After many months of off-and-on work, I’ve finally finished creating an appropriate setting for the LEGO Saturn V that my fine son Liam gave me.
This was a fun project: electronics, 3D printing, CNC milling, programming, and audio editing all combined to get the effects I was looking for. If you’re interested in the details, please check out my writeup on its construction.
Some of you may remember that, a few years back, my son Liam and I designed, and my eldest daughter Emily illustrated, a card game. The elevator pitch was “like Risk but with cards,” and we christened it “1945.” It has remained a family favorite since we created it.
It’s been out of print in its physical form for a while now due to some shenanigans with my printer, but I’ve just finished porting it to be playable in Tabletop Simulator. If you’ve got TS (which is near-essential for board game fans during this time of social isolation) you can now play 1945 for free!
Rachel is a high school friend of mine who recently got to speak on addiction at a TEDx event . A few years back, we were both in town for the funeral of one of our shared dear friends. We had a wonderful conversation afterwards about the similar ways that addiction had impacted our lives, and the growth and change of direction that came out of those experiences. She has now been fully focused on addiction treatment and recovery for a number of years, and shares here some of the wisdom that she has won on that road. It’s well worth your time.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Kris and Sean moved to our new home in San Antonio!
There were a number of reasons for this move: lots of Sean’s family is down in San Antonio, and he has long loved the idea of being closer to them. Maggie has just graduated from High School and plans to take classes down in San Antonio this fall, so we’ll be able to provide a base of operations for her. And as much as we love San Marcos and will miss it fiercely, we also are excited to be back in a big city with everything it has to offer.
We’re also particularly keen on the neighborhood we’ve ended up in. About 100 years old, Beacon Hill was one of the first subdivisions in San Antonio; it has evolved into an ethnically and economically mixed community with a very active neighborhood association, lots of artists and musicians, and a good deal of personality. Within a five minute walk of the quirky, charming, Craftsman-style house are a terrific little restaurant run by an expat Frenchman, an Ice Cream Parlor/Fruteria/Ceviche purveyor with a great array of delicious treats, a gift store, an artist collective, a Mexican restaurant (life and breath to Sean), and a community garden. Close enough for an easy bike ride are one of Sean’s brothers, his wife, and their daughter, a mini golf course, two huge and beautiful municipal parks, a board gaming cafe, two theaters with a regular lineup of high quality productions, and two public libraries. Further, our decision to land here seems to have been confirmed repeatedly in a variety of interesting ways. (Ask us about our PorchFest experience sometime!)
Amid the excitement over our new digs, we’re also both feeling a measure of sadness about no longer living in San Marcos. Sean came to this beautiful hill country town in 2000, and has lived there longer than any other city in his life — raising kids, hiking its trails, swimming the river, and seeing it grow. When we got married, Kris quickly made it her home too; Sean half-joked that after a month living there, she had made more friends than he had in 16 years. She has been particularly enamored with the wildlife, especially the skunks, possums, raccoons, and birds of all stripes that have become regular visitors to our backyard. And we’ll both keenly miss being close to our community of friends there, particularly those at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and those from the University.
But blessings abound as we look forward to this new chapter. We’ll be setting up a home together for the first time. (Which sounds more cheerful than “Oh my goodness, there are SO MANY BOXES!”) We will be close to much of Sean’s extended family and to his goddaughter. He will be both helping Handsome, where he works, to define its remote work policies and at the same time will be a guinea pig for them, working remote about 60% of the time. While Kris continues her work at St. Mark’s through the fall, San Antonio has broader career opportunities for her as she considers what her professional life should look like in the future. And once the dust settles, we are very much looking forward to having friends and family come visit in this new part of Texas that we’re already enjoying a ton!
Huge thanks to all of the folks who pitched in on move day or leading up to it to make it a success: Ian, Emily, Adam, Cheryl, Liam, Alex, Bob, Nick, Mike, Tami, Chris, Becky, Ron, Marti, Jeff, Fazia, Michael, Diane, Bill, Abigail, Brian, Bridgette, Finn, Brooklyn, Ken, Tanya, and Maggie. We seriously could not have done it without your help. Many, many thanks.
We earmarked Friday for The Giant’s Causeway. We loaded up early and headed north, stopping only for a quick breakfast along the way. After our arrival and my first Irish Magners cider (which lived up to my friend Jason’s enthusiasm for it), we started our hike down to the Causeway.
I had, of course, heard about the site before, but was still amazed by the reality of it. The regular hexagonal basalt columns are like nothing I’d seen in creation before, and it was easy to see why it is one of Beki’s favorite places in the world. (As a reader, I gave it the highest praise I can offer a place: “I’d love to bring a book and sit here for hours.”) We clambered happily over the rocks for an hour or so, and then hiked up the hillside to enjoy some spectacular views overlooking the causeway and the land around.
We then dropped by the ruins of Dunluce Castle, a nearby site that was beautifully situated on a large outcropping over the sea. We learned a bit about the history of the place, read the slightly self-congratulatory quotes about the importance of the archaeology there, enjoyed more spectacular views, and dodged enthusiastic schoolchildren who were barreling around taking selfies in every cranny of the place.
Randy and Beki then dropped us off in Coleraine to pick up the train to Derry/Londonderry. (Evidently the Irish Republicans call it the former, Loyalists the latter, and there’s strong conviction about it. “There’s no such place as Londonderry, but I can sell you a ticket to Derry” ticketing agents might tell an unsuspecting traveler.) Michael Palin described this as one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world. We enjoyed gliding past verdant green fields filled with content cows and sheep, as well as vibrant fields of yellow rapeseed crops, and lamented that we didn’t have time to explore Derry before hopping back on the train to Belfast.
Our last stop for the day was The Crown Liquor Saloon, a downtown pub that was restored in 2007. Decorated with elaborate tile, stained glass, and woodwork, and featuring a number of semi-private booths, it was an ideal place to enjoy a drink and dinner.
Thursday was a travel day. We spent the earlier part of the day getting from Ballymoney to Belfast, where we’d be staying for the next couple of nights. The drive was lovely. More of the country unfolded before us as we listened to our new friends Sammy and Kylie. Kris was delighted by the signs that directed us not only to the nearest gas stations but also to the nearest castles, which seemed equally numerous.
Once we got to Belfast, we took a black cab tour around town. This brought home the history of The Troubles in a visceral way, as we saw shrines to those slain on both sides of the conflict. Our guide was in his teens during the peak of the tension and violence, and while he was careful not to skew his account, had clearly seen things that left a mark during that time. Sad and sobering that, while most of the violence in now nearly a generation in the past, that there are still Belfast residents who live in the shadow of “The Peace Wall” and who won’t go to the other side to have a drink. There are few past a certain age who haven’t lost someone to the violence of this conflict.
After the tour, we reconnected with Randy & Beki and enjoyed naps and a hike up the hill to Belfast Castle, a beautiful structure with a bistro and gardens overlooking the port and much of the rest of the city. We were struck by the cat motifs in the decor, and were later delighted by the discovery the legend that, like the ravens in the Tower of London, Belfast Castle would remain safe as long as a cat lived there.
We then headed back into town for dinner at “Made in Belfast,” a delightfully quirky restaurant with locally sourced deliciousness of various kinds. (My Ploughman’s Burger, with Irish beef, Irish cheese, and Irish ham was outstanding!) We then dropped in at The Dirty Onion for a couple pints (my first Irish Guiness!) and live music. It turned out, suprisingly, to be bluegrass. It also turned out, unsurprisingly, to be excellent.
Wednesday dawned bright and early. We started the day with a planning session for the rest of our trip, and then a fantastic walk/hike/climb up the beach to a nearby shipwreck. The mix of terrain was delightfully different from the beaches I’m used to, with beautiful schist outcroppings thrusting through the sand and out into the water. We had to choose several times between a carefully timed run around a rock face while the tide momentarily sucked back out to sea and an ambitious bit of rock climbing.
We then made a foray into Gorey for lunch at The Book Cafe, which combines delicious food with a wonderful, quirky bookstore, full of general-interest and Irish author tomes. It would have been easy to lose myself for hours there and to miss the rest of the town. Beki and Randy next took us down to the wood turning shop of Robert O’Connor, who creates stunningly beautiful wood pieces in his shop and has lately started to craft wooden pennywhistles as well. I spent a happy quarter hour trying out various instruments while his dog Maggie looked on reproachfully when I hit high notes.
A trip to Tesco left us well-supplied for a dinner of African potato soup. We then stopped by friends that Beki & Randy had toured with, Sammy & Kylie, for a quick visit. We enjoyed the pleasures of good conversation and the storied Swedish confection, “Plopp”, of which they had a stash they willingly shared. (It’s better than it sounds.)
I was delighted to discover that Sammy was the singer for The Electrics, who were my introduction to Celtic rock around a dozen years ago. I went a little fanboy on them, and they were kind enough to send us on our way with a couple CDs and a thumb drive full of music, which has been the soundtrack of our honeymoon since.
After spending the day packing and saying farewell to the last of family and friends who had come for the wedding, our friend Ron drove Kris and me to the airport. We enjoyed a last American meal, visited with Savannah, whose flight was going out an hour after ours, and loaded up, waving to Savannah as we boarded.
The flight was long but uneventful. British Airways was great, taking good care of us while we watched La La Land and Doctor Strange. The in-flight entertainment included several other movies I’d had on my to-watch list, but I was exhausted, and even Marvel and Benedict Cumerbatch couldn’t keep me awake. We each enjoyed a few hours sleep by the time we touched down at Heathrow.
Our layover there was surprisingly pleasant. We walked a couple of miles, visited shops we couldn’t possibly afford, poked around the Harry Potter store, enjoyed the airport extension of Hamley’s (my favorite toy store), and grabbed a healthy lunch at Wagamama, which I’d remembered from the trip to my brother’s wedding 12 years earlier.
We landed in Dublin mid-afternoon, gathered our things, and visited the tourist information shops, collecting our own weight in brochures and maps, before jumping into the rental car and heading south. The beautiful green hills and mountains unfolded before us, hedgerows and sheep lending extra charm. It reminded me very much of England, but with mountains.
After leaving the motorway and whizzing past several other drivers at impossible speeds on the tiny roads, we finally made it to our dear friends and hosts for the first part of our trip, Randy and Beki. After exchanging enthusiastic hugs, we decided to take a walk down to the beach to fight the jet lag and to keep us awake until at least 9:00pm.
The shore is beautiful, with a sandy beach nestled among rocky crags, and I immediately stripped off my shoes and socks to wade into the frigid Irish sea. We didn’t last long, however, before the chill won out, so we strolled back up to their flat, where they had a wonderful vegan shepherd’s pie waiting. It was fun to try Sriracha that didn’t come from Huy Fong and lacked the accustomed rooster on the front. The unpretentiously named “brown sauce” was also novel. All was delicious. We enjoyed tea, Irish cheese, and excellent company on the patio until five minutes after 9:00, at which point we decided we had fought the good fight against jet lag and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep for 9 hours.
Thursday afternoon, Kris Spilker and I got engaged.
I am, of course, delighted. It’s hard for me to articulate what I appreciate about this woman without sounding like a Jane Austen novel. She is kind, true, steadfast, and lovely. She embodies hospitality both in her home and in her conversation. The trust I have placed in her has been validated many times over; when she says she’ll do something, she follows through. She takes seriously and lives out the great commands of Jesus: “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” And we have a fantastic time making music together.
For those curious about the details: I took Thursday afternoon off work and took her to Wimberley where we had lunch at The Leaning Pear, a beautiful spot on Cypress Creek with marvelous food. We then climbed up a nearby hill (known variously as Old Baldy or Prayer Mountain) that affords beautiful views of the surrounding Texas Hill Country. When we reached the top, there was a drunk man and a tattooed woman doing yoga up there; not quite the cast I had envisioned for the occasion, but arguably the quintessential Texas Hill Country experience. We found a shady spot not too far from the yogi, pulled out the guitar I’d hauled up, and sang songs together for a while, drinking in the beauty of the place and laughing at ourselves as we stumbled over lyrics only half-remembered.
If John Hughes has taught us teens of the 80’s anything, it’s that Peter Gabriel songs are the proper way to profess one’s affections. Accordingly, I played and sang “The Book of Love,” which ends with the line “You ought to give me wedding rings.” (Note for pedants: yes, I know this wasn’t originally a Peter Gabriel song, but the John Hughes joke doesn’t work otherwise; just play along, OK?) I then pulled the ring from my guitar case and presented it to Kris, saying some inarticulate things that I mercifully do not remember. Fortunately, the prop carried the day, and she said yes.
Thus begins a new chapter of our lives. I very much look forward to continuing to better know and love each other’s families, kids, and other dear people, to further adventures in art, music, food, dancing, play, exploring the world, reverent silences, much laughter, and to serving the people around us and each other for many, many years to come.
I found this on my hard drive this morning: a piece I’d written a first draft of almost exactly four years ago, but never got around to publishing. While it’s outdated in several ways now, I still thought it worth sharing belatedly.
Last month, I walked one of our kids to school for what will be the last time.
The occasion is not catastrophic. I have no fatal illness. Our kids have not been thrown out of school. We’ve not decided that public education is irredeemably flawed, nor are we starting out own magnet school for gifted children with our own surname. The cause, in this case, is the same one we all face: the march of time.
Maggie, our youngest, has just finished up her 5th grade year at Crockett Elementary. The school she will be attending next year is Miller, a Middle School which lacks Crockett’s one-block proximity to our home. Though we still have many years before we face the challenges of an empty nest, this melancholy-tinged march was a foretaste of things to come.
Already I have marked with sadness milestones along the way. Loose teeth are far less frequent around our house than once they were. I’m reminded of one exceptional day when Liam loudly announced that he’d lost a tooth, proudly displayed it for all to see, and then went back to jumping on the trampoline, only to announce 30 minutes later that he had lost another one.
I often see activities coming up on the library’s calendar and get excited about taking the kids, only to realize belatedly that our kids are all past the age where they would hold any interest. “Ooh, hey, a puppet show! The Billy Goats Gruff! Great Story! Oh, wait…my youngest child is now eleven, and billy goats now lack their former charm.”
Saddest for me is the fact that having an adventure becomes progressively more difficult. When a child is young, merely being in the world is a grand, continuous process of discovery. The bar is then raised a bit, but is still easy to clear: a simple walk through the neighborhood yields deer sightings, fascinating clouds, nests of insects. Later, once the neighborhood has become familiar, going to the park or down to the river is necessary to renew that sense of wonder and excitement. And, of course, it’s natural that doing something with one’s parents moves from a consistent delight to something less wonderful. (We have been singularly fortunate in that regard, as even our teenagers seem to still enjoy our company.)
But with these miniature tragedies also come a variety of joys. Each of our young people has such a rich, distinct personality that discovering them is a constant, unfolding delight, like watching a tree bloom and mature over the course of years. One develops an interest in music, and does great in band. Another has a sly sense of humor that continuously surprises and delights me. This one does amazing art; that one takes up theater.
And while adventures become more difficult to come by, they also become bigger and more exciting. We get to go SCUBA diving together. We play open mics together. We design and produce computer and card games. We build (and blow up) a huge variety of things in lumber and lego. We travel and explore the world around us. We explore other worlds that we have invented, tell each other stories that get more engaging with each passing year, and challenge and spur each other on to richer and deeper relationships with those around us.
With each swing of the sun across the sky, I have fractionally less of a child, and a tiny bit more of a friend. And that’s a trade that, while it comes with a bit of sadness for opportunities lost, is well worth making.