my niece and my in-laws are due to have their baby in February. Melanie is talking about taking the whole family down to see the baby, which would be the first trip to Texas for me since 2017. And speaking of travel, there's still the idea of doing StarQuest meetups around the country.
This is one of those alternating years when I replace my iPhone so I'm looking forward to whatever the iPhone 15 is this fall. And I'm looking forward once again to more new Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel movies and shows.
I hope that we all remain healthy this year. My mom has just turned 84 and her health isn't good so I don't know if we'll have her the whole year. I'm bracing myself for that.
But I thank God for another year and more time together as a family and we trust in Him whatever comes.
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