A little time travel into the past: March

There used to be a time I blogged several times a week. Then it turned into twice a week, then once a week, then once every two weeks, then… whenever I happen to write a blog post. I suspect the latter frequency is the way it will continue, and so far nobody seems to mind.

In this time travel journey little blog series, we travel back as far as March of this year, when I grew another year older and crept a little further into my thirties. I like it here much better than my twenties. Most of the time, anyway. Marica made me a delicious pecan pie. We must have done something more than eat pie to celebrate the occasion, it’s just that what we did escapes my memory now. That’s one of the downsides of getting older, I’m told.

 

Lauren, who had boarded with us in the past, were engaged to be married, and I hosted a bridal shower for her. That was a first for me, and fun!

There was also a lovely day where the girls and I met Shannon in the city, where she took them to a marionette theater for a show, giving me and Ben some time to grab a quick bite to eat at Dominique Ansel, the bakery that invented the cronut. Yes, we had a cronut, and yes, it’s delicious! Then I joined Shannon and the girls at Alice’s Tea Cup for a delightful lunch. What a treat!

General update

An update written by Ben for a change. After all, Franci has written almost all of the posts on this blog. As it happens, the last one Ben wrote was almost a year ago.

Ben is busy with various things. Both being a dad by night (and evening) and a computer programmer by day. Ben is also an elder at church, helping lead services, organize various things, and helping out with various pastoral issues.

Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. Coordinating people and tasks has crept back into his job description — he recently moved to a new team within TripAdvisor and is managing three software developers. Content Management Systems (CMS) is what we’re tasked to build. Companies within TripAdvisor will be able to use this unified system to to easily produce hotel- and travel-related pages and websites. Commuting to work (an hour each way) can be tiring, but I use the time to read, or to write blog posts like this one.

Dad visited us recently, on the way to the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) in Toronto. Dad is very handy with wood, as you probably know, so he helped me build this picnic table (the pajama-clad girls appeared afterwards):

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Esther is growing in stature (and good will with God and man). Every day she gets up at about 6:45am, sneaks down the stairs, and plays with Lego or reads quietly in the lounge. Enthusiastic about any craft, she’s often making cards, pictures, or whatever else. “Emotional” is a good word to sum up her reaction to various things — much more so than either of the other kids, which can be both good and bad. Esther was also very stoked to have a few days recently when she had Mum all to herself for the morning — one of these mornings she got a special trip with Mum to the nail salon:

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Franci has a bit of a lighter (or different) load right now as our homeschoolers are taking a break. For a few weeks more she’ll be catching up on various tasks, sorting and tidying rooms, reading, etc. Franci has been keeping busy (outside of the usual family busyness) with serving at church in various capacities: Fellowship Meal (organizing our once-a-month church shared lunch), Sunday School, and catching up with and mentoring some women. Fruit and veggies have also featured of late: she bought 10kg of very ripe blueberries and made lots of jam, pies, etc; and she signed up to a veggie co-op through which we get a good quantity of veggies every week. For a photo, here’s one of her carrying Laurelin’s 4th birthday cake:

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Going to go camping in early September! Goal is for me to take a couple of days off work on either side of Labour weekend, go into the mountains (a couple of hours away), and set up tent. Good for the whole family to get away, and the kids are definitely looking forward to it.

Hannah and Peter were here recently and stayed a couple of nights when they drove Lydia and Andrew here from Lancaster, PA. How nice it was to catch up with both couples again. Hopefully Lydia and Andrew had a good time! His first time in the States, and I don’t think Lydia’s been back for many years either. Heading into the city on a bus, they caught the subway from the bus terminal down to JFK airport, where they flew back to Australia.

I can safely say that we’ve had a hot early summer, though the last couple of weeks have been a lot more mild. In the early part of July, Franci and the girls went regularly to a nearby friend’s pool and made good use of that. Inside it’s generally cool enough thanks to air conditioning, especially at my work where they seem to like making it feel like a fridge.

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Jetsetter was the TripAdvisor team that I was on, and jetsetting is what we’ll be doing (God willing) in late December and January when we fly to New Zealand for a trip in their summer. Just like last time, I’ll be going for about two weeks, and Franci and the girls will be staying on for several extra weeks. Joyful we are as we look forward to seeing family and friends again in person.

Kicking around a rough plan, Franci and I, for our family to head back to New Zealand to live (for good?) in the year 2020 Anno Domino. Kids will be a bit older then, and our hope is to visit South Africa and Namibia (where Franci was born and grew up, respectively) on our way back.

Laurelin is our most stubborn descendant. Laughs a lot, and causes plenty of laughter, too. Life will be good to her, we think, if she overcomes the sinful childish aspects of this stubbornness and turns it into determination (that’s what we’re working towards, in any case). Lately she’s had a break from preschool — during the school year she attends a local preschool three mornings a week, giving Franci a break and an opportunity to focus on homeschooling the other two. Laurelin recently turned four:

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Marica went to a five-day summer camp recently with a friend from homeschooling circles. Mostly outdoor activities, it was a Christian-run camp, and she had a blast. My update on her wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that apart from being our most outdoor-loving girl, she’s also our biggest bookworm, reading half a dozen thick books per week is not uncommon. More good books needed — please send title suggestions our way!

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Never one to shy away from geekdom, I’ve written a couple of technical articles about nerdy projects I’ve done recently. Naturally you can view those on my website, if you’re interested: a pentomino puzzle solver, toy Python-to-assembly compiler, and tiny Git client.

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The 12 pentominoes (18 with their mirror images)

Outdoors stuff tends to happen more in summer, so there have been lots of trips to the park, lots of playing outside in the sprinkler, and we hope to make it to the beach at least once.

Pulled pork is a favourite around here. Partly because there’s a nearby Southern BBQ place where we sometimes eat or get takeaway. Passionate about their food, we often get juicy barbequed brisket, pulled pork, and spicy baked beans — yum! Perhaps if you visit we’ll take you there?

Quite a bit of the time we’re too busy: mostly self-inflicated, partly a reflection of our involvement at church or with visitors, and with homeschooling things. Quiet is nice sometimes, and we’re trying to carve out enough of that here and there.

Reading aloud is something I really enjoy doing with and for the older two girls. Rarely do we go a week without at least several nights of reading another chapter in our book. Right now we’re about half way through N. D. Wilson’s A Door Before, a prequel to both his 100 Cupboards and his Ashtown Burials books. Really it’s a bit too intense for my taste, but we love his strong and realistic characters, his moral outlook, and his desire to bring solid fantasy from British to American soil.

Seafood festivals are a lot of fun: a Reformed church over on Long Island recently hosted one. Sun, seafood (lobsters, clams), salad, and sports were the order of the day — including a no-hands watermelon eating competition which I tried my hand at:

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Trees are a wonderful thing. Three or four weeks ago we planted a small (1.5 metre high) dogwood tree in our back yard. The soil that we dug out for the roots was probably the hardest, stoniest soil I’ve ever dealt with.

Unbroken is a great movie that Franci and I watched recently. Unusually good for a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s a war story that you should definitely watch (not to mention read about its fascinating hero Louis Zamperini).

Violin and guitar are the two new instruments that Esther and Marica will be learning this coming school year (aside from piano, which they have to take). Very rewarding to be part of a homeschooling group where the kids can learn quality music at reasonable prices.

We had a good time recently with Franci’s sister Angelique, who was here with her son Tyson for a visit in June. Went in to the city a couple of times, but mostly stayed local and did quieter things with the kids.

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Xylophones (well, glockenspiels really, but that doesn’t start with X) are another instrument that Franci will be using in the homeschool co-op music class that she’ll be teaching this coming year.

Yesterday evening we had our pastor and his wife around for dinner. You always know it’ll be a fabulous time with those two (and it was).

Zero more paragraphs to go after this one. Zank you for listening. Zon’t forget to comment if you have comments or questions!

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:

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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:

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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!