Rambling thoughts

The year starts off differently here in the northern hemisphere compared to the southern hemisphere. In some ways it doesn’t really feel like a new year — school and work just keeps going after a short break for Christmas; whereas in NZ just about nothing happens the first few weeks of January because 90% of the country is off somewhere on holiday. Neither is better or worse, just different.

We took the week between Christmas and New Year’s off school, but were right back into it at the start of January. The girls are doing really well, and learning and growing. We still have attitude struggles, but those seem to be getting better too (I’m still working on mine most of the time!).

We have had a couple of snowfalls of maybe half a foot or so, which the kids always enjoy. On the whole, though, this has been a really mild winter. There have been a few days that our temperatures have been the same as those in Christchurch! I don’t know if that says something about our winters or about NZ summers…

At the start of January, we had cousin Eva stay with us as her last stop before heading back to Vienna. It was a delightful visit! Lots of quiet and relaxed conversation. She even cooked us a gourmet meal one night, which was really delicious.

In January, Trump was sworn in, as most of the world knows. I don’t know what to think about the man. I don’t know if he’s really clever and shrewd or if he’s just a complete narcissistic idiot. He backs certain things that I’m very happy about (he has pro-life policies, for one), and then he does and says other things that are just beyond comprehension. I don’t know what the next 4 years will hold, but I do know that whatever happens it won’t be a boring ride. Seeing that I don’t like exciting roller coaster rides, my response has been to laugh, or for the most part the ostrich in the sand-type of response. The less I know, the less my blood pressure rises. This is probably not the best response, but I know whom I have believed, and He’s ultimately in control. I’m not trying to be fatalistic, I just really don’t want to know every crappy detail of what stupid thing Trump tweeted now. Too much freak show makes one freaky. End diatribe.

Yesterday I finished the Whole30. It’s basically a program where you eat only whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds) for 30 days to give your body a break and to find out when you re-introduce foods how they make you feel. I’ve been wondering for a long time if dairy makes me feel groggy. We’ll see. :-) The first two weeks were hard, but then I got into a groove and it stopped bothering me. I didn’t even feel like I wanted the stuff I used to, and I can now even stomach a cup of coffee black. I think it would be too restrictive to eat like this 100% of the time, but I’d like to eat like this most of the time for the main reason that I got rid of my stupid mind fog. I could get a full night’s sleep and wake up tired — no more of that (except when I don’t actually get enough sleep!). That feeling of walking into a room with a purpose only to get there and wonder what on earth I’m doing there is gone. Some people report big weight loss and lots of energy… I can’t really say that was the case for me, but for the sake of some clarity of mind, I’d be willing to forego a few things.

Laurelin has been growing up. She’s so cute, so clever, and so… challenging. She’s a champion tantrum thrower and a very feisty fighter. I’m sure fighter in her will stand her in good stead one day, but for now they just make her mother bone weary. She’s a lot of fun when she’s not decided that she wants something to go her way. Which is a lot. Unfortunately for her, she has pretty stubborn parents too, so she seldom wins a fight. Maybe she’ll learn it’s not worth the energy soon and give it up, ha. It’s so funny — usually after a major tantrum, when she finally calms down, she’s so tired she needs a nap!

I’ve been thinking. Startling thought, I know. :-)  I’ve been thinking that our modern lives are just too busy, too full of distraction. I took an 18 month break from Facebook a while back, but have been back on it again for a few months, and I’m struck by how easy it is to procrastinate. How short my attention span can be, how I’ve trained myself to skim articles instead of actually reading them and then when it comes to reading real books I catch myself skimming. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to break. It’s not like Facebook is this big stumbling block for me, it just seems like such an apt metaphor for the rest of life. Everyone’s busy with trivial stuff, we’re all busy chasing… what, exactly? I do believe that God created us to work, and to work hard for His glory. I just wish things were simpler and more clean cut, and less busy. Busyness seems to kill joy. I guess it takes a lifetime to figure out how to find a healthy balance in it all.

I’ve been reading Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley, the same author who wrote Side by Side that I reviewed a while back. It was a very enjoyable read, and I’m hoping to post a review of it soon.

I signed Marica and Esther up for homeschooling ice skating classes for the winter, and they’re loving it! There’s also the perk that I get to join in on the other side of the rink. I’m way worse at it than the kids, and have had a couple of pretty hard falls, which makes me afraid of falling again, which in turn doesn’t make one skate very well. I’m gaining confidence, though! It’s a pretty fun way of working a bit of physical activity into the schedule.

You might have noticed I haven’t been posting on a weekly basis recently. Or maybe nobody’s noticed (or they’re relieved!). I don’t have time to blog because I’m sitting on the couch drinking tea and reading People magazine. :-) No, it’s not for lack of wanting to — it’s a matter of getting around it with the few spare hours in the day when the kids are in bed.

One of the things taking up evening time recently is my new role as Gifty Weddings‘ new marketing director. <cough/> We’re trying to push Ben’s little side business a bit more, but I know next to nothing about marketing, so I’m learning on the job. Hopefully I don’t lose us too much money in the process! Hey, if any of you know someone getting married soon who would like the idea of using a gift registry that is not tied to a specific store, please point them to Gifty!

Thus ends my (very) rambling thoughts.

The job front

In the last couple of months I’ve had a bit of a change job-wise (Franci said it was about time for me to write). I had been a software engineer for Oyster.com — now part of TripAdvisor — for just over six years, and decided it was time for a change and some new work experience while we’re here in the States.

So I started looking around, and interviewed with several companies: Google, Paperless Post, and a couple of others. Google was interesting to interview with, but they said no (at least for the role I was looking for). So I was looking pretty hard at the Paperless offer, but then my boss offered me a new role within TripAdvisor working on a different team and with different technologies … and for various reasons, that’s the role I ended up taking. TripAdvisor is a really good company to work for.

The role is with Jetsetter, another sub-company of TripAdvisor, and it’s still software development, though I’m not managing a team anymore. Jetsetter, like Oyster, is a hotel review website, but they’re more focused on “travel inspiration” and at least traditionally a bit more of a luxury brand. I’m using different technologies (see below) and the team culture is somewhat different, but oddly enough I’m sitting only a few metres away from where I was before. So a substantial change, just not a geographical one. :-)

For the tech geeks among you: to date Jetsetter is mostly written in Scala and Node.js and React, and has a microservices approach on the backend. (In constrast, Oyster has an almost exclusively Python-based, monolithic backend.) I’m introducing some Python on the team with my first project, a new photo import system and image web server.

I’ve been with the new team for about a month now, and it’s been good so far!

In other news, I’ve signed up to teach a computer programming class at our homeschool co-op. It’ll be an hour every second Friday, starting in September, continuing for the full school year. I plan to do a few lessons on computing history and the basics of how computers work (binary, computer maths, what a programming language is), and then spend the rest of the year teaching basic programming skills while working on a project — a little computer game or website or some such. Franci will be sitting in on the class too, which is cool.

Thanks for listening, and signing off for now!

Random thoughts

The last couple of months have looked a little different to our usual routines. I’ve had a relapse of the Epstein-Barr virus which wiped me out but I seem to be feeling a fair bit better the last week or so; Ben’s been looking at different job options and has had multiple interviews with several different companies (no decision yet, though). Summer is upon us (hooray!) and I’m getting less and less inclined to do anything that resembles regular duties around here. The combination of the above three things have made for a rather unusual and unpredictable spring.

The girls are all doing well — in good health and spirits (most of the time), for which we’re thankful. Marica and Esther are now both voracious readers, and Laurelin, like a typical youngest sibling, wants to do everything they do. I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts reading at 3 — and not because I’m pushing her!

We’ve got 1 more week of homeschooling before we stop for the summer. Marica and I are looking forward to the break. Esther would like to do school all the way through! I’ve enrolled Laurelin in a preschool for 3 mornings a week starting in July. I’m hoping this will help the two older girls and me get some more focused schoolwork done.

I planted a veggie garden in the spring. It’s been really satisfying to see things sprout and grow. I keep going out there and thinking I should go get my camera to document it… but I haven’t. Gardening is such a nice chore, especially when you get to eat the fruit of your labor. We’ve had quite a few nice salads and herbs already, and look forward to a good crop of tomatoes, beans and more.

Politics is of course one of those topics that you can’t get away from these days. The general sentiment among the people I mix with is one of despondency — having to choose between bad and worse does not fill one with warm fuzzies. My main thought through all this has been: “How did it get to this?!” Ben and I have really appreciated this article written by Andrew Sullivan for New York Magazine that basically answers that question. It’s long, but well worth the read.

This summer is promising to be a lovely one. We’re looking forward to another Hoyt reunion in Georgia; a trip to Tennessee for cousin Hannah’s wedding; a trip to Vermont; several visitors — Ben’s parents, his brother and family, cousins, and some friends; the girls are all doing some sort of ‘summer camp’ — Marica to an overnight one, Esther to a daytime art camp, and Laurelin is doing a special programme at her new preschool. Add to that a plan to have many relaxing days at our friends’ pool, playdates with friends, picnics, ice pops, an abundance of summer fruit and sprinkler fun, and we’ve got ourselves a great summer to look forward to!

And on that note, if the posting on here becomes a little sporadic over the next few months, just imagine I’m trying to learn what ‘relax’ means again after a busy year. (Truth is I’ll probably be trying to get all the things done that don’t get done during the year like clearing out trash drawers and mending clothes and planning school for next year. But those things, when done, bring a certain kind of satisfaction that helps the whole relaxing thing!)

The new GiftyWeddings.com

Most of you know that I (this is Ben posting for a change) run a little wedding gift registry website called GiftyWeddings.com. It’s been going for almost eight years now, helping several couples every month create nice simple gift registries that aren’t tied to a particular store.

The design of the site was never exactly stellar (being designed by yours truly), but with bigger computer screens (and smaller phones!) it had started to look pretty dated:

old-gifty.png

I do like old-school, but … it was definitely time for an update.

So I’ve spent the last couple of months of bus commutes rebuilding the site: a new design, new implementation, new server, and new payment system. Here’s what it looks like now:

new-gifty

Complete with a fun photo of my wife going down a flying fox (zip-line) in her wedding dress.

So I’m a bit biased, but I think it’s an improvement. And the user interface is also significantly nicer, and works well on mobile phones — great for when your guests are out shopping for your wedding gift and want to cross an item off using their phone.

So if you know someone who’s getting married, please help our small, family-owned side business and point them to GiftyWeddings.com. :-)

If you’re of a nerdy bent and want to know what tools I used to build the new site, this list is for you:

I have good things to say about all those tools. React was new for me and a good experience. Stripe Checkout is an amazingly simple service to set up — highly recommended.

Please contact me if you have any feedback about the new site!

Changing things around

You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been playing around with new blog designs. And you’ll probably also be relieved to know that I’m done now, and that this is what the site will look like for the foreseeable future! Is anyone having any trouble viewing things? If so, let me know in the comments.

Speaking of comments… we love getting them! It makes us feel in touch with you, our readers. It’s probably the closest thing I’ll get to sitting down and chatting over a cup of tea with most of you for a very long time.

In other ‘changing things around’ news… we’ve bought a house! We’ll be moving soon, and because of that there might be a little lull in posts for a few weeks. Promise I’ll post photos when I get the chance!

Thanksgiving

Here in the States, people celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. We’re actually celebrating it today, so that it could work out for Jeremy and Lillian to be here with us.

So, for that reason, and because there’s cooking to be done, I’ll keep this short and leave you with the lyrics of a hymn whose tune I dislike, but that has powerful words. Today, as we sit around our feast table laden with glorious food, we will count our blessings, name them, and give thanks for what God has done.

Count Your Blessings

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Summer fun

The summer is coming to an end, and we are back in the full swing of homeschooling. We took a nice long summer break. I had great intentions of schooling through the summer, but somehow as it warmed up outside we all just lost steam. And so I changed my mind, and I’m glad I did. Our summer filled up with so many fun things and people that to have tried to do homeschooling through all that would have been very stressful.

We had a bunch of overnight guests, we had many, many playdates with old friends and new friends, we spent lots of time at the playground and the sprinklers and we even did an Art in the Park lesson and had a trip to the zoo.

The kids did a “Piano Camp” for a week where they spent the morning learning about composers, did ear training and other such fun music-y stuff and each got a piano lesson too. There was a little recital at the end of the week and all the kids did so well. I’m always amazed at what Shannon (their teacher) gets out of them! Though, I must say I was glad that Piano Camp was only for a week, because it meant driving an hour to Brooklyn and an hour home.

On hot days, the kids had free access to the craft box, and they created lots of fun things. They also really got into drawing, and especially Esther spent hours upon hours just drawing the most inventive things. Many puzzles also got built, and I got a puzzle bug too and did a 1000 piece puzzle, which got started with a bit of help from Aunt Sharon when she and Uncle Sherwood (and Esther and Jonathan!) were visiting a few weekends ago.

DSC_1082 (Large)

 

The library also got frequent visits as Marica continues to motor through books at an alarming rate. She joined the library’s summer reading club and got some little prizes and a certificate for the thousands (literally!) of pages she read over the summer.

We also went fruit picking and camping, but I’ll share those photos in seperate posts. It’s nice to now have started the new school year and the activities they’ll take part in: piano lessons, homeschool co-op, and Girl Scouts. Routine is good!