So I Tied An Onion To My Belt – 2021 Edition

Its hard to remember the optimism with which we greeted 2021. Sure, Trumpian insanity was yet to peak, but the vaccine was here, people were getting it, and it really looked like we were about to turn the corner on this whole Covid-19 thing. The close of 2021, and the shadow of Delta and Omicron, proved that the glass wasn’t as close to half full as we hoped, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year. For awhile there, things almost felt… normal.

Spring and summer saw us cautiously stretching our legs beyond the confines of quarantine, and evidenced the inexorable impact of adolescence on our teenagers — with all the tumult and change that comes with it.

You can call them the “blunder years” if you’d like, but they’ve handled it well so far. Pushing themselves to try new things, and showing leadership in their peer group. Abi signed up for lacrosse this year; they all talked me into (temporarily) fostering a dog; and both Ben and Abi were among the first kids in our area to get their vaccine shots — a choice we left entirely up to them. Eli wasn’t left out either, hitting double digits, and qualifying for her shots later in the year.

As summer called, and case counts plummeted, we enjoyed the return to some of our normal patterns. We welcomed our first visitor since the pandemic hit, had a blast at Family Camp, and made the challenging-but-worthwhile trip across the border, which allowed us multiple wonderful reunions. Ben hit another milestone, this time in his spiritual growth, as he obeyed Jesus into the waters of baptism.

Our very “scenic route” trip home allowed us even more visits and experiences as we trecked across the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US, before returning home to face some challenges. Nicole and I learned how to remove and hang a door. Abi started her multi-year experience with orthodontic work. And Ben worked his first job — manning a booth at a video game conference (not a bad way to start his professional life!)

Still the impact of 2020 created more constraint than we would have liked, so in 2021 we made it a point to fulfill some delayed promises, and the older two each got a special adventure — albeit somewhat late. Things were still fairly normal as fall hit, and we got to enjoy some of the beauty around home, but once again, the colder weather brought rising cases and new restrictions. It seems like something of a miracle that we managed to make it home for Christmas again this year.

Just look at how much the kids have grown in the past 12 months. Physically, its quite obvious in our teenagers (Ben’s voice dropped an octave!) but we’re most proud of who all of them are becoming. Their temperaments are obviously unique (and sometimes get on each other’s nerves!) but most of the time, they genuinely try to put others first, embrace the world and all its challenges with courage and a sense of adventure, and have weathered the pandemic like troopers — accepting limitations when prudent, and enthusiastically saddling up for new experiences whenever we get the opportunity.

At this point, it would seem entirely pointless and foolish to try to predict how 2022 will go. But as much as we can, we hope to enjoy our kids’ energy and excitement to explore new things and new places. We are so grateful to God for giving us each of them, and for blessing us with another year of adventures with them. I’ll let Eli close this year, by telling you about one of hers…

So I Tied An Onion To My Belt – 2020 Edition

I write these annual re-cap posts every year, but never before has the gap between expectations for a year, and the reality I have to write about been so drastic. This past year, we’d planned a big trip west for the summer, visiting friends in Seattle, taking a ferry trip to Alaska, and stopping by to visit family and an old friend on the way back. None of that happened for reasons that are both obvious and less than. Forming a plan to get some portion of our family just across the nearest border proved to be enough of a challenge, once the pandemic hit.

If we’d known this was going to be our last big social gathering, we would have tried to squeeze more people in!

The year started fairly normally, with a couple nice highlights. Since Christmas 2019 was spent in Grand Cayman, we connected with Ontario family at Niagara Falls in February. We hosted our church youth group for the Super Bowl. And I started a trip to LA for a work event. When we looked back at the pictures of these gatherings, Eli remarked: “its strange to see us with other people and no one is wearing masks.”

It was on that trip to LA that we learned how much things would change. Of course there were inklings of it — I remember seeing people in masks at the airport, thinking they were over-reacting. It was on a stop-over in Minneapolis that I got the call: event canceled due to pandemic. I had no choice but to complete the trip to LA and try to schedule an earlier flight back — home and into quarantine. Like for most others, March through May were tough months: cancelled birthday parties, suddenly home schooling, trying to help the kids understand what was happening. As summer crept closer, and cases started dropping, we witnessed an even more upsetting change in our American life. Trump signs and flags appeared, while mostly white folks began complaining about their rights — apparently oblivious to the fact that a significant portion of America with an actual legitimate complaint was pleading for justice. The battles lines for the looming election were drawn: haircuts and backyard parties are part of the American dream, due process for minorities, and scientific decision-making are not.

The kids chose this picture, and wanted to point out that Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and everyone else who weren’t given justice in 2020 still matter.

Never before have we been so ashamed of where we live, or some of the people we considered close. We were horrified — shocked and in disbelief. We wanted to be a part of reasoned discussion, we wanted to insist on rationality. We went to a protest (before most of them turned unreasonable) and I blogged desperately and at length, trying to explain, trying to reason, admonishing the increasingly insane things that our neighbors, and even family members were saying online. But Trump kept on tweeting, and people kept on trying to explain, defend or even advocate conspiracy theories, unhinged medical recommendations, and a bizarre persecution complex emanating from the most undeserving, self-entitled Republican leader — and base — that I have ever witnessed. If COVID-19 wasn’t reason enough to withdraw, American politics sealed that deal. Our circle of people we wanted to be with in 2020 shrank dramatically.

Fortunately, some wonderful people and wonderful experiences were left:

We tapped our neighbor’s maple trees, and made maple syrup (and were reminded that there are still some reasonable and loving Conservatives left in this two-party nightmare.)

We learned how to throw a Zoom birthday party, met new people virtually, and connected with some far-away friends we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Our annual Family Camp tradition was cancelled, so in its stead, we took over an entire campground with two other families, and enjoyed a socially isolated weekend fishing, boating and singing songs about Jesus around the outdoor cookout spot.

Instead of long-distance trips, we raised chickens at home, worked on some fun projects, and explored some of God’s beautiful creation right here in Ohio — and did manage to get most of the family back to Ontario for quarantine and a visit eventually.

We even got to be a special part of a beautiful wedding, capping off a year that maybe wasn’t great, but definitely had some redeeming moments.

And I guess that’s a fairly good description of humanity right now. It is obvious to anyone who survived 2020 that we are a fallen people — we are not who God meant for us to be, and we cannot redeem ourselves; not through politics, not through discourse, and not through societal changes. We will always fall short. But every once in awhile, you catch a glimpse of something pretty great, and its a reminder that we were made in His image: a glorious, creative, thoughtful and beautiful image. And that some day, we will be what He intended…

No, 2020 wasn’t a great year — not anywhere on the planet, and especially not in America. But, we’re still all God’s kids, and we’re still growing up. We’re not ever going to get it right until He comes back, but that doesn’t mean we’ve quit trying. Only He knows what 2021 holds, but we got through 2020, and with His help, maybe we can all do a little better this year.

So I Tied An Onion To My Belt – 2019 Edition

The start of 2019 required patience — sticking to the same patterns for nearly 4 years doesn’t come easy for me, but sometimes that’s best. Fortunately, we had our first escape in March: a couple’s vacation to Mexico with some great friends from college. Going somewhere just to relax is a relatively new experience, but it went well — aside for a couple days of Montezuma’s Revenge near the end!

When we got back, we started putting things in place for some needed changes. First, Nic got a new car, to keep us in shape for road trips to Canada. Then, after finally getting some clarity on professional transitions, we were able to nail down our summer plans. A July start for a new job meant that we got one more trip to Florida from my previous employer — and allowed me to stick around long enough to launch my second product.

After Nic and the kids were done with Universal Studios, I handed in my two-weeks notice, and we went off to Family Camp — during which I signed the final papers for my new job. We squeezed in one more little get-away with some friends at Darien Lake, then the kids were back to school and I was thrust into almost non-stop business travel. As a result, the fall was necessarily a little more quiet on the home front. Simpler things like tinkering with projects, going on Girl Scout trips, horse-back riding, and kayaking in our beautiful State parks provided small escapes from responsibility.

The best escape had to wait until the end of the year. Ben pushed through another challenging half school year, on the brink of becoming a teenager. To celebrate his 13th birthday, we planned a surprise trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where he and I got to explore the new Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars land. An early morning got us into the brand new Rise of the Resistance ride, and let us see most of the rest of the park as well. Ben built a droid, we drank blue milk, and got to nerd out together on this, the last of his Star Wars birthdays.

We flew out, via Atlanta, where we met up with the girls, en route to Grand Cayman. There we spent a wonderful week with my parents, enjoying their sunny paradise. Nic and I got to try a scuba diving lesson, she and the kids got to play with some dolphins, and we all got to explore the coral reef as we snorkeled around 7 mile beach.

It was a wonderful cap on a pretty great year. 2020 will be an interesting one. Of course, we have some travel planned, having ended up in sort of an every-other-year pattern for some of our favorite adventures. But there will have to be new ones too. Our new teenager starts high school (a year early here) and we’ll have to figure out what makes the most sense for him — as well as thinking hard about what kinds of family experiences are important for our kids in the few years we have left with them.

For now, though, we’re happy and healthy in Ohio, and looking forward to what God leads us through in the next year. Family Photos have been updated — find the link and password hint on the home page.

So I Tied An Onion To My Belt – 2018 Edition

Another year behind us! Hard to believe this is will be our fourth in Ohio, and I’m past the 3 year mark in basically the same job — a record, for me! If 2017 was a culmination, 2018 was an opportunity to enjoy some of the rewards of the work we’ve put into carving out a spot for the Wises in the Mid-West.

Professionally, Shelby pulled in 2 awards for the product, another for the team, and one for me personally. At the same time, we started the follow-up effort, dubbed Sherlock internally. Its been fun working with two talented teams on stuff that has the potential to change an industry, and the recognition is nice too. It afforded me with a few opportunities to travel; San Diego, Sweden, and Poland were great, but going to Sydney, Australia with Nicole was the highlight!

Jon and Nic in Downtown Sydney

For the kids, Nic’s involvement in their school has been a real blessing, giving her the opportunity to guide their growth outside the home. Eli relishes school and hasn’t yet experienced any real challenges. But because of some funding changes, both Ben and Abi were launched into Middle School in the fall, and although some adjustment was necessary, they’ve both managed to find their footing academically and socially in the new environment.

Speaking of new environments, 2018 was the year we finally found a church home: a small gathering of practical and servant-hearted believers in a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation 15 minutes from home. We served at a CMA church in urban Cleveland for our first 3 years here, and this was our second summer going to a CMA Family Camp. We find their doctrinal positions and missions focus to be roundly satisfying, and while no church is perfect, this one feels like home.

The best part of a good home, of course, is having a launch pad from which to take off, and we had plenty of opportunity for adventure — with 3 weddings to attend, road trips to Ontario, and a flight out West to visit dear friends and much-missed family. We spent nearly 2 weeks in Alberta and BC on a beautiful lake, and the mountains in-between, affirming our resolve to get out that way at least every other year.

Dock Life in Moyie, BC with the Wises and Epps

Seattle friends that met us in BC

For 2019 we want to maintain our launch pad, which is budgeted to include some plumbing work and a light kitchen renovation. Our cars are both about decade old and although they’re running fine today, we keep awaiting the day one or both kicks the bucket. And of course, travel is high on the list of priorities. In Ohio, kids are done school in May, giving us almost a month where the popular destinations aren’t too busy (although we’ll likely look outside the popular spots!) We have no more idea what the future holds than we have in year’s past, but looking back, its clear that the Lord is faithful, so as for me and my house, we will do our best to serve Him.

Cousins in Ontario at Christmas

So I Tied An Onion To My Belt – 2017 Edition

So we’ve begun our third year in Ohio, and it looks like we’re sticking around. 2017 was a little more expensive than we had initially planned, but we managed to pull it all off and end the year in the black.
After springing for an over-due trip to Europe for Nic and I in 2016, we got the opportunity to do it again early in 2017 — this time exploring Swiss Alps, piggy-backing on a work trip. Definitely an advantage to having Nana and Papa within driving distance!
The summer was the culmination of my professional efforts here in Ohio, with the launch of my very first product. Not my first product launch, but the first time that the product being launched was mine. As Product Owner for a pretty awesome team, it was exciting to see it coming to life — and get a pretty positive reception from customers and partners alike. It would have been a good time for an exit, something we opted to skip this time — but others did not. There may yet be a second act to Shelby, so we’ll see how that shapes up in 2018. Plus it gave us an excuse to take a family trip to Disney World in Florida, which was great for the kids — especially because Grandma was able to join us!

The kids continue to thrive in school. Ben’s done much better in the gifted program, Abi’s never had any academic challenges but the social adjustment was toughest on her — but she’s got that figured out now, and Eli pretty much runs her first grade class. Nic remains very involved at the school, taking on the role of treasurer of the PTO this year — experiencing all the drama and workload of a workplace, but without any sort of financial compensation for her effort. It does keep her close to the kids, and gives her a voice in school matters. Our county will go through some budget reductions next year, so knowing what’s coming as far as school closings and re-arrangements helps us think ahead.
We’re also on our third attempt at finding a church home. Volunteering every other weekend at a downtown church has been our most consistent church life experience. Finding something close to home to make our regular weekly commitment to has been an exercise in frustration, so hopefully this one works. We did get an invite to join in to a denominational family camp this past summer, which made for some wonderful memories for the kids — and maybe a new annual tradition.

We celebrated Christmas not in snow, but basking in the sun in Grand Cayman, which is a much better place to be than Ohio in the winter. The transition back to the cold and snow was pretty brutal, but it was a great visit with my parents, and definitely another trip we’d like to repeat.

In 2018 we hope to make it west-ward to see my family all in one place, and visit some friends and scenery we miss. Otherwise, more home maintenance/improvement projects, and keeping our older (but much loved) cars on the road should about consume our spare money and time budgets. Some changes will probably be necessary at work, to continue to grow, but we’ll try to keep those limited to ones that won’t change home life too much…

So I Tied an Onion to my Belt – 2016 Edition

Another onion post! Where does this come from, anyway? Abe Simpson, of course!
Now where were we? Oh ya, 2016 — arguably the worst year in recent history! And that prognosis came before we found out that Princess Leia died!
Still, it was a pretty good year for our little clan. 2015 had another big move, so in 2016 we learned to settle in a little — without ever settling.
The kids found good friends in our new neighborhood, and our home is often filled with the happy voices of kids. We got a trampoline and an inflatable pool big enough for our 3 and the four down the street who appeared often in our house this summer. School is also going well, after some adjustment period. Ben found himself at another new school in the fall, as he was routed into a gifted program due to his “superior cognitive ability” and “exceptional mathematics” — a challenge he took mostly in stride. Abi struggled for awhile with the social aspect of the move (something that reinforces our desire to avoid any more major moves for awhile) but seems to have found her own. And Eli burst into Kindergarten in September, after a year of pre-school here, already reading and quite sure she should be the center of everyone’s attention. Nic volunteers at the school regularly, and enjoys seeing our kids blooming where they’ve been planted.
We also managed to pull off three great trips: Grand Cayman to visit Grandparents and the West Coast to visit family and old friends, both with the kids, and Paris and southern Germany without the kids. It remains important to us that our kids grow up with a global perspective — but it was also really nice to get away just ourselves. We celebrated 15 years of marriage this summer, so it was worth marking that milestone with a long overdue adventure for the two of us.
We moved churches in the fall. The immediate area lacks the cross-culture exposure we desire for our children, so we thought we should at least benefit from the terrific teaching of a large and well-known church about 45 minutes away. The teaching was indeed fantastic, but the trip was too long, and the church body too large to feel like we could make it home in any reasonable amount of time. We decided instead to do our weekly involvement in a smaller church closer to our house, and get our culture (and drive time!) through periodic ministry with an urban church in downtown Cleveland, where the kids help us teach a Sunday School class every other Saturday evening.
Despite my original expectation of a reduced pace of work away from the tech elite of the west coast, things haven’t really slowed down professionally. My job is a mix of things I’m good at and familiar with and areas to grow and learn, with a new level of leadership that I’m furiously reading books to try to become competent at — with some success so far.
From where things look now, 2017 promises a new level of adulting, as most of the discretionary funds are already ear-marked for home improvements and furniture upgrades — our sofa set having now survived 3 babies! But although we may be slowing down for a season, we remain excited for the future, eager to serve our loving God, who has shown us such great mercy, and to find ways to show His love to others. I often ask Him why He has not tasked us with more tangible expressions of that duty, but I’m encouraged by the example of others that God’s good work in us is a life-long journey, and we’ve only just begun.

So I Tied an Onion to my Belt – 2015 Edition

Another year down: another big move, another set of trips and adventures, new schools, new jobs… 2015 was a full one. Since this annual post has become a tradition, and is getting close to the only post a year, it seems like a re-cap is in order.
We had an inkling early in the year that the winds of change were blowing. We didn’t know what direction they were headed, but there was a sense of urgency that we needed to close things out. Truthfully, we always knew our time on the west coast would be limited, but we felt like we had a lot left to see. We squeezed in as many trips as we could as the weather got nicer, and started praying in earnest about what was next. We explored the Olympic Peninsula, flew to San Diego to visit Lego Land with my parents, got back to BC a couple times, and even pulled off a summer road trip with some sweet friends down to Oregon, where we saw Crater Lake and the Oregon Caves.
I had a few casual discussions with some folks in my network about where I might be able to apply my professional skills, and even flew to California on my own dime to attend a conference from an old employer, and see if maybe there was something interesting to sink my teeth into there. We knew it would mean a move back east — but we’d kinda made peace with that. When we decided to accept the job offer, we determined that this time we were going to roadtrip cross-country and see as much as we could.
It ended up being two road trips for me. One on my own, to start work and scout out the area. The other, with the family, with stops in Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore — and a couple other less memorable places, was a wonderful experience that we’d recommend to anyone.
The new home is great, on a couple acres of property in a township that reminds us very much of where we both grew up in Canada. We can get to Nic’s old home to visit with family in about 5 hours of driving (as opposed to 5 hours of flying!), and we still get paid in US dollars — which is a plus. However, while the base income is comparable, and the cost of living is lower, gone are the days of semi-annual bonuses big enough to buy a new car. Our tour on the west coast got us to all our financial goals, with rapid growth and intense work. Now we’re forced to be a little more deliberate, and to move at a pace that is a little more drawn out. This is true of both the new job, where things move much slower than I’m used to, and the new income, where the “Christmas bonus” was measurable in hundreds of dollars (“don’t buy a pool” said my new boss, when indicating what to expect!)
But these limits are a little more “normal” than what we’ve grown accustomed to. And maybe normal isn’t a bad thing. If we’re careful, we can still do the things we want. This coming year we plan to visit my parents in Grand Cayman (with the kids), go to Europe for our 15th anniversary (without the kids), and visit friends and family (including my new niece!) on the west coast (with the kids.) Add to that some of the smaller adventures that come from being a part of a community — parties at co-workers houses, the county fair, season passes at a water park, our friend’s new hobby farm, road trips to Ontario and to revisit old stomping grounds in New York — and normal life might be OK.
In 2016, maybe we start to settle a little. Figure out how we’re going to get the kids through school. Figure out what life looks like for Nicole when all 3 are off to school all day every day. Figure out how we can serve others where God has placed us. And maybe, figure out how to infuse my new workplace with some of what I learned at my old ones…
In the past, we’ve planned our goals 1 to 3 years out. Now we’re starting to think about 15 — Eli in college, the house paid off, money in the bank for travel… Seems a lot riskier to plan for changes that far away, when we’ve been used to change at a much higher rate. But as we did then, we’re learning to leave the planning to God, and make our focus about obedience with what He puts in front of us. Whatever happens in 2016, we’re confident that His will is good and perfect, and that we want His plan — not ours.

So I Tied an Onion to my Belt – 2014 Edition

So its annual recap time. Usually I have a wealth of blog posts to draw on, and write this thing by wrapping summary prose around links. This year continues the steady decline of the website, so that all my posts for the last 12 months fit on one page. That doesn’t mean that life didn’t happen, just that there are other tools to document it now — and more and more reasons to document less. As our kids grow up, I’m aware that at some point they’ll have their own online identity to curate, and what I write here can impact that.
Said another way, our identity is slowly becoming “So-and-so’s parents” and it probably behooves us to keep some of our opinions to ourselves. (The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of our children!)
In fact, as much as they still are our little cherubs, I’m acutely aware that my 8-year (in particular, although this goes for the other two as well) is watching us closely, forming his own opinions of the world. While my teen years had their challenges, I enjoyed an optimistic and enthusiastic 20s, and the cynicism of my 30s shouldn’t be allowed to temper my kids enthusiasm for life.
So let’s stick to the facts. We traveled a fair bit this year — myself a little further abroad than the rest of the clan. I forgive myself for this on the rationalization that my need to explore (and the travel requirements of my job) exceeds that of my more easily contended (eg: patient) bride. But this won’t stand much longer, and related to my paragraph above about shaping my kid’s world view, we need to find more opportunities to help our kids explore beyond North America. This summer we had a few chances to stretch our legs along the West Coast, and have decided we liked it. In fact, the desire to wring everything we can out of this time zone while we’re here partially informed our new vehicle purchase. If finances allow, we’ll pay that off this year, then attach a little boat (or at least a trailer) to it this coming summer, and spend some long weekends camping more places like this.
On the topic of travel, Nicole and I enjoyed our first completely kid-free, completely work-free, vacation since our honeymoon. Hawaii was great, but so was discovering that we still function as a couple when we’re not chasing little people to the potty, or trying to convince them to eat food they liked last week but hate this week, or working on new ways to explain simple math or phonics to our young students. I’ve long eschewed vacations as being a waste of time, but it turns out I’d be OK with another trip like that sometime soon.
As usual, we delighted in hosting visitors, and showing them the beautiful part of the world God placed us in. As much as this place feels like home, and we continued to invest in community with whatever spare time and energy we can find, it feels so much more real to show it to the people we love.
That said, there are some things missing here. And we’re not sure how to resolve them all. 2015 brings yet another career adjustment, as I step into a new role again. As usual, I’m excited to learn something new and do something different — this time, I may even find what I’m looking for. But beyond that, we don’t really know what’s next. We know God is in control of that, and we trust Him to show us where to step and when. Perhaps by the end of 2015, we’ll have a better idea of what that looks like.